The 10 Best Exercises for Women
Fitness trends may come and go, but combining these classic exercises can make some of the best workouts for women.
The Best Exercises You Can Do Pretty Much Anywhere
Bouncy boots. Vibration plates. Shake Weights. Trendy workouts for women are always popping up in an attempt to keep things interesting and inspire people to move (we're all here for that!), but some are little more than pricey toys. (BTW, here are the best and worst "as seen on TV" abs products.)
To cut through the B.S., here's a solid set of the best exercises that will help you feel strong and confident when combined into heart-pumping workouts for women. Best part? They don't require tons of equipment—you just need a yoga mat (or soft floor!), something to step up on, and a pair of light- and medium-weight dumbbells. (Which you can get on Amazon for, like, so cheap.)
Read on for the 10 of the best exercises for women for strengthening your core, inner thighs, butt, and shoulders, plus tips on how to seamlessly add them into your workout routine.
How to Use These Moves
1. Total-Body Workout for Women
- For a quick, total-body workout for women, pick five of the best exercise moves and do 3 sets of each. Move as fast as possible between moves for maximum calorie burn.
- The next day, do the other five exercises. You can incorporate a few sets of cardio intervals into the total-body training session or do it separately for a longer period of time.
2. Target a Specific Zone
- If you want to strengthen one or two areas in particular, pick the best exercises that focus on those places and incorporate them into your existing workout routine. Just remember to continue challenging your body by gradually increasing the weight or number of reps as you get stronger—these will only prove to be the best exercises if you're working hard enough! (Check out 11 major health benefits of lifting weights.)
"Deadlifts are one of the best exercises for working the back of your body, including your glutes, hamstrings, and back," says Jacquelyn Brennan, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness in Chicago. (FYI: That's all part of your very important posterior chain.) Plus, since deadlifts work so many muscles at once, they save you a whole lot of time performing single isolation moves. Performing this exercise on one leg also adds a bonus balance challenge to this workout for women.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand on your left foot.
- Keeping core engaged and chest up during the entire movement, lift your right foot behind you and bend your knee so your right lower leg is parallel to the floor.
- Bend forward at your hips, and slowly lower your body as far as you can.
- Pause, then push your body back to the starting position. As you come up, think about using your glutes to push your hips forward instead of lifting from your back.
Do 10 reps per side.
Planks are one of the best exercises for your abs, considering they work your deep inner core muscles (including your transverse abdominis), which helps stabilize your spine and power your workouts, says Brennan. This oblique-targeting variation is a nice way to work your abs in areas crunches often miss.
- Lie on your left side with your knees straight.
- Prop your upper body up on your left elbow and forearm.
- Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Turn around so that you’re lying on your right side and repeat.
Do two 30-second holds per side (then work up to 45- and 60-second holds as you progress).
A perfect-form push-up challenges the entire body (especially your chest) while burning some calories since it's like a moving plank. This is one of the best exercises to include in workouts for women because it trains your body in a functional movement pattern, helping improve your performance in other exercises at the gym as well as in daily life.
- Start on all fours and place your hands on the floor so that they’re slightly wider than and in line with your shoulders, feet close together.
- Keeping hips lifted and core braced the entire time, lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor and then push yourself back to the starting position.
Do 15 reps.
Second Position Pliés
Your lower body—and we mean your entire lower body—loves pliés. They're one of the best exercises for women because, "they work all of the larger muscles in the lower half of the body, making them incredibly efficient and effective at both building muscle and burning calories," says Brennan. Turning your toes out during this move means that the squat motion will sculpt the inner thighs as well as tone the gluteus minimus (side of your butt). Add them to your leg day routine to create a killer workout for women.
- Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly.
- Lower your body down by bending your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Bring arms overhead and shoulders down and back.
- Pause, then slowly push yourself back up to the starting position.
Do 15 reps.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the best workouts for women because it burns more calories in a shorter amount of time compared to long, slow endurance exercise. Try incorporating it into your workout routine twice a week on alternate days.
Choose any piece of cardio equipment (elliptical, jump rope, treadmill, bike, etc) or choose a bodyweight HIIT move:
- 3 minutes at 50 percent of your maximum effort
- 20 seconds at 75 percent of your maximum effort
- 10 seconds at your absolute maximum effort
Do 10 reps of the circuit.
Triceps kickbacks (and their best exercise cousin skull crushers) are stellar at zoning in on triceps, sure, but they also hit your traps, which many women overlook, says Brennan. And apart from balancing out your biceps and keeping your arms strong, hitting your traps and triceps will also make your arms look amazing. Try this workout for women with light weights and high reps, or if you prefer, step up to a weight you can do with good form for 10 to 15 reps. (Related: When to Use Light vs. Heavy Weights)
- Start in lunge position, holding 2 to 3-pound dumbbells, with back heel on the ground.
- Lean over your front bent knee as your lift your arm straight up by your side, top of the weight facing the ceiling.
- Lift and lower the weight about an inch. Switch sides and repeat.
Do 30 reps per side.
This one of the best exercises for targetting the muscles of your glutes and hamstrings to create stronger legs and a tighter booty. Step-ups also target your quadriceps since they require you to straighten your knee against resistance.
- Stand in front of a bench or step and place your left foot firmly on the step.
- Keeping chest up and core engaged the entire time, press your left foot into the step and push your body up until your left leg is straight.
- Lower your body back down until your right foot touches the floor and repeat.
- Keep your weight balanced evenly, not leaning too far forward or too far back.
Do 10 reps per side.
Bridges are not only one of the best exercises for a sculpted butt, but they will also help keep your back healthy and pain-free, making them a perfect addition to a leg workout for women (FYI: Glute bridges and hip thrusts are not the same thing.)
- Lie face-up on the floor with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Raise hips so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause in the up position, then lower your body back to the starting position.
Do 20 reps.
Plank with Arm Raise
Adding an arm raise to an already-excellent core exercise like the forearm plank makes the ab workout for women even more of a stability challenge, which in turn improves posture and core strength.
- Start in push-up position, then bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of on your hands. (Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.)
- Brace your core and maintain your hip placement as you lift your right arm straight out in front of you. Draw your shoulder blades down and back as you lift your arms.
- Hold the position for 5-10 seconds and then switch arms.
Do 5 reps per side.
There are so many physical and mental benefits to yoga, so why not include bits of the practice in a workout for women? Inversion postures are great for relaxation, blood flow, and for a new perspective! This is one of the best exercises for women to add to their workout—but you can also add more chill inversions to other parts of your life. For example, try putting your legs up the wall for 5 minutes every night before bed.
- Lie down on your back and lift your legs and hips off the ground, bringing your legs up over your head until your toes touch the floor behind you.
- Place your hands behind your back and extend legs straight in the air, creating a straight line from shoulders to ankles.
- Keep your neck relaxed as you hold the shoulder stand.
Hold for 1 minute (or as long as you're comfortable balancing).