Vixen Liftin’: The Comprehensive Program

Originally Posted at www.figureathlete.com

I’m asked all the time about a solid training program for women. What does it look like? Should women train differently than their grunting, crotch-scratchin’ counterparts?

The fact of the matter is that women don’t need to train all that differently from men with regards to sets, reps, etc. Generally, women can do more repetitions with an equivalent percentage of their one-rep max, and women tend to recover a little faster than men between sets, so that’s been accounted for within the program.

However, there are some biomechanical, training, and behavior related issues that predispose women to injury, and I’ve taken steps to help bulletproof these areas. They include:

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You: Bulletproofed and ready to rock it.

Now before we get into it, I should probably fill you in on how I write exercise programs. Hopefully this will help you understand how important the stuff you do before you work out really is!

The Anatomy of a Training Session

Step 1: Soft-Tissue Work

With the exception of athletes preparing for competition, I generally start off training sessions with soft-tissue work. This could include any or all of the following:

By including soft-tissue work in our program, not only do we break down scar tissue and adhesions that may have developed over time, but it also decreases the stiffness of our connective tissues to help us get into the appropriate lifting positions.

For a complete guide on how to perform various types of soft-tissue work, download this free PDF guide.

Step 2: Mobility Drills

While I haven’t discussed it as extensively at Figure Athlete yet, mobility drills have been proven to be superior to old-school static stretching pre-workout. Now, there’s a time and place for static stretching in the warm-up process, but we’ll discuss that later on.

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Static stretching may be popular, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.

To keep it short and sweet, mobility drills help improve joint lubrications and decrease the stiffness of the muscles and tendons that we’ll be using in our workout. After all, it doesn’t make sense to bend over, touch your toes, and hold for 30 seconds when you never do that during a workout!

Instead, our goal will be to get you moving and prepped for a kick-ass workout.

The scope of mobility drills goes beyond this article alone, but if you haven’t checked them out yet I’d highly recommend my Magnificent Mobility DVD for the lower body, and the Inside-Out DVD for the upper body.

Step 3: Acute Corrective Exercises

This is the final step in our warm-up process. The goal here is to work on “molding” your body into optimal alignment before we load it up with weights. Essentially, the better your posture is pre-workout, the more you’re going to get out of the ensuing training session.

Acute corrective exercises are generally comprised of two areas:

For instance, on your lower body days, we’ll have you performing a hip flexor stretch immediately followed by glute activation drills. The stretch not only loosens up the hip flexors, but by stretching one side of the body we facilitate better usage of the opposing musculature.

Step 4: Iron Work

Once we’ve gotten warmed up and ready, it’s time to hit to the iron!

This training program is focused on hitting the areas where women generally need more work.

For instance, on lower body days there’s an emphasis on getting the glutes working, strengthening the entire posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, etc.), and developing single-leg strength and stability.

In the upper body sessions, there’s a heavy focus on developing the scapular (shoulder blade) stabilizers, along with strengthening the pulling muscles versus the pushing muscles.

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Finally, we wrap up every session with a core stability exercise. This will get the muscles that support your pelvis and spine brutally strong to help you avoid injury.

If you follow the program to a T and push yourself, you’ll see a nice change overall. Not only will you be stronger, but more resistant to injury as well.

Let’s Get to the Program!

Day 1

Soft-Tissue Work

Work on each position for 30 to 45 seconds:

If one area is overly tight, spend a little extra time on it until it loosens up.

Mobility Drills

Perform eight to ten repetitions of each exercise, as described in Magnificent Mobility:

Focus on keeping your chest up and out and your back flat throughout. Movement should come from the hips versus the lumbar spine.

Acute Corrective Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Rectus femoris stretch 2 x 30 seconds
Glute bridge 2 x 10
X-band walks 2 x 10
Clams 2 x 10 60 seconds

Perform all of these exercises in succession, rest 60 seconds, and then repeat once more.

Iron Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Box squats 3 x 8 120 seconds
Romanian deadlifts 4 x 6 90 seconds
Dumbbell lunges 3 x 10 90 seconds
Glute-ham raise or ball leg curls 3 x 6 or 3 x 10-12 90 seconds
Tall kneeling lift 3 x 10 60 seconds

Day 2

Soft-Tissue Work

Work on each position for 30 to 45 seconds:

If one area is overly tight, spend a little extra time on it until it loosens up.

Mobility Drills

Perform eight to ten repetitions of each exercise, as described in Inside-Out:

Acute Corrective Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Prone I 2 x 8-12
Prone T 2 x 8-12
Prone Y 2 x 8-12 60 seconds

Perform all of these exercises in succession, rest 60 seconds, and then repeat once more.

