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

Lose Fat
Split
Beginner
12 weeks
5
45-60 minutes
Barbell, Bodyweight, Cables, Dumbbells, EZ Bar, Machines
Female
download pdfDownload Workout

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.

Muscle & Strength’s Women's Trainer 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.

Day 1
Monday - Legs & Glutes
Legs
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squat 3-4 6-12
2. Dumbbell Lunge 2-3 12-15
3. Dumbbell Step Up 2-3 12-15
Glutes
Exercise Sets Reps
4. Barbell Hip Thrust 3 6-12
5. Glute Cable Kickback 2-3 12-15
Cardio
15 min of HIIT on Stationary Bike
Day 2
Tuesday - Back & Arms
Back
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
Arms
Exercise Sets Reps
4a. Dumbbell Curl 3 12
4b. Tricep Overhead Extension 3 12
5a. Cable Curl 3 15
5b. Cable Pressdown 3 15
Cardio
30 min of moderate intensity on Stairmill
Day 3
Wednesday - Legs & Glutes
Legs
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
Glutes
Exercise Sets Reps
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
Day 4
Thursday - Chest & Shoulders
Chest
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
Shoulders
Exercise Sets Reps
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
Day 5
Friday - Legs & Arms
Legs
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Deadlifts 3-4 6-12
2. Good Mornings 2-3 12-15
3. Leg Extensions 2-3 12-15
Arms
Exercise Sets Reps
4. Incline Dumbbell Curl 3 12
5. Incline Skullcrusher 3 12
Cardio
30 min of moderate intensity on a Stairmill
Weekends:

Light activity – recovery walks and optional ab workout

Weekends - Optional Abs
Abs
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

Quick Note on Nutrition

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.

Quick Note on 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.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to share your progress with us! We’d love to help out, keep you motivated, and even feature your success. Tag us in your transformation posts on social media!

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

Quick Note on 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!

128 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Thu, 06/21/2018 - 12:57
Hayley

Hello, I am about to do Day 4 of the workout and I noticed that when I click on "Machine Chest Fly" a video for "Pec Decs" comes up. Are they the same? Thank you!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Thu, 06/21/2018 - 13:12
JoshEngland

Hi Hayley,

Yes, the two terms are used interchangeably in this program.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 06/18/2018 - 14:46
Tracy

Hi there! I really like the structure of this program and the exercises. However, I can only get to the gym 4 times per week. Any suggestions on how to combine one of the days into others in order to make this work? Thanks!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 06/18/2018 - 15:10
JoshEngland

Hi Tracy,

You might find this program more fitting to your schedule:

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/10-week-upper-lower-workout-f...

Hope this helps!

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Posted Wed, 06/13/2018 - 09:56
Michi

Hi I'm not sure if this question has been posted before, but wow no rest days except for the weekend? I've read infomation that warns against over-training and taking breaks between workouts, so would your plan still be effective if I had a day's rest between each exercise rather than on the weekend? Thank you.

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Thu, 06/14/2018 - 15:28
JoshEngland

Hi Michi,

You're more than welcome to alter the template in any way that you feel is necessary to maximize recovery. That being said, overtraining is a truly difficult point for most people to get to. The way this program was designed shouldn't result in overtraining for most healthy and relatively active people.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Tue, 06/12/2018 - 21:34
Ariela Solomon

I started on Monday and I really like the program, have not tried the cardio yet just the lifting. The thing is I don't wanna lose the good habit of going to the gym but my legs are Sooo sore from Monday's workout that I am afraid to over train tomorrow (wednesday) for another leg day. How should I go about Wednesdays workout to help with progress, but not hurt my muscles further?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 06/13/2018 - 08:58
JoshEngland

Hi Ariela,

I'd actually recommend skipping one of the leg days until you feel you're able to recover completed between workouts. Maybe for the first 2-4 weeks, only perform 2 of the leg days, then add in the third once you're not experiencing the soreness after 48 hours.

Hope this helps!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 06/13/2018 - 08:58
JoshEngland

You can perform some form of active recovery on Wednesdays instead.

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Posted Tue, 06/12/2018 - 17:21
Rebecca

I am wondering if this program is adequate to run when doing a lean bulk?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 06/13/2018 - 08:56
JoshEngland

Hi Rebecca,

Yes, absolutely! Simply adjust your calories accordingly to put yourself in a slight calorie surplus. You can also manipulate the amount of cardio you perform accordingly.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 06/11/2018 - 10:45
Ariela

What is a good warm up/cool down for this workout routine? Starting today super excited!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:38
JoshEngland

Hi Ariela,

For warm ups, start here: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/warming-up-for-dummies

Performing the lower on leg days and upper on the other days should be plenty to get you ready for your workout.

