Women's Weight Training

Questions & Answer for Basic Program

Cleavage Exercise

Incline FlyBecause most women want cleavage, wouldn't it be better to add incline press work as an essential exercise to include to target the upper pecs?

If you were to choose only one chest exercise, it would be best to choose basic chest exercises since it involves both the clavicular and sternal heads of the pectoralis major, particularly medium width grip (see Bench Press Analyses). This is particularly true for women who tend to have a shallower rib cages than men. Personally, I would only include supplemental exercises like incline presses on a split program. Many beginners will already find it challenging to complete a single basic exercise for each body part on a full body workout (2-3 non-consecutive day per week). Some beginners could consider a split program (push/pull) working out 4 days a week if they are highly motivated.

The utility (basic or auxiliary) of an exercise can be judged upon a couple of factors. Firstly, its ability to place a greater absolute or relative intensity on the muscles or muscle exercised. An exercise can be deemed an auxiliary movement if it targets a muscle that can be exercised on an alternative basic exercise that involves more muscles, or greater muscle mass. The utility of an exercise can also be determined upon its context. In a full body program, incline presses can be considered an auxiliary exercise. Alternately, in a split program, incline presses can be categorized as more of a basic exercise. Conversely, the exception could be a basic upper/lower body split. As with the seated calf raise question below, if too many exercises are executed in a single workout, the intensity of the workout can be compromised. In addition, longer workouts may be associated with lower program compliance and greater drop out rates. These beginning full body programs are for general conditioning, to build a foundation, if you will. More advanced split programs can be used later, after the exerciser's ability to recuperate between workouts is out paced by their increased capacity to push themselves more intensely.

Lower body fat composition accentuates the separations of the upper chest, but may consequently, slightly decrease the size of the breasts. Include a basic exercise for the general chest to maintain a degree of fullness throughout the entire chest. Also see other chest exercise questions.

Seated Calf Exercise

If you have access to a gym and want wider calves with more shape, then wouldn't seated calf raise for soleus would definitely be a priority to include in a minimal program?

I would only recommend including an extra calf exercise on a split program like with separate upper and lower body workouts (also see answer to your related upper chest exercise question at top of page). On calf exercises with the knee straight, both the gastrocnemius and the soleus will be exercised equally. The seated calf raise does target the soleus since the gastrocnemius is in a mechanical disadvantage (active insufficiency) when the knees are bent.

Dr. Per Tesch in Sweden used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify active muscles in a number of exercises. MRI has the advantage over EMG in that "deep" muscles or parts of muscles inaccessible by EMG can be monitored. Dr Tesch and others have found that in the seated calf raise (knee flexed to 90 degrees), the gastrocs are virtually inactive while the load is borne almost entirely by the soleus. Dr. Tesch has published his findings in a book, Target Bodybuilding. Other investigators, such as Dr. Gary Dudley, have published data on the use of MRI in other muscle groups (e.g., quadriceps, neck muscles).

The gastrocnemius crosses the knee, whereas, the underlying soleus originates below the knee. The gastrocnemius comprises the outmost area of the calf, whereas, the soleus can be seen at each side of the lower leg. Although both the gastrocnemius and soleous will contribute to both width and thickness of the calf, the outer sides of the soleus appear at the sides of the calf just under the gastrocnemius where it attaches to the Achilles tendon midway on the lower leg.

Hip Abductor Exercise

Side Bridge Hip Abduction

Do hip abductor and adductor exercises offer any cosmetic effects on a full body workout since I will already be doing a quad/glute exercises? In other words, can it be deleted?

Both direct hip abductor and adductor work can be considered optional on a full body workout. Exercising these muscles will not melt away fat in the hip area as exercise info-mercials would suggest. In addition, exercising these smaller muscles may not significantly increase metabolism. The adductor muscles could be considered a moderately sized muscle, but it can also be exercised during quad/glute exercises with a wider stance. The gluteus medius and minimus is only worked with hip abductor work. The tensor fasciae latae is exercised during standing hip abductor exercises, but not during seated abductor movement. The tensor fasciae latae can be exercised on hip flexion movement like leg raises or sit-ups. I only recommend working direct hip adductor exercises on a full body workout when the individual engages in a sport that may benefit from lateral motion or when these muscles may be particularly weak (see Hip Abductor Weakness). The gluteus medius and minimus are involved in hip stabilization during locomotion, particularly running. Hip abductor flexibility and strengthening exercises can help protect against iliotibial band syndrome in distance runners.

Hip Flexor Exercise

What cosmetic effect does exercising the Hip Flexors have? Can this be deleted?

