For full transparency: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy through a link I would earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Only personally used or thoroughly researched products are recommended. Learn more.

Beginner Workout Plan for Women- From Nervous to New You

Photo of author
Last Update

If you’re looking for a beginner workout plan for women, you’ve come to the right place. 

My name is Steve Hoyles and I’m a personal trainer and weightlifting coach with over 20 years experience.

In my time I have taught thousands of women how to work out safely and effectively.

In this article, I’m going to provide you with a beginner workout plan, designed with women in mind. I’m going to include over 20 years of coaching experience in the program, which will help you learn the basics of strength training.

By the end of the article, you’ll know exactly how to start your exercise journey…

Beginner workout plan for women: Overview of the workout plan

Everyone jumps on the bandwagon about the benefits of exercise.

But in my experience, most women go about it all wrong.

So I’ve got a confession to make…

When it comes to training women, I’ve turned my back on decades of fitness industry messaging.

You know the type…

  • Pink dumbbells.
  • Tiny kettlebells that aren’t heavy enough to hold a door open.
  • Patronizing workouts with bean tins for weights to ‘tone your arms’.
  • Ladies-only sections in the gym, full of pink machines. 

I don’t use them. I don’t like them. 

My female clients? 

They lift weights.

They don’t train in a ladies-only section. They get sweaty. They don’t use pink dumbbells. They work hard. They get results. 

This is the kind of thing they do…

A woman working out using a barbell

And I’m telling you this to give you confidence. Weight training is hands down the best thing you can do for your health.

If you don’t know about it yet you really should check out the benefits of strength training here.

Even if you’re terrified, this article will break down the process, and help you to understand what you need to do and how. 

Each exercise will be explained with a video and coaching points. They’ll be beginner and home-gym friendly. 

Trust me. I’m a professional! 😉

Beginner workout plan for women: The workouts

In this program, you’ll be performing four workouts per week, with an optional cardio element. (You can tweak this to 2 or 3 workouts a week If time is tight- but please do try to find 40 minutes 4 times a week if possible, your future body will thank you).

There are two different workouts that you’ll perform twice each per week (that’s where we get the four workouts per week from).

Each workout will consist of only 6 exercises, one of which will be an ab exercise. The warm-up will be the same each time. 

Each workout will last a MAXIMUM of 40 minutes, so it won’t eat into your day.

I promise.

Workout 1

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Barbell Squat (Negatives)31265110
Push Up310Bodyweight (on knees & negatives see regressions in push up benefits)Bodyweight
Dumbbell Row31022**35**
Shoulder Press3103050
Hip Thrust310 4590
Plank230 secondsBodyweight (on knees)Bodyweight

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Workout time required

40 minutes max

Workout focus

In this workout, you should be focussing on maximizing the contraction of your muscles with each and every lift. It’s a chance to really understand and ‘feel’ your muscles contract as they perform the movements.

Workout 2

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Inverted Rows38Bodyweight (higher bar)Bodyweight
Bench Press84560
Lateral Raises21210**15**
Side Plank230 Seconds Per SideBodyweightBodyweight

Workout time required

40 minutes max

Workout focus

This is a workout that involves the biggest, heaviest lift in the program. The deadlift is your chance to maximize the strength gains, so push yourself here, but stay focussed on form to ensure safety.

In this workout I really want you to push your strength limits – harder work means better results!

Equipment needed for the beginner workout plan for women 

As a website dedicated to helping people to work out effectively at home, we only write programs that are home gym friendly. Here’s a list of all the equipment you need to carry out these workout programs.

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

If you haven’t got some of these, follow the links to reviews, guides, and buying options. It’s also our goal to educate you when it comes to home gym equipment. We’ll help make your dollars go further, and give you the best value for money. 

Example workout schedule 

For a beginner, I’d like you to think about the frequency of your workout, rather than the duration. Shorter workouts obviously take less time to perform, but they also take less time to recover from. 

With the plan below, you’ll train for two consecutive days then rest. If you follow it as described, you’ll enjoy a midweek rest and a weekend rest. 

You could change this to suit your schedule, but I’d urge you to not do more than 3 days in a row. Give your body time to rest and recover between workouts. 


Each workout should take no more than 40 minutes. So your entire workout time for the week is less than three hours!

When you think a week is 168 hours, it’s not that much of a time commitment for you!

What weight should you lift?

To figure out what you should be lifting, perform your first set of an exercise with a weight you know will be very easy. Then build up the weight on subsequent sets until you’re lifting a suitable weight.

In practice, it looks like this…

Example: Your workout needs you to squat 3 sets of 5, but you’ve never done a squat before so don’t know what weight to lift.

