Muscle & Strength’s 12 Week Women’s Workout Program

Josh England
Written By: Josh England
June 7th, 2017
Updated: May 26th, 2021
5.2M Reads
Muscle & Strength’s 12 Week Women’s Workout Program
This 12 week women's specific training program is perfect for any healthy woman who is looking to transform her body through a good weight lifting program.
Workout Summary

Workout Description

For women, starting a new weight training program can be a daunting and frustrating process. With all of the incorrect information out there, it’s tough to find something that actually works.

For years the wrong workout recommendations have been given to women. You know what I’m talking about.

All those magazine articles that promote those highly restrictive diet plans and hours of monotonous treadmill based cardio. The same one’s that go on to describe the “toning” process as picking a light set of dumbbells and performing sets of 20-30 repetitions on any given exercise.

Knowing all we know about female specific training today, we can put some of that in the past.

Recommended: Need help building muscle? Take our Free Muscle Building Course

Muscle & Strength’s Women's Workout

This 12 week program is perfect for any healthy woman who is looking to transform her body through a good weight lifting program.

The goal is to help you develop lean and functional muscle tone through foundational lifts. The workout itself targets your lower body three times a week with a strong focus on your glutes, and your upper body twice a week with a focus on sculpting the muscles of the arms.

To increase the total number of calories burned each day, we’ve also added some recommended cardio sessions that you can do either in the morning or after that day’s workout. However, if you are limited on time, they are not required to see progress with this workout.

Rest periods for this program should be kept to 30-90 seconds in between sets and exercises.

Workout Schedule

  • Monday - Legs & Glutes, Cardio (optional)
  • Tuesday - Back & Arms, Cardio (optional)
  • Wednesday - Legs & Glutes, Cardio (optional)
  • Thursday - Chest & Shoulders, Cardio (optional)
  • Friday - Legs & Arms, Cardio (optional)
  • Saturday - Abs/Rest
  • Sunday - AbsRest

Monday - Legs & Glutes

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squat 3-4 6-12
2. Dumbbell Lunge 2-3 12-15
3. Dumbbell Step Up 2-3 12-15
4. Barbell Hip Thrust 3 6-12
5. Glute Cable Kickback 2-3 12-15

Cardio - 15 min of HIIT on Stationary Bike

Tuesday - Back & Arms

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Pull Downs 3-4 6-12
2. One Arm Dumbbell Row 2-3 12-15
3. Seated Cable Row 2-3 12-15
4a. Dumbbell Curl 3 12
4b. Tricep Overhead Extension 3 12
5a. Cable Curl 3 15
5b. Cable Pressdown 3 15

Cardio - 30 mins of moderate intensity on Stairmill

Wednesday - Legs & Glutes

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Goblet Squat 3-4 6-12
2. Romanian Deadlift 2-3 12-15
3. Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift 2-3 12-15
4. Smith Machine Sumo Squats (Glute Focus) 3 6-12
5. Glute Kick Back 3 15

Cardio - 30 min low intensity on treadmill at a 10-15% incline

Thursday - Chest & Shoulders

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Dumbbell Bench Press 3-4 6-12
2. Incline Dumbbell Press 2-3 12-15
3. Machine Chest Fly 2-3 12-15
4. Seated Dumbbell Press 3-4 6-12
5. Lateral Raise 2-3 12-15

Cardio - 15 min of HIIT on rower or stationary bike

Friday - Legs & Arms

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Deadlifts 3-4 6-12
2. Good Mornings 2-3 12-15
3. Leg Extensions 2-3 12-15
4. Incline Dumbbell Curl 3 12
5. Incline Skullcrusher 3 12

Cardio - 30 min of moderate intensity on a Stairmill


Light activity – recovery walks and optional ab workout

Ab Workout (Optional)

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Plank 3 20 sec holds
2. Lying Floor Leg Raise 3 10
3. Crunches 3 20
4. Side Crunches 2 15 each side


It is important to note that your success with any workout program depends greatly on your nutrition and sleep habits. Make sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep each night and eat enough calories to help you get the results you desire.

Our BMR calculator will help you know how many calories you need to maintain your current body weight.

If your goal is to lose weight, subtract ~250 calories from this number. If you are underweight, try to add ~250 calories to this number. And if you are already at your ideal weight, make sure to eat the proper amount of calories to maintain.

