Beginner Split Routine for Women
This kind of split routine is the first step towards high intensity workout. Intensity is not that high, but it is significantly higher than in the case of a basic full-body workout. This program can build a modest physique – not the bodybuilder type, but an athletic look. You shouldn’t hope for a huge muscle mass (or – which suits ladies better – you don’t need to fear you’ll get “too muscular”). The goal is to learn a lot of things: how to pump your muscles, how to focus on them, and how to tire them in 10 reps; how to choose the appropriate weights, and how to master the right moves.
- Lat pull-downs behind the neck
- Cable rows
- Lateral raises (standing)
- Dumbbell shoulder presses
- Cable tricep extensions
- Overhead dumbbell tricep extensions
- Leg extensions
- Leg curls
- Standing calf raises
- Seated calf raises
- Bicep curls (standing)
- Hammer curls
- Leg raises
3 workouts a week with the workout days alternating. Choose the weights so that they feel pretty heavy at the 10th rep. 3 sets of 10-12 reps, unless indicated otherwise.
Grab two dumbbells. Lie down on a bench in a stable position, and hold the dumbbells above your chest with your arms vertical, slightly bent (almost extended). You don’t need to touch the dumbbells to each other. In this position you should feel your pectorals flexing, just like when doing bench presses. Lower the dumbbells slowly and carefully to the sides in an arc so that your pectorals get stretched out. Do not use heavy weights. Hold the dumbbells for a second or so, then lift them back up to the starting position: pull your arms together from the sides using your pecs. Do not include any pushing moves. This move is like hugging a tree. Do not let your lower back, head or legs move. Inhale while lowering, and exhale while lifting the dumbbells.
Pull-overs: Lie crosswise on a bench, and hold a dumbbell with both hands so that the dumbbell is in a vertical position, and your palms support the lower surface of the upper plate. Keep your arms slightly bent backwards. Lower the dumbbell past your head below the level of the bench, and feel your chest widen as your pecs are stretching. Do not let your hips lift, keep them as low as you can. Stop the motion at the lowest position with the pecs stretched out, and then pull the dumbbell back up again – using the arms as little as possible. Feel the pecs working at the highest position and do not move the dumbbell too far beyond the upright position.
Sit in the machine and grab the bar with a wide grip. You should keep your back arched all along. Never bend your back or neck! Pull the bar behind your neck or to your neck maybe. But don’t pull too low, to your scapulae, while twisting your shoulders completely! (This horror move is a mystery to me. And I usually see women doing it.) The key of this exercise is that you should completely exclude the work of your arms from the move. They should only function as “hooks”. Don’t hold the bar with your thumbs around it; doing so, it will be easier to do the move without using your arms. Focus on your scapulae: use your back muscles to move them. You should exhale while pulling the bar down, and feel your back muscles flexing in the middle. Hold it for a second, then extend your arms slowly, inhale and feel your back muscles stretching on both sides. Never yank the weight or use momentum for the move, and do not drop the weight.
Sit down on a bench with your legs slightly bent. Your upper body should be as far from the foot holder that the weight plates should not contact in the lowest position (when you are bent over so that your back muscles are stretching, but without leaning forward with your lower back). Pull the weights backwards, focusing on the movement of the back muscles and the scapulae, but without using your arms. Remember: your arms are just hooks! Feel your back muscles flexing; hold this position for a moment, then lower the weights slowly until your back muscles are fully stretched. The point is to have your back muscles stretched, not your arms or lower back!
Hyperextension works the lower back muscles and the spinal erectors. You will need a hyperextension frame for this exercise. Hook your feet and lower your upper body slowly, while inhaling. When your lower back muscles are already stretching, start the upward move while exhaling. Make sure you are not using any momentum, and arch your back as far as you can. Hold it for a second in this position, then lower again slowly.
