Best strength-training exercises – Women’s Fitness

Love feeling strong? Then you’ll want to make sure these must-do strength-training exercises are a part of your workout arsenal, says PT Nicky McBurney.

The latest scientific research suggests that strength training is the single most important and powerful thing you can do for your body as you get older. The more lean muscle mass you can retain and grow, the better for your overall health and longevity. Progress can be made with just two-to-three strength-training exercises every week, as building muscle is your critical body armour to fight off dementia, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. It will also ignite your metabolism, helping you to lose fat.

If you’re looking to begin a strength-training regime, I’ve got you covered with a plan to get you started by using just your bodyweight, from which you can then progress to weights easily when you feel stronger.

Try doing the circuit below for three rounds, making sure to work both sides. Read on to discover the seven must-do exercises you should have in any fitness programme, and enjoy the feeling of getting stronger!

Nicky McBurney is an advanced PT and fitness expert.

1. The plank

Essential for working your core and mid section.

Start with your elbows stacked directly under your shoulders. Relax your shoulder blades down and pull your pelvis under, activating your glutes. Pull up from your knees and feel your quads (front thighs) activate. Make this easier by either dropping to your knees or using an elevated platform for your elbows (such as a table top). Imagine you are pulling your tummy button back to your spine. Hold for 20, 30 or 40seconds, depending on your fitness level.

2. The squat

One of the best exercises to improve leg and glute strength.

Drive your hips backwards and down, keeping your chest high. Sink your glutes towards your heels and then, pressing through your heels, activate your glutes by switching them on as you ascend back to a standing position. Pull your pelvis under and squeeze your glutes at the top of the move. Make this easier by using a chair to sit back onto. Try 8/10/12 reps.

3. Bicycle ab crunch

Strong abdominals are vital for protecting your back.

Before you start, press your spine down fully onto the mat. Taking one shoulder blade off the floor and direct your elbow to the opposite knee, being careful not to pull your neck. Breathe out as you do this, then switch to the other side. Keep going but try not to go too fast, as taking the momentum away makes the movement much harder! Try 8/10/12 reps.

Try these 4 strength training techniques for lean muscle.

4. The glute bridge

This is a highly effective exercise for strengthening your glutes and back.

Lie on your back and make sure your heels are under your knees. Pressing through your heels, activate and squeeze your glutes as you drive your hips up as high as you can. Pause at the top and slowly release down. To progress, place a dumbbell on your hips. Try 8/10/12 reps.

5. Mountain climbers

Strengthens upper body and core, and boosts heart health.

Begin in plank with straight arms, wrists stacked under your elbows and shoulders. Pull your pelvis under, and make sure you are in a straight line from shoulders to hips to ankles. Once in this strong position, pull one knee towards your nose, then repeat on the other side. Try to keep a steady pace, feeling the work hit into your core, as you keep your tummy button pulled back to your spine. As your strength builds, you’ll be able to hold this for longer, but to begin with, you can use an elevated platform or take breaks when you need. Try 20, 30 or 40 seconds, depending on your fitness level.

6. Lunges

These moves strengthen almost every muscle of the lower body.

Keeping a 90-degree bend in your legs, descend your rear knee until it almost touches the floor. Drive through the heel of the front foot as you push yourself up to standing position, then repeat on the other side. Add weights to progress. Try 8/10/12 reps.

7. Press-ups

Creating strong arms, chest and core, press-ups tick all the boxes.

Start on your knees and place your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Your upper body should be straight and at a 45-degree angle. Slowly lower your chest to the floor, then push away from the floor to the start position. Beginners can drop to the knees or use an elevated surface, such as a kitchen counter top. Try 8, 10 or 12 rep.

Nicky is the founder of the Nicky’s Bootcamp membership, working one-to-one with PT clients. She specialises in training women over 40, with an emphasis on the power and benefits of strength training. Find out more at

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