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The Best Female Weight Gain Exercises

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES. PN - L1

female weight gain exercises

When I work with a female looking for the best weight gain exercises, I always tell them there are two important factors they must consider for any exercise.

    • Can I perform the movement correctly and with full range of motion?
    • Does this exercise cause me any pain?

Keep these two questions in mind as you learn about the best weight gaining exercises for females.  Additionally, I’ll provide you with a detailed female weight gain workout, and answer the most frequently asked questions I receive.

The Best Female Weight Gain Exercises To Build Muscle & Strength

Bulgarian Split Squats

Quick Notes:  

The Bulgarian split squat is one of my favorite exercises to do with my clients because it’s one of the best lower body movements to help you build muscle in your quads and glutes.

It’s a challenging, yet extremely rewarding, movement and should be a staple in your exercise program.  Hold a pair of dumbbells to increase the difficulty once you master the movement.

Form Tips:

  • Finding your perfect foot placement always takes time to figure out.  You want to find a position where you can squat down comfortably without driving into your toes and lifting your heel off the ground.
  • Get you knee almost to the ground to get full range of motion on each rep.
  • If this movement is too hard for you, you can regress to a split stance squat.  A split stance squat is just like a Bulgarian, but instead of having your foot elevated on a bench, you’ll keep it on the ground.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 6 - 8 reps per leg

Barbell Squats

Quick Notes:  

Many people will say the barbell squat is the best exercise for female weight gain and they have a valid point.

The squat is considered the king of lower body exercises for a reason.  This is a demanding exercise that will help you build muscle in your glutes and quads.

The reason why I put Bulgarians before these is that I prefer Bulgarian split squats with my clients because the risk vs reward is much better than a barbell squat.   If you do these and they fell great, go ahead and stick with them!  If you have pain in your spine or lower back, you’re better off with a Bulgarian split squat or these barbell back squat variations.

Form Tips:

  • When starting your squat, think as if you are going to be sitting back into a chair.  You start by pushing your butt back and then bend the knees.
  • Squat until your quads are parallel with the ground, pause slightly, and then work your way back to the top.
  • If you are new to barbell squats, place a box behind you that is low enough so your quads can be parallel with the ground.  Squat until you gently tap the box and then stand up.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 6 - 10 reps

Romanian Deadlifts

Quick Notes:  

The first two weight gain exercises for females were knee dominant exercises, which means they focused on your glutes and quads.  With the Romanian deadlift, now we’ll be focusing on your hamstrings and glutes.

This movement is called a hip dominant exercise because you’ll be pushing your butt back and have minimal bending in the knee, creating hip extension.

Form Tips:

  • Always keep your back flat throughout the whole movement.
  • Pretend like you have your hands full of groceries and you need to close your car door.  Would you bend your knees to close it? Nope.  Push your butt back as far as you can while you feel the stretch in your hamstrings.  Here are more effective exercises to tone your hamstrings.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 8 - 10

Barbell Hip Thrusts

Quick Notes:  

The barbell hip thrust is a fairly new movement that was created by Bret Contreras .

It’s one of the best exercises to build your glutes and it’s relatively easy on your joints.  Whereas a barbell squat may cause discomfort on your spine, you won’t get that with a hip thrust since the bar is placed on your pelvis.

Form Tips:

  • Position your feet to where when you raise your hips off the ground your knees and ankles will be in line with each other.
  • Don’t thrust yourself up and slide your back up the bench.  This movement is all about creating tension in your hips so only drive the weight up through your hips and glutes.
  • At the top position you should have a straight line from your knee to your shoulders. There shouldn’t be a gap at your stomach because you can’t get the bar high enough.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 8 - 12 reps


Quick Notes:  

There are so many lunge variations you can choose from so find one that fits well for you.  You can lunge forward, backwards, alternate, stand still, walk forward, etc etc.

Different variations work slightly different areas in your leg but it’s not enough to make a difference. Find one you like and stick with it.  Which is better, squats or lunges? Read this if you're curious.

Form Tips:

  • Always keep your weight in the heel of your foot.  If you are lunging forward and your front heel comes off the ground, you’re putting too much pressure on your front knee.
  • Your knee should almost touch the ground on each rep, or be slightly above the ground.  No stomping the ground on each rep or only going down half way.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 8 - 10 per leg

weight gain exercises for females dumbbell row
best exercises for female weight gain - lunges


Quick Notes:  

We’ve finally made it out of leg exercises!  Now for the best upper body compound exercises for female weight gain.

The pull-up is one of the ultimate signs of relative strength, aka how strong you are compared to your body weight.

Form Tips:

  • It’s ok if you can’t pull yourself up to do a traditional pull-up.  If you need to regress, start by using the assisted pull-up machine or use bands.  Here is a complete guide on how to do your first pull-up
  • Never sacrifice form to get more reps.  If you can’t get full range of motion on a given rep, that’s the end of the set.  No kipping pull-ups here my friend!

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 8 - 12 reps

Dumbbell Rows

Quick Notes:  

You just learned the pull-up was a great exercise for a female weight gain workout, and so is this one.  The pull-up is considered a vertical pull movement, while the dumbbell row is a horizontal row movement.

Both of these are good to have in your workouts to target different areas of your back.

