By: Kevin Mullins, CSCS
Very reflective of society – gyms and health clubs continue to change. The spaces occupied by rows of fixed machines, endless cardio equipment, and “female friendly” zones loaded with Bender Balls and neoprene dumbbells have all been all but eliminated in the modern fitness facility.
Just as women have kicked down the doors into new realms of business, education, and sport – women have begun the migration away from being “cardio-bunnies” and into “fitness – enthusiasts”. Iced lattes in the cup holder of a treadmill are being replaced by chalky hands and amino acids in between sets of deadlifts.
And it is awesome!
Franchises that once thrived by telling women that they work out differently than men are now giving way to brands that are encouraging women to be the strongest, fittest, and best version of themselves.
And it is awesome!
Yet, there is still work to be done. At this point though, it isn’t about changing the gyms, the social landscape, or the equipment available to women. Rather, it is about changing the minds of many of female exercisers, and the minds of so many of their influential friends.
In my experience as a professional strength coach and personal trainer – I find there are still many exercises that many women consider to be reserved for “men only”. Many of sessions have been halted by a sarcastic, yet concerned, “uh, that’s a boy’s exercise” as I hand them dumbbells, point to a barbell rack, or suggest we go heavier for something!
It is as though there is an unrelenting fear that certain exercises contribute directly to the growth of facial hair.
The truth is: They don’t, and the exercise doesn’t make the man (or woman).
It is my goal to help introduce new movements into the training programs of women to help them better realize their training goals. Completely removing certain moves from the repertoire due to an unnecessary fear of suddenly turning into Hulk Hogan the next day.
Now, I understand that some fear is due to the lack of experience with a given movement or modality.
Furthermore, it could be based upon not comprehending exactly “why” you would do it in the first place, or how it would help you achieve your goals.
Why would a woman want to do a heavy bench press with a barbell when she isn’t trying to have huge pecs?
Why would a woman need to do strict pull-ups?
The answer to these questions is as unique to the exercise as the exercises themselves. Yet, a broader scope answer that can serve as a perfect lead in to the content of this blog is as follows:
Why wouldn’t you want to be a master of a new domain all the while improving your body?
Enough of the conjecture and conversation, however; here are five exercises that all guys do that need to find their way into your program as a female:
- Heavy Dumbbell Bench Press
- Barbell Military Press
- Barbell Deadlift
- Strict Form Pull-ups and Chin Ups
- Hanging Leg Raises
Let’s talk about why these exercises are going to make like Justin Timberlake and “Rock your body”.
Heavy Dumbbell Bench Press & 2. Heavy Military Barbell Press
In regards to the female physique and strength development – these two movements serve similar purpose. Sure, the bench press is designed to target the pectorals while the military press challenges the deltoids (shoulders), which makes them very different exercises. However, the secondary muscles of these movements – the triceps, upper back, and abdominals – are worked quite intensely too!
Many of my clients look to me to solve that well known problem area in the back of their arms. With a stern look and a shake of the arm they deliver the following line: “Help me get rid of this”. As they move their arm back and forth I can see the disgust and frustration in their face.
They’ve done so much cardio, cut out carbohydrates, and only drink one glass…ok one bottle…of wine on Friday night dinners with friends. Why is that fat still there?
The assumption that they have is that there is an excess amount of body fat in the region leading to looseness and lack of definition. This can be true. Many women (and men) store fat in their upper arms, especially if they consume a diet high in sugar and alcohol.
A change in nutritional strategy and overall activity is the best prescription for someone floating in that boat!
However, more often than not the problem is that they haven’t sufficiently developed all three heads of the triceps muscle to provide the muscle tonus they would like.
The actual mass of the triceps is minimal, which doesn’t allow for the muscle to “push” the skin and show itself.
The solution to this issue is of course – introduce exercises that will promote growth and development of the shoulder and triceps musculature. Hence, the horizontal and vertical pressing motions!
