Guide to the Best Exercises for Women

Women have different workout concerns than men. While women and men can do all the same exercises, women’s bodies are built differently. Therefore, they should have unique workouts that take these differences into consideration.

​Working Out for Women

One of the most common mistakes women make when planning out their workouts is neglecting the upper body. Many women tend to ignore their upper body because they fear getting a “built” look. But, you have to pay attention to your entire body for your overall health.

Sometimes women forgo strength training all together in favor of cardio focused classes. Even if you are a cardio master, you can still benefit from adding strength training into your workout routine. Building muscle helps you sculpt and tone your body as well as burn more calories as you go about your day.

Woman trying to swing a kettlebell with both hands

You have to keep challenging yourself in different ways to continuously improve your fitness levels. One of the best ways to up your workouts is to start working with different types of equipment. Utilizing dumbells, kettlebells, and free weights can help you reach the next level in your workouts and get you closer to your fitness goals. Each one of these weights will challenge your body in a new way so you can look forward to a whole new world of workouts.

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​The Best Exercises for Women

​​Here are some of the best exercises for women​. Some include the addition of free weights and kettlebells, and some don’t require anything. 

​Goblet Squats

A goblet squat is a lower body kettlebell move that is great for burning fat and toning up your leg muscles. It gets your heart pumping while improving your lower body strength and balance. It is also a particularly good exercise to do if you feel like you need to work on your hip flexibility.

Start a goblet squat by holding a kettlebell by the horns. Get into an athletic stance, like you would for a regular squat. Start to squat by pushing your hips back and then bending your knees. Do not try to bend your knees first. Squat all the way down until your elbows touch your knees.

As soon as your elbows touch your knees begin to extend your legs and return to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes when you come up to the top and repeat. Keep your chest lifted and back straight throughout the movement.

​Hammer Curls

It is important for women to give adequate attention to the upper body. Hammer curls are one of the best bicep exercises for women. They get their name because you hold the weights in the same way you would hold a hammer. For this move you will need two dumbbells.

Grab your weights and hold them at your side with a neutral grip and your palms facing each other. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.

Start the move by bending at the elbows to raise the dumbbells to your shoulders. Your palms will remain facing each other the entire time. When you have reached your full range of motion, lower the weights back down and repeat.

Your upper body and upper arms should be still throughout the move. Additionally, make sure to maintain control as you do the move so you are not relying on the momentum.

Woman lifting dumbbells with each hand

​Bicep Curls

​You may see bulky men doing bicep curls in the gym and think “oh, that’s not for me” but women can get just as much from a bicep curl as men. Bicep curls are the best bicep workout for women. You can do them in the gym, your home, or anywhere else you can find two dumbbells.

Begin by standing up straight while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing your thighs and your elbows should be tucked in. Start the movement by turning one palm forward. Next, keeping your upper arm still, bend at the elbow to raise the weight upwards. Lift the dumbbell through your full range of motion and then lower the weight down with control. Repeat the same motion on the other side.

​Throughout the entire movement only the forearms should be moving. If your upper arm is moving while you are curling, your will be cheating yourself out of the full effect of this workout. Additionally, know that it is okay to start with weights that may be lower than you are fully capable of until you are comfortable with the move. Figure out your form first, and then start to worry about increasing the weight.

​Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is one of the best exercises for women because it is a truly full body workout that has both strength and cardiovascular benefits. It works almost every part of you from your legs, to your core, to your shoulders. All you need is one kettlebell to work your entire body.

Begin by putting a kettlebell about six inches in front of you and standing with your feet shoulder width apart. Next push your hips backwards and bend your knees to lower yourself so you can grab the handle of the kettlebell with an overhand grip. Once you have the kettlebell, hike it backwards between your legs.

Kettlebell swings performed by a woman in an open outdoor field

Then, quickly reverse the movement by explosively hinging your hips forward. This movement will force the kettlebell to lift up, creating the swing. As the kettlebell reaches about your chest height, contract your abs and allow the kettlebell to fall back down while guiding it between your legs.

The power in this movement should be coming from your hips. Be careful not to accidentally turn this move into a squat by forcing it with your legs.

​Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is the ultimate shoulder exercise for women. Working the shoulders regularly is an important part of maintaining functional fitness. Functional fitness means working muscles that are used for everyday activities like carrying groceries. Doing shoulder presses will help make some everyday tasks a little easier. You should include them in your workouts. This is another dumbbell exercise that requires just two weights.  

Start standing while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Take an athletic stance and lift the dumbbells to shoulder height. You should hold the dumbbells out to your sides, with bent elbows. While maintaining a straight upper body, extend through your arms to press the dumbbells over your head until they touch at the top. Pause for a second and then slowly lower the weights back to shoulder height.