This is one of the most difficult exercises. Keep in mind that instead of flailing your arms up and down, you should focus on using your deltoids (the muscles right above the center of motion of your shoulders) to raise your arms. This loads your shoulders in a way like you were lifting a stick with some weight fixed at its opposite end. There are several different techniques to perform this exercise, but the point is that you should not let your body swing back and forth. You can start the move from your sides, but it is even better to start from a position with your palms facing your thighs. Inhale while lifting the weights. Your arms should be slightly bent (like “a bird with broken wings”), and hold the dumbbells with your thumbs pointing downwards. This is the famous “pouring water” wrist position. If you lift the dumbbells above the horizontal position (and you should), your traps get involved too. But do not lift them too high. Always focus on the feeling in your deltoids! Deltoids get tired fast, as they are pretty small muscles, and they send a burning signal about that. Lower the dumbbells slowly. Avoid jerking!
For shoulder presses you will need a bench with a back support which should be adjusted to vertical (or to the nearest position). If there is no such bench available, just sit on any bench, and focus on the right posture: keep your back arched. Pick up the dumbbells so that they are at shoulder height; your forearms should be vertical, and as low as your shoulders allow. Starting from this position, push the dumbbells upwards and slightly inwards in a straight line while exhaling, to a height at which you feel your deltoids flexing. Lower the dumbbells slowly to the starting position as far as your shoulders allow. Feel your shoulders stretching! Take a deep breath while lowering the dumbbells. Hold on for a second in the lowest position; let the muscles stretch, then go on to the next rep. What you need to focus on is the coordination of movement because, in the beginning, the two dumbbells tend to move haphazardly. It is recommended to hold the dumbbells a bit tilted inwards to assist the slightly inward motion. Make sure the dumbbells are not following a curved path, and do not let them move apart either.
Use a straight bar for this exercise. Grab the bar with a shoulder-wide grip. Keep your elbows pressed to your sides, and keep your upper arms parallel. Pull the bar down to the starting position – this means, the upper arms are vertical at your sides. From this position, push the bar downwards with your triceps until your elbows are straight. Don’t hold the bar with your thumbs around it! Push the bar downwards; flex in the lowest position, then return slowly to the starting (top) position. But never let your upper arms move. Make sure you don’t let your elbows wander! Exhale when pushing down.
This exercise can be done sitting, too. What really matters is that your arms and your torso should be vertical. Stretch one arm upwards, holding a dumbbell, keeping the upper arm completely vertical. From this position, lower the dumbbell slowly while inhaling, until it reaches behind the back of your neck. Get it as low as possible without compromising the vertical position of your upper arm; then push the weight upwards using your triceps, while exhaling. (If you are feeling your shoulders, that means the weight is too heavy). Stretch out your arm in the top position as far as you can. Doing so, your triceps will be flexing. Then, repeat.
It’s a good idea to start your workout with the abs, as this exercise will warm up your whole body. Forget about the traditional sit-ups. Focus on your abs. You will need a roman chair for crunches. The point of the crunching move is not to move your trunk forward: you should literally crunch your abs, and your spine will be curling forward. Hold it for a second in this crunched position. Then, lower your trunk back, but only to the point where your abdominals relax. Exhale while crunching your abs. Sit-ups with leg raises are performed similarly. In this exercise, you are lifting your legs and trunk from the ground at the same time, using your abdominals. Just like you did in P. E. classes back at school. Please let me highlight that ab training is not for removing abdominal fat. There is absolutely no connection between your abs and the layer of fat under your skin!
This is the basic exercise for developing your lower body. There is no way to do this in an isolated manner, as your hamstrings, quads and glutes will always work. Squats are very difficult and dangerous, so you must comply with some basic rules to avoid injuries – needless to say, you are more likely to injure yourself while squatting than doing, say, bicep curls. Stand in a narrow stance, with your toes pointing outwards. You should experiment to find the correct width for yourself. You should not even try this with your legs parallel (with your thighs and shins in line). It would be a brutal shearing stress for the knees, plus it would not allow you to squat deep enough: most people are too inflexible, so trying to squat this way, their trunks will most likely tilt forward. This move is not simply forbidden; it is dangerous too! (Imagine what it can do to your spine if you are holding some weight at your neck, too!) The goal is to squat with your lower back straight and as close to vertical as possible. That’s why you need to squat “in between your legs”. There is one more difficulty: most people cannot squat with their soles kept on the floor, as this will make their lower backs tilt. So you should let your heels come up while squatting, or use a heel-raise. There is one more thing to eliminate: do not look down while squatting, as this will make you lean forward, too. Choose a high spot (above head level), and keep your eyes on it all along, to keep your spine vertical throughout the entire move. It is crucial to go down slowly, inhale deeply, lower yourself as far as you can, and start to move upwards slowly. Do not bounce at the lowest position! You can feel your knees moving slightly outwards while going down, and slightly inwards while rising up. However, you should never let your knees move inwards beyond parallel (“X-legs”)! It is a very common mistake. Do not lock your knees out at the highest position. Keep them slightly bent, with your quads flexed! It is the forced exhalation that gives you the power to come up.
