6 Essential Bodybuilding Lifts for Female Athletes

Updated: Jan 2

Women, let's face it. There is so much information that is thrown at us regarding our own health and fitness, and especially what our health and fitness is supposed to be. So I wanted to debunk all the myths and tell it to you straight: Ladies, to achieve maximal health, you need to get stronger. Get up under some weights and lift!

There are six essential exercises that should be included in every Woman's resistance training program for optimal strength: the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Pull-ups, Push Press and the Split Jerk. The squat and deadlift are the two most important exercises to be included due to their hip hinge nature. Women who perform these exercises regularly with proper technique burn fat more efficiently than those who follow cardio based exercises. The bench press along with pull-ups provide a complete back and chest pump. Follow it up with the push press and the split jerk and it provides a complete full-body workout routine.

Lets take an in depth look at these exercise and why they are so important:

1. Squats

We are going to start off with my favorite exercise - the Squat. Squats are one exercise that should always be part of your weekly workouts. They are a fat burning, muscle building, core developing exercise. For us women, this exercise should be at the top of our training list. Here are 3 reasons why.

1. Squats target more than just your legs

This is a full body exercise. It’s one of the only exercises that will tone and strengthen your entire body. With proper form, it doesn’t matter how many reps or how much weight - just simply doing this exercise you will benefit from it.

2. They Burn your fat

Because squats help to build muscle, your body will burn more calories per day simply because of your increased muscle. For every pound of muscle you gain, your body will burn an additional 50-70 calories per day!

3. Squats put you into an anabolic state

Being in an anabolic state means your body is constantly building and repairing muscle fibers. So by squatting heavy and frequently your body stays in this anabolic state resulting in muscle growth and strength.

When it comes to frequency and volume, females respond better to a max of high volume and high intensity.

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are my second favorite exercise and the second one on the list of best exercises to do. Out of all the big lifts the deadlift is the closest between sexes in terms of how heavy a women lifter can get in comparison to a male lifter. So lift heavy and lift frequently with this lift!

Like the Squat, the Deadlift is a total body workout that can produce all of the following benefits:

- Strengthen everything from your handgrip to your calves

- They train your posterior chain (back and hips)

- They strengthen the core

- And most importantly, they improve your power, speed and athleticism

Besides all those benefits, deadlifting teaches you to move properly, run faster and jump higher. This is an all around amazing exercise that should be in everyones weekly gym regiment.

3. Bench Press

Women don’t often posses the same chest musculature as guys have so they must rely on other surrounding muscles during the bench press. Thats why the key to a good bench press for female lifters is strong triceps and good mobility. As with the squat, the bench press can be performed with many variations to target areas of the chest.

More specifically, using the flat bench will hit the middle of the chest, using an incline bench press will work the upper pectorals (and serratus anterior), whilst a decline bench press will hit the lower pectorals. Either dumbbells or a barbell can be used with this exercise, I prefer to work with the barbell, however using dumbbells requires more stability.

4. Pull-ups/Chin-ups

Pull ups are infamous for building and strengthening your upper body; because performing the pull up involves moving the entirety of your own bodyweight up against gravity, it takes incredible upper body strength and trunk stability. Although, we as women have a slight disadvantage to males. We have less muscle mass in our upper bodies (up to 40%) than our male counterparts. However, regardless of weight distribution and muscle mass we have every ability to perform perfect pull-ups and chin ups.

So why do I think we should focus on pull ups and include them in your training?

Because you can’t fake a strict pull up or chin up. The journey to a strict pull up requires dedication and practice and pull up strength carries over into many other sports, yoga and everyday life. Pull up training develops your lats, upper back, shoulders and arms and it also hits your entire abs. These are all great benefits to us women and thats why I rank it as the QUEEN of upper body training.

5. Push Press

The push press is a strength and power lift that integrates powerful hip extension. Leg, hip strength and explosiveness are key physiological attributes for most female athletes, making the push press a good total body lift to improve these properties.

The reason I like to perform the push press exercise is to enhance shoulder strength and muscular development. Increasing muscle mass (hypertrophy) is often influenced by training volume. Performing moderate to high volumes with moderate to heavy loads may be a female athletes best choice for increasing shoulder and triceps strength AND size. When completing this lift I say to complete 3-5 sets of 6 -10 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads.

6. Split Jerk

The split jerk is the most common style used by competitive weightlifters for very simple reasons. This exercise is loved by many of my female athletes and women lifters. One main reason why is because there’s a lot of carryover from the jerk to a stronger bench. The jerk trains raw, explosive pushing power and the lockout, which can improve your performance with the bench and strict overhead press. In some cases, training the jerk is just what’s needed to fix a lagging bench.

Due to the explosive and powerful nature of this lift, there is another beneficial factor to doing the split jerk. During the lockout, the body lets loose a cascade of beneficial hormones that help the body to build some muscle, lose some fat, and adapt from the stressors, which result in stronger, leaner, biologically younger bodies. So be sure to add this exercise to your full body days or your upper body dynamic power days.

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