Be sure to keep your body still as you are doing the pressing motion. Don’t lean back or round forward. Stand up straight and tighten your abs for a little extra core engagement.

Woman using a fitness equipment at home

​Wide Grip Barbell Curl

​A regular barbell curl helps you work the same muscles that a bicep curl with dumbbells would. Shifting your grip to a wide grip allows you to use a barbell to work a different area of the bicep.

When you utilize a wider grip your arms have more external rotation, which allows you to work the inside of your biceps. The wide grip barbell curl is one of the best bicep exercises for women because it shortens the distance of the curl, making it easier to use heavier weights.

To do a wide grip bicep curl, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, keeping a slight bend in your knees. Grab a barbell with an underhand grip. Place your hands a few inches wider than your shoulders. Begin the move by slowly curling the barbell up until you reach your full range of motion. Squeeze for a second at the top and then slowly lower it back down.

​Weighted Russian Twists

The Russian twist is one of the best exercises for women because it helps target those stubborn obliques. This move works very well with a kettlebell, but is also effective when done with a beginner dumbbell set.

Doing moves like this one will not only help to tone your core but will also improve your overall fitness. The core is integral to most exercises so making sure you give it attention by using an ab roller, is always a good idea.

Start this move by lying on the floor with your torso lifted into a V and knees bent. For an extra challenge lift your legs off the ground and balance on your sit bones. Next, grab a kettlebell by the horns and hold it close to your chest.

Slowly twist your torso to your right as far as you can without letting your legs move. Then slowly twist as far as you can to your left side.

Be sure to exhale as you are twisting and inhale as you are moving back to center. If you want to try a harder variation of this move hold the kettlebell out in front of your chest. This will make balancing more difficult and give your arms a nice workout.

​Tricep Dips

Tricep dips are great because they are an arm exercise for women without weights. They work the often-ignored back part of your arms. It is best to do this move on a bench or a stable chair. If you find yourself without any equipment, you can even do this move on the ground with a smaller range of motion.

Start by positioning your hands shoulder width apart on your bench or chair. Put your legs out in front of you to get your body into the starting position. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body down toward the ground. Lower yourself until your arms are at a 90-degree angle.

When you have reached the bottom position, extend your arms again to push yourself back up to the starting position. Breathe for a second and repeat.

​Walking Lunge with Kettlebell Pass Through

One of the best exercises for women is the walking lunge. It is a dynamic compound exercise that will tone up your legs and get your heart pumping. Adding a kettlebell to this move gives you a little extra resistance to help you feel the burn even more.

For this exercise, start standing up straight with a kettlebell in your right hand. Begin by doing a basic lunge with your left foot. A basic lunge is a large step forward with one foot and then lowering yourself down until your front knee is at a 90-degree angle and your back knee is almost touching the ground. Do not let your back knee actually touch the ground or allow your front knee to go past your toes.

Women performing kettlebell lunges in a park overlooking a lake

While you are lunging, switch the kettlebell from your right hand to the left hand, going under your front leg. Finally, stand up and repeat the lunge on the other side, and continue passing with each lunge. You should find your rhythm pretty quickly as you get into the groove of this exercise.

​Bent Over Row with Barbell

If you want to add some back exercises into your routine, pick up a barbell and start with some bent over rows. It will work your upper back and lower back as well as your hips and arms. While this is a popular move with weight lifters, women who are not weight lifters can also reap the benefits of this move.

Start a bent over barbell row by walking up to a barbell that is on the ground. Your feet should end up about halfway under the weight. Maintain your balance by wearing the right workout shoes for your feet. Bend over by bending your knees and grab the barbell while maintaining a flat back. Your hands should be about shoulder width. Keep your chest lifted and your back straight. Be careful not to drop your hips.

Once you are in this starting position take a deep breath and begin to row. This means hold the bar and pull it against your chest, leading with your elbows. Think about pulling your elbows to the ceiling.

Woman using an ab roller


Women can benefit just as much from weight training as men. Adding in a mix of barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebell exercises can help you step up your routine and stop your body from reaching a plateau. You can also learn various new moves with the best workout phone apps available nowadays. If you continuously challenge yourself with weights, you will find yourself not only meeting your fitness goals faster, but also seeing your functional fitness improving.

Don’t be intimidated by the equipment in the weight room. Keep pushing yourself and you will see the results.

Robert Lemus has been a natural competitor for 6 years, starting in Men’s Physique, then Bodybuilding, and then into Classic Physique. He is the Orange County Bodybuilding champion in 2016 for the Musclemania Organization. In 2018, he received his Pro Card with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in Classic Physique.