Iron Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Lat pull-downs or band-assisted chin-ups 4 x 8-10 120 seconds
Push-ups (bodyweight or resisted) 3 x 8-10 120 seconds
Face pulls 4 x 12 90 seconds
Single-arm shoulder press 3 x 6-8 90 seconds

Day 3

Soft-Tissue Work

Work on each position for 30 to 45 seconds:

If one area is overly tight, spend a little extra time on it until it loosens up.

Mobility Drills

Perform eight to ten repetitions of each exercise, as described in Magnificent Mobility:

Focus on keeping your chest up and out and your back flat throughout. Movement should come from the hips versus the lumbar spine.

Acute Corrective Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Rectus femoris stretch 2 x 30 seconds
Glute bridge 2 x 10
X-band walks 2 x 10
Clams 2 x 10 60 seconds

Perform all of these exercises in succession, rest 60 seconds, and then repeat once more.

Iron Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Deadlifts (sumo or conventional) 3 x 5 120-150 seconds
Bulgarian split squats 3 x 10 90 seconds
Single-leg Romanian deadlifts 3 x 8 90 seconds
Pull-throughs 3 x 8 90 seconds
Split-stance cable push/pull 3 x 10 each 60 seconds

Day 4

Soft-Tissue Work

Work on each position for 30 to 45 seconds:

If one area is overly tight, spend a little extra time on it until it loosens up.

Mobility Drills

Perform eight to ten repetitions of each exercise, as described in Inside-Out:

Acute Corrective Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Prone I 2 x 8-12
Prone T 2 x 8-12
Prone Y 2 x 8-12 60 seconds

Perform all of these exercises in succession, rest 60 seconds, and then repeat once more.

Iron Work

Exercise Sets/Reps Rest Period
Chest-supported or low cable row 4 x 6-8 120 seconds
Dumbbell incline bench 3 x 8 120 seconds
Isometric chin-up holds 3 x 1 90 seconds
Free time: 15 minutes
Pallof press 3 x 8 60 seconds

The Exercises Explained

Rectus Femoris Stretch

Place an Airex pad or pillow on the ground in front of a low box or bench. Place one foot up on the bench, with your knee down on the pillow and your opposite foot placed out in front of you on the floor.

Assume a “tall” position by trying to make the space from your hips to your head as long as possible. This should activate your core and glutes, which should intensify the stretch.

Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.

Glute Bridge

Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Brace your stomach, and then slowly squeeze your “cheeks” and lift your hips up in the air. Come up to a point where your torso, hips, and knees are in a straight line, and then lower under control to the starting position.

The key is to really focus on using your glutes versus your lower back or hamstrings.

X-Band Walks

Take a mini-band and step on it so that both feet are inside the band. Next, cross it over, making an “X” and hold it with your hands facing each other and arms tucked in to the side of your body.

From this position tighten up your midsection, get tall, and walk from side to side. You should feel a nice burn in the back side of your hips.

Clams

Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent and your feet together. From the starting position, brace your stomach, and then slowly rotate your top leg away from the bottom. Rotate as far as you can while not moving the lower back, and then return to the starting position.

A few key pointers on this exercise:

Box Squats

Load a barbell in a rack and place a low sitting box behind you. You may want to test it out first by mimicking the motion described below and making sure that there’s absolutely no rounding of the lower back. If you sit back and your butt begins to “tuck under” before you touch the box, move the box up a bit.

Begin by grabbing the bar with an equal width grip, and then pull yourself underneath the bar. Think about pulling your shoulder blades back together and getting your upper back tight. This will make the squat feel much easier! With both feet firmly planted underneath the bar, stand up and walk the bar back.

Set up with a hip-width stance. In the starting position your feet, knees and hips should all be in a straight line. Essentially, the wider you squat, the more toe flare you’ll need to get everything lined up.

From the starting position, take a deep breath and think about locking down your midsection as if you’re about to be punched in the stomach. This is called “bracing.” Once braced, exaggerate a chest-out position, and initiate the squat. Sit back while pushing your knees out to the side. Sit all the way down on the box, but don’t relax! Stay tight, touch the box, and drive your upper back into the bar to return to the starting position.

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Romanian Deadlifts

Load a barbell in a power rack and grab the bar with a double-overhand grip. Take a step back and set your feet underneath your shoulders.

From the starting position, focus on pushing your hips as far back as you can. Think about trying to touch the wall behind you if that helps. You want to maintain a chest-out and flat-back position all the way through. Once you get a slight stretch in the hammies, drive your hips through and finish by squeezing the glutes.

Dumbbell Lunges

Grab a pair of dumbbells and set up with your chest out and stomach tight. From the starting position, take an exaggerated step forward, landing on your heel. Lower under control to a point where your back knee is just above the ground, and then drive thru the heel to return to the starting position.

It’s very important here to be cognizant of your knee tracking; don’t allow the knee to cave inwards! Instead, think of keeping your foot, knee, and hip in a nice, straight alignment.