  1. Perform a warm-up set with an empty barbell (44lbs is a men’s Olympic barbell).
  2. Add a little weight (around 5lbs) to the bar and complete 5 reps.
  3. Repeat this until you reach a point where you can’t manage a set of 5 reps with good form.
  4. Make a note of the last weight you could perform the full reps with good form.

This is your ‘working weight’ and will be the basis of your training going forward. Here’s an example of what a beginner client achieved in their session to work out their starting weight…

Example graph showing the weight progress of a beginner client

Repeat this process for each of the exercises you do in a workout. That will give you the information you need. 

Always start easy, lift with good form, and don’t over-exert yourself in the beginning. This is a process, not a rush to the end. 

Warm up

Beginner workout plan for women - warm up

The warm up is the same for both workouts.

5 Minutes of cardio of your choice – that can be an air bike, a run, jump rope, rowing machine etc. 

You then move on to the workout, but the warm up continues throughout. 

Before you start a new exercise, perform a set with a very light (empty barbell or light dumbbell). 

You don’t count this in your sets by the way. So, if the workout says ‘3 sets of 12 squats’, you’re actually going to do 4 – but the first one doesn’t count because it’s a light warm up set. 

Performing a warm up like this helps to practice the movement pattern and gets you used to the exercise. It also helps to reduce injury risk, because you’re competent with the movement before you increase the load.

One final tip – NEVER static stretch before your training – do this afterwards, when the muscles are warm and pliable. Stretching a cold muscle increases the chances of soft tissue injury.

Beginner workout plan for women 

Workout 1

Barbell Squat (Negatives)3121 min
Push Up3101 min
Dumbbell Row3101 min
Shoulder Press3101 min
Hip Thrust310 1 min
Plank230 seconds30 secs

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Beginner workout plan for women infographic 1

1. Barbell squat (negatives)

Why negatives? Simple – they’re slower, so they allow you more control. As a beginner, this improves safety and movement practice. It also makes a given exercise harder at a lower weight. Lower yourself for a count of 3-5 seconds, then explode up.

Equipment needed for barbell squats:

There are so many benefits of squats that I won’t list them all here but you should check out the article linked to see why they are so important.

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

2. Push ups

Ideally do the full push ups if you can. If you can’t, follow the progressions in this video. It’s actually very good… The aim should be full push ups as soon as possible.

Equipment needed for push ups: 

  • None!

Again check out the benefits of push ups. There are so many it’s another vital exercise.

Pro tip: You may find a push up board quite useful if you want to include more push ups in your routine.

3. Dumbbell rows

I’ve put dumbbell rows in here because they’re unilateral, which means they train both sides independently. This means you correct any strength imbalances between your stronger and weaker side.

Equipment needed for dumbbell rows:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

4. Shoulder press

This is an important exercise for beginners to learn. As well as strengthening the arms and shoulders, it also helps to brace the core and train the general upper body. This one exercise benefits strength all over. 

Equipment needed for shoulder press:

5. Hip thrust

The hip thrust is one of the most underrated exercises in the gym. It’s become much more popular in recent years, especially for women’s workout routines.

It’s one of the best exercises for the glutes but it’s a great core and lower back workout too.  

Equipment needed for step ups:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

6. Plank

The plank is a good exercise for engaging the entire core and torso in one movement. It’s a simple exercise to learn and easy to progress. If you can’t manage 30 seconds at first, do as long as you can.

Then rest for 5 seconds, and go back up. Keep going until you reach 30 seconds. 

Equipment needed for plank:

  • None!

Workout 2

Deadlifts381 min
Inverted Rows381 min
Bench Press81 min
Lunges312 (per side)1 min
Lateral Raises2121 min
Side Plank230 Seconds Per Side30 secs
Beginner workout plan for women infographic 2

1. Deadlifts

Often referred to as the king of exercises, the deadlift is likely to be the exercise where you can lift the most weight. It’s a movement that takes time to learn, so take your time, study the form video and practice.

When you get the exercise right, really work hard to increase your weights every week.

Equipment needed for deadlifts:

2. Inverted rows

The inverted row is a challenging exercise, but it’s a great way to train the upper and mid back, and the arms. Whilst the technique isn’t difficult, lifting your body weight is hard for many beginners.

The good news is it’ll build a lot of strength!

Equipment needed for inverted rows:

REP PR-4000 Power Rack

REP-PR-4000 Power Rack
Read our best squat rack guide here

Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?

Look no further!

After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.

You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!

The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.

And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.

3. Bench press

The bench press is probably the most popular upper body exercise of them all. It’s an effective way to train the chest, shoulders and triceps.

It’s a simple exercise to learn, and it’s a way to build a lot of upper body pressing strength. 

Equipment needed for bench press:

4. Lunges

This is another unilateral leg exercise, so it forces both legs to work hard. I also like this exercise because it trains the glutes hard, so it gives you a lot of benefit from a single movement.

