Get Super Strong: A Woman’s Strength Training Program

Note from Pavel: Several weeks ago Lauren asked me, “How strong does a woman need to be to be considered ‘strong’?” I thought it was a question that should be answered by women (strong women, naturally). I asked Lauren to answer it on here, and then I asked a few more strong SF sisters for their answers. We will be publishing them—along with training advice for women ready to be strong—over the next several months.

A Woman's Strength Training Program

“Wow, she must be really strong.” When I hear these words I can tell you that the ability to execute heavy presses or heavy front squats is not what first comes to my mind. What does come to my mind is a person, a female, who overcame a significant challenge. Someone who was forced to deal with a life-altering experience and pushed through it with strength that was found from within.

I have stood in the shoes of a shy little girl, an awkward teenager, a college student, a single woman, a wife, a career woman, and a mother. I remember clearly how it was/is to be in each element. Each one required a certain amount of strength to overcome the challenges and tribulations that were brought to the surface.

As for physical strength, there are women who are born with little and have to work ten times as hard to acquire the same levels as their naturally gifted counterparts. If this so-called “weak” woman decides to train very hard, after many years of perseverance, she can be nearly as strong as the naturally strong woman.

But how strong is strong enough? As a female, mother, wife, and coach, I’m here to tell you that strength is relative. The woman in the wheelchair who learned how to walk again, despite three doctors telling her she would be bound to that chair forever, is the very meaning of strength. The day you stop working to be strong, is the day you start getting weak.

The Standards of a Super Strong Woman

When defining what is considered to be a physically strong female, there are measurable standards I personally feel are necessary. Below is a list of specific measures of strength that makes a female super strong, in my opinion—at minimum, and going on a percentage of body weight:

  • Dead hang pull-ups — 3 or more
  • Push-ups — 8 or more
  • Barbell deadlift — 150% body weight
  • Single leg deadlift — 60% body weight
  • Single arm press — 30% body weight
  • Kettlebell swings — 60% body weight
  • Double kettlebell front squat — 60% body weight
  • Get-up — 30% body weight
  • Kettlebell snatch — 40% body weight

Note: I am providing a simple program to start you on your journey to achieve the standards listed above of what I consider to be a “super strong” woman. Feel free to follow the program below to be on your way to achieving these standards.

Remember, strength is not always about the final product and it’s not always about how much you can lift, but it is about where you started from and where you are now. Strength is a life-long journey.

A Woman's Strength Training Program

Get Super Strong: A Woman’s Strength Training Program

Choose a challenging kettlebell size for your level, but follow these two rules:

  1. You must be able to perform a perfect repetition with the size you choose.
  2. Do not go to failure.

Practice Session 1

A. Get-Ups—2 reps each side
Heavy Swings—10 reps

Rest and repeat for a total of 3 sets.

B. Goblet Squats—5 reps
Pull-ups—1-5 reps

Rest and repeat for a total of 3 sets.

Practice Session 2

A. Barbell or Double Kettlebell Deadlifts—3-5 reps
Military Press—3-5 reps each side

Rest and repeat for a total of 3 sets.

B. Kettlebell Snatch—descending ladder, 6 each side, 5, each side, until you get to one.  No rest.

Practice Session 3

Go through each exercise and perform 1 rep. Once you have completed the five exercises listed, begin again by performing 2 reps, then 3 reps. Once you have completed 3 reps of each, start again by taking it down to 2 and then 1.

You will practice 9 total perfect reps per exercise throughout the entire practice. If you are advanced, you may go up to 4 reps. If you can go up to 5, you may not be going heavy enough.

  1. Get-Up
  2. Pull-Up
  3. Double Front Squat
  4. Push-Up
  5. Single-Leg Deadlift

Super Strong Training: Weeks 1-2

  • Monday: Practice Session 1
  • Tuesday:  Active Recovery, i.e. Restorative Yoga or/and Joint Mobility
  • Wednesday: Practice Session 2
  • Thursday:  Active Recovery, i.e. Restorative Yoga or/and Joint Mobility
  • Friday: Practice Session 3
  • Saturday: Active Recovery i.e. Restorative Yoga or/and Joint Mobility
  • Sunday: Walking, Hill Sprints, or Get-Up Practice

