Muscle Building Training

Essential Lifts Every Woman Should Know

Whether you’re new to the weights room or consider yourself a seasoned pro, there are a few essential lifts for women every girl should know.

Hitting the bar for the first time can be a little intimidating. Especially when there are gym bros all over the place. Even if you’ve been smashing the weights for a while, or you’re feeling super confident, you still remember the first time you went over to the squat rack and nailed some lifts.

To help you start your love affair with the barbell, or to help give your workouts a refresher, we’ve got a list of the essential lifts for women.

We’ll take you through each movement, so you know exactly what to do before you get started.

Article Preview – Essential Lifts for Women:

  • Back squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Hip Thrust
  • Pendlay Row
  • Shoulder Press

Essential Lifts for Women

Begin your journey into the world barbell lifts, or hit refresh on your usual routine – whatever your goal, our list of essential lifts for women will give you a head start.


Back squat

Woman doing a weighted squat in the gym as part of the essential lifts for women

The squat gets just about every muscle in your leg firing. Whether you’re trying to build an enviable booty or want to boost your leg strength, this is the place to start. At the core of every effective leg day is this compound movement, because it’s just so damn efficient. You might struggle getting up the stairs the next day, but you’ll thank us later.

How to back squat:

  1. Step under the bar and allow it to rest across the back of your shoulders.
  2. Grip it with both hands and stand up straight, raising it out of the rack.
  3. Stand with your feet just outside hip width apart and your toes pointing outwards at around 40 degrees.
  4. Keeping your chest as upright as possible and your back strong, push your hips back and down until they’re just below your knees.
  5. From there, squeeze your glutes and push up and out of the squat.

Notes and tips:

  • Keep your weight on your heels throughout
  • If you feel your knees starting to cave in, push them out to stay strong
  • Try not to lean forward – keep your chest high
  • Before you start your squat, pick a spot at the top of a wall and keep your eyes on that throughout the movement. This should help you keep your back straight, core strong and your chest up.
  • Perform muscle activation exercises to power up and get the most out of the movement.



This is one of the most effective lifts out there when it comes working your body hard. With good form, this lift can work your back, your core, legs and glutes. It really is one of those all-rounder movements that works a huge range of muscles.

How to deadlift:

  1. Stand with your feet at hips width apart and place them under the bar. You shouldn’t be able to see the top of your shoelaces.
  2. Grip the bar so your forearms are just touching the outside of your knees.
  3. Bend your knees slightly, push your butt back and flatten your back.
  4. Your shoulders should be just over the bar. Gently pull on the bar and raise your chest to create tension.
  5. Keeping your back straight, push through your heels and stand up. Straighten your legs for the first pull and push the hips through for the second.
  6. To return the bar to the floor, push your hips back again and bend the knees. Keep your back strong the whole time.

Notes and tips:

  • Keep your back straight, core engaged, and your chest high throughout this movement. Both on the way up and the way down.
  • When you stand up fully, aim not to overextend at the hips.



Bench Press

Woman at the top of a bench press movementThis movement is key to achieving all round upper body strength. It’s the perfect way to kick-start your upper body day. Now, you might have to fight the gym bros off the bench, but it’s definitely worth doing. This movement will help toned up your arms and create that all round physique we’re looking for.

How to bench press:

  1. Lie on the bench with the bar above your face
  2. Grip the bar around shoulder width apart
  3. Push the bar up and out of the rack, holding it straight up above your chest
  4. Lower the bar to the middle of your chest
  5. Push up until your arms are straight again

Notes and tips:

  • To get the hang of this one, aim to make it a smooth, controlled movement. If you start to feel the bar wobbling, lower the weight until you get it tight.
  • It should move in a straight line from your chest to the start position.
  • As you start to go heavier, grab your gym bestie and ask them to spot you. This way you can go hard without worrying about dropping the bar.


Hip Thrust

This move right here is the queen of booty building exercises. With hip thrusts under your lifting belt, you’ll be able to make some incredible butt gains in no time. It’s about as close as you can get to an isolation exercise for your glutes, so get the form down and add it to your workout routine pronto.

How to hip thrust:

  1. Sit on the floor with your back to a bench and roll your bar until it sits across your hip crease.
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Rest your upper back against the bench, push through your heels and raise your hips up.
  4. As you push your hips upwards, aim not to slide up onto the bench.
  5. At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes before lowering your hips and the bar to the floor.

Notes and tips:

  • Use a barbell pad to protect yourself from bruises across your hips
  • If you’re new to lifting, try out the form on this movement without a weight to start with. Move on to adding load when you start to feel comfortable.
  • Don’t slide too far onto the bench so you’re hinging off the bench with a straight back. If you slip back too far, you could place the pressure on your lower back rather than through your glutes.
  • Keep your rib cage down and your core strong to ensure your back is straight.


Pendlay Row

Woman at the bottom of a pendlay rowOtherwise known as the bent over row, those is a key lift for building strength in your back. With the right form you can really drill into the big muscles in your back for some incredible results. The back has a huge amount of muscles in it, and by working this area you can improve your posture and even you other compound lifts. It’s not one you want to miss.

How to hip thrust:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and under the bar
  2. Bend over and take hold of the bar
  3. Break at the knees, keep your hips high and your back strong and flat
  4. Lift your chest and pull on the bar slightly, bringing your scapula’s together
  5. Pull the bar up and off the floor so it touches your lower chest

Notes and tips:

  • Keep your chest up and your back strong throughout this movement. If you feel yourself start to arch, lower the weight.
  • Really think about pulling your upper back together and squeezing the muscles for the most effective results.
  • Lift your elbows high in this movement, so your wrists are strong and straight. No T-Rex arms here girls.


Shoulder Press

We’ve also added this to our list of essential lifts for women because it’s a fantastic way to grow more upper body strength. Shoulders are often neglected in women’s workouts, so if you want that all fit-girl look, you gotta work ‘em girl.

How to shoulder press:

  1. Grip the bar with both hands at just inside shoulder width apart
  2. Step under the bar, with your elbows raised high in front of you and lift it out of the rack
  3. The bar should be resting across the front of your shoulders, at the bottom of your neck
  4. Lower your elbows so they are 90 degrees to the floor
  5. Push the bar directly up, moving your chin out of the way, until your arms are straight
  6. Return the bar back down to your shoulders

Notes and tips:

  • Avoid arching your back as you press up, as this could put pressure on your lower spine.


With these essential lifts for women in your workout plan, you’ll be ready to take your fitness to the next level. You’ll be stronger, feel more confident in the weights room and start to tone up more quickly.

These kinds of compound movements are amazing for working a range of muscle and improving your strength. Afterall, that’s why they’ve made our list top essential lifts for women.


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