Lift Heavy and Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn

This message goes out to all womxn! Have you ever struggled with hitting higher intensities in the gym, or feelings of sluggishness around your period and wondered why? You’re not alone.

And furthermore, what you’re experiencing is not in your head. My previous article on this topic dives more into the science of matching our female physiology to our training and nutrition for optimum performance and recovery. Check it out here if you missed it!

Today, I am going to break down one aspect of that article a little further – how to approach training all 28 days of your cycle – and provide sample workouts based on the research of Dr. Stacy Sims. Sims holds both a MSc and PhD; is an Environmental Exercise Physiologist- Nutrition Scientist and expert in hydration, nutrition and sex differences; and the author of an amazing book called ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life.

Before I continue, this isn’t something you need to obsess over!

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
Hitting the gym, sweating, moving, lifting, breathing in any capacity is AWESOMESAUCE. The more we lift in any capacity, the better prepared we are to tackle life on a day-to-day basis.

I want this more nuanced information I’m about to tell you to empower and elevate your practice, as a new, curiosity-led way to approach your training as a female, to make you feel your best when you step inside the gym.

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
It can be beneficial if you have some serious strength goals you’d like to accomplish in the gym, or are an athlete preparing for a race or competition. But first and foremost, the best thing you can do for a healthy body and mind is to make sure you’re lifting well and often as a regular practice. Then you can start sprinkling in some of the details below!

Why Should We Lift?

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
In order to gain strength, develop shape in your glutes, hamstrings, core, shoulders, etc, and to maintain a lean physique, you must lift heavy things. There is no denying that strength training is incredibly effective for overall lean body mass and can also improve performance in other activities, like running, dance or yoga… not to mention contributing to a lower risk of injury, healthy pregnancy/strong delivery process and more graceful aging!

Working out regularly can also benefit a healthy mind. Elevating your heart rate releases endorphins which can reduce stress, boost mood and overall confidence. When we feel empowered by our self-care and elevated by our practice of strength, we all walk a little taller, give ourselves more grace and, as a result, can offer more of our best selves to the world around us, including loved ones, employers, clients, etc!

Womxn who experience a cycle can adapt their training to better match their physiology to promote optimum strength and recovery. How?

Low Hormone Phase

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
Let’s review the phases of your cycle. While every womxn’s cycle can differ in length, we will use a standard 28-day cycle to keep it simple. The low hormone phase (Day 1-14, which is day 1 of bleeding to day 1 of ovulation) is the best time to hit the gym and work on strength and power.

Because of the lower progesterone, your body is capable of higher intensities and, fun fact, the female body is capable of a 10% increase in the weight you can lift the day before ovulation. Following a traditional strength or power program three times a week and hitting more interval type training is best suited for this phase.

What does that look like? I’ve provided a template that you can take to the gym during your next low hormone phase to see how your body responds.

Low Hormone Phase Sample Workout

For each exercise, aim to pick a weight that feels like you could only do one more good rep in the set. You should feel challenged by your weight selection to maximize your strength during this phase of your cycle.

Power/Core Superset

  • A1: Heavy KB Power Swings – 3 sets x 6 reps
  • A2: Plank Pull Throughs – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Rest: 30 seconds

Strength Supersets

  • B1: Trap Bar Deadlifts – 4 sets x 3-5 reps (aim to increase your load safely and gradually each set, until you feel you are maxed out at your final round, aka you couldn’t lift any heavier with good form for 3-5 reps)
  • B2: Single Arm DB Bench Press – 4 sets x 6 reps (each side)
  • Rest: 60 – 90 seconds
  • C1: Heavy Walking Lunges – 3 sets x 12 reps (total)
  • C2: Pendlay Row – 3 x 6 R/L
  • C3: Deadbug – 3 x 0:30
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Conditioning
Perform each exercise for 20 seconds as heavy/powerfully as possible, followed by 20 seconds of rest.

  • D1: Heavy Goblet Squats – 3 sets x 20 seconds
  • Rest: 40 seconds
  • D2: “Hit the Ceiling” Jump Squats – 3 sets x 20 seconds
  • Rest: 40 seconds
  • D3: Pushups, as fast as you can – 3 sets x 20 seconds
  • Rest: 40 seconds
  • D4: Heavy DB Push Press – 3 sets x 20 seconds
  • Rest: 40 seconds

High Hormone Phase

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
During the high hormone phase (day 14 -28 of your cycle, aka first day of ovulation through first day of bleeding) things get trickier.

Here’s what’s going on: the body’s core temperature becomes elevated; there is more relaxen flowing through the body which can make you more injury-prone; hitting higher intensities becomes more difficult because progesterone levels are higher, which makes it harder to utilize glycogen as fuel and causes us to lose sodium at a higher rate. On top of feeling bloated and possibly a little forgetful or less coordinated, all of this means more fatigue, more dehydration, less power, less strength, less agility.

But all is not lost! You can absolutely successfully train during this time and maximize your performance with a few mindful tweaks. During your high hormone phase, it can be more beneficial to follow a higher rep/lower load template to continue developing strong, lean muscle and practice healthy movement patterns.

What does that look like? I’ve created a template for that, too!

High Hormone Phase Sample Workout

For each exercise, you will want to go a bit lighter than you did during your low hormone phase, since we are dealing with higher reps. I want to be clear: you should still feel challenged by your weight selection! I have made the adjustments in volume for you in this program to match your high hormone phase needs.