Let’s discuss the benefits –
The Dumbbell Bench Press is an exercise that is most likely in your program already. In fact, I’d argue almost every man and woman in the gym does some form of chest pressing motion during their workouts.
The difference in my recommendation lies in the key word – heavy.
While many of my fellow males will keep grabbing bigger and bigger dumbbells and doing less and less repetitions as a result – many females are content staying with the same weights for the standard three sets of ten or twelve or even twenty.
That doesn’t mean that they are wrong for what they are doing, but rather, incomplete.
The science is like this:
Muscles respond to the specific stimuli that we subject them to. Thus, if you are typically training with lighter weights for high repetitions, then you will eventually dull the progress from this method as your body adapts and accustoms itself to the challenge of the exercise.
The same goes for only doing heavy lifts too, except heavy lifting can build strength which leads to even heavier lifting, continued muscle development, and a larger range of resistance for which one could work an exercise with.
Essentially, if you only do fifteen pounds for fifteen repetitions – you can’t expect to see the results that someone who does a few sets of twenty-five pounds for five repetitions might!
By subjecting the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps muscles to a variety of loads, repetitions, and total lifting volume we are better capable of ensuring absolute development of the regions. Note that development doesn’t equate directly to size either.
Fully developing any muscle in the body may contribute to some increase size, sure. Yet, for most females who consume an appropriate calorie diet – the progress will come in changes of density, tonus, and strength.
Simply put, women just don’t have the testosterone in their bodies to lead to significant changes in size without dramatically increasing their caloric intake and training with very specific intent.
The Military Press much like the heavy dumbbell bench press is going to boost the progress and development of your triceps, shoulders, and even your core!
The best benefit of the military press may not even be the work on the shoulders and triceps, but rather, the development of the ability of the core to resist over extension.
Science class again:
The furthest a weight will get from our center of mass will be when our arms at full length over our heads, such as the top of the military press. This position is exceptionally challenging to our abdomen because must actively resist the urge to overarch (extend) the lower lumber spine.
Next time you are at the gym watch as many of the amateur males are leaning back and fidgeting desperately to press anything over their heads. We do not want this to be you!
Thus, inserting the barbell military press will help you strengthen your core flexion muscles – as in the same ones you’d perform a crunch with – so that you can better resist extension, and most importantly develop the body you want.
The core is, as you’ve been told for years, critical for athletic performance, body development, and aesthetic confidence. Training the military press can achieve all of these ends and lead to even cooler movements such as the Olympic power clean, push jerk, and even the snatch if you feel so inclined. All require strong shoulders, rigid cores, and confidence flinging a barbell through space around your face!
The challenges that these two pressing motions will add to your program will undoubtedly lead to new and exciting progress with your body.
These two exercises are a TKO to your goals!
3. Barbell Deadlift
Let’s just own this next statement shall we! Everyone wants great legs and a good looking booty.
Now that we have that at the way let’s discuss why you need to be deadlifting with a barbell.
The barbell, the most classic of weightlifting devices, is essential for loading the body sufficient forces to stimulate change. Stacking on some plates and pulling from any of the proper stances or variations is critical for the development of the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, the core and even the upper back!
Chances are that you are already deadlifting with weights in your current program. Dumbbell and kettlebells deadlifts for repetitions are common place in the gym for many of female fitness enthusiasts.
Hopefully, following Garrett has lead you to find the firm grasp of the barbell already to boost your progress and performance.
If not though, hopefully this article is that last kick in the backside you need to start training said backside. See, barbells aren’t just for men exclusively, or those women who want to powerlift.
It is nothing more than a metal bar used to suspend plates from for the purpose of lifting them.
Many guys overload the bar and start yanking on it with hopes of impressing their friends, the girl near them, or satisfying their own ego.
I personally do the Hotline Bling dance…
This heavy training though, as long as it is done safely, is critical for improving posture, physique, and performance. The activation of the glutes, lower spine erectors, and upper back muscles unlocks new levels of athleticism and aesthetics in all who indulge!