Just make sure you do the full number of reps per leg. 

Equipment needed for EXERCISE:

5. Lateral raises

The lateral raise is a great way to help build the shoulders, providing you with a defined upper arm. They’re a very simple exercise, carrying little risk of injury.

Even though they’re pretty basic, they are still a challenge for the shoulders!

Equipment needed for lateral raises:

6. Side plank

The side plank is a slightly more challenging version of the standard plank, because you’re supporting your body weight on one arm, rather than two.

It’s also more weight down a single side of the body, activating the sides of the torso. 

Equipment needed for side planks:

  • None!

Beginner Workout Plan for Women: 5 bonus tips for success

Beginner workout plan for women - bonus tips

1. Seek progress every workout 

The way to build strength and fitness is to add weight or reps with each workout. The rate of strength improvement varies from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is to look to progress at around 5% per week.

This means if your starting weight of an exercise is 80lbs, then you’d be adding around 4lbs per week to what you’re able to lift. 

If you’re progressing faster, don’t hold yourself back. Likewise if your progress isn’t that fast, it doesn’t always mean you’re doing things wrong. That’s a good figure to aim for though.

As you get stronger over time, that rate of progression will naturally slow down. Don’t beat yourself up if after 10 weeks or so you’re not progressing as you did at the start!

You might not manage to lift more weight, but perform an extra rep. That’s progress too, so don’t be down on yourself if your strength isn’t jumping, but your rep capabilities are.

A lady performing squats with a barbell

2. Think frequency, not duration

I’m a proponent of frequency over duration in most cases. I’d rather see you work out four times per week for around 40 minutes than two or three workouts of 90 minutes each.

I prefer this approach for a couple of reasons…

  1. It builds an exercise habit. You build habits by repeating behaviors.
  2. Shorter workouts allow you more recovery time. They also don’t take as much out of you, so they’re less likely to put you off training!

There’s also the argument that more frequent training is more frequent stimulation for your muscles, more frequent spikes in calorie burn and more frequent doses of those feel-good chemicals from movement!

The last point is particularly poignant. When it comes to mental health in particular we know that frequency of exercise is important.

In a 2023 study conducted by Shannon et al titled Frequency, intensity and duration of muscle strengthening activity and associations with mental health, the conclusions drawn were…

Higher frequency and intensity of MS activities may protect against anxiety and depression symptoms. 

Good mental health underpins motivation, desire to exercise, enjoyment of exercise, and the like.

3. Keep your form good

When you exercise with good form, you make the exercises more effective. You engage the target muscles properly, you increase the time under tension of the movements, and you build strength more quickly.

Most importantly, you perform the exercises more safely.

When you’re learning to exercise and following something like this beginner workout plan for women, never sacrifice form for weight.

I’d much rather you focus on perfecting the movements than chasing more and more weight on the bar.

I realize I’ve encouraged you to add more weight (and I stand by that advice), but only when you feel you’ve nailed the movement.

If you’ve got an exercise that you’re struggling with, you don’t need to keep adding weight. 

A great tip for when you’re training on your own, in a home gym is to record yourself on your phone, then watch the footage back.

You’ll see what you’re doing well and how you can improve. You might find the same spot is where you struggle to maintain form, so you can work on your specific weaknesses. 

4. Don’t be afraid to push yourself

One of the observations I’ve made over the last 20 years when training women, is how some are reluctant to really push themselves in the gym.

Some women are worried that by lifting heavy, or lifting frequently they’re going to become big and bulky.

It’s just not going to happen.

Even more men (who have a far more favorable hormonal profile for muscle building) would have to train at a sufficiently high intensity for a very long time to grow a lot of muscle. 

Women simply don’t have the required hormonal profile to get ‘big and bulky’ easily. It would take years of dedicated training and eating to pack on a lot of muscle, so please don’t worry about it.

Instead, focus on pushing yourself – you’ll be fitter, stronger, and healthier – both physically and mentally. 

5. Cardio is optional – so don’t go crazy!

Combined with a calorie controlled diet, these workouts are perfectly capable of helping you lose weight. If you want some nutritional help, our in-depth guide on how to lose fat is the best place to find it…

But despite this, many of you might want to do some cardio. That’s fine, I get it. 

If you do want to add some cardio, here are my suggestions of what to do, and how to stop it from impacting your progress:

  1. Don’t do it on the days when you’re weight training – you don’t want to compromise your energy for your workouts, or your ability to recover afterwards.
  2. Keep the intensity low – I’m thinking gentle jogs, perhaps some hill walking, maybe some cycling or swimming. Don’t go pounding the roads for hours, running miles and miles. It’ll impact energy and recovery.
  3. Do something you enjoy – you don’t want to suffer through your exercise, otherwise, you’ll give up. Pick an activity you enjoy and do that!