Power/Core Superset

  • A1: KB Swings – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • A2: Plank Hold – 3 sets x 30 seconds
  • Rest: 30 seconds

Strength Supersets

  • B1: Trap Bar/KB Deadlifts – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • B2: Single Arm Bench Press – 3 sets x 10 reps (each side)
  • Rest: 90 seconds
  • C1: Walking Lunges – 3 sets x 20 reps (total)
  • C2: Alternating Bent Over Rows – 3 sets x 12 reps (total)
  • C3: Deadbug – 3 sets x 30 seconds
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Glutes/Arms/Core
This hypertrophy or muscle building circuit is in place of the higher intensity circuit from your low hormone phase to better match your body’s slightly more limited ability to produce power, speed and recovery during this phase.

  • D1: Single Leg Hip Thrusts – 2-3 sets x 20 reps (each side)
  • D2: Side Lying Hip Abduction – 2-3 sets x 15 reps (each side)
  • Rest: 60 seconds
  • E1: Bicep Curls – 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps
  • E2: Triceps Pushups – 2-3 sets x 8-10 reps
  • E3: Mountain Climbers – 2-3 sets x 30 seconds
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Post Menopausal Phase

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
For postmenopausal ladies, lifting heavy and powerfully is the way to go. Sims recommends focusing on a minimum of three days of heavy lifting and cutting back on high intensity training and longer distance endurance training (unless it brings you joy!). This will preserve muscle and bone mass to keep you stronger, healthier and fit!

Strength Crushing Lean Mass Workout for Mature Womxn

For each exercise, aim to pick a weight that feels like you could only do one more good rep in the set. You should feel challenged by your weight selection to maximize your strength and maintain healthy bone density and muscle mass.

Power/Core Superset

  • A1: Heavy KB Power Swings – 3 sets x 6 reps
  • A2: Plank Pull Throughs – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Rest: 30 seconds

Strength Supersets

  • B1: Trap Bar Deadlifts – 5 sets x 5 reps (aim to increase your load safely and gradually each set, until you feel you are maxed out at your final round, aka you couldn’t lift any heavier with good form for 5 reps)
  • B2: Single Arm Bench Press – 4 sets x 8 reaps (each side)
  • Rest: 60 – 90 seconds
  • C1: Heavy Walking Lunges – 3 sets x 12 reps (total)
  • C2: Pendlay Row – 3 sets x 6 reps (each side)
  • C3: Deadbug – 3 sets x 30 seconds
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Conditioning

Perform each exercise for 20 seconds as heavy/powerfully as possible, followed by 20 seconds of rest.

  • D1: Heavy Goblet Squats – 3 sets x 20 seconds
  • Rest: 40 seconds
  • D2: MB Slams – 3 sets x 20 seconds
  • Rest: 40 seconds
  • D3: Pushups, as fast as you can – 3 sets x 20 seconds
  • Rest: 40 seconds
  • D4: Heavy DB Push Press – 3 sets x 20 seconds

You can see from the examples that the programs aren’t hugely different. A few minor tweaks here and there to alter volume and in some cases exercise selection to better suit your body’s unique needs, no matter what age you are!

Should Womxn Eat Differently Than Men?

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
Matching your nutrition to your cycle can also help optimize your performance. Optimizing your nutrients, both from food and supplementation can help alleviate symptoms from your cycle, like fatigue and dehydration, and can enhance recovery between sessions.

To make tweaks to your nutrient intake and timing to feel your best all 28 days of your cycle, check out my previous article!

You Got This!

Lift Heavy and Lift Often: 3 Strength Workouts for Badass Womxn
My parting words: this information is great for fine-tuning an already well-established fitness routine. I want to drive home again that this isn’t something you need to stress out about.

For example, let’s say you decide to take a high intensity interval class like Kick-Ass Conditioning and realize you’re in your high hormone phase. “But Elizabeth said lesser intensities are better during this time!” Don’t worry! You don’t have to cancel the class! You will get amazing benefits out of the workout. Moving is ALWAYS better than NOT MOVING.

But! With your newfound knowledge, you may be able to give yourself permission to listen to your body, see how it’s responding, and pull back a bit if you need to.

It’s liberating to know that we can use this information to treat ourselves better, to be kinder, to adjust our expectations in the moment based on where we’re at hormonally. To recognize that our female physiology is unique and awe inspiring and should be treated as such! To give ourselves permission to go hard and crush heavy weights when it feels right, and also to pull back and work on great form and execution instead of intensity at other times.

Approach this with curiosity. Play with this during your next phase to see if you experience any positive changes in energy, or hit new PR’s! How awesome would that be?! I’d love to hear how you do!

 


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Elizabeth Stacey Ellis is a fitness/wellness coach and entrepreneur located in Orlando, FL by way of NYC. Her business Elizabeth Stacey Ellis / “Fit with Ease” is all about empowering, educating and energizing clients with empathy and enthusiasm, by providing not just the what but the why of strength training and nutrition. In NYC, she trained Ninjas at our very own Mark Fisher Fitness (look for the girl in the tiger leo!) and Physique57. You can find her online via her website or her most favorite, instagram: @elizabethstaceyellis!

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