Hope this helps and best of luck!

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Posted Sat, 06/09/2018 - 05:29
Leah

Thanks for the program ! I’m in week 3 and noticing a difference already. I’m curious about the nutrition part to this and using the BMR calculator. The BMR says I should consume 2250 calories to maintain and I read you said minus 250 to lose weight. I’ve never eaten 2000 calories when I’m watching my nutrition- it seems a lot. I normally eat 1500 - 1750 calories. I’m worried that 2000 is too high. I’ve had a lean weight training body in various times in my life but they was 7 Years ago and to be honest I never counted calories then - I just kept to a healthy diet. A lot has probably changed in the last 7 Years so I’m open to taking your advice. I wish I never stopped weight training in the first place - it’s the only exercise that keeps me lean, fit and strong both physically and mentally. I’m so happy I found your program it’s motivated me so much to keep to a routine. Thanks

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 06/11/2018 - 09:02
JoshEngland

Hi Leah,

That is awesome! Thank you for giving the program a try! Happy to hear it's helped already.

The bmr is a guesstimate. That being said, I'd recommend giving the 2000 calories a shot for 4-6 weeks. Track your progress and see what kind of results you get in that time frame. Then, you can manipulate your calorie intake at that point.

Reason being, undereating can be just as counterproductive as overeating. I've found our bmr calculator to be pretty spot on for my needs, so I wouldn't risk the drastic calorie deficit of 1500ish calories right off the bat.

Hope this helps and best of luck!

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Posted Thu, 06/07/2018 - 10:17
Jillian Begeman

Thank you for this program!!! I'm nearing the end of my 11th week and I'm so pleased with my results. I've lost maybe 3lbs, but have gained muscle and lost inches. I'm down 2.5 inches at my hips, 1.5 inches for each thigh, and an inch around my waist. I was not 100% disciplined with the workouts and diet, so I know I can do better, but I'm still so happy. I am deadlifting more than I ever have before, and it feels great to add more weight or more reps.

I am taking the next two weeks for a vacation, then I'm back at this plan. I'm going to try and be more disciplined with the cardio and my diet - I have no doubt another 12 weeks will be incredible!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Thu, 06/07/2018 - 11:52
JoshEngland

Hi Jillian,

That's awesome! Congratulations on all of your progress, you earned it!

Hope you enjoy your vacation; keep us posted on how your second time through this program goes!

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Posted Wed, 05/30/2018 - 08:59
Lexie K

I started this program on Monday. I says the exercise should take 45-60mins to complete but i can complete the leg days in 25mins without cardio am i doing something wrong or should i add more in?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 05/30/2018 - 09:27
JoshEngland

Hi Lexie,

Workout duration includes the cardio recommended. Sounds like you're doing it right to me!

Hope this helps!

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Posted Tue, 05/29/2018 - 07:35
Tara

Hi there! I was wondering if this is suitable for someone whos not a beginner in the gym? I've been weight training for over 3 months now and want to cut more and was thinking of switching to this program?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Tue, 05/29/2018 - 09:59
JoshEngland

Hi Tara,

It depends on the individual. After 3 months of weight training, you should be fine to progress to this workout program. However, pay attention to your body during the workouts and your recovery after the workouts. If you're having trouble, dial the volume back slightly.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 05/14/2018 - 12:50
Robyn

What nutritional program would you recommend I follow with this workout program? The nutritional information is not listed.

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 05/14/2018 - 14:59
JoshEngland

Hi Robyn,

Recommending diet is kind of tricky as everyone will need different calorie amounts, respond better to different macro ratios, have different food preferences, and have different accessibility to food due to geographical location and/or economic limitations.

That said, the vast majority of your results will come down to calories in vs calories out.

Start by finding your daily calorie needs here: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator

Then if your goal is to build lean muscle mass, add about 250 calories to that number. If your goal is to lose fat, subtract about 250 calories from that number. If your goal is maintain your current weight, simply remain at that number.

Aim to consume whatever amount of calories you need to accomplish your goals by eating whole food sources such as, fruits and veggies, oats and whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and low fat dairy products.

If you do that, you'll typically hit your ideal macro breakdown without having to track. But if you'd like to figure out the perfect macros for your goal check this article out:

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-to-calculate-perfect-macros

I'd recommend using a diet tracking app such as myfitnesspal to gain a sense of what you're currently eating and how it breaks down macro-wise. From there you can make small changes to up whatever nutrient requirements you might be struggling to meet.

Hope this helps! If there is anything I can better help clarify, please reach out!

