As a personal trainer I’ve witnessed first-hand the most common mistakes made by women (and men!) in trying to get that ‘beach body’ for summer. A typical workout usually consists of a cardio-heavy session- the treadmill or bike for half an hour, followed by some crunches or other abdominal work on the mats. Now, I am far from berating women who train like this- many whom workout at least 3-4 times a week which shows commitment and dedication – but to get that beach body, training ‘like a man’ can be a more optimal route!
When putting women on a workout programme and diet designed to attain the said ‘beach body’ physique, I always get asked the same worried question: ‘Won’t all the weights make me too muscly and bulky?’ The answer to this question is quite simply: NO! I’ll attempt to outline the reasons why in this article, and to suggest a more suitable workout diary for women striving to get more out of their gym sessions.

The Theory:

Why are weights and intense bursts of cardio good for building a beach-ready bikini body?

Resistance training with weights (similar to how most men train to build muscle) teamed with interval training (HIIT cardio) style cardio will burn more calories per session than low intensity cardio, light weights and abdominal work. Combining weights and interval style cardio (sprints), will burn more calories during the workout period, but also continue to use calories up to 48 hours post-exercise (compared to only during the session and at a lower rate) as the body recovers from the more intense bout of exercise.

By burning more calories during and after your workout, you are more likely to reduce body fat because your body will be closer to or achieving a calorie deficit- where you are expending more calories than you consume in a day. The increased intensity of weight sessions facilitates a ‘toned’, athletic, shapely physique, compared to the skinnier, less shapely physiques of women who only utilise the cardio machines and very restrictive diets.

Won’t weights make me look muscly? I don’t want to get too big!

To build muscle mass you need the hormone testosterone. I won’t go into detail about the science here but essentially men have on average 10 x the levels of women. With this in mind, think how hard some men train and lift weekly, plus all the supplements they use, all aimed at gaining muscle and looking bigger- and they can realistically gain only 1-3 pounds of muscle a month (drug-free).

To build muscle like Ms Olympia style contestants, 99.9% of women would have to take a cocktail of illegal substances coupled with synthetic testosterone- now I’m telling you train like a man, NOT attempt to become one with these illegal substances.

Women engaged in a lifting routine will build some muscle if training correctly, but this will only serve to benefit their physique; making it more shapely, ‘toned’ and tight- it will not get to the point where you look like a drag queen in 99.9% of circumstances. Compound movements such as deadlifts, back squats, bench press, bent over rows and military press utilise a greater amount of joints and muscle groups than usual exercises- and often work your core more effectively than some common abdominal and lower back exercises when done with proper form- so should be incorporated into your routine.

Improving overall strength via weights and HIIT cardio is also a great tool to improve conditioning, reduce risk of injury and even stave off degenerative conditions in older women.

Please see the results of the women who have used our Bikini Guide V3; this plan incorporates weights, metabolic circuits and less cardio than equivalent options, whilst employing a non-restrictive flexible diet, structured to allow for body fat loss, muscle maintenance and a generally better existence than a 1000 calorie, no carbohydrate diet!

Example beginner session, lower body: Main sets

Resistance section:

1.)    Olympic bar back squats or leg press machine: (3 sets)

  • 10-12 repetitions to near failure (near to where you can’t complete another repetition!)
  • 60 seconds rest between sets

2.)    Quad extensions (leg extension machine): (3 sets)

  • Complete 10-12 repetitions to near failure
  • Immediately reduce weight stack to half and complete reps to failure
  • 60 seconds rest

3.)    Walking lunges with dumbbells: (4 sets)

  • Lunge 10 alternate strides in one direction, turn and walk back to starting position
  • 45-60 seconds rest

4.)    Donkey kickbacks with resistance band into glute bridge: (3 sets on each leg- 6 in total)

  • 10-12 kickbacks to near failure
  • Turn onto your back, complete 15 x glute bridge thrusters
  • 30 seconds rest between sets


HIIT cardio section:

1.)    On a rowing machine or bicycle: (10 sets)

  • 15-20 seconds at 100% effort
  • 40 seconds rest (minimum effort required to keep machine on!)
  • Complete this 10 times.


Knowledge of exercises and lifting holding you back?

  • Ask your gym for another gym induction based around free weights and machine set up,
  • Ask gym instructor for advice on technique when possible,
  • Train with a friend who has free-weights and resistance training experience,
  • Watch youtube tutorials of exercises mentioned above from respected sources, such as on our Youtube Channel,
  • Search through our exercise articles.
  • Sift through our training and workout articles.

For a more detailed introduction into weightlifting, cardio and nutrition check out our Beginner’s Training Split.

For those confident enough in the gym already and seeking a new challenge the Bikini Guide V3 will be of interest, with 100’s of success stories available to see here.

Have a powerful day!