Tracking Progress

It is important to track your results to show you’ve made progress with this program. At the beginning of the 12 weeks you should plan to take your preferred form of measurements.

These measurements can include progress pictures, scale weighing, tape measurements, and skinfold caliper measurements. I recommend starting with what you are most comfortable with first and adding more as you feel comfortable.

The more data you have on yourself, the better you can tinker with variables such as increasing reps, sets, or weight used during your workouts, increasing the hours you sleep each night, increasing the amount of cardio you do each week, and/or increasing or decreasing the amount of calories you eat each day.

How frequently you measure your progress is completely up to you, but I’d recommend doing so once a month or 6 weeks to make sure you are progressing towards your goals.

M&S Female Athlete Smiling after a tough workout

Progressing with This Workout

You should strive to increase some variable within your workout each week. Whether that means increasing the weight you use or the amount of rep and sets you perform is going to be based on your individual preference.

One way you could go about it is to start off with the low end on all of the set and rep counts. Then each week add a single set on one exercise each day of each week. Once you’re doing all the maximum amount of recommended sets for each exercise, you could then add in 1-2 reps to each set of each exercise for the remaining weeks.

Another way you could progress is to keep your reps and sets the same throughout the whole 12 weeks. But each week you should aim to slightly increase the weight you use for each exercise.

Either way works and will help you see great results.

What Should I Do After the 12 weeks?

After you’ve completed the 12 weeks of this women’s trainer, you should take a week to deload.

If after you deload, you decide you’d like to try another 12 weeks of this program, then you should come back refreshed and ready to make more progress.

If you have any questions or would like to leave a review for this program, please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below!

Felicia Iglehart
Posted on: Tue, 06/04/2024 - 07:30

Thank so much for this workout routine! I cannot wait to try it!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 06/10/2024 - 06:59

Hi Felicia, thank you for reading M&S! I hope you will share your results on the program. We always love seeing success stories.

Naomi Pina
Posted on: Mon, 05/27/2024 - 12:26

Hi! I am a beginner, trying to lose weight and begin my weight loss journey. I want to try the 12 week program however, I will be working out in my home. I don't have a gym membership so I wandering if you have a program where I wouldn't need gym equipment. I do have hand weights, a mat, and a treadmill.
Thank you!!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 05/27/2024 - 20:44

We don't have anything that specific, Naomi. We do have dumbbell workouts that could help you, but you may even need to make adjustments with these.

Posted on: Sat, 05/25/2024 - 13:34

I love this plan! Quick question though, could I replace all the cardio on here for walking?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 05/27/2024 - 20:42

We can't say that you would see the same results you would by making that change. You could see some progress, though. So, if that is what you have to do, do the best you can.

Posted on: Wed, 05/15/2024 - 06:01

I don’t have the smith machine and a machine chest for machine chest fly. For the machine chest fly, I thought to do it with dumbbells. Is there a good alternative for the smith machine sumo squat exercise? Or should I just do Hip thrust instead?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 05/27/2024 - 20:41

Go with hip thrust, Lea! Best of luck.

Posted on: Wed, 05/08/2024 - 17:02


My goal is to lose body fat. Throughout the years I’ve always lowered my calories to 1200 however this time around I don’t want to go that low. Based on my weight of 166 and activity level my maintenance calories around 2300. What daily calories range should I aim for to lose fat. My goal weight is 130!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 05/22/2024 - 08:52

Hi Jasmine, if your BMR calories is 2300, then I would suggest starting at 1800 and working your way down by 100 every couple of weeks. As the calories decrease, try to find a way to slowly increase activity.

Megan McInerney
Posted on: Tue, 04/30/2024 - 09:13

Hi Josh / MS Team,

I really enjoyed this program! It was a great way to get back in to lifting.
What program would you recommend as a follow-up to this?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 05/10/2024 - 21:25

Hi Megan, glad you liked it. We have plenty of options based on your future goals. This link would be a great way to find that next challenge.

Hope this helps!

Posted on: Thu, 04/04/2024 - 12:52

First off, I love all your workouts and instructional videos. So helpful when I need to come up with new ideas of how to workout.

I know most of these workouts call for 10, 12, 15 reps. What is. Your opinion about lifting really heavy when you can only perform 4-6 reps with proper form? BTW, I am a 58 year old female and have been working out for about 10 years.