Hip flexor exercises may be omitted because they utilize a relatively small muscle group. Hip flexor exercises may also may be omitted if you have weak abdominals. To be on the safe side, I often encourage beginners to wait on implementing direct hip flexor work until they can sufficiently strengthen the abdominal muscles.

Many people mistakenly buy into the info commercials' idea of the lower abdominals. See lower abdominal myth. The major muscle involved in hip flexion is the iliopsoas which lies quite deep in the hip. Perhaps, this is why there is confusion regarding the conjectured lower abs. Other hip flexor muscles are more superficial. The hip flexors are important in certain athletic movements that involve hip flexion like sprinting, jumping and kicking

Sit ups and Leg-Hip Raises are basic exercises that can be performed for more fit individuals for both the abdominals and hip flexors. Incidentally, direct obliques work is also optional since obliques are indirectly involved in abdominal exercises.

Over-developed Traps

My trapezius muscle easily gets overdeveloped giving me a thick-neck/round-shouldered look, yet I don't do shrugs or upright rows. Could my one set of lat-pulldowns be causing this?

When most people mention the Trapezius, they are commonly referring to the Upper Trapezius. I assume this is your problem area, particularly since the upper traps tend to appear thicker with a rounded shoulder posture.. Incidentally, the Middle and Lower Trapezius rotate the scapula upward when the arm is raised as in the shoulder presses, upright rows, lateral and front raises. The upper Trapezius will act a stabilizer during these motions and other exercises that require holding heavy weights. This may include exercises from any type of deadlift, Olympic type lift to even heavy arm curls. Pulldowns involve opposite muscles (Levator Scapulae, Rhomboids, Pectoralis minor) since the scapula downward rotates as the shoulder adducts or extends. It is possible the Levator Scapula which lies anterior and proximal the traps could be over developed from pulldowns. However, I would not suspect over development of that muscle would contribute to the round shouldered look you have described.

When working the Lateral Deltoid you may want to try exercises that to no utilize the upper Trapezius as a stabilizer. Try side delt exercises like Lying Lateral Raise and :Lever Lateral Raise. Front deltoid movements that involve minimal amount of upper Trapezius stabilization include Cable Front Raises, Triceps Dips, or bench or chest press movements with the bar to the lower chest (Like powerlifter-style Bench Presses with a slightly narrower grip and your elbows closer to the sides). Usually, most get a sufficient front delt stimulation from basic chest work already so front delt movements would be optional in a full body workout anyway.

If you have protracted shoulders, which is often associated with the rounded shoulder look, you may need to strengthen the rhomboids, middle and Lower Trapezius and stretch the Pectoralis minor and major. You should also be performing comparable amount of work for the back as the chest, balancing your general back work (ie rows) with general chest work (ie: chest press or bench press). your chest will appear fuller and your upper traps should not be as pronounced once you correct your shoulder posture through the suggested exercises.

Behind-the-Neck Press for Rear Delts?

Is there anything wrong with behind the neck presses if what you want is to also develop the rear deltoids?


First of all, the shoulder press, military press, and press behind the neck all target the anterior deltoids, not the posterior deltoid despite what Fees (1998) suggests. The assisting muscles may differ slightly on front delt exercises, but in any case, do not include the rear deltoid. The upper chest assists the front deltoid during the military press and shoulder presses with the torso positioned slight back or chest arched up. The side deltoid assists on the behind the neck press and shoulder presses with the torso positioned upright or marginally forward. Here are exercises targeting the rear delt.

If you indeed, do have protracted shoulders (a possibility mentioned above) combined with other biomechanical deficiencies, you may have a higher than normal risk of shoulder injury during the behind the neck press. Also, be cautious if you have shoulder external rotation inflexibility or have injured the shoulder in an overhead motion in the past. Also, see deltoid exercises. Adding a rear delt exercise might on a few exercises that could help your condition, if your posterior chain is underdeveloped in relation to your anterior chain, which typically get lots of work with the all the chest work people do.

On a full body workout, only one deltoid selection is recommended since the other heads are already worked indirectly. A side deltoid selection is recommended, since the front deltoid assists during chest exercises and the rear deltoid assist during general back exercises like rows. When performing too many exercises in any weight training program, the workout becomes too long and intensity drops for all exercises because you start to pace yourself at the beginning of the program and you grow tired near the end of the program. If you would like to add additional exercises to a full body workout, consider a split program where you exercise one part of your body one day and the other part on a separate day.

With all your special needs you have mentioned, it does sound like a simple 2 day split program would be the way you might want to go at least for a while.

Also see other question and answers about Training Legs and Hips.

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