Exercises to gain weight for females are slightly different based on the different goals and physiology of men and women.
Today we’re discussing the best exercises for women’s weight gain, what other factors are most important, and some of our favorite exercises for healthy weight gain, as well as physique and strength.
By the end of this article, you’ll be in charge of your own weight gain and have dozens of amazing exercises you can use to drive better weight gain results!
Women’s Weight Gain
It’s no surprise that men and women typically seek overlapping, but different, fitness goals. The results we want are part biology and part cultural.
Wherever they come from, the point is that they’re already baked into you. Whatever your goal, we’re pretty much all striving for some sort of athletic goal, typically associated with a balance of muscle and fat, and at a rough “size”.
Women’s weight gain is typically centered around the lower body, where weight gain is both easier and more culturally-expected. Equally, gains in the upper body are milder and should still be treated appropriately.
The goals also tend to focus on appearance in other ways. “Toning” is the classic buzzword – want toned abs? toned legs? A toned butt? It just means “more muscular and less fat” and refers to body composition. There are other examples of looks that matter: proportions, balance, posture, and key muscle groups.
We’ll always have an eye on performance, health, and longevity. These are key factors in healthy weight gain and the quality of what your body weight is actually made of.
The Goal of All Weight Gain Exercises
Weight gain workout plans for females are mostly different because of these goals. However – as we’re going to see today – it’s also about using proper exercises and respecting the biological differences between men and women. They set the limits and methods, and you simply have to use them to your benefit!
Remember, too, that your goals are key. We’re talking generally, but the best training comes from being specific to your needs and goals. That’s the best way to improve the quality and health of your weight gain – whatever exercise you’re using.
How Women’s Hormonal and Metabolic Needs Differ From Men's
So, what are the differences that affect training for men and women? Are weight gain programs for females different from those for men?
The main thing is the hormonal environment that it happens in. Hormonal differences are probably the most important difference between the sexes – they control our lives and bodies. Lifestyle can only adjust hormones within a range set out by our DNA.
Anabolic hormones – testosterone, IGF=1, HGH, and Insulin – are sex-specific. They make men naturally larger and stronger. The speed of weight gain for men is typically greater while the balance between muscle and fat gain is more generous. Typically, that means women’s healthy weight gain is slower.
This is reinforced by a different metabolism. Women are less effective at metabolizing carbs and more effective using fats as fuel. This means that the muscle-building processes are, once again, slowed.
The difference here is the type of exercise, amount, and speed of muscle-building. This is paired with a greater turnover – or need – for certain nutrients. These include iron and copper (due to menstruation), calcium, and vitamins B1 and D. These are major players in women’s health that both support high-quality weight gain and are central to women’s health (especially in the long term).
Exercise Priorities for Women: What’s the Same? What’s Different?
When choosing a workout to gain weight for females, there’s really nothing crazy: we all need to train full body, with exercises balancing the front and back of the body, and a focus on balanced training.
The key is setting priorities. Training is defined by what we value most, and we work backwards. The balance between upper and lower body, and between front and back, are perhaps the most important priority sets.
A good training program makes you better at just about everything: stronger, healthier, and moving better. Full-body training isn’t optional if you want the best, healthiest weight gain. We look for at least 5 major types of movement to keep your exercise balanced and provide healthy weight gain:
- Upper body pressing
- Upper body pulling
- Lower body ‘pushing’
- Lower body ‘pulling’
You can start getting fancy afterwards with horizontal and vertical versions in the upper body movements. After that, it’s just small muscle groups controlling joints like the elbow – the bicep and triceps – for example.
Best Exercises to Gain Weight for Females
Muscle gain happens when we increase work-done over time. Day by day and week by week, we’re building the body’s ability to do more work, which pushes muscle production to prepare for the future.
Weight gain capacity is lower in women’s upper bodies, but the way we train is still the same. The upper body needs to remain 50% of your priority, even if it makes up more like 35-50% of the weight you’re gaining.
Bigger muscles are slower to fatigue and recover, while smaller muscles fatigue and recover faster. This means that you should be working your bigger muscle groups more often, and giving the smaller groups fewer sessions per week.
Upper Body Push Exercises to Gain Weight for Women
Upper body pushing and pressing are often neglected. They develop the chest, shoulders, and triceps. These are typically silhouetting muscles and don’t have the same popular attention as glutes and hamstrings.
Good pressing – like bench press and overhead press – are key for healthy shoulders. It’s a way of stabilizing the shoulder joint and the elbows in the most common movements of everyday life. Make sure the balance of horizontal and vertical pressing is roughly 1:1 throughout the week.
