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

Josh England
Written By: Josh England
June 7th, 2017
Updated: May 26th, 2021
5.3M 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.

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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

Weekends:

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

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.

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!

666 Comments
Caroline
Posted on: Sun, 07/07/2024 - 20:14

Hello Roger,
I have done this routine before, it is great and got me off to a great start a few years ago! I am about to start it again with a more defined goal for muscle building and sculpting. I plan on running 18-20 miles a week on the treadmill in addition to this routine and I do about 30-45 min of beginner type yoga afterwards, as a cool down and stretch. The BMR calculator shows I need 2100-2300 calories daily to maintain, but I want to reduce that to 2000 to start (my normal diet is 1600 calories). With all of that, my questions is: What should my macro ratio be for my new targeted goal of muscle building and sculpting with a 2000 calorie/day intake?
Thanks so much!

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Roger
Posted on: Thu, 07/11/2024 - 05:40

Hi Caroline, glad you are giving this another go. I agree with the 2000 total. Good call. Macros in my opinion could look like this.

200 grams (800 calories) protein
150 grams (600 calories) carbs
66 grams (600 ish calories) fats

I think you can play with this as you go along by adding protein in place of carbs or vice versa as you go along based on how you are changing and feeling, but this would be where I think you could start. Best of luck, and keep us posted on how you're doing!

Anne
Posted on: Thu, 06/20/2024 - 15:03

Hi.Thank you for this workout plan. I'm not overweight but I want to tone my, arms, core, legs & glutes. Should a 2kg dumbbells enough to tone? And how many reps? Thank you.

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Roger
Posted on: Mon, 06/24/2024 - 05:53

Hi Anne, anything beats nothing when it comes to weight, but I do feel that you should invest in a few more pairs of dumbbells, or even adjustable ones) to truly reach your potential. To tone means to showcase your muscle, which means they need to be developed. 2 kg weights are great to start with, but they won't provide the challenge you need to reach the goals. As for reps, do reps slower if the weight is too light and rest less between sets, but the rep ranges should stay the same or no more than a couple over.

Shelby
Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2024 - 21:47

Why are Dumbbell Curl, Tricep Overhead Extension, Cable Curl, and Cable Pressdown numbered with a and b? Do I pick one for each number or do bot? Thanks!

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Roger
Posted on: Thu, 06/20/2024 - 08:21

Hi Shelby, great question. If you see letters next to numbers, those are supersets. You are to do both exercises consecutively before taking your rest. So, using the dumbbell curl and overhead tricep extension as an example, you do the curls, then the extensions, then rest. Repeat for the number of supersets listed. I hope that helps.

Chasity Sullivan
Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2024 - 09:08

For lunges and step ups 12 each leg or total?

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Roger
Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2024 - 08:41

That would be for each leg, Chasity. I hope this helps.

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

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

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Roger
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!!

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Roger
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.

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/5-day-dumbbell-only-workout-s...

Dee
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?

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Roger
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.

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

Hey
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?

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Roger
Posted on: Mon, 05/27/2024 - 20:41

Go with hip thrust, Lea! Best of luck.

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

Hello,

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!

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Roger
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?

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Roger
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.

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-to-choose-your-next-train...

Hope this helps!

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

Hello,
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!

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Roger
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

Hello,
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

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Roger
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 !!!

RLB
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.

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Roger
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

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Roger
Posted on: Mon, 03/25/2024 - 20:39

Yes. Same workout every week for all 12.

Fabiana
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?
Thanks

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Roger
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!

Sarah
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!

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Roger
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.

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

Hi,

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

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Roger
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.

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-to-choose-your-next-train...

janice
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?

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Roger
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.

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Roger
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.

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-to-choose-your-next-train...

Leesa
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??

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Roger
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?

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Roger
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?

RG
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?

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Roger
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.

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/abs

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.

Lisa
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

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Roger
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.

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Roger
Posted on: Fri, 05/10/2024 - 21:23

You can roll with it either way.

Anne
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?