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Best gym workout for women

Siski Green / 05 February 2016

What's the best gym workout for women? Follow this routine and get the most out of your gym session with this workout designed especially for women.

gym workout for women
Become leaner and fitter with a gym workout

A combination of cardio to burn extra fat, muscle-strengthening exercises for better posture, a perter bottom, flatter stomach and toned upper arms is what most women want from their gym workout. But to achieve this, what is the best gym workout for women?

That’s what this following routine will give you. Print this out and take it with you when you go to the gym. 

Related: Which exercise is best


It’s always a good idea to start with aerobic or cardiovascular exercise as it gets your heart pumping and blood flowing to your muscles. That means it helps warm up your muscles for lifting later. But if you prefer to leave it to last, that’s fine too.

The important thing is to vary the intensity of this part of your workout because that way you gain more stamina and you’ll burn more calories. 

Choose between the bicycle, treadmill or elliptical machine (or do half the workout on one, then the other on a different machine) and follow this pattern: three minutes at 50% your maximum effort, 30 seconds at 75% of your maximum effort, 10 seconds at maximum effort, then two minutes at 50% again. Repeat this until you’ve done 30 minutes.

That’s your cardio workout done. 

Not sure what your maximum effort is?

Most gym machines will tell you what range you’re working out in, based on feedback from heart rate monitors on the machine.

However, it’s ideal if you can talk to a personal trainer or staff member at the gym who can do a maximum heart rate test for you. They will have you do exercise on one of the cardio machines while monitoring you to ascertain at what point you’re pushing yourself to the maximum and how fast your heart is beating at that point.

Once you have that figure, you’ll mostly need to aim for 50-70% of your maximum heart rate when doing aerobic exercise. For the average person that’s usually between 100 and 130 beats per minute.  But if you are unfit or already pretty fit, that figure may vary widely. 

The machines

The best way to approach the machines is to work on all those with work your upper body one day, then for your next workout, work on your lower body.

That way, your muscles get a chance to rebuild and you get leaner and trimmer more quickly without risk of injury. 

Aim for 10-12 repetitions on each machine, doing three sets of those repetitions.

Do not worry that using heavy weights will give you big muscles. You need to use enough weight so that on the 11th or 12th lift or pull, you are struggling to finish. 

In all likelihood that amount of weight won’t be anywhere near as heavy as what a man would lift. Doing this won’t give you bulging Hulk-like muscles, it will simply give you a tighter, leaner physique.

Women’s physiological make-up means that they have to work a lot harder to build huge muscles like men, so just focus on getting stronger and you will be leaner and fitter as a result. 

Upper-body machines: If you want a leaner more toned upper body physique (so upper arms, shoulders, for example), you'll need to do more repetitions at a lighter or lower setting, with a good rhythm (not too slow).

Aim for 12-15 repetitions in each set, where you're feeling 'the burn' in the last three repetitions. (Take a rest of 30 seconds between each set.) That way, you work your muscles and burn off energy but you are less likely to bulk up. 

Lower-body machines: For your lower body, where you have large muscle groups, you can do fewer repetitions where you push yourself harder.

Growing good strong muscles in your legs will help you burn energy even when you're not exercising, as well as help improve stability overall and reducing pressure on your joints.

Aim for 10-12 repetitions in one set, doing three sets. (Take a rest of 30 seconds between each set.) The last one or two repetitions should feel difficult. 

Now get onto the gym mat

While many gym-goers focus on the machines at the gym, they’re missing out. Using free weights and the gym mat are key to a truly streamlined physique. 


This targets your arm muscles as well as your abdominals. Lie face-down and place your hands at chest-height, keeping your elbows to your sides.

Now raise your entire body so that only your hands and toes are touching the floor, keeping your body as straight as possible. Hold the position at the top for a count of three, then slowly lower.

Aim for 10-12 repetitions and a set of three. 

The side plank

This is a unique exercise in the way it targets the midriff, making a tighter and trimmer waistline. This is because, like some pilates moves, it targets some of the deeper abdominal muscles not just the ‘six-pack’ muscles that are more visible.

Lie your right side with your legs straight. Now raise your body onto your right elbow so that it is directly under your right shoulder. Lift your hips upwards until your body is in a straight line from toes to head. Hold the position for a count of 10, then lower.

Do the same on the other side. Do 10-12 repetitions in total. 

Stretch it out

Now is the time to give your body some flexibility. Spend at least 15 minutes completing these positions, below, breathing deeply throughout. This will help relax your muscles after your workout.

None of these positions should be painful, the idea is simply to stretch, so don’t jerk or pull yourself into position. 

Sit cross-legged and let your elbows rest on your knees to give your thighs a stretch. 

Now put your legs in front of you and move your hands slowly down your chins towards your toes. 

Lie back and pull your knees into your chest to release tension in your abdominal muscles. 

Roll onto your front. Tuck your knees underneath you and raise your arms above your head on the ground. This will release any tension in your back. 

Related: Stretching: what you need to know

Nb: If you aren't used to exercise, see your GP before you start. They'll be able to tell you the right type of exercise for you, and give advice on starting slowly and building up gently.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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