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Posted Fri, 05/11/2018 - 12:08
Sarah Winger

Just wondering how you access the full 12-week program?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 05/11/2018 - 12:31
JoshEngland

Hi Sarah,

You perform the 5 listed workouts on this page and on the PDF for 12 weeks. While other fitness platforms have popularized the need to change your workouts weekly, this isn't the case. Keeping the workouts similar allows you to better track your workouts so you know when you're capable of progressing in the amount of weight you use.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:57
Heather

This looks very doable. Thank you in advance for your time in answering the below questions.
1. Dumbbell row - Would it matter if did these bent over on a bench rather than standing?
2. Dumbell curl - Can I use a barbell rather than two dumbbells?
3. Ok to switch days as long as I don’t do two legs days back-to-back? Example, can I do day 3, 2, 1, 4, 5?
4. If I have to miss a workout can I combine two days?
5. As long as I’m not doing a super set, is it OK to do the excercises out of order if the machine or weights are being used? Or should I just wait?
Thank you so much!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Thu, 04/26/2018 - 10:05
JoshEngland

Hi Heather,

Glad you like how the workout looks! Hope you enjoy it!

1. That is fine.
2. Yes, you can perform barbell curls instead.
3. Yes, feel free to reorganize the workout days. Just be sure to keep a full day inbetween leg days.
4. If you miss a training day, eliminate one of your leg workouts for the week and perform 2 legs, 2 upper body days. I wouldn't recommend combining.
5. Yes, absolutely! Feel free to perform the workout in the order of the equipment that becomes available to you.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Fri, 06/01/2018 - 13:00
Bryony

I love running as well as my weights and I usually do 3 days running a week (usually Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) and the other 3 days weights. I've been combining the days that I've missed on the Wednesday and Friday, and it doesn't seem to have done me any harm. Just interested to know why you said not to do that? Thanks :)

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 06/01/2018 - 16:09
JoshEngland

Hi Bryony,

I guess it depends on how you combine them. Nothing wrong with the way you've set it up in your example. In my head, I was just trying to avoid having someone do a leg workout on 2 consecutive days, which would not be ideal.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Sun, 04/15/2018 - 01:48
sarah

If I'm already at the minimum weight I want to be should I cut down on the cardio? Main focus is building muscle

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 04/16/2018 - 09:25
JoshEngland

Hi Sarah,

You can cut the cardio. I'd also recommend increasing your calorie intake by 10% or so to create the calorie surplus needed to build lean muscle. Try to do one for a period of time before doing the other. You don't want to change too many variables at once.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Fri, 04/13/2018 - 10:20
Mya Patel

On Day 2 for arms, what do the letters represent?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 04/13/2018 - 11:52
JoshEngland

Hi Mya,

Letters represent that the exercises are part of a superset. You'll want to perform the prescribed number of reps for both exercises prior to taking a rest period. Once you've finished all the reps for both exercises listed, you'll rest and then repeat the superset.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Thu, 04/12/2018 - 07:38
Hamdiya Mustapha

Hi,
I don’t think my gym has the glute cable kickback and the cable curl, at least I didn’t see it
What other workout can I do to replace that?
I only started this workout on Monday and I’m feeling much better already
I love it!!!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Thu, 04/12/2018 - 08:44
JoshEngland

Hi Hamdiya,

That's awesome! Glad you're enjoying the program so far!

For the glute cable kickback, sub it out for another bodyweight glute kickback. For cable curls, go with another dumbbell curl variation.

Hope this helps! Keep us posted on your progress!

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Posted Tue, 04/10/2018 - 16:34
Cherie

I just have to repeat this 5 day schedule for 12 weeks? How do you know when or if to increase weight or cardio?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Tue, 04/10/2018 - 16:58
JoshEngland

Hi Cherie,

Yes, that is correct. This allows you to better track your workouts week to week to ensure you are progressing. You want to limit the amount of variables going on as much as possible so you can see what actually works for you.

There's a couple of examples on how to progress with the program listed under the "Quick Note on Progressing" subheader. If you're progressing by increasing weight, you can progress weekly, bi-weely, tri-weekly, or even monthly. Everyone will progress differently so it's hard to tell you when to do so. My suggestion would be to journal your workouts and make note on how each lift felt and what weight you used. If it was easy the week before, move up ~5lbs or so on the weight used this week.

So long as you're increasing your total volume over time (sets x reps x weight), you'll see the progress you're hoping for.

Lastly, for cardio, there shouldn't be a need to increase the intensity or duration so long as you're increasing it in the weight room over the 12 weeks.

Hope this helps and best of luck!

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Posted Sun, 04/08/2018 - 03:09
Giulia Turri

This workout plan looks amazing! I can only hit the gym 3 times a week, do you think it would be possible to “squeeze” everything in 3 sessions? Would it be better to follow the same routine but spread it over 16 weeks or more?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 04/09/2018 - 09:24
JoshEngland

Hi Giulia,

If you only have 3 days to commit to the gym, I'd actually recommend this workout program: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/8-week-full-body-womens-worko...