Glute-Ham Raise

Glute-ham raises are the crème de la crème of knee flexion exercises. Not only do they encourage use of the glutes and core, but they blast your hamstrings like no other. Once you get used to these, you’ll see how superior they are to the leg curl machine!

Lie face down in a glute-ham machine with your knees just below the apex of the pad. While you can start with your torso down towards the bottom, I prefer to start with your torso, hips, and legs in a straight line. From this position, brace your core and glutes, and press your toes into the plate to “curl” your body up. Pull yourself up to a point where your thighs and torso are perpendicular to the floor, and then lower yourself back down to the starting position.

It may feel like you’re going to cramp the first time you do this, and it’s totally naturally — you’re not used to using your hammies like this! After a few sessions this sensation should subside.

Ball Leg Curls

Ball leg curls are a great starting point. They teach you to maintain a core and glute contraction while effectively training your hamstrings to boot.

Lie on your back with your heels resting on the top of a physioball. Bridge up to a point where your torso, hips, and legs are in a straight line; at this point, your glutes and core should be tight. Maintain this tension throughout.

Dig your heels into the ball, and slowly pull it towards your hips. Once the ball nears your butt, slowly reverse the movement until your legs are fully extended again. Don’t forget to keep your glutes and core tight!

If this variation is too simple, progress to a single-leg version. In this case, you’ll only have one heel on the ball and the other leg will be extended straight above it. The same performance rules apply: Keep your core and glutes tight, roll the ball into your butt, and control it back out to the starting position.

Tall Kneeling Lift

Set up a rope attachment on the bottom pin placement of a cable crossover machine. Slide the rope so that one end is longer than the other. It may also help to put a small pad or towel underneath your knees.

Kneel alongside the machine, grabbing the rope attachment. Your chest should be out, stomach tight, and glutes turned on with your hips extended. From here, think about “pulling” the rope across your body.

It’s really important to keep your stomach tight and hips extended throughout. This will really focus the stress on your core and glutes.

Prone I

The prone I is the first step in our scapular stabilization series. The key here is to get all of those little muscles around your shoulder blades strong and stable. Doing this can keep you healthy and injury-free!

Lie face down on the ground with an Airex pad or towel underneath your forehead. Think about making your neck “long” before starting the movement. Your hands should be at the eight and four positions on the clock, with your palms open and facing down.

Initiate the movement by “pulling” your shoulder blades together. From there, slowly raise your hands an inch or so off the ground. As you raise, think about turning your thumbs up towards the sky. Hold for a one count, and then return to the starting position.

Prone T

As the second step in the series, the prone T starts off much like the prone I. Lie face down and extend your neck prior to starting. Your hands should be at nine and three o’clock, with your fists on the ground and thumbs pointing upwards.

Begin the movement in the same fashion by “pulling” your shoulder blades together. From there, slowly raise the hands an inch or so off the ground. As you raise, don’t allow your arms to drift back towards your sides! Hold for a one count, and then return to the starting position.

Prone Y

With the last step in the scapular stabilization series, you once again find yourself lying face down with an Airex pad or towel underneath your forehead. Again, focus on making your neck “long” before starting. Your hands should be at ten and two, with your fists on the ground and thumbs pointing upwards.

Kick off the movement by allowing your shoulder blades to “glide” or “squeeze’ down towards your hips, and slowly raise your hands an inch or so off the ground. As you rise, don’t allow your elbows to bend — keep your arms straight! Hold for a one count, and then return to the starting position.

Lat Pull-Downs

Set up a lat pull-down machine so that when seated your thighs are snugly fit underneath the knee pad. Grab a wide attachment with a medium-width grip and sit down, sliding your thighs underneath the knee pad.

Start with your elbows straight, and pull through your elbows to create the movement. Pull the bar all the way to your chest, and actively think about pulling your shoulder blades down at the midpoint of the movement. Hold for a one count, and then return to the starting position.

Be sure to emphasize the arms straight position at the top, and the active contraction at the midpoint.

Band-Assisted Chin-Ups

Band-assisted chin-ups are a great exercise, and generally a superior alternative to lat pull-downs. If nothing else, it gets you ready to do some chin-ups on your own, which is totally cool in and of itself.

The nice thing about this version is that the bottom position is normally the hardest point of a chin-up. With a band being stretched out to help you, it’s now the easiest part!

Place a band of appropriate thickness over the top of a chinning bar, and put a bench next to the bar itself. You may need some help getting set up, but grab the bar and place your knees in the band.

The movement is essentially the same as the lat pull-down described above. Start with your elbows straight and initiate the movement by pulling through your elbows. Pull yourself up to a point where your chest is touching the bar and actively squeeze your shoulder blades down. Hold for a one count, and then lower under control to the starting position.