Super Strong Training: Weeks 3-4

  • Monday: Practice Session 1
  • Tuesday: Practice Session 2
  • Wednesday: Active Recovery, i.e. Joint Mobility
  • Thursday: Practice Session 3
  • Friday: Practice Session 1
  • Saturday: Active Recovery, i.e. Restorative Yoga or/and Joint Mobility
  • Sunday: Practice Session 2

Super Strong Training: Weeks 5-6

  • Monday: Mobility and Walking
  • Tuesday: Practice Session 3
  • Wednesday Practice Session 1
  • Thursday:  Easy Swings followed by Mobility and Walking
  • Friday: Practice Session 2
  • Saturday: Practice Session 3
  • Sunday: Active Recovery, i.e. Restorative Yoga or/and Joint Mobility (or easy practice)

Follow this simple program for six weeks. Keep a journal and record your practice sessions. Most of all, listen to your body. I look forward to hearing about your journey from weak to super strong.

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Lauren Brooks
Lauren Brooks, SFG Team Leader, is the owner of On The Edge Fitness in Encinitas, California.

Lauren earned her B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Fitness, Nutrition, and Health from San Diego State University in 2002.

She went on to become kettlebell certified under Pavel Tstasouline in 2005 and currently holds certifications as an SFG Team Leader, StrongFirst Barbell Lifting, ACE Fitness Trainer, Clinical Nutritionist, Functional Movement Specialist, TRX and Battling Ropes.

Teaching a variety of people, especially females and mothers, how to be strong, empowered, and ready for life is what she does.

Lauren, mother of two little girls, continues to lead by example. You can find out more about Lauren by visiting her visiting On the Edge Fitness and her blog
Lauren Brooks on FacebookLauren Brooks on InstagramLauren Brooks on PinterestLauren Brooks on TwitterLauren Brooks on Youtube

54 thoughts on “Get Super Strong: A Woman’s Strength Training Program

  • Hiiii!

    Love the article 🙂

    I am curious to hear your opinion on the next level of strength standards for women. You’d consider the above numbers “strong”, what would you consider “super strong” or even just “Really Strong”? For those of us who have surpassed the numbers above, it’s always nice to quantify goals and numbers, and have a very specific percentage in mind!

    Thanks! 🙂

  • What sorta routine would you suggest if I can’t do a “real” push up and not even close to being able to do a pull up?

    • It’s not uncommon for women to come into a fitness program not being able to do a push up or a pull up. Master Push ups first, they’re easier. Do timed sets of “girl push ups” to see how many you can do in 20 seconds. Work to improve that. Do “real” push-ups on steps so that your feet are on the floor and you are pushing up off of the third or fourth step. Go lower steps as you get stronger. Do lots of planks because they build the stabilizing muscles that help you do a push up. You should be able to build up doing one in about 4 weeks even if you are totally out of shape. Pull-ups can be achieved by practicing on the machines at the gym that provide a weighted resistance to assist you or by using resistance bands to help. Pull-ups are harder and I think for women, they usually lock into place as weight comes down and muscle mass increases. Also any weight lifting exercises like military press, shoulder press and row which improve the strength of arms and back will help.

  • Hi Lauren,

    I work best when I have a goal in sight so thank you for the challenge. I am on week three and am already having to bump up in weight on some exercises and love the feeling of increased strength. I started out being able to accomplish some of the exercises at the goal weights but am really enjoying experiencing the heavy work.

    Thanks!
    Beth

  • Hi Lauren,

    Thank you for continually offering outstanding information free of cost – it really helps! I own a couple of your DVDs and love them, of course. However, they do seem to be geared more toward conditioning and I’m hoping to add some pounds of muscle; this is where I think the above workout schedule will come in quite handy. Right now, my heaviest kettlebell is the 16kg and I don’t have any doubles. I’m thinking that I need some more KBs; do you suggest adding a bell that’s heavier than 16kg, or should I get another 12, 14, and/or 16kg in order to perform exercises such as the double KB deadlifts? Which ‘doubles’ would you recommend?

    Thank you for any input…and THANK YOU for always being so generous with your knowledge!

