Barbell Workout for Women

(Article by Kari Fry with Louise Henderson)

We sat down with Personal Trainer and Study Active assessor Louise to get her thoughts on barbell exercises and how to create a winning barbell workout.

IMPORTANT: The ideas in this article are purely for information only – please do not start an exercise programme until you have completed a PAR-Q and, if necessary, received medical clearance to train. It is important to always warm up and cool down and never to do any exercise that you are unsure of without the support and advice of a qualified professional.

What are some of the benefits to barbell workouts for women?

Weight training will boost metabolism which, in turn, burns calories and this is beneficial if your goal is weight loss. Muscle burns more calories than fat, but as you get older your metabolism tends to slow down due to age related muscle loss or atrophy. However, weight training can help to retain muscle mass thus, keeping metabolism elevated. This is important as weight loss can reduce the risk of long-term health conditions and chronic disease such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Weight training can also increase mental health. When life gets tough it’s easy to quit, but weight training increases the ability to persevere – to push through the extra set or lift more weight when you feel you can’t do anymore.

Weight training will also increase bone density. Oestrogen is needed to help with bone grown, but during the menopause, oestrogen levels drop which can cause low bone density and osteoarthritis. If you already have low bone density, lifting weights can halt or even reverse the condition. Stronger bones can reduce the risk of fractures as well as increasing joint stability which may help reduce the risk of injury due to the increase strength and suppleness of tendons.  One successful German study found that women gain an average of 11% bone mineral density in the hip after 3 years of strength training. (Engelke, K., Kemmler, W., Lauber, D. et al. Exercise maintains bone density at spine and hip EFOPS: a 3-year longitudinal study in early postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int 17, 133–142 (2006).

Finally, a barbell workout will improve your functional ability, balance, and coordination, making your ability to perform everyday tasks with ease.

What would you suggest for a beginner starting out incorporating barbell workouts into their training?

  • Begin by practicing the exercise without the bar. Mastering the technique will reduce the risk of injury.
  • Start light and increase the resistance as you get stronger.
  • Focus on ‘the big 5’. According to Bonvechio, these 5 compound exercises are all you need
    • Back Squat
    • Deadlift
    • Bench Press
    • Barbell Row
    • Overhead Press

Can you talk us through some barbell exercises you would recommend for the following. What might they look like?

  • Barbell Squat – It’s best to use a squat rack in case you are unable to complete a rep. It also makes loading the bar onto your back easier and safer. Start with your feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider, rest the barbell on your upper back. Hold the bar with both hands facing forward - elbows pointing down. Activate your core as you bend your knees and sit back with your hips. Lower until your thighs almost reach parallel to the floor (or as low as you feel comfortable – maintain technique even if it means a shallower squat). Push through your whole foot as you return to the start position.


  • Barbell Leg Workout - as a beginner I would recommend the following 3 exercises: Squat, deadlift, lunge. These exercises focus on the main muscles in the lower body: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and can easily be progressed to keep you challenged once they become manageable. As a beginner who is looking to start building strength I would suggest 3 sets of 8-12 reps, ensuring that you reach muscle fatigue.


  • Upper Body Barbell Workout - As I mentioned before, there are 5 compound exercises that I would recommend. Three of these will work your upper body. The main muscles worked in the bench press is the pectoralis, anterior deltoid, and triceps but when performed properly this exercise works far more muscles in the upper body and core. As well as strengthening the muscles in your back (lats, rhomboids, traps, rear delts) the barbell row helps to promote spine health and ‘trunk’ strength and stability. The overhead press is a great upper body exercise as it strengthens muscles in your deltoids (shoulders), pectorals (chest), triceps (arms) and trapezius (upper back)

How would someone design a woman’s full body barbell workout? What format might that take?

I recommend ‘the big 5’ as these exercises are all compound lifts, meaning that they work multiple muscle groups at the same time. This means that instead of working a different muscle on each day, you can perform this workout 2-3 times per week. As I mentioned earlier, I would suggest a beginner starts with 3 x 8-12, working towards 5x5 (as the name suggests). Rest days are equally important, this gives the muscles time to repair and recover.

Summary - Barbell Workout for Women

Thank you, Louise for your insights and suggestions on barbell workouts for women. There are many benefits to incorporating barbell exercises into your workout and a range of exercises can be utilised to focus on different areas or provide a full body workout.

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