It'll help you maximize the limited amount of days you have available to spend in the gym.

Hope this helps and best of luck!

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Posted Wed, 03/28/2018 - 19:59
Jillian Begeman

I started this program Monday and am loving it so far! Question about cardio - I usually don't have time to do the weights and cardio in the same session. Should I do cardio later in the same day, or can I go cardio-crazy on the weekend, and knock out two hours in two days?

Also, I have a trip coming up so I have to shorten this program to 11 weeks. I still expect to see changes, but should I add anything to make up for that last week? I'll be gone for two weeks, so my deload will be long, and all I'll have access to is resistance bands and body weight exercises.

Thanks!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Thu, 03/29/2018 - 09:25
JoshEngland

Hi Jillian,

Thanks for including us on your fitness journey! Glad you're enjoying the workout so far!

In terms of cardio, you can do it later in the same day for sure. I wouldn't recommend going "cardio-crazy" on the weekends. Some light cardio on the weekends is fine though, especially if you feel as though you're not getting in enough during the week.

Bottom line, don't stress it too much. If you're performing the weight training part of this program and getting in some cardio when able to, you'll accomplish your goals.

11 weeks if perfectly fine! Crush the next 11 weeks and enjoy your 2 weeks off! Once you get back and are settled in, start back up with the routine and you'll be right back to achieving your goals.

While you're on vacation, you can certainly remain active if you like, but again don't stress it. It is a vacation! Personally, when my wife and I go on vacation, we don't lift. We do opt to go to places where we can walk around and explore the scenery a good bit tho. That's what we count as our exercise on vacation :)

Hope this helps! Let me know how it goes!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 04/13/2018 - 11:55
JoshEngland

Hi Jillian,

That's awesome! Keep it up!!

If good mornings feel awkward or cause you pain, it's definitely a good idea to sub them out. Resistance band good mornings are an option as you've mentioned. Personally, I'd recommend another Romanian or stiff leg deadlift variation. A dumbbell RDL would probably be a solid option here.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Fri, 04/13/2018 - 10:08
Jillian Begeman

Hi Josh!

Still going strong on the program, and feeling pretty great so far! One question - I am not a fan of the Good Mornings. I can't seem to find a comfortable way to position the bar, and it just feels awkward. I've tried low weight (like 10lbs) and no weight (empty bar) and I still don't like it. Is there an alternative exercise? More deadlifts? I have a full set of resistance bands, is there a way to anchor them and get a similar exercise?

Thanks for your help!

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Posted Wed, 03/28/2018 - 04:32
Madison

Would this program work for someone looking to gain weight?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 03/28/2018 - 09:24
JoshEngland

Hi Madison,

It can be.

Weight gain and weight loss depends more on your diet than what workout you are performing. To gain weight, your body needs a calorie surplus. This surplus when paired with weight training can lead to lean muscle gains.

Find your base calorie needs here: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator

Then add ~250-500 calories to that number to put yourself in a calorie surplus. Consistently eating that amount of calories and performing this program should help you achieve your goals :)

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:20
Kat

Love this plan and am following it. I eat a calorie deficet of 1200, as my goal is to lose fat. Im wondering though if i will come out of it with huge muscles and completely hate the way i look. I really just want to take fat off and im happy with the muscle i have now. I know a strength training program is essential for fat loss, but i dont want to end up like a female body builder or be bulky at all. I eat like ~65g protein a day too. Any tips? Can you reassure me im not going to look like a female hulk? Am I doing anything wrong? I’m fine having muscles but i dont want them to look big at all. Thanks so much in advance

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 03/26/2018 - 16:56
JoshEngland

Hi Kat,

You don't have anything to worry about.

I can't say for certain what your progress would be like or whose body type you're worried of obtaining, but you'll likely come out of the 12 weeks with a slenderer physique than when you started.

That being said, you may want to consider reconfiguring your macros. I've provided a link that can help provide some insight below: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/fat-loss-meal-plan

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 03/26/2018 - 09:07
Tara

Thank you for the program! One question, why abs only once a week? Can we do more?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 03/26/2018 - 09:09
JoshEngland

Hi Tara,

Thank YOU for reading M&S!

Abs are indirectly worked through the compound movements in this workout program (squats, deadlifts, good mornings, etc.)

You can add in some additional ab work if you'd like. But it's not exactly necessary if you don't want to.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 03/12/2018 - 21:43
chikita a key

I've been looking at this for a few weeks now. I start in the morning. Can't wait to see the results.