    Jessica

  • Hi Lauren,

    Thank you so much for including the Masters Women’s benchmarks (I’m 55) and the women’s benchmarks in general! I’ve usually been put off reading articles that talk about men who should be able to do 2.5x BW deadlift, 1.5x BW squats, etc. I admit that I was a bit discouraged in reading the first set of benchmarks for women (younger) because most of them seemed out of reach for me (e.g. at 160 BW, a snatch with 64 lbs). With the Masters Women’s benchmarks, I’m happy to say that my powerlifting and KB training to date have me meeting most of them.

    One question on the KB swings benchmark: just one swing at 50% BW? 2-5 swings? I can understand a single rep for grinding moves like a press , squat, or TGU, or a more technical ballistic like a KB snatch, but I was left wondering about swings.

    Thank you again! Teresa Merrick/Bellevue, NE

  • I agree with everything, and look forward to read the following training advice. Yes, everything is relative, I can do more push up and chin up, but honestly never try the single leg dead lift with 60%, and snatch with 40%,, but will try. How many reps do you recon ?…5 , 10 ?
    I am also very surprised, and this is a good surprise, nothing written for female 50 + ?
    My opinion is yes, same rankings, but we have to train harder and very safe.

    • Hi Christine,

      Thank you very much! Regarding the other benchmarks that I did not post reps, I was referring to a minimum of 1 single solid lift! If you can do 5, then awesome!

      Regarding the 50+ I wrote this to a response to a comment earlier. My apologies for leaving the 50+ out. It doesn’t change too much. Here you go, I just copied and pasted from below.

      Here is a Masters benchmark for STRONG females over 50. Remember we aren’t talking about average. If you can get a few of these benchmarks consider yourself strong! I work with many females over 50 and they can do all that is listed below with proper instruction and dedication. Unless they have a certain restriction, which regardless of age will be an issue. Hope this helps! Keep me posted!

      Best Wishes to you!

      Horizontal Rows (With a TRX ) — 3 or more
      Pull up bar hold – 15 seconds
      Push-ups — 5 or more
      Barbell deadlift — 100% bodyweight
      Single leg deadlift — 40% bodyweight
      Single arm press — 20% bodyweight
      Kettlebell swings — 50% bodyweight
      Double kettlebell front squat — 40% bodyweight
      Turkish get-up — 20% bodyweight
      Kettlebell snatch — 20% bodyweight

    • Thanks, Karen, I will get back to you, not easy to learn how to use properly the kettlebells, in Australia, more or less impossible, because nobody has enough experience. I am RKC and feel lucky to have TC , RKC Ii last April, also. He is a good a very safe trainer, but it is also good to learn for most experience Senior or Master. Shaun cairns was very present and helpful, as well, as Iron tamer, and attended most ofnthe worshops run in Australia.
      I am a spott trainer and lift weight for a while, but was looking for something new, and the best was the harstyle with Pavel, but I am stuck, with my RKC exercises and would like to go forward. Try to ask, but never had any answer, so, it is not hard to understand I guess, but I can’t wait, and will have to come back to my usual strenght training.
      I try hard the last 3 months and no consistent advices.
      Thanks, not easy to leave far from your Country, and try to work properly.
      Hope to find a little bit of motivation somewhere, without now a lot of hope.

  • Great article. Quick question – what would you suggest as an alternative to the pull up if you are working this program at home without a pull up bar?
    Excited to start on this!

    • I have the same question- no pullup bar yet so I need to sub in some other kind of pull… High pull? Would farmers walks work? I’m starting this routine today!!!!

    • Hi Ellen,

      Thank you! I would suggest getting a suspension trainer. TRX, jungle gym, or even a door pull up bar where you can take it in and out. If you install it low you can do modified pull-ups. Which are more of a vertical row fashion. If you are unable to get any of these alternatives, then a one arm row will do. Glad you are excited. I’m excited to hear about your results. Happy Holidays!

      Lauren

      • I just got a pullup bar- so excited! I have to wait a few more days though- Santa is bringing it to me as a Christmas gift to our family. I’ve never been able to do even one pull-up in all of my 44 years but I’m hell bent on doing at least 1 in my next 44!
        Loved yesterdays workout.. I added 4 extra sets of 40 heavy swings at the end as I normally do around 400 with a lighter bell. I feel great today!
        Thanks for the workout plan- can’t wait to feel the results!

