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10 Strength Training Exercises for Women at Home Without Equipment

By Ann Olson

woman exercise dipsWhen you engage in strength training, the exercises don’t just affect your muscles. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), it can also have major effects on your physical health, such as reducing blood pressure, improving cholesterol, and reducing your risk of diabetes. Better yet, it can also improve your ability to perform daily activities, such as lifting boxes or moving household items – all because it improves your strength, coordination, and flexibility.

Traditionally, people strength train with dumbbells and barbells, which you’ll commonly find in fitness centers. But what if you don’t have access to a gym?

Luckily, you can still train at home and reap the benefits of regular strength training – without dumbbells or barbells.

How to Strength Train at Home

To work out at home without traditional equipment such as dumbbells or barbells, use bodyweight exercises to get strong. These are exercises you perform with your own bodyweight – a push-up, for instance.

In addition, you can also incorporate common weightlifting moves, such as overhead squats and deadlifts, by using household items you already own, including weighted water jugs or gym bags. This adds additional weight to the exercise, making it a strength training exercise that continuously challenges your muscles.

Items You’ll Need

Before you begin strength training, you’ll need to prepare your strength training items. Here’s what you need at a minimum to do these exercises:

  • An empty gym bag
  • Two empty water jugs
  • Dirt, sand, or kitty litter

Use the dirt, sand, or litter to increase the weight of the gym bag and the water jugs. Only fill them a little to start, since filling them up completely may make them too heavy. Once it becomes easy to do these exercises, you can increase the weight by filling them even more.

ann olson strength exercises

Strength Training Exercises

All these exercises work one or more of your muscle groups, which improves your functional strength while also increasing your metabolism. By improving your functional strength, you’ll have a greater ability to do simple tasks, such as lifting heavy boxes or moving furniture. Try doing four or more of these exercises three times a week to start.

1. Overhead Squat

  • Item Needed: A weighted gym bag
  • Muscles Worked: The overhead squat is one of the best full body exercises you can do. It mainly targets the quads, but also targets the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, shoulders, triceps, and the abdominal muscles.

How to Do It
Stand up and hold the gym bag above your head, gripping the bag at the ends. You will hold this position during the entire exercise. Keep your arms straight. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width.

Next, thrust your hips back and begin bending your knees for the squat. Keep your back straight at all times - resist the urge to slouch. Continue descending downward, envisioning that you’re trying to sit back into a small chair.

Once your hips are parallel to your knee joints, hold the position for one second. Now, rise back up into the starting position. This is one repetition. To build strength, aim for a minimum of 5 repetitions, doing no more than 12. Once you can easily do 12 repetitions, it’s time to add weight to the bag.

If you’re unable to bring your hips parallel to your knee joints, start with wall squats to build up strength. Otherwise, not going fully parallel can place stress on your joints and injure your knees. I didn’t go parallel when I first started weightlifting and seriously injured my knee. In fact, I had to lay off lifting for two months to allow it to heal.

2. Deadlift

  • Item Needed: A weighted gym bag
  • Muscles Worked: The deadlift is arguably one of the best lower body exercises, working most of the back, glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

How to Do It
Place the gym bag in front of your feet. Stand behind with both feet close to each other. Bend your knees while pushing your hips back to grab the ends of the gym bag. Make sure your back is straight.

Now bring yourself into a standing position by simultaneously straightening your back and legs. Remember to keep your back straight – do not let it slouch, as this can cause injury. Once assuming the straight stance, stick your chest out and contract your shoulder blades. This is one repetition. Do at least five repetitions to build strength and muscle. Once you can do these repetitions easily, add weight to the bag.

3. Kettlebell Swing

  • Item Needed: A weighted water jug
  • Muscles Worked: This is an excellent lower body strength exercise, which targets the hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, and calves. You may also feel it in your abs.

How to Do It
Grasp the handle of the water jug with both hands and hold it below your pelvis. Keep your arms straight. Lean down, bend your upper body slightly forward, and push your butt out, keeping your back straight. It should look like you’re attempting to squat, but your knees should only be slightly bent. This is the starting position.

Now, using a lot of force, quickly squat back up into a standing position while thrusting the pelvis forward.  Keep your arms straight, but don’t use your arms to lift it up. This action acts like a spring for the water jug, propelling the water jug forward. You want your thrust to propel the water jug to chest level. Do not use your arm strength to lift the water jug – your legs and pelvis should only initiate the water jug to move.

Once the water jug reaches chest level, lower your body and push your butt out again into the starting position. This is one rep. Unlike other strength training exercises, you can use a higher rep range with kettlebell swings – aim for 20 repetitions as a general guideline.

4. Single Leg Split Squat

  • Items Needed: Two weighted water jugs, and a coffee table or chair about knee’s height
  • Muscles Worked: Unlike a regular squat, this squat variation puts more emphasis on the glute muscles – these are the muscles that give you a firm, perky bottom. It also works the quads and hamstrings.

How to Do It
To begin, hold a water jug in each hand and keep your arms straight by the sides of your body. Face away from the coffee table or chair. Prop one of your feet on a coffee table or chair so that your toes are resting comfortably on the surface. This is the starting position. One leg should be propped backward onto the coffee table or chair; the other leg should be straight.