Position yourself in the machine so that your back is straight – do not bend over – and your knees should be right at the center of motion. Raise the weight from the lowest position so that your shins are horizontal and your thighs are flexed to the maximum at the top position. Hold this position for a second. It should be painful! Lower the weight slowly. Exhale while lifting the weight.
Again, there are several ways to do this exercise. The basic move itself is quite difficult. Step forward with one leg in a way that the other leg remains stretched behind and lower yourself slowly as deep as you can. As you feel the glute of the leg on the front stretching, push yourself up using your thighs. In the starting position, your leg on the front should be straight while the other leg is slightly bent and stretched as far backwards as possible. So, looking from the side, the position of your legs should look asymmetrical. You may perform this exercise with your legs alternating, stepping forward at every rep from a standing position, or you can step every time with the same leg. Or, you may not step forward each time but do the move between the lowest and the top position. The walking lunge is an excellent exercise if you are more experienced. In this exercise, you are walking along the gym while doing the lunges, from one wall to the other. It is recommended to do this exercise without weights in the beginning. Later you can grab a dumbbell in both hands or walk with a bar on your shoulders. (The same goes for squats).
This is about working the hamstrings: the back part of your thighs. These muscles are often neglected, even though they shouldn’t be. Lie on the leg curl machine so that your knees are at the center of motion. Use light weights. Pull your feet up using your hamstrings, and do not let your glutes work. You should not feel your lower back burn either. Use your hamstrings only. Flex them at the top position, then lower your feet until your hamstrings are stretching. Exhale while lifting the weights.
Simply do calf raises on the ground: rise on tiptoes using our calf muscles. Aim for 3x50 reps. It won’t be easy!
The goal is the same: muscle tension at the top position. Position the front part of your feet to the appropriate spot of the machine. Lower your heels slowly, then raise them until your calves are fully contracted. Hold this position for a while, then lower your heels as far as you can. Do 3x15-25 reps.
Grab the bar with shoulder-wide grip, with your arms stretched only as far as your biceps allow it: no need to expand your elbows in a straight angle. Keep your lower back straight and avoid swinging. Pull the bar upwards by flexing your biceps completely. Plus, you need to flex them yourself in the top position! Your upper arms should not move forward from the vertical position. Only a minimal play is allowed. 2 centimeters maximum! You shouldn’t lift your upper arms any further. Doing so, the bar will “fall in” your biceps (with zero load on your biceps). Hold it for a second in the top position, then lower the bar in a slow and controlled manner while inhaling. After returning to the starting position, repeat without swinging.
Take one dumbbell in each hand, and hold them like hammers: the handles should be at the side of your thighs, and parallel to your nose. From this starting position, lift the dumbbells with the same move as in the case of biceps curls, but you should not rotate the dumbbells: your palms should not face your biceps. Flex your biceps at the top position, then lower your forearms slowly. You can do this exercise with your arms in sync or alternating, but make sure you are not involving your shoulders in the work, and always keep your elbows pressed tightly to your trunk. In the alternating version the rep count is meant for one arm, and always complete the entire move before starting with the other arm.
There are many versions to this exercise. Don’t let the name mislead you: it’s not primarily about raising your legs. You should focus on crunching your abs, while the legs are just “counterweights”. You can do this exercise hanging or elbowing on a stand. In this case you should lift your legs from a vertical position, using your abs. Now you can do the “X-legs”. Or, you can also perform the move lying on a horizontal or incline bench. But, in both cases, you should feel your abs, not your thighs! Do 10-20 reps.
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