The best free-weight exercises for women are the same ones that work for men. Heavy, compound exercises with barbells and dumbbells do not just build muscle or burn fat, but also increase specific bone mineral density. Strong bones are essential to avoiding osteoporosis, which currently afflicts 20 percent of women in the United States. When using barbells, never lift without a spotter or safety cage.
A compound exercise involves multiple joints and works multiple muscle groups. The squat, bench press, deadlift, military press, chinup and row are compound exercises. An isolation exercise does not isolate a single muscle, which is nearly impossible, but utilizes a single joint in isolation. Compound exercises are superior for improving muscle strength and burning fat due to their greater caloric demands. A heavy bout of resistance training can elevate your metabolic rate for up to 48 hours following your workout. Start out with light weights and gradually add weight to the barbell over time.
Squats and Deadlifts
Your routine should be built on squats and deadlifts. Heavy training for the legs and back burns calories, builds strength and improves your posture. Both exercises should be performed with a barbell. The squat is performed by tightly holding a barbell on your upper back and bending at the knees, hips and ankles until you are below parallel and standing back up. Never round your back, look down or rest the bar on your neck. To deadlift, walk up to a bar on the floor and grip it with your hands wider than your legs. Bend down at the knees and hips, then stand up with the bar. Pull the bar back into your body and push your shoulders back. Do not round your back, allow the bar to drift away from you or bend your elbows.
Chinups and Rows
The latissimus dorsi are the widest muscles of the back, and working them burns calories and improves your ability to carry objects around during the day. Chinups and rows are the best exercises for this, and chinups require you to grip a bar over your head and pull your body up so that your chin is over the bar. Never bounce, and use a full range of motion. To do a row, grip a barbell with your hands wider than your shoulders and lean forward until your torso is parallel to the ground. Row the bar into your sternum, then lower slowly to full extension. Do not round your back or jerk the bar into position.
Bench Press and Military Press
While the bench press is the most commonly performed pressing exercise, the overhead military press, performed while standing, recruits far more muscles at once. To press overhead, with a barbell firmly on your shoulders, push the bar straight up, tilting your head back slightly to ensure that you do not hit yourself in the chin. Lower under control. This will work your shoulders and triceps directly, and recruits nearly every other muscle in the upper body for support.
- "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research"; "Changes in Bone Mineral Density in Response to 24 Weeks of Resistance Training in College-age Men and Women"; Harold Almstedt et al; July 2010
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Osteoporosis
- "The Journals of Gerontology"; "A Single Bout of Concentric Resistance Exercise Increases Basal Metabolic Rate 48 Hours After Exercise in Healthy 59–77-year-old Men"; David Williamson et al; May 1997
- "Dynamic Medicine"; "Variations in Muscle Activation Levels During Traditional Latissimus Dorsi Weight Training Exercises: an Experimental Study"; George Lehman et al; June 2004
- "Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology"; M.L. Bull et al; July-August 2010
- Photodisc/Valueline/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.