Thanks for the advice!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 04/05/2024 - 06:12

Hi Roxanne, thanks for that feedback. Always appreciated.

If strength is a priority, then going down to 4-6 reps would be the way to do it. If you have no health issues, go for it!

Giovanna Vista
Posted on: Mon, 04/01/2024 - 14:50

Look forward to getting this program started. I was wondering do you do all the sets of one exercise before moving to the next one. Or how would you go about it each day.

Best, Giovanna

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 04/03/2024 - 06:54

Hi Giovanna, you should complete all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next. Make sure you take that short rest periods between each set. Hope this helps!

Giovanna Vista
Posted on: Thu, 04/04/2024 - 09:27

Thank you !!!

Posted on: Mon, 04/01/2024 - 08:51

Hi, very excited to start this programme. I have some lower back issues and have been advised not to do deadlifts. What can I do instead of the deadlifts and goodmornings? Thank you.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 04/03/2024 - 06:52

I don't know what those issues are, so I would say skip lower back entirely. I would you rather not train and be able to complete the rest than try to find a way to train and risk further injury.

Megan McInerney
Posted on: Tue, 04/30/2024 - 09:04

Obviously this should be followed up by your own research and consultation with a doctor, but the reverse hyper machine and typical back-focused hyper extension can help with recovery. I have had a great amount of personal success with both, but took months training at very low or no weights with both before adding deadlifts back into my routine.

Brenda Sullivan
Posted on: Mon, 03/25/2024 - 10:33

Hello, do we just complete the same workout for 12 weeks

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 03/25/2024 - 20:39

Yes. Same workout every week for all 12.

Posted on: Mon, 03/18/2024 - 14:04

Hi Josh,
Are there any recommendations as far as how to decide on the weights used or how to increase those over the weeks?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 03/25/2024 - 20:38

Hi Fabiana. You should use weight that challenges you, yet you can reach the targeted reps. Once you get more than two reps over that range, it's time to move up. If you can't get at least two within the rep range, you should go lighter.

Hope this helps!

Posted on: Tue, 03/12/2024 - 21:25

Josh, thanks for this great program. Hoping you can talk a bit more about the deadlift variations:
1. I go to a Planet Fitness so Smith Machine barbells are the only option. Is that ok and safe for the low back?
2. What’s the thinking behind doing the RDL and SLDL on the same day?
3. Can you talk through the differences between those two exercises, especially if I’m using dumbbells for the stiff leg DL?

Thank you so much!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sat, 03/23/2024 - 16:39

Hi Sarah, answering for Josh here.

1. Yes for both. As long as your form is good, your back should be fine and you can still see benefits.
2. Both movements work the posterior chain, but RDL focuses more on glutes while SLDL hits more hamstrings. To be honest, I would not have programmed both on the same day, but that is personal preference.
3. RDL is going to have the knees more bent, which will help you hit the glutes a little harder. SLDL with dumbbells is great because you can move the weight to your sides instead of being completely in front of you like you would with a bar. This can help improve range of motion and make the exercise more impactful for the hamstrings.

Hope this helps.

Posted on: Mon, 02/26/2024 - 12:23


I have completed the 12weeks and enjoyed it what workout would you recommend next to continue building strength but to be a bit more challenging

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 02/26/2024 - 18:45

Thank you for the feedback, Jade. Glad you are in the M&S community. You can find another challenging workout here. Let us know what you find and if you have any further questions.

Posted on: Tue, 02/20/2024 - 10:44

I am looking forward to trying this program for a more structured routine. I would like to know if the numbered order is important; that is, can the exercised be switched around or is it best to follow the listed order?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sat, 02/24/2024 - 07:34

Hello, Janice. I suggest keeping the first two exercises at the top, but after than that, switch the order as needed. I know gyms are set up differently and certain areas have a lot of people, so do what you need to do after the first couple movements. Hope this helps!

Cheryl H
Posted on: Tue, 02/13/2024 - 12:02

I started using this routine in January. However, I just realized that your site has many more workout routines that might work better for me as I'm working out at home. I've been replacing the machine exercises with whatever I could do at home (dumbbell, barbell stuff).