Equally, dumbbell presses offer more stability development and a slightly longer range of motion, but are more difficult per-pound. As is so often the case, the challenging thing is what gets better. Using a barbell and dumbbell press each week is a smart move. Just know that all of these exercises can be performed with both types of weights.
A key shoulder and tricep building exercise. The military press also helps build better shoulder balance and upper back control. Be strict and keep your core and glutes tight for the best functional benefits. Prioritize this exercise in your workout to gain weight fast for females.
This is a great variation to build better positioning and reinforce good military press technique. You can use dumbbells for an excellent shoulder stabilizer workout - or single-arm variations to fix imbalances.
This is an even more challenging seated press that links up your whole core and shoulders. It’s a great way to work the deep stabilizer muscles and add a new challenge to your pressing exercises.
No matter how strong you are, there’s a push-up for you. It’s a great exercise for beginners to develop body control as well as strength. You can make them harder with a decline, by adding a band, or changing to rings to train your stabilizers.
You can also make push-ups easier as a beginner with an incline or resistance band for assistance.
This is an amazing triceps exercise that works the full range, hitting the long head, which ties into the shoulder and is often overlooked. They’re also just great for better elbow health.
The constant tension of the cable makes it an excellent choice for overhead triceps extensions and the ‘pushdown’ variation shown in the demonstration video. It’s a great way to control elbow position, which is key to preventing a range of common elbow problems.
A powerful upper back exercise with light weights. This helps develop proper upper back control and builds great shoulders and traps at the same time. Despite the light weight, this little exercise uses a huge volume of muscle mass in a way that helps posture. Win-win!
Dips are one of the best exercises for the upper body. They use your own bodyweight, build shoulders, chest, and triceps, and even push upper back control. They’re great because they work the chest and shoulders through full range (unlike most bench presses).
Upper Body Pull Exercises to Gain Weight for Women
Upper body pulling refers to things like rows, pull-ups, and reverse flyes. Anything that focuses on bringing the elbows back – even behind the body. These are the movements that recruit the upper back and biceps most effectively.
Controlling the shoulder blade region (the scapula) is key to better upper back health and strength. It’s also key to silhouettes and the “taper” we associate with athleticism. This is built on the lats, which provide the V-shape of a strong, athletic body.
Just like pressing, you should try and balance vertical and horizontal pulling. They involve different muscles and offer different benefits.
Also known as DB rows, this is one of the best long-range upper back exercises. It allows you to train the rhomboids, lats, and lower traps in a long, single-side movement. This is perfect for building muscle mass while also improving your control over the shoulders and scapula.
A big, heavy, 2-handed row. This kind of exercise engages all the back muscles and develops the heavy loading that we should all train at least once a week. Improving your strength in the back is also important for posture, back health, and carryover to other exercises.
This is a great exercise with constant tension, always challenging the muscles of the upper back. It’s also a great way to develop the strength of the muscles and tendons in the arms, since the rowing motion is about the arms and upper back working together.
This is a simple but brutally effective gymnastic strength training exercise. It builds you towards the pull-up with an easier option, building up all the same big back muscles: traps, rhomboids, lats, and other scapular retractors.
Slightly easier than the pull-up, the chin-up has more bicep focus. This makes it better for developing arm muscles with bodyweight, but also makes it less of an effective upper-back builder. This also makes it the perfect way to build towards your pull-ups as a beginner!
The best upper back exercise, the pull-up, is the ‘deadlift of the upper body’ because it develops every pulling muscle. This is what we evolved to do! You can use bands to reduce the difficulty or add weight to make them harder, providing a personalized level of challenge. If you’re looking for a great workout to gain weight fast for females, pull-ups should definitely be on the list.
When you can’t do pull-ups, or you want to add more volume when you’re tired, lat pulldowns are perfect. They’re a constant tension cable version of the pull-up using a machine - and you can vary your grip width or use different handles. The result is still great back training.
Seal rows really emphasize the proper movement of the row, which is great for directly targeting the upper back muscles. This helps you build more muscle per lb of weight and per rep, which is perfect for gaining high-quality weight and building muscle.
The underhand grip of this exercise emphasizes the biceps and the external rotators of the shoulder, forcing you to develop these important muscles. This allows you to build more mass and makes the Yates row a very ‘pure’ rowing exercise for some great gains.
Like the Lu raise, this is a light finishing exercise that you can use light weights with, while building muscle mass and improving your upper back strength. This is also key to neck and shoulder health, and builds the rear delts - a muscle group most people neglect.
