Fear of bulking up should never keep women away from weights or strengthening exercises. The mindset that cardio is the only way to get lean muscles is outdated and ineffective. Strengthening your body – whether it’s through bodyweight training or weight lifting – is the way to transform your body. Cardio is still an integral part of your overall health and wellness plan, but if you’re looking to see serious changes in your body, running or isolated cardio is not the smartest way to get there. Health.com collected 11 fab exercises to help women build muscle without bulking the muscle groups being worked. Try these unique moves and you’ll feel muscles you forgot (or never knew) existed!
Monkey Push: Get into the “up” part of push-up position with hands directly below shoulders and body in a straight line from head to heels. Keeping core tight, push through toes and hop forward, landing gently with feet on the outside of hands. Hop back to starting position. Bend elbows (keeping them close to body) to lower body toward floor, then push back up; that’s 1 rep. Do 10–12 reps. Strengthens: Arms and shoulders, abdominals, back.
One-Leg Rear-Delt Raise: Hold a 5- to 8-pound weight in each hand, palms facing in. Bend forward at waist, letting arms hang, while lifting left leg back so it’s in line with torso. Flex shoulder muscles and raise weights out to sides until arms are parallel to floor (as shown). Lower arms. Do 15 reps; switch legs, and repeat. Strengthens: Core, shoulders, biceps, triceps, back, hamstrings, glutes.
Opposite Arm and Leg Lift: Get down on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Reach your right arm forward; at the same time, stretch your left leg back. Hold for 5 seconds, then release and repeat using the left arm and right leg; that’s one rep. Do 10 to 15 reps. Strengthens: Upper body, lower body, biceps, triceps, shoulders, upper and lower back, glutes.
Tricpes Down Dog: From plank position, bend elbows to lower down as far as you can, then straighten them. Lift your hips up as you push back into Down Dog position, pressing your heels toward the floor. Return to plank. Do entire sequence 10 times. Strengthens: Upper body, biceps, triceps, shoulders.
Twisting Knee Plank: Get into plank position (the up part of a push-up). Twist your lower body to the left, then to the right; return to center. Bring your left knee forward to touch your left elbow; hold for 1 second, then return to center and repeat on the right side. That’s 1 rep; do 20 reps. Strengthens: Upper and lower body; arms, shoulders, abdominals, obliques, butt.
Kneeling Glute Toner: Kneel with knees hip-width apart, and hold the back of a chair; tighten abs, tuck pelvis. Slide left foot back, lift knee and toes off floor; press straight back with foot (knee bent) 20 reps. Keeping knee behind hip, pelvis tucked, turn out leg slightly (toe to 8 on clock); lift toes 20 reps. Rotate thigh out; press foot back 20 reps. Lift leg diagonally to side 20 reps. Switch legs; repeat series. Strengthens: Glutes, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, abdominals.
Chair Twist: Stand with your feet together. Bend knees, reaching hips back (knees behind toes), lowering until thighs are nearly parallel with floor; raise arms forward and up. Rotate torso to right and secure left elbow on outside of right knee. Hold for 3 breaths; return to starting position. Repeat on left side; that’s 1 rep. Do 3 reps. Strengthens: Lower and upper abdominals, obliques, hips, thighs, butt.
Dancing Half-Moon Kick: Begin in a straddle stance with your knees bent and feet wide, and your toes pointing slightly outward. Shift your weight onto your right leg while straightening your left leg. Round your arms, as if holding a large ball, and bend sideways from the waist over your bent knee. Strengthens: Obliques, hips, back, butt, arms.
Quadriceps Stretch: Start on hands and knees with feet toward stability ball or wall. Lift right leg, point right toes toward ceiling; move your knee 4 inches away from ball. Rest top of foot against ball. Slowly bring left leg into lunge position with left foot flat on the floor, knee over ankle; lift torso. Kick top of right foot into ball to contract quads; as you kick, use left leg to push body back and torso upright, stretching quads. Do 5 to 10 reps. Repeat on other side. Strengthens: Lower body, hips, legs, butt, thighs. (photo credit)
Waist Trimmer: Sit with knees bent to 90° (right knee in front, left knee to side with left toes pointing back). Place right hand on the floor and left hand on left hip. Bend slightly forward at waist, lifting chest. Lift left leg an inch off the floor (as shown); lower it. Do 20 reps, then press left leg an inch backward and forward for 20 more reps. Switch sides; repeat sequence. Strengthens: Core, butt.
For more total body routines, check out The Best 20-Minute, Calorie Torching At-Home Workouts, Killer Kettlebell Circuit: Swing Yourself Into Shape, Jump for Joy (and strength and power) with Plyometrics!