Too many workouts treat women like mini-men, but women and men have different strengths (and weaknesses), and they won’t have the same physique goals. So, what bodyweight exercises could a woman do at home while being a total beginner?
Beginners aren’t as coordinated or as strong as people used to working out, so they’ll need to do simple exercises at first before taking on more complicated exercises. But there’s a silver lining.
Women who are new to working out will get much faster results than those who already work out. This is because they’re much further away from the ceiling of their genetic potential. So even though you might feel frustrated when doing some of the exercises, you can take solace in knowing that results will also come easier to you.
Before moving on—you’re a young, healthy female?
This list is not for anyone who’s obese, has an injury (like diastasis recti), back pain, or is elderly. If you fall into that camp, you should make an appointment with your doctor or a sports physiotherapist. That way they can come up with a gameplan to meet you where you’re starting from. We designed this list for young, relatively healthy women who are beginners to working out.
If you’re a man, click here to see our list of beginner bodyweight exercises for men.
What makes an exercise the right one for a beginner?
Exercises that meet your level of strength and coordination.
When browsing around on the Internet, I saw a bunch of articles recommending one-legged pistol squats. Not only are those not that effective for building muscle or getting toned, but they’re also incredibly challenging. You need a high level of strength and coordination to pull it off—so even though it’s a bodyweight exercise, that doesn’t make it a good one for a gal trying to get started.
A guaranteed payoff without needing to hurt yourself
Some exercises are athletic, or they look cool—but they aren’t all too helpful for getting a good working in to build muscle or tone up. For example, the burpee is a super common exercise that gets butchered all the time, and its main goal is just to get your heart-rate up. There are better and safer ways to do this. Beginners have to take things slow to build up coordination, so complicated moves are out, and zombie-simple moves are in.
The Best Exercises for Women Who are Beginners
Below we’re going to talk about the 7 main movements for women, adapted a bit from the esteemed strength coach Dan John:
- The push. Mainly works your chest (pectorals), shoulders (deltoids), and the back of your arms (triceps.)
- The pull. Mainly works your lats, the front of your arms (biceps), and can also do the back of your shoulders (rear deltoids.)
- The hinge. Mainly works the back of your thighs (hamstrings), your butt (glutes), and your lower back muscles (spinal erectors.)
- The squat. Mainly works the front of your thighs (quads), and your butt (glutes.)
- The carry. Mainly helps with athleticism, coordination, and posture by working a million tiny stabilizer muscles. Also helps with “work capacity” by putting you under a weight for a long time.
- The front core. These movements help your abs and obliques and help to develop a rigid, stiff, and bulletproof core.
- Extra Glute Isolation. These movements will mainly isolate the butt (Maximus, medius, and minimus gluteals, aka, the glutes). Many women like doing extra glute work to improve the contrast between their waist and their hips. Want to learn even more about this? See an article I wrote about the female waist-to-hip ratio on Bony to Bombshell.
The body is capable of much more, like throwing, which would include rotation and whatnot. But this is more than enough for a beginner to get started with.
Level 1 exercises are the most straightforward progression to get started with. When those start to feel easy, then you can try a harder progression.
All the links below will go out to Youtube demonstrations we’ve hand-picked. The trainers are usually Mike Robertson or Eric Cressey (both are legends, which our own Marco Walker-Ng interned under), or Bret Contreras, Nick Tumminello, or Scott Herman.
How to get started with push-ups
- Level 1: Kitchen Counter Push-Up
- Level 2: Push-up
- Level 3: Push-up with diamond hand (bit more tri’s and upper chest)
- Level 4: Offset push-ups
- Level 5: Plyo push-ups (could start on the kitchen counter and go from there)
Variations to keep things fresh
It’s really hard to properly do the pulling movement when just using your bodyweight. If you have access to a chin-up bar, you can try using it. Otherwise, you can load up a tote bag (cotton bag) or backpack with heavy things you can find around the house like water jugs, etc.
Access to a chin-up bar?
- Level 1: Lowered Chin-up Under Control (use chair to get up)
- Level 2: Chin-up Hold
- Level 3: Chin-up
- Level 4: Chin-up with heavy textbook between feet
No chin-up bar:
- Level 1: Elbow drive into wall
- Level 2: Chair Supported Loaded Tote bag Single Arm Row
- Level 3: Bent-over Tote bag Single Arm Row
- Level 1: Goblet Squat with heavy book or water jug
- Level 2: Split Squat
- Level 3: Jumping air squats
- Level 4: Couch Back Foot Elevated Split Squats
- Level 1: Bodyweight romandian deadlift hinge
- Level 2: Loaded Tote Bag Romanian Deadlift
- Level 3: Single leg hinge
- Level 4: Long jump / Broad Jump
Like the pull, doing carries without weights is really difficult. But that doesn’t mean it’d be wise to skip them, especially since a lot of women love how carries bring a lot of freedom to their life when it comes to things like tossing your suitcase into the back of cab.They can also work wonders on slumpy posture.
For a solution around the home, do you have a large bucket you could fill with water? That could work in a pinch. A tote bag or backpack loaded up with water jugs or heavy books could work, just start with a harder variation like the waiter carry.
The front core
Doing these exercises aren’t necessary. Some women want to train their abs, some don’t. Generally, training your abs and obliques to get stronger will also make them bigger and bulkier—making your waist a bit larger. Your call.
- Level 1: Push-Up Plank
- Level 2: Front Plank
- Level 3: Front Plank One Foot Lifted
- Level 4: RKC Plank
- Level 5: Long-lever plank
Leg raise progression
- Level 1: Floor L-Sit Supported Bent Knee Hanging Leg Raise Hold (video has all 3 progressions)
- Level 2: Floor L-Sit Bent Knee Hold
- Level 3: Floor L-Sit Hold
Looking for some other variations?
- Level 1: Deadbug
- Level 2: Hand walkout from knees
- Level 3: Ab wheel rollout (Buy one for at home, they’re $20, and one of the best scoring ab exercises)
Don’t go too “high” on these, otherwise you might feel some back pain.
- Level 1: Bodyweight glute bridge
- Level 2: Bodyweight hip thrust on couch
- Level 3: Single-leg glute bridge
- Level 4: Single-leg hip thrust on couch
Medius & Minimus
More advanced movements for variety
Bonus: Telling back pain to get lost
Developing a strong core will protect your spine to avoid back pain today and in the future so you can train consistently enough to get the results you want. These are from Dr Stuart McGill, a professor emeritus of spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. These exercises aren’t designed to get your abs/obiques bigger or leaner—so every woman could do these.
(And should you want to, you can read more about bulletproofing your core and protecting your back.)
- Women should find exercises and workouts that fit for them and their goals—not general workouts for men.
- Beginners should choose exercises that meet them where they are in terms of strength, coordination, and a good bang for their buck in terms of reward/risk.
- Women will want to do the 5 main movements:
- the push
- the pull
- the hinge
- the squat
- the carry
- They might want to do some front core work; it’s up to them and their goals.
- Most women we’ve coached like doing some extra glute isolation work for a better waist-to-hip ratio for feminine aesthetics.
- Women should think about doing some core stability training, from Dr. Stuart McGill, to either solve or prevent back pain from affecting them.
- Don’t forget to eat enough protein and to get enough sleep!
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