  • Every word of Lauren’s is GOLD, thank you lady, you planned an awsome 6 weeks for many of us! 🙂 I’ll let you know how I’m getting on nce I finish my Burn and start off the ‘Lauren-Challenge’ 🙂

  • Plainly you’re a strong gal, Lauren, with very nice tone, and you train a lot of people, so likely you’ve tested these program suggestions against your metrics, or why propose them:

    “At minimum going on a percentage of bodyweight.

    Dead hang pull-ups — 3 or more
    Push-ups — 8 or more
    Barbell deadlift — 150% bodyweight
    Single leg deadlift — 60% bodyweight
    Single arm press — 30% bodyweight
    Kettlebell swings — 60% bodyweight
    Double kettlebell front squat — least 60% bodyweight
    Turkish get-up — 30% bodyweight
    Kettlebell snatch — 40% bodyweight”

    these are interesting numbers – perhaps you could unpack them a bit:
    they’re based on what, please?

    eg
    what has suggested that *only* 3 bw pull ups or 8 push ups (only 8?), which feel pretty tame – personally –
    are somehow co-equal to a snatch at 40% bw? or swing at 60% or a dl at 150%?
    by the way, also,
    how many 40% bw snatches? one? 100?
    likewise the swing: one swing at 60%? 100? in what period of time? only one pull at 150%?

    May i also ask:
    you suggest that the program above is to move a woman from “weak” to strong, though it’s called “super strong”
    so which of the results in your strong numbers (eg 60% bw double front squat) above have you seen your program deliver in 6w if a gal is starting from say, 20%bw for double front squats. Does she get to 25%? 35% 75%?

    Thanks.
    m.c.

    • Hi m.c.

      The program that is written in this blog is a stepping stone to get females to start training for strength. Over the past 8 years I have used similar programs like this to get my females to do what is asked on the benchmark and more. The program in this blog does not state after 6 weeks they WILL be at these particular benchmarks. However, it does get them on their way depending on where they are starting from. It’s an example of where to begin, like many programs out there.

      Referring to your inquiries in regards to the lower rep BW pull-ups and push-ups that you said seem very tame, compared to a heavy snatch (which could also be a double snatch), here is my reasoning behind it.

      Take an average female. Upper body strength tends to be weaker and harder to develop than lower body exercises. Again this is average and what I work with on a day to day basis. With my experience I have witnessed an average female that started off doing DBL Front Squat (25% of their body weight), in roughly 6 weeks of consistency, be able to then double front squat 40-45% for 3-5 reps. Same with a kettlebell snatch (double or single bell) 40% of their body weight over head for at least one rep. Swing is the one I see go up the fastest. Many times a female begins at 8kg or 12kg roughly 20% of her BW, if we are saying she weighs 120lbs. I didn’t post reps on the pure percentage benchmarks, since it’s just ONE or more reps. Then in just 6 weeks of heavy swing practice, she is swinging a 20-24kg for 8-10 reps, which takes her close to 60%.

      Most females seem to have to work much harder and longer to get their first pull-up and a handful of PERFECT push-ups. Many of my clients have had babies, c-sections, hysterectomies, so with that much abdominal dysfunction on the line in many of our females, I needed to put that in to perspective with the upper body strength baseline. You may find different results if you have not worked with mothers or people who were not athletic most of their life. I’m sure you are very knowledgable with how much abdominal activation and trunk stabilization plays a roll for pull-ups and push-ups, not to say it’s not extremely important for all the other exercises. That piece just seems to hinder these progressions in a greater fashion for MANY females and can be a longer road to achieve. Therefore “Strength Through Females Eyes” a female who can do a minimum of 3 pull-ups is in the strength club in MY eyes! You may feel differently and I respect that.

      We always welcome other females view points of what they personally think strength is. Hope I’ve made some things a bit more clear for you.

      Thanks again!

      Lauren

  • Lauren! I have your first two dvd’s as well as your book and thanks to you have found great results with kettlebellls! I eased up with kettlebells and got into running a few months ago and was shocked at how much less satisfied I was with my body. This plan came at the perfect time for me! Thank you so much for your continued work, dedication and inspiration! So looking forward to getting back into it 🙂

    • Anna, I’m very pleased that you are finding great results from using kettlebells! Look forward to hearing about your continued success! Thanks for all your support. Happy Holidays! Lauren

  • Thank you for the excellent information. At Monkey Bar Gym we train a lot of women who reach strength levels they didn’t think possible. But they always ask for benchmarks and I have never found any that I thought were valid for women. Solid info and I appreciate your perspective.

