A Sample Strength Training Program Design for Women

A custom strength training program for women that factors in muscular and hormonal differences.

By IDEA Authors
Feb 5, 2019

Why Do Men and Women Respond Differently to Strength Training?

We know that men and women have different quantities of muscle fiber types: Women carry more type I, and men carry more type II, but it is also worth noting how men and women react to resistance training—specifically how their muscles react to the demands—as it relates to gene expression.

When at rest, women’s muscles have a greater transcript abundance of genes involved in fatty acid oxidation and—because of this—females exhibit faster restoration after strength training, whereas males experience more prolonged changes and take longer to recover. Sex specificity, as it relates to gene expression, is suggestive of several signaling pathways and explains the disproportional muscle growth in males as compared with females. Sex differences therefore exist in skeletal muscle both at rest and following a bout of exercise (Liu et al. 2010).

Sample Program Design

Case study: Jane is 25 years old, has no special indications or complications, and would like to strength train three times a week. She is a former competitive powerlifter but hasn’t competed in over a year. She wants to get stronger in the big three lifts and is aiming to build muscle while maintaining athleticism and overall health. Jane experiences fatigue, bloating and cramps on days 19–22, and while menstruation doesn’t really bother her, ovulation can sometimes be an issue. The following program is built with these things in mind and starts on day 14 to align the harder-intensity days with the follicular phase.

Note: Exercises in the first superset of each day are utilized as warmup movements, but longer warmups are recommended. Main lifts are based on one-repetition maximum (1-RM), accessories on rating of perceived exertion (RPE).

WEEK ONE: Monday–Sunday, days 14–20. Jane is entering ovulation and the luteal phase. This month, ovulation is not bothering her, but she does feel discomfort in the middle of the luteal phase, so this is a time to decrease training intensity and replace some days with light cardio/rest.

DAY ONE

1a. leg lower, 3 × 8

1b. goblet squat, 3 × 5 w/ 3-1-X tempo (X = “explode”)

2. back squat, 4 × 8, 70% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. tempo back squat, 3 × (1+1) x 2 (RPE 6–7); 2-minute rest

4. snatch deadlift, 2 × 4 (RPE 6–7); 90-second rest

5a. single-leg squat to box, 3 × 8–12

5b. leg curl, 3 × 8–12

5c. jump rope, 3 × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY TWO

1a. commando rock backs, 3 x 8

1b. pushup rock back, 3 x 5

2. bench press, 4 × 8 at 70% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. close-grip bench press, 3 × 4
(RPE 6–7); 2-minute rest

4. seated upright dumbbell press, 2 × 4; 90-second rest

5a. dumbbell incline bench press, 3 × 8–12

5b. half-kneeling kettlebell shoulder press, 3 × 8–12

5c. side plank, 3 × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY THREE

1a. shin box switches, 3 x 5

1b. snapdown to vertical jump, 3 × 5

2. deadlift, 4 × 8 at 70% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. triple-strike deadlift (pause 2 inches from floor, back to floor, pause at knee, back to floor, full pull), 3 × 4 (RPE 6–7); 2-minute rest

4. barbell Romanian deadlift, 2 × 4 (RPE 6–7); 90-second rest

5a. three-point row, 3 × 8–12

5b. lat pulldown, 3 × 8–12

5c. cable face pull, 3 × 10–15; 75-second rest at end of superset

WEEK TWO: Monday–Sunday, days 21–27. Jane is at the end of the luteal phase and will be entering a new cycle. This time can be very case-specific. Jane may still be experiencing discomfort, but, for the most part, the program will continue to intensify.

DAY ONE

1a. leg lower, 3 × 8

1b. goblet squat, 3 × 5 w/ 3-1-X tempo

2. back squat, 5 × 7, 75% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. tempo back squat, 3 × (1+1) x 2 (RPE 7–8); 2-minute rest

4. snatch deadlift, 2 × 4 (RPE 7–8); 90-second rest

5a. single-leg squat to box, 3 × 8–12

5b. leg curl, 3 × 8–12

5c. jump rope, 3 × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY TWO

1a. commando rock backs, 3 × 8

1b. pushup rock back, 3 × 5

2. bench press, 4 × 8 at 75% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. close-grip bench press, 3 x 4 (RPE 7–8); 2-minute rest