Lower Body Push Exercises for Women
The main forms of lower body pushing are squatting and lunging. You can find analogues in leg presses and other forms of assisted movement. The idea is that you’re extending your legs, so we’ll also include leg extensions.
There’s no way to discuss exercises to gain weight for females without discussing the back squat. Everyone that can back squat should - it’s a multi-joint movement that builds the quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and back muscles. Focus on technique and load up patiently - you’ll make serious gains.
You can use the box squat to build hip strength and control, as well as quad size. It’s a way of practicing key movements in the squat and can also be used as a great training device to build more depth in the squat (slowly lowering the box over time).
This is a fantastic squat variation that puts more challenge in the core and upper back muscles. It’s a fantastic way to build more muscle with less weight, helping your legs recover and allowing you to change the focus during ‘light’ squat days.
This is one of the best weight machines in the gym. It offers a deep squat, with the support of the machine, so anyone can work their complete range of hip and knee motion. This is perfect for building muscle mass and as a finisher after free weight lower body exercises.
The leg press is excellent for gaining high-quality muscle weight. It’s an easy exercise to load - often with 5-10x as much as you can squat - and doesn’t rely on your stabilizers to carry the load. It shouldn’t be your main leg exercise, but this easy, heavy weight is a great way to force new weight gain. A weight gain exercise plan for females must include leg-press to ensure the leg muscles are targeted frequently.
Most people need to do more single leg exercise. It builds the muscles of the inner leg, develops hip control and strength, and even builds the leg muscles in unique and important ways. The single leg press is the easiest, simplest, heaviest way to do this and gain weight.
This is a perfect free weight single-leg exercise for beginners. It’s the perfect accessory exercise for beginners learning to squat and it can be made harder with weight (either a barbell or dumbbells) and with extra depth (decline variations).
This is the ultimate lower body accessory exercise. It is difficult, it builds control in the hips and knees, and it’s a great way to build muscle. Just like the reverse lung, you can add weight or depth to the Bulgarian split squat for major challenge and intense muscle-building workouts.
Step-ups are a great way to build practical, functional strength. It’s a weighted step - and it builds the muscles around the knee and hip, adding strength and control to the joints that need it most. It’s one of the best exercises for healthy weight gain.
The cyclist squat is an extreme form of thigh-building exercise. It exaggerates the movement of a normal back squat to develop serious leg thickness, as well as building the upper back and glutes when used properly.
These are a difficult but excellent exercise to build better hamstring and back strength along with squat depth and posture. They’re a fantastic warm-up exercise and finisher, combining the best of a good morning or Romanian deadlift with a squat. Try it out and you’ll see!
Lower Body Pull Exercises for Women
There are very few things that are really ‘pulling’ in the lower body. We just use it to describe movements that don’t extend the legs. Things like deadlifts are ‘pulls’, and hinging exercises are absolutely essential.
These help stabilize the spine, teach you how to keep your hips and back healthy, and build bigger glutes, hamstrings, and postural muscles. They also usually involve a ton of core training.
These are like the top half of a deadlift and - done properly - are an amazing way to build hamstring, glute, and lower back/core strength. This means huge gains in large muscles, resulting in high-quality weight gain and muscle mass.
The RDL, as it’s known, is one of the best ways to develop your hamstrings, glutes, core, and back muscles. Not only that, but it’s a great way to train the hip hinge movement - the key to building a great posterior chain, keeping your hips and spine healthy, and building performance in hundreds of exercises and skills.
The Good Morning is like an RDL (hip hinge) but with the barbell on your back instead. This puts a lot more stress on the postural muscles and core, and is just generally more challenging. This makes it a great exercise with lighter weights, but also more advanced. It’s great for building hip and postural strength - keys to better quality weight gain for females.
The deadlift is popular because it’s the heaviest lift and involves all the most important lower body muscles: quads, hams, and glutes. It’s also an excellent way to train (and build) the core and back.
Take your time with deadlifts and put technique first. Heavier weights mean you need to put more attention into how you move and make sure your back stays flat - and the movement comes from the legs and hips - through the lift.
Heavy kettlebell swings help you control momentum, build the core, upper back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. They’re also great for building a rock solid core with weird movement - key for good spine health.
Use heavy kettlebell swings as a finisher and as part of conditioning exercise. This will help gain high-quality weight while keeping you fit and improve appetite.
Hip thrusts are heavy glute exercises. They drive up strength and growth on the largest muscle in the body (the gluteus maximus). This is key for power, spine health, and hip health. It also carries over to just about anything else you want to be good at - from deadlifts to squats to jumps!