Slowly, bend the straight leg down into a squat, making sure the knee doesn’t go past your toes on the chair. The leg propped up on the chair or coffee table should also bend and lower. Continue squatting down until the knee portion of the leg on the chair or coffee table almost touches the floor. Hold it for a second. Return back to the starting position by straightening your front leg. This is one repetition. Do this for at least five repetitions.

5. Hammer Curls

  • Items Needed: Two weighted water jugs
  • Muscles Worked: This move primarily works the biceps, one of the main muscles of the arm.

How to Do It
Hold a water jug in each hand and keep your arms straight by your sides. Keep your wrists straight in line with your arm. This is the starting position.

Slowly, contract your biceps and use your forearm to bring the jugs upward in a curling motion. When your hand almost comes into contact with your arm, stop and hold the position for a second, squeezing the biceps. Gently lower the water jugs back into the starting position. This is one repetition. Continue for 5 to 12 repetitions.

6. Overhead Press

  • Item Needed: A weighted gym bag
  • Muscles Worked: This exercise works your triceps, deltoids, and traps, making it an excellent way to strengthen your arms and back. You also need to tighten your core to successfully complete this exercise.

How to Do It
Stand straight with your feet positioned shoulder-width apart. Push your chest up, as if you’re puffing it out. Grab your gym bag by its ends and position it across your front shoulders so that it’s resting on your collarbone. This is the starting position.

Next, squeeze your glutes - this helps stabilize you – and push the bag up in a straight line. You may have to move your head back while pressing it up to ensure it goes up in a straight line. Hold the gym bag above your head with your arms straight for a couple of seconds before lowering the bag back to your shoulders. This is one repetition. Continue for up to 12 repetitions.

woman biceps

Bodyweight Exercises

Unlike the exercises listed above, you don’t need water jugs or gym bags to complete these exercises. They can be completed with minimal equipment – usually all you need is a chair. If you want to make it harder, however, you can use jugs or bags. Try adding a couple of these exercises to your strength training routine, doing them three times a week.

7. Jump Squat

  • Items Needed: Weighted water jugs (optional)
  • Muscles Worked: This exercise primarily works the quads, followed by the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

How to Do It
Stand straight and keep your feet positioned shoulder-width apart. Bring your hips backward and bend your knees like you’re trying to sit in a chair. Remember to keep your back straight - it shouldn’t round or slouch forward.

Once your hip joints are parallel to your knees, jump as high as possible and straighten your body, channeling most of the force through the balls of your feet. Upon landing, immediately squat down by bringing your hips backward and bending your knees. This is one repetition. Continue for 5 to 12 repetitions.

To make this exercise more difficult, carry weighted jugs in each hand and keep them at your sides while jumping. In addition, you can hold a weighted jug above your head, which also works out your abs.

8. Push-Up

  • Items Needed: None
  • Muscles Worked: This exercise mainly works the chest, but also works the triceps and shoulders, making it a good upper body exercise.

How to Do It
To start, put your feet and hands on the floor. Keep your hands positioned a little more than shoulder-width part, with your fingertips facing forward. Keep your back straight. This is the starting position.

Next, bend your arms and slowly lower yourself until your chest is just about to touch the floor. Hold the position for a second. After holding it, straighten your arms again to return to the starting position. This is one repetition. Continue for up to 12 repetitions. To make it harder, try placing a gym bag or textbook on your back to add additional weight.

9. Chair Dips

  • Item Needed: A sturdy chair
  • Muscles Worked: It primarily works the triceps, as well as the pectorals and deltoids.

How to Do It
To begin, place a sturdy chair behind you. Face away from the chair seat and put your hands on the edge of the seat, spaced about shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms straight and bend your knees so you’re almost in a seated position in front of the chair. This is the starting position.

Slowly, bend your arms to a 90-degree angle, lowering your entire body. Once you reach this angle, hold it for a second before straightening your arms again and resuming the starting position. This is one repetition. Aim for at least five repetitions to start, but do not exceed a dozen. To increase difficulty, place a heavy textbook or gym bag in your lap.

10. Crunches

  • Items Needed: None
  • Muscles Worked: This exercise primarily works the abs.

How to Do It
To start, lie on a smooth, hard surface with your back on the ground. Keep your legs bent and place your hands on your chest or behind your head. This is the starting position.

Now imagine you’re pulling your belly button back into your spine. Contract your abdominal muscles and raise your shoulder blades during the contraction. Keep your neck straight and do not use your hands to pull your neck forward. Hold this position for a couple of seconds. You should feel a slight burn in your abs.

Slowly lower your back down into the starting position. This is one repetition. Continue for up to 12 repetitions. To make it harder, hold something heavy on your chest, such as a textbook or gym bag.

woman pushup exercise

Final Word

Strength training is a good idea for everybody. For the best results, try intermixing the strength training exercises with bodyweight exercises, and do them three times a week at most. More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to strength training – in fact, too much training can damage your strengthening process. If you also want to improve your cardiovascular health or lose weight, consider adding cardiovascular exercise, such as walking or running, which helps you burn fat.

Of course, a good weight loss diet plan helps too – preferably a calorie-controlled program comprised of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

Do you make strength training a priority? If not, what’s holding you back from getting regular resistance exercise?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Ann Olson
Ann Olson is a health writer and full-time frugalista currently living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Saving money is her passion, and she'll cut any corner in the pursuit of becoming passively wealthy. She's also a diet expert and amateur bodybuilder who credits her active lifestyle for keeping her healthy and happy.

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