Ladies– don’t be afraid to go heavy with your barbell either. You’ll strengthen so many muscles, develop super star legs, and glutes that could crack walnuts!
Start with a sumo stance with your feet wide, hips down and chest high.
Look over time to incorporate standard stance, Romanian deadlifts, and even staggered stance alternatives as you build confidence and watch as your backside becomes your strong side.
Although it can be intimidating at first, just know that you are not alone and that many strong women such as Garrett are right there with you – encouraging you to join the coolest group of people on the planet.
Girls who lift!
Senorita – the deadlift is for you!
4. Strict Form Pull-Ups and Chin Ups
Being here on Crossroads of Fitness you’ve seen Garrett crushing some chin ups. When she is feeling extra crazy – she’ll even add suspended weights like kettlebells. (Get it!)
The Chin up is one of the best developers of the latissimus dorsi and biceps. It only falls behind the strict form pull-up as the best back exercise. Both exercises also place special emphasis on the rear shoulder, rhomboid, lower trapezius muscles, and rotator cuff group.
Sure, you may not be looking to develop the size and thickness that many of guys strive for when they grab on to the bar and pull on it; however, that doesn’t mean you can’t see awesome benefits. See, the upper back is an area that screams “I am into fitness”. Developing the tone and shape of the muscles of this area while minimizing visceral body fat can lead to tremendous definition and a memorable physique.
I often joke with my clients when we start doing a lot of back work – “Don’t be that sexy girl that stuns when you walk into the room and disappoints when you walk out – train the entire backside of your body!”
These are the muscles that show in your bathing suit, favorite LuLu top, or that open back dress you have been dying to wear on your next night out on the town.
Begin with the chin up, and utilize variations such as band-assisted and jumping chins to boost your strength and repetitions. From there look to turn those palms over and switch into a standard pull-up position. It can be incredibly hard at first to get the strength at the bottom of the movement, but persistence is key and repetition is crucial.
Keep working – keep burning – and you’ll bring a sexy back!
5. Hanging Leg Raises
If you are following these exercises in order, then you’ll find yourself already standing at the pull-up bar for this one. Let’s switch gears and train those abdominals.
Quick – grab the area in your abdomen you really want to see look tighter, toner, and feel stronger!
Did you grab your lower abdomen?
Of course you did. Everyone, men and women, store fat in their lower abdomen and struggle to fully realize the musculature in the region.
Enter the hanging leg raise. Plain and simple, take that leg raise you’ve been doing on the floor and start doing it hanging from the bar.
This version is going to better challenge your abdomen because your body is free hanging, which subjects it to gravity.
Furthermore, as your legs swing out in front of you – your legs act like the hands of a clock rotating around their center. The longer your legs – the more you’ll feel the force of gravity trying to push your legs back down to the ground.
This is why hanging knee tucks are easier than hanging leg raises.
The moment arm of the legs is significantly longer in the latter of the two, which requires significantly more rotationally force (see: muscle work) to complete the repetition.
With that science out of the way – know that the knee tuck is a tremendous build up to the straight leg raise. Eventually you can work up to pause repetitions, windmills, and other crazy movements to set your abs on fire!
You’ll check out your abs in the Mirror – your abs looking back at you!
Aside from the five silly Justin Timberlake song references I’ve included in this song – I’d to like to see this piece as a major stepping stone towards your better body.
There are no exercises for guys – and there are no exercises for girls. Everyone has muscles and everyone has bones.
Sure, there are some anatomical, physiological, and hormonal differences that definitely matter when we train.
However, acting as though an exercise, modality, or resistance profile is off limits because of one’s gender needs to end. The answer to a lot of your physique concerns lies in the exercises you aren’t doing.
Like Albert Einstein has stated: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results”.
So, let’s change your routine – and as a result – change your body!
Let’s bro down!
This article was written by guest Kevin Mullins of Kevin Mullins Fitness.