10 Exercises Inspired By The World’s Best Women Athletes

A smiling fit woman deadlifts a barbell

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, which celebrate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements and contributions of women throughout history and contemporary society, we’re getting workout inspiration from 10 of the world’s best women athletes. These trailblazers (and we know there are many) have expanded the notion of what’s possible while breaking barriers and setting the bar for both men and women in sport.

1. Serena Williams

Widely considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with sister Venus, and four Olympic gold medals. During that illustrious career, she’s also been refreshingly real. Williams has been candid about the pressures and frustrations of motherhood after giving birth to her daughter, as well as the discrimination she’s faced on the tennis court.

Inspo Exercise: Side Lunge

Lateral movement plays a huge role in tennis. Step to your right side and lower your hips by squatting back and down with your right leg. Make sure to keep your left leg straight. Return to the starting position by pushing up with your right leg. Switch directions and repeat the movement on the other side. Perform in sets on each side. Add weights to increase intensity.

2. Mikaela Shiffrin

With 95 World Cup wins as of February 1, 2024, Mikaela Shiffrin is the winningest alpine skier of all time, man or woman. She notched those wins across six disciplines: slalom, giant slalom, parallel slalom, alpine combined, super-G, and downhill. Shiffrin is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Since landing a World Cup podium at the ago of 16, her career quickly reached legend status, but Shiffrin’s 2019 season was a particular standout, as she shattered records every weekend she hit the mountain. Last year, Shiffrin was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People.

Inspo Exercise: Squats

Your quads are probably the hardest working muscles when skiing. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, push your hips back, and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees aren’t in front of your toes. If they are, push your hips further back. Stand up and repeat. Perform in sets. For added difficulty, hold a weight in your hands.

3. Simone Biles

With a combined 32 Olympic and World Championship medals, Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history and considered one of the most dominant gymnasts of all time. At the 2016 Olympics, she won individual gold medals in the all-around, vault, and floor, bronze on balance beam, and gold as part of Team USA. In 2022, Biles was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2023, she won her eighth U.S. Gymnastics title, breaking the 90-year-old record previously held by Alfred Jochim. She has also earned five moves that bear her name in the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Code of Points.

Inspo Exercise: Mountain Climbers

Gymnasts require a strong core since almost every gymnastic move relies on the ability to maintain powerful abdominal and lower back muscles. Start in plank position. Pull your right knee into your chest. Switch legs, pulling one knee out and bringing the other knee in. Make sure to keep your hips down. Perform in sets.

4. Kathrine Switzer

In 1967, when the Boston Marathon was still only open to men, Kathrine Switzer signed up to run it under a gender-ambiguous name. Less than two miles into the race, an official tried to tear off her bib, which was captured in a now-iconic photo. Five years after Switzer finished the marathon, women were finally allowed to enter the race marking a crucial step in the fight toward equality in running. Switzer ran the Boston Marathon again in 2017, 50 years after her historic finish. This time surrounded by thousands of other women.

Inspo Exercise: Step-Ups

Works all major muscle groups in the legs, improving running power. Stand in front of a bench or box. Place one foot on the bench and push off your rear leg to step up while keeping your body tall and your knee over your ankle on your supporting leg. Bring your trail leg up to a high knee position without touching the bench, then lower it back down to the floor. Repeat in sets on each side. To increase difficulty, add weights in each hand.

5. Katie Ledecky

Last year, Katie Ledecky officially bypassed Michael Phelps for the most individual swimming world titles when she won her 16th one at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan. She has won seven Olympic gold medals and 21 world championship gold medals, the most in history for a woman swimmer. Ledecky also hold multiple world records including the women’s long and short course 800- and 1500-meter freestyle.

Inspo Exercise: Tricep Extension

Although smaller than a bicep, the tricep is an important muscle that’s used in all swimming strokes. While seated, take a dumbbell in both hands and put them behind your head. Your elbows should be in line with your back and pointing upwards. Extend the weight above your head. Hold and bring back down to your starting position in a smooth motion. Perform in sets.

6. Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. At the 1988 Olympics, the track and field superstar became the first athlete to score over 7,000 points in the heptathlon. That record has yet to be broken nearly 35 years later. Joyner-Kersee went on to create the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation, which aims to help at-risk children, and, along with Mia Hamm, the soccer phenom, was one of the cofounders of Athletes for Hope. Last year, she was inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame.

Inspo Exercise: High Knees

Helps improve your speed, running form, leg strength, and flexibility. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Drive your right knee up as far as you can, then quickly set it back down on the ground. Switch and do the same with your left knee. Perform in timed sets.

7. Megan Rapinoe

The former soccer player is regarded as one of the sport’s legendary athletes for her play on the field and her activism beyond it. As leading winger, Megan Rapinoe helped the U.S. Women’s National Team win two Women’s World Cups as well as a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics and a bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Games. She is also an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, racial justice, and gender equality. Rapinoe is one of the players who filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation seeking pay equal to that of the U.S. men’s soccer team. The two parties reached a $24 million settlement in 2022 and the federation promised equal pay to the men’s and women’s teams at future events.

Inspo Exercise: Burpee Pull-Ups

A conditioning drill that’s comprised of a range of upper body, core, and lower body movements. Stand under a high bar with feet shoulder-width apart. Place both hands on the floor in front of you and quickly kick your legs back into a push-up position. Do a push-up while simultaneously lifting your hips rapidly into a squat position. Stand up and jump to grab the bar. Perform a pull-up. Drop to the starting position and repeat.

8. Diana Taurasi

Considered one of the greatest players in Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) history, Diana Taurasi was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury first overall in the 2004 WNBA draft. She won Rookie of the Year that same year. Since then Taurasi has won three WNBA championships, a historic five Olympic gold medals, and five scoring titles. In 2023, she became the first WNBA player to score 10,000 career points. Taurasi’s ability to score in crucial situation earned her the nickname “White Mamba” courtesy of the late “Black Mamba” himself, Kobe Bryant.

Inspo Exercise: Deadlift

One of the best exercises to increase explosiveness. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart over a barbell. Keep your back straight as you bend over at the hips and grab the bar with hands just wider than your legs. Stand up until your body is straight and tall. Steadily lower the bar back down to the floor. Repeat.

9. Ronda Rousey

Before rising to prominence in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Ronda Rousey was the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in judo when she won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Rousey began her mixed martial arts (MMA) career in 2011 and was part of UFC’s first-ever female fight where she squared off against Liz Carmouche becoming the UFC’s inaugural Women’s Bantamweight Champion. Rousey was the first woman fighter inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2018. That same year, she signed on with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and would go on to be the only woman to be champion in both the UFC and WWE.

Inspo Exercise: Bicycle Crunches

A strong core is crucial for MMA fighters because core muscles protect abdominal organs, as well as stabilize the spine, pelvis, neck, and shoulders. Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground and knees bent. Your feet should be on the floor and your hands behind your head. Gently lift your head as you pull your shoulder blades back and raise your knees to about a 90-degree angle, lifting your feet from the floor. Go through a bicycle pedal motion, bringing one knee up toward your armpit while straightening the other leg. Keep both legs elevated above your hips. Rotate your torso to bring you elbow to the opposite knee as it comes up. Then alternate. Perform reps in sets.

10. Misty Copeland

As the first Black female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland is a trailblazer in the world of professional dance. It’s an achievement that’s impressive in its own right but becomes that much more incredible when you consider Copeland didn’t take up ballet until the age of 13. By the way, that makes her a prodigy. On top of that, she’s an author, actor, diversity advocate, and Prince collaborator, which has also made her a real-life hero to young dancers everywhere.

Inspo Exercise: Glute Bridge

A low-impact exercise that works your hamstrings, glutes, and core. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart. Keep your thighs parallel and your arms extended, palms flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the ground until they’re in a neutral position and aligned with the kneecaps. Bring your hips back down with control. Perform in sets.

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