If you don’t want to do any cardio, that’s absolutely fine too. Just follow a calorie-controlled diet and you’ll still lose fat if you want to! Just make sure you’re working out hard enough!

If you want to put some cardio in for additional benefits, follow my advice here. 

Some additional information on the beginner workout plan for women…

At Strong Home Gym, we believe in not just teaching you the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, but also the ‘why’.

By learning why a program is put together the way it is, you’ll learn more about exercise and how it improves your health overall.

It’ll also help you to trust the advice that you get from our site, because it’s not just churned-out content built for clicks.

So, here are three benefits of the program, which will help you understand the reasoning behind what we’ve done, and why…

Beginner workout plan for women - benefits

Benefit 1: With these exercises, you’ll learn to exercise properly

Your body wasn’t designed to move in a stiff, structured way as it would on a typical gym machine. 

Sure, it may be ‘easier’ to use machines, but you’ll benefit more from free weights.

Whilst the results between the two are basically the same (with a couple of notable exceptions we’ll discuss in a moment), you’ll learn proper exercise technique with free weights. 

This is key for your long term fitness and skill development. 

In 2023, a study titled Effect of free-weight vs. machine-based strength training on maximal strength, hypertrophy and jump performance – a systematic review and meta-analysis was performed by Haugen et al. One of their findings was that…

‘The meta-analyses on strength found maximal strength in free-weight exercise tests to increase significantly more in the free-weight group than in the machine group.’

This is important because strength underpins a lot of important elements of fitness.

Obviously, it makes you stronger, but it also increases your lifting capacity, strengthens your bones and strengthens your connective tissues.

Being strong also reduces your injury resistance.

A person performing an exercise with a barbell

Benefit 2: The workouts are designed to be minimum time, maximum results focussed…

An important point with regards to beginner workout plans is the length of time they take. When you’re new to exercise, you simply don’t have the capacity to train for a long time. You haven’t developed the required fitness yet. 

The workouts in the beginner workout plan for women are all resistance training based, and they’ll only take around 40 minutes from start to finish. That time will even include a warm up. Our aim here is effective efficiency. 

By focussing the workout plan around resistance training, we ensure that we make the most from the available training time. 

In a piece titled Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, the following evidence in support of resistance training was presented…

Ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg.

Benefits of resistance training include improved physical performance, movement control, walking speed, functional independence, cognitive abilities, and self-esteem.

Resistance training may enhance cardiovascular health, by reducing resting blood pressure, decreasing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides, and increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Resistance training may promote bone development, with studies showing 1% to 3% increase in bone mineral density.

Resistance training may be effective for reducing low back pain and easing discomfort associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia and has been shown to reverse specific aging factors in skeletal muscle.

In terms of health benefits, no other form of exercise can boast the same breadth and depth of improvement in health markers. Especially in such a short period of time.

Benefit 3: The exercises burn calories and strengthen muscles at the same time

We’ve already seen some of the wide variety of benefits to strength training, let’s get granular. Why are we biasing weight training for beginners in particular?

As a personal trainer, I know that most (as in, over 95%) beginners have weight loss as one of their primary goals.

Resistance training is a very effective way to achieve weight loss, allowing you to both lose weight and build muscle at the same time. 

In 2022, Lopez et al performed a study titled Resistance training effectiveness on body composition and body weight outcomes in individuals with overweight and obesity across the lifespan: A systematic review and meta‐analysis

The study analyzed the conclusions of 116 research papers, leading them to conclude…

In conclusion, this study provides evidence that resistance‐based exercise programs are effective and should be considered within any multicomponent therapy program when caloric restriction is utilized in individuals with overweight or obesity.

I’m making an assumption that weight loss and strength improvements are goals of yours.

To be honest, even if you don’t want to lose weight, resistance training is still a very effective way of training. 

These three benefits will help you to understand why the beginner workout plan for women is resistance-based, and not just hours of running.

Beginner workout plan for women: The bottom line

This program has been written to help women build strength, fitness, and confidence in their home gym.

More importantly, it is designed in a way to make this process safe and effective, without eating into too much of your week.

I suggest you re-read the article, take note of the form videos, and get yourself into the gym! Print the workouts (or look at them on your phone) and get busy!

Within 12 weeks you’ll be a different woman!

Once you’re finished with this workout check out this 12 week beginner weightlifting workout.

Want to improve your home gym?

Use the hours of research, testing and experience inside the ultimate guide to build a home gym. Find out…

  • The 4 items of kit every gym needs
  • What you should avoid
  • Where to find bargains and discounts

Click here to learn more about how to build a home gym.

Photo of author
Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

Leave a Comment