Women who are new to strength training — lifting weights — may wonder just how much they should lift for their gym workouts.

The rule of thumb for women is the same as for men, if you’re thinking in terms of safety.

All newcomers to lifting weights, be they women or men, need to adhere to guidelines during the induction period so that they don’t pull or strain a muscle or injure a tendon.

However, how much a woman should lift is also determined by what her goals are.

• Is your primary goal weight loss?

• Is it to convert a “skinny fat” body into a toned, firm and tight body?

• Is it to be stronger?

• Are you tired of having a stick figure and want some curves and shape to your limbs and shoulders?

• Do you want to pin your husband to the floor in your next argument?

The list goes on.

How much should a woman lift at the beginning of her strength training program?

Start out with what feels like light weights. The actual amount will vary, depending on your strength doing into your very first workout.

When I was a personal trainer at a health club, I had newcomers all the time. They all did not have the same starting strength.

For example, what was mildly challenging for one novice woman would have been difficult for another novice client.

So it’s not the number on the weight plate that’s important (for weight stack machines).

And it’s not the total poundage of the plates on a barbell or other equipment.

It’s how it FEELS to move it.

For a beginner, for which it’s crucial to build up strength in the tendons and other structures of the joints during the induction phase, the general rule is to perform between 12 and 15 repetitions with a load that’s challenging but not difficult.

Bench Press Example

• Find the amount of weight in which you can, with good form, push the bar all the way up and complete 12 to 15 repetitions with full range of motion.


• I can’t say, “Well, start with 55 pounds,” because this may be too heavy. Yet for other women, it may be a bit too light.

• It all depends on how sedentary you’ve been all along. If you’re really out of shape, I’d recommend just the bar alone to start, which weighs 45 pounds.

• If you’ve been doing pushups and yoga at home for a while, I might say start with 60 pounds.

• The bottom line is to feel challenged, but not whupped, after completing 12 to 15 reps – whether it’s the bench press, lat pull-down, kettlebell swing, squat, leg press or deadlift.

Guidelines for How Heavy a Woman Should Lift

• Don’t choose a certain weight load because you see another woman using it.

• Don’t feel that your body is particularly frail just because you’re a woman. Both women and men need to start out smart and not overdo their training at the beginning to avoid injury.

Shutterstock/Artem Postoev

• Once your body is acclimated (inducted) to strength training, if you want tone and a harder look, use enough weight so that 12 to 15 reps are difficult. If you can do more than 15, increase the load.

• If you want to build muscle, the rep range is eight to 12, where 13 is impossible.

• If you want to be as strong as an ox, the rep range is two to seven. So for instance, a two-rep max in the deadlift would be a weight that you can lift only twice (a third rep is not possible).

• Regardless of your goals, apply progressive resistance.

Progressive Resistance

• The objective is to increase the load over time. This doesn’t mean that if you want only tone and firmness, you’ll morph into the Hulk over time.

• But it’s crucial for women to progress with their strength to build bone mass and build a generous fund of muscle to have in their older years!

• Progressive resistance will keep you motivated and incentivized to never miss gym workouts.

• Always think “Form First” before increasing the weight load.

There is no set number for how much weight a woman should lift. This is just WAY TOO BROAD a question.

The bigger issue is that of learning proper form and doing the right exercises, e.g., focus on large muscle groups for fat loss (squat, kettlebell swing, deadlift, lat pull-down, leg press, chest press, shoulder press) rather than wasting time on crunch machines.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: Shutterstock/Lyashenko Egor