4. seated upright dumbbell press, 2 × 5; 90-second rest

5a. dumbbell incline bench press, 3 × 8–12

5b. half-kneeling kettlebell shoulder press, 3 × 8–12

5c. side plank, 3 × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY THREE

1a. shin box switches, 3 × 5

1b. snapdown to vertical jump, 3 × 5

2. deadlift, 4 × 8 at 75% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. triple-strike deadlift, 3 × 4 (RPE 7–8); 2-minute rest

4. barbell Romanian deadlift, 2 × 4 (RPE 7–8); 90-second rest

5a. three-point row, 3 × 8–12

5b. lat pulldown, 3 × 8–12

5c. cable face pull, 3 × 10–15; 75-second rest at end of superset

WEEK THREE: Monday–Sunday, days 28–6 of cycle. During this week, Jane will be in the menstruation/follicular phase, and strength training may be challenging for her.

DAY ONE

1a. leg lower, 3 × 8

1b. goblet squat, 3 × 5 w/ 3-1-X tempo

2. back squat, 6 × 6 at 80% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. tempo back squat, 3 × (1+1) x 2 (RPE 8–9); 2-minute rest

4. snatch deadlift, 2 × 6 (RPE 8–9); 90-second rest

5a. single-leg squat to box, 3 × 8–12

5b. leg curl, 3 × 8–12

5c. jump rope, 3 × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY TWO

1a. commando rock backs, 3 × 8

1b. pushup rock back, 3 × 5

2. bench press, 6 × 6 at 80% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. close-grip bench press, 3 × 4 (RPE 8–9); 2-minute rest

4. seated upright dumbbell press, 2 × 6 (RPE 8–9); 90-second rest

5a. dumbbell incline bench press, 3 × 8–12

5b. half-kneeling kettlebell shoulder press, 3 × 8–12

5c. side plank, 3 x × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY THREE

1a. shin box switches, 3 × 5

1b. snapdown to vertical jump, 3 × 5

2. deadlift, 6 × 6 at 80% of 1-RM; 2-minute rest

3. triple-strike deadlift, 3 × 4 (RPE 87–9); 2-minute rest

4. barbell Romanian deadlift, 2 × 6 (RPE 8–9); 90-second rest

5a. three-point row, 3 × 8–12

5b. lat pulldown, 3 × 8–12

5c. cable face pull, 3 × 10–15; 75-second rest at end of superset

WEEK FOUR: Monday–Sunday, days 7–13. Jane is now in the follicular phase, so her program should continue to intensify in both weight and volume, as this is when she is most primed for testing. This is a good week for AMRAPs (doing “as many reps as possible”) or 1-RM testing—in this case, she’ll do AMRAPs testing for the next phase of programming.

DAY ONE

1a. leg lower, 3 × 8

1b. goblet squat, 3 × 5 w/ 3-1-X tempo

2. back squat, 1 × AMRAP at 85% of 1-RM

3. tempo back squat, 3 × (1+1) × 2 (RPE 9–10); 2-minute rest

4. snatch deadlift, 2 × 6 (RPE 9–10); 90-second rest

5a. single-leg squat to box, 3 × 8–12

5b. leg curl, 3 × 8–12

5c. jump rope, 3 × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY TWO

1a. commando rock backs, 3 × 8

1b. pushup rock back, 3 × 5

2. bench press, 1 × AMRAP at 85% of 1-RM

3. close-grip bench press, 3 × 4 (RPE 9–10); 2-minute rest

4. seated upright dumbbell press, 2 × 6 (RPE 9–10); 90-second rest

5a. dumbbell incline bench press, 3 × 8–12

5b. half-kneeling kettlebell shoulder press, 3 × 8–12

5c. side plank, 3 × 30 seconds; 75-second rest at end of superset

DAY THREE

1a. shin box switches, 3 × 5

1b. snapdown to vertical jump, 3 × 5

2. deadlift, 1 × AMRAP at 85% of 1-RM

3. triple-strike deadlift, 3 × 4 (RPE 9–10); 2-minute rest

4. barbell Romanian deadlift, 2 × 6 (RPE 8–9); 90-second rest

5a. three-point row, 3 × 8–12

5b. lat pulldown, 3 × 8–12

5c. cable face pull, 3 × 10–15; 75-second rest at end of superset

For more, please see “A Woman’s Place Is in the Weight Room” in the online IDEA Library or in the Febuary 2019 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.

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