Form Tips:

  • Pretend like you are squeezing an orange in your armpit on each rep here.  Instead of letting your arm stay loose, keeping tension in your armpit will allow you to feel the lat muscle being worked more.
  • Focus on pulling your elbow back to your hips on each rep instead of straight up.  Again, this will engage your lats better which is the muscle we want being worked.  If you like these, you'll enjoy these one arm dumbbell row variations.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 8 - 10 reps per arm

Dumbbell Chest Press

Quick Notes:  

Just like there are two types of pull exercises, there are also two types of push movements.  Push movements will help you build muscle in your chest, triceps, and shoulders, whereas pull movements focus on your back and biceps.

Form Tips:

  • When performing a proper dumbbell chest press, keep your wrists slightly rotated.  This will create a better angle for your shoulders.
  • Bring the weights down so they are on each side of your chest muscles, not on top of your chest.  I like my clients to give a brief pause before they start there way back to the top.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 6 - 8

Barbell Overhead Shoulder Press

Quick Notes:  

The dumbbell chest press was a horizontal push movement so can you guess what this one is?

Yup, it’s a vertical push movement.  This is one of the best exercises for your shoulders and will also work your core.

Form Tips:

  • Never overarch your back to push the bar up.  If you notice you are arching, that’s the end of the set.
  • A good rule of thumb is to keep your core tight.  As I always tell my clients “ribs down, abs crunched!”

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 10 - 12 reps

Tricep Dips

Quick Notes:  

This is another exercise similar to the pull-up that will test your relative strength.  If you can’t do a dip on a normal machine, you can also regress to the assisted dip machine or add bands.  This exercise will focus on the back of your arms to build strength and muscle in your triceps.

Form Tips:

  • At the top of the movement, rotate your body slightly forward for a better angle for your shoulders.
  • Descend slowly and pause briefly at the bottom.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 6 - 10 reps

Barbell Bicep Curls

Quick Notes:  

This is an isolation exercise like I talked about at the beginning.  Most of your female weight gain exercises are compound movements but focusing specially on the biceps can help build toned, defined arms.

Form Tips:

  • Keep your elbows pinned to the side and don’t let your arms rock forward.

Sets & Reps:

3 sets of 10 - 15 reps

Do These 3 Things With Your Weight Gain Exercises For Females

That list of 8 exercises are going to really help you build muscle and strength when 3 additional things are taken into consideration.

Without these 3 things you won’t gain any weight so pay close attention.

  • To gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus.  That means you are bringing in more energy (in the form of what you eat) than the amount of energy your body uses on a given day.  Since you’re bringing in more energy (calories) than you need, those excess calories will be stored as muscle or fat.  To find out how much you should be eating, please follow the information provided in my Ectomorph Diet Weight Gain Guide.
  • Getting back to your weight gain exercises for females, you have to make sure you are implementing progressive overload.  That means you are constantly putting new stress on your muscles through heavier weights, more reps, and/or more sets.
  • Along with progressive overload, you need to ensure you are picking weights that are getting you close to failure.  If you do a set of squats for 8 reps and think “hey I probably could have done 15”, that means you were no where close to failure.  Increase that weight please!
progressive overload for female weight gain exercises

Try This Effective Female Weight Gain Workout

Combining the weight gain exercises for females that you learned above, I’ve put together a full body workout for you try out.  Reference the videos above for form tips and make sure to stick with the rest times I provide.  

A1: Bulgarian split squats - 3 x 8 reps per leg

A2: Pull-ups (do assisted if needed) - 3 x 10 reps

Rest 2 minutes after A2


B1: Romanian deadlifts - 3 x 10 reps

B2: Overhead shoulder press - 3 x 10 reps

Rest 2 minutes after B2


C1: Dumbbell chest press - 3 x 8 reps

C2: Walking lunges - 3 x 8 per leg

C3: Barbell bicep curls - 3 x 12 reps

Rest 90 seconds - 2 minutes after C3


If you want additional workouts, I have a full body 3x per week program that you can follow in my ectomorph workout guide. 

detailed female weight gain workout

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can A Skinny Girl Gain Weight Fast?

To gain weight fast, you’ll be needing to eat in a large calorie surplus and lift weights to help gain muscle.  With a large calorie surplus, there is a good chance you’ll gain body fat along with muscle.  

Multiplying your bodyweight (in pounds) by 17 is a good spot to start to get into a calorie surplus.  Additionally, eat at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

If you want to learn more about building muscle or building muscle and losing fat, check out these two articles:

The Skinny Fat To Fit Essential Guide [What To Do & What To Avoid]

The Premier Ectomorph Body Type Guide 

The Best Female Weight Gain Meal Plan

Which Exercise Is Best For Weight Gain For Female?

There is not a singular exercise that is best for gaining weight.  If you can do a variety of compound movements for different muscles such as hip dominant exercises, knee dominant exercises, pull exercises, and push exercises, you’ll gain muscle as long as your nutrition is in check.

Are Full Body Workouts For Weight Gain Effective?

For a beginner or intermediate lifter, full body workouts are an amazing choice.  It’s going to allow you to hit every muscle group and even if you miss a day for some reason, you won’t miss working out an entire muscle group.

Female Weight Gain Exercises Recap

You now have 8 awesome exercises in your arsenal to start your weight gain journey.

Remember to have the right intensity with your lifts, implement progressive overload, and have fun!

There are hundreds of variations of the movements that I listed above so find the ones that you enjoy doing and build your plan around them.