This takes the weight down on the hip thrust and focuses on good balance, core control, hip health, and more. It’s a powerful single-leg exercise for building inner thigh muscles, glutes, and opening up your hips for better flexibility. It’s an overlooked exercise that is perfect for finishing lower body workouts and gaining healthy weight.
These are like super-strict, “small” versions of the hip thrust. They also focus on the glutes but isolate them very carefully, removing other muscles from the movement. This means you can use them with light weight and higher reps for a fantastic burner at the end of your sessions.
This is a fantastic exercise for building the glutes and back muscles. They’re central to the exercises we’ve discussed in the lower body “pulling” section and help you combine core and hinging exercises - perfect for everyday muscle, strength, and health. These are the hallmarks of healthy, high-quality weight gain for women.
The GHR is one of the best lower body exercises. It develops the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and core together. This makes it comparable to pull-ups, offering an incredible muscle-building bodyweight exercise. It can be quite challenging, so try with a band or to a high box with a push-up to give yourself some momentum as a beginner.
The leg curl is a great way to build the hamstrings. It works the knee flexion function, which isn’t trained in the deadlift, RDL, or other hinges. It’s also a great way to improve knee health and balance your quad and hamstring strength - key for healthier knees. On top of all of that, it’s an easy high-rep finisher exercise for fantastic hamstring gains, which most people miss out on.
Core Exercises for Women
Your core is literally the controlling system for your spine and hips – two of the most common places for long-term injury. It even reduces your risk of knee injury, which is great. There are 3 types of core exercise to focus on:
- Flexing and Extending: rounding and arching the spine – the most common core exercises
- Rotation: controlling and resisting rotation are key functions of the core to prevent spine damage
- Side-bending: an overlooked but crucial function that keeps the spine healthy and builds obliques
Core exercise is about more than just sit-ups, and this set of exercises is a great scoping survey of those exercises. They focus on flexing and extending, rotating, and side bending. With a few of these per week, you’re on your way to better mid-section strength and aesthetics.
This is a simple, easy introduction to core exercise that anyone can use. It can also be used after harder exercise, when you want to keep training but feel fatigued.
This is a small step up on the lying leg raise and forces you to control your hang. This is also great for building towards exercises like hanging leg raises or toes-to-bar for CrossFit training.
This is a great way to build the abs and obliques in one movement. It’s a great all-core exercise if you’re struggling to find time to finish core exercise at the end of your workout.
This movement really emphasizes the obliques. Side crunches and side bends are a great way to develop the core in lateral movement - which most people neglect. This helps stabilize the spine and builds a stronger, more aesthetic core.
The side plank is amazing - offering a more challenging way to build your core than the typical plank. Adding a twist like those seen in this video offers a way to train the abs, obliques, and rotational muscles of the core all at once. A perfect finisher for the core.
This is like a normal plank - except useful.
It challenges the core far more and offers a much better progression. You simply move the knees and elbows further apart to make it harder, and closer to make it easier. You shouldn’t be able to perform an 8-point plank for more than 30 seconds - if you can, make it harder!
This is a great way of building your core muscles - especially obliques and rotational muscles. This is perfect for balancing the joints and building better spinal health - which makes it one of our favorite core exercises for healthy weight gain.
This works in the exact opposite muscles of the deadbug, making them a great pair. Superset these two exercises to build better core and back muscle control, as well as helping build better connection in the glutes for better weight gain in the butt, legs, and core.
This is a great way to add major resistance to your core exercise and build a thick, strong set of abs. It’s easy to customize, offers constant tension from the cable, and you can add a slow eccentric (lowering the weight) portion to build amazing core strength and endurance.
This is a great exercise for finishing workouts - it expands on the movements of the lying leg raise and knee tuck. This makes it a great ab workout, and you can even combine it with exercises like the deadbug for better core control while you build muscle and strength.
Conclusion: Our Final Thoughts
The exercises we’ve outlined today are some of the best exercises to gain weight for females.
They offer amazing value for strength, health, and physique goals. They’re some of the smartest and most effective ways to gain the highest quality weight in the shortest space of time. This is the hallmark of any great weight gain workout plan!
Remember that recovery and out-of-training factors make all the difference. These exercises won’t do anything for you if you’re not eating, sleeping, and recovering properly. They specifically depend on eating enough – which is a major limitation for many women.
Healthy weight gain depends on consistency, time, and eating lots of quality weight gain foods. Use these exercises in your workout plan, but make sure you’re putting that same effort and thought into your diet, sleep, and recovery. Work hard, feed well, sleep plenty, and repeat!