    • Hi Louise, You are very welcome! I am pleased that you feel the benchmarks are valid. Thanks for the kind words. Keep doing great things, by showing females how strong they really can be!

      All the best,

      Lauren

  • I like your program and could pass several of your strength minimums 7 years ago. I am now 63 and finding it harder to work my strength back up. I welcome any insight regarding the more “senior” strong female.

    • Vicki, I am 58 and with you in wishing somebody would recognize and write for us masters women. I feel like I’m sailing alone in uncharted seas–training with men and women young enough to be my children, coming up against the reality that my strength gains are smaller and come more slowly than theirs, and wondering whether certain bench marks (like some in this article) are challenging but attainable–or are completely out of reach at this stage of my life.

      • I’m knocking on your door, gals…..53 and sharing your thoughts on lack of solid information. Maybe we should start a ‘club’! 🙂

    • Hi Vicki,

      I absolutely agree with you ladies. When I wrote this blog I didn’t have the “masters” in mind. I will follow up with some benchmarks for 50 and older female. Thanks again!

      Best,

      Lauren

        • Vicki,

          Here is a Masters benchmark for STRONG females over 50. Remember we aren’t talking about average. 😉 If you can get a few of these benchmarks consider yourself strong! I work with many females over 50 and they can do all that is listed below with proper instruction and dedication. Unless they have a certain restriction, which regardless of age will be an issue. Hope this helps! Keep me posted!

          Best Wishes to you!

          Horizontal Rows (With a TRX ) — 3 or more
          Pull up bar hold – 15 seconds
          Push-ups — 5 or more
          Barbell deadlift — 100% bodyweight
          Single leg deadlift — 40% bodyweight
          Single arm press — 20% bodyweight
          Kettlebell swings — 50% bodyweight
          Double kettlebell front squat — 40% bodyweight
          Turkish get-up — 20% bodyweight
          Kettlebell snatch — 20% bodyweight

  • Hey Lauren –
    Would you recommend this routine for fat loss? That’s the phase of my fitness plan that I’m in right now. I’ve done 2 months of high volume swings following Tracy Reifkind’s book and this month am doing the swing/TGU challenge. I’m trying to figure out what to do next….I’d like to set up another 3 month ‘plan’ but am torn between the program you have set out above (and in your book) versus continuing on with a swing focused program (I really enjoy the swings).

    Any words of wisdom/advice?

    • Hi Kris,

      This program is strictly designed for strength. Depending on your body type you absolutely can lose fat. While not the main focus, gaining strength, building muscle, does change the body composition. Therefore having less body fat in the end. Diet plays a quite a big role with fat (weight) loss. My book is a combination of strength and conditioning (fat loss). You can’t go wrong with either program. Keep me posted on your progress!

      Wishing you lots of success!

      Lauren

      • Thanks Lauren. I’m thinking once the December swing/tgu challenge is complete to dive into your book program for the next 3 months. I think I’ll miss the high volume swings but perhaps I can add some additional swings in periodically to get my ‘fix’?

  • Great article.

    I’m familiar with what male strength standards are for the 3 powerlifts, overhead press, power clean and power snatch… but I’m not familiar with what the male strength standards are for some of the exercises in this article (single-leg deadlift, kettlebelll swings etc). Can you put up an article on those or forward me to a link where I can find them?

    Thanks

    Eric

    • Hi Eric,

      Thank you! You may want to put this question out on the StrongFirst Forum. I think they will be able to help answer this or guide you in the right direction for these standards. Personally I think males should be able to swing at least 100% body weight and Single Leg DeadLift 100% of their bodyweight. That could be too vague but it’s a good start. Again this would be a question to ask other males on the form.

      Take care,

      Lauren

  • Great info. and training program. When I started using kbells my goal was fat loss. Once I noticed strength gains, I became a strength addict. Thanks for the strength guidelines, now I know what to work toward!

    • Kia, In the beginning most peoples goals are fat loss. It’s amazing how quickly strength becomes the main focus, while still enjoying the body composition changes. Let me know how you do!

      Lauren

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