Push-Ups

Lie face down on the floor with your toes pointed, hands and elbows at a 90-degree angle to your shoulders, and stomach tight. Press up to the starting position, making sure to keep your stomach tight, and then lower under control to a point where your chest touches the ground.

As you’re lowering, tuck your elbows such that the angle between your upper arm and torso is approximately 45 degrees.

One aspect that I can’t emphasize enough is to use a full range of motion. Be sure to lower under control, and at the top think of pushing your body as far away from the floor as possible. This extra “push” at the end will emphasize proper serratus function.

Face Pulls

Attach a rope to a cable crossover or similar machine at the highest setting possible. Grab the end of the rope with your thumbs near the rubber end; this way your thumbs are pointing upwards.

Take a few steps back and allow your arms to straighten. From the starting position, pull the rope back (towards your body) and apart (so that your hands go outside your head). As you pull back, think about actively trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together. Return to the starting position.

As you’re performing this exercise, focus on keeping your chest out. Quite often people will allow their chest to collapse, which is a way of feeding a dysfunctional movement pattern. Instead, keep your chest out and allow the muscles around your shoulder blades do the work.

Single-Arm Shoulder Press

The single-arm shoulder press is a very nifty little exercise. Not only are we strengthening our shoulders, we’re preventing movement at our lumbar spine instead of creating it.

Grab a dumbbell and set your feet shoulder-to-hip width apart. With the dumbbell resting on your shoulder, brace your core and drive the dumbbell overhead.

The key here is not to allow any side bending at all during the movement; keep your core tight!

Ab Wheel Rollouts

Start on your knees with an ab roller in front of you, elbows straight, and hands on the roller. Assuming a “tight” or “braced” position, slowly roll forward while maintaining that initial low back position. Once you feel as though you’re going to lose it or you feel any pressure in your low back, return to the starting position.

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If you get to the point where the ab wheel is too easy, challenge yourself with barbell rollouts.

Sumo Deadlifts

This may get wordy, but like squats, deadlifts are a lift you really should focus on mastering. I’m going to explain the sumo style setup, because, well, that’s what I like best! However, feel free to use the conventional style if that’s what you prefer.

Load a barbell with an appropriate weight, and set up with a much wider than shoulder-width stance. Just like squatting, try and get your feet, knees, and hips in a nice, straight alignment. The farther out your feet are, the more toe flare you’ll need to accomplish this.

Lower yourself down to the bar, keeping your chest up and your back in an arched position. I prefer to use what’s called a “mixed” grip — one hand facing away from my body, with the other hand facing in. Again, whatever feels the most natural is fine. Generally, as you get stronger, however, the mixed grip becomes a necessity.

As you grab the bar, think about taking a deep breath and “setting” your starting position — chest up, back arched, and knees pushed out to the sides. From this position, initiate the movement from your hips; it may help to think about driving your heels through the floor. Keep the bar in close to your body, and actively squeeze your glutes to drive your hips through and complete the movement.

And for what it’s worth, I heart girls who deadlift heavy.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand next to a bench. (Hopefully it’s not Monday or else you may have to deal with some meatheads who only know how to bench press!) While holding the dumbbells at arms length next to your hips, take one foot and reach back so that your toes are resting on the bench. It may take some balance, but the end results are worth it.

In the starting position, you’ll have one leg out in front of you, the opposite leg behind you with your toes on the bench, and you should have a nice, “tall” posture. From here, lower your hips down to a point where your back knee is just above the ground and then drive through the leg and return to the starting position. Again, I like to think of driving through the heel, as this tends to get more glute and hamstring into the lift.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

To perform a single-leg Romanian deadlift, grab an appropriately heavy dumbbell in one hand and pick up the foot of that same side leg. Keeping your chest out and back flat, slowly lower the dumbbell and your torso to the opposite foot. Once you begin to get a stretch in your hamstrings, drive your hips through and finish by squeezing your glutes. Your “free” leg should be straight throughout.

You may need to have someone watch you do this the first time around. It’s really important not to allow any rounding of your lower back. Instead, really focus on moving through your hips.

Pull-Throughs

Attach a D-handle to the bottom of a cable machine. Stand facing away from the machine, reach down in between your legs, and grab the attachment with both hands. Walk yourself out a few feet from the machine, and set your feet just outside of shoulder/hip width apart.

From the starting position, hinge at the hips and force them back. You want to maintain a chest-out and flat-back position during the lift. Once you begin to get a stretch in your hamstrings, drive your hips forward and finish by squeezing your glutes at the top.

3 Comments

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  1. Hey Mike,

    This program looks awesome. Would you be able to re post it with working videos? the one’s you posted don’t seem to be functioning.

  2. I’ve been reading this program to help design workouts for females, and this has been really helpful. Now, I know the corrective and iron work are targeted specifically towards females, but how about the mobility drills – are they specifically put together considering female posture and dispositions, or would a male also benefit from doing these same drills pre-workout?

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