I'm basically on week 5 of this, and now I can't decide if I should keep going with my adaptations (especially since I'm not sure about some of them) or if I should select a more appropriate program and start over. I know it isn't advised to stop and start routines all the time, but perhaps this would be a legitimate reason. Just curious if anyone has any advice or could suggest a suitable replacement program. I'm looking through them now but it's hard to find one that's everything this one is, but at home.

PS it would be nice to be able to search the workout routines with filters like beginner/advance, male/female, etc.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 02/15/2024 - 18:56

Hey Cheryl, first question for you would be are you making progress? If so, then by all means keep going. If not, then we need to find a new one for you. While consistency is important, you should pivot if you know something is off or not working.

PS We have this guide for other workouts, but I will pass on that suggestion about the filters to my editors.

Posted on: Sat, 02/10/2024 - 18:59

Hi there! I just downloaded this program. It says it’s a 12 week program, so do I do the same workouts every week??

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 02/15/2024 - 18:54

That is correct. The goal should be to improve every week, but don't feel bad if you don't. Consistency is key with this one, and as long as you're finishing, that is what matters most. Hope this helps!

Guinevere Redding
Posted on: Wed, 02/07/2024 - 13:39

I'm doing this workout. I just started on Thursday. I recently lost 50+ pounds of fat. I'm trying to builds and tone muscles that have been dormant for 20 years. Did the legs and glutes workout on Monday, it's now Wednesday and my quads are still on fire and sore. Today is another leg day and I'm not sure I'll be able to do. Should o take another test day?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 02/15/2024 - 18:54

If it's general soreness but you can move fully, then go light but train. If not, take the extra rest day. Caution should always be taken, but eventually you will have to start pushing to build muscle. Make sense?

Posted on: Wed, 01/31/2024 - 08:50

Hi there, how would you suggest incorporating running and swimming into this plan? Also, I notice that ab exercises are not prominent. I’m pretty healthy already but recovering from pregnancy so I’d like to be sure to address my core regularly. Any tips? Is this the right program for me or should I be looking for something different?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 01/31/2024 - 12:21

Hey there, RG. Abs workouts can be found at this link. Any of these should work with this program.

I would save running or swimming until after training unless you train in the evening. If that is the case, then do cardio or aerobics in the morning and weights in the evening.

Overall, I think this would be the right program for you. Hope this helps.

I hope the pregnancy went well for both you and baby.

Posted on: Mon, 01/01/2024 - 22:58

Can you please explain Tue: Back/Arms 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b. Do I do all four or do I do 4a & 5a or 4b & 5b? Thank you

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 01/02/2024 - 20:19

When you see numbers and letters, those are supersets. You do those together in the pairing listed. So, do 4a and 4b together. Same with 5a and 5b. Hope this helps, Lisa.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 05/10/2024 - 21:23

You can roll with it either way.

Posted on: Tue, 04/30/2024 - 08:51

Does that mean, for example, 12 reps of 4a on the right followed by 12 reps of 4b on the right, then switch to the left, or one 4a followed by one 4b combined as one rep so do 4a+4b, 4a+4b, 4a+4b 12 times then switch sides?

Kelly Morrison
Posted on: Tue, 12/19/2023 - 17:12

Howdy, on the first full week of this. I am just wondering on day 1 if it is better to move up hip thrusts at he beginning as ppl keep saying do compound lifts then isolation or single legs to finish!? Or does it really matter? I just find by the time I do hip thrusts I am tired!!!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 12/28/2023 - 20:58

Hi, Kelly. If hip thrusts are a priority, then move them up. I would rather have you do them first then feel too tired to execute them at the end.

Posted on: Sat, 11/25/2023 - 17:14

About to start this program and just want to know what the target heartrate is for the low and moderate cardio please?
Thank you for a great program.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 11/29/2023 - 20:55

Hi there. I would suggest 65% of your max for low and 75% for moderate. You can at least start there, and if you find you can go harder, adjust accordingly. Hope this helps!

Posted on: Fri, 12/01/2023 - 03:58

That makes sense. Thank you Roger.

Posted on: Mon, 10/30/2023 - 12:45

I assume that for single leg exercises, such as lunges, when it says 12 reps, that is 12 each leg?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 10/30/2023 - 18:39

That is correct, Emily!

Posted on: Tue, 10/17/2023 - 00:26

Amazing plan, pretty much what I was after!! Just wondering if the exercises can be shuffled around to create a 3 or 4 day split, rather than 5? Or would that be too much in one workout? Thanks :)