The Muscle Building Guide for Women

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If you’re a male, please refer to the JCDFitness Muscle Building Guide for Beginners.

Before I begin, this article was inspired by a lady I had the wonderful opportunity to converse with a few weeks back.  I hope this helps answer all of your questions and thanks for the inspiration.

While I understand most women aren’t training with the hopes of becoming a competitive bodybuilder, I know many would like to tighten up their physique and achieve that coveted, athletic look – the look you might see on the cover of Oxygen Magazine or in many of the mainstream fitness advertisements.  Then, in the rare case, there are ladies who desire the full blown, big and ripped physique similar to those who’ve obviously been taking plenty of androgenic drugs.

Regardless of the look you’re after, both groups got from point A to point B in a similar fashion.  They took their time and did things right.  Building muscle, especially for women, takes years of hard work; therefore, regardless of taking drugs or not, both groups busted their ass, watched their diet, and set goals they thought to be reachable and acceptable (realistic).

So now, let’s take a look at exactly what it’s going to take for the women who wish to build muscle in a sensible and practical manner.

Training

1. Focus On Strength Training – For the most part, increased strength will result in increased muscle mass for women (as well as men).  I’ve yet to meet a person who lifted baby-weights and became enormous as a result.  Gains in strength with relative gains in bodyweight will result in an increased amount of lean muscle mass.

Strength training also offers benefits such as increased bone density, healthy joints and a heightened self-esteem.  I’ve found that those who set specific and measurable goals for strength gains are often much more focused and satisfied than those who fail to set such goals.

2. Women Can Build Muscle Using Safe and Comfortable Compounds – There is no ancient rule in stone proclaiming you must do the bench, squat and deadlift in order to build the most muscle possible.  It’s just not true.  I always encourage an individual to choose a movement that is comfortable and safe for them.  An example is the person whose shoulders are not in the best of shape.  A safe alternative to the bench press could be a neutral grip machine press or one of the Hammer Strength variations.  Someone who lacks flexibility to do full squats can always opt for the leg press.

The most important factor when selecting a certain muscle building movement is that you can progress for a lengthy period of time.  Compound movements are usually best for long-term progression as opposed to isolation movements.  Plus, you have more muscles involved which will cut down on training time.  Who doesn’t like to be both efficient and effective?

3. Automate Your Training – When I refer to automation, I mean to choose a training program and simply stick with your decision.  There should be no weekly or daily changes to your routine; everything, for the most part, should remain static.  The goal is to measure progress over a period of time and there is no way to measure how far you’ve come when the variables are constantly changing.  This means you’ve no need to change up your routine every other week or so to “shock” the muscles.  This ideology is pure nonsense.

If changes need to be made for whatever reason (injury, discomfort, schedule etc), fine, just ensure you keep variables as consistent as possible.

4. Don’t Train Like a Bodybuilder – Not the ones on the pharmaceutical cocktail, at least.  Research, along with plenty of anecdotal evidence has proven that high(er) frequency training(hitting each body part 2-3x per week) as opposed to low frequency training(hitting each body part once every 6-7 days), is superior for muscle gains and improvements in strength.  Look at all the tried and true programs.  They hit each body part 2-3x per week.  This is no different for women looking to build as much muscle as possible.  The rules don’t change.

So, in light of this, I recommend women start off with a full body routine such as NROL4W, Starting Strength or something similar.  After a few months of full body training and respectable strength and muscle gains, one can always switch to an upper/lower split.  Also, my course LGN365 is chock-full of info that will help you set up you diet, and training for many, many months.

5. Remember to Rest – On your off days, make sure you relax.  Intense training sessions should be kept to a maximum of 3-4x per week.  It’s imperative to use the other days to rest and recoup.  Is it okay to insert some low intensity cardio if you so wish?  Sure.  But you needn’t do it daily.  If you’re training hard on the weights 3x per week, I’d say you should do no more than 2 cardio sessions for the week.  Always take 1-2 days for complete rest; sit on your rump and chill out a bit.

Diet

1. Protein – Protein, among other nutrients is the primary building block of muscle tissue.   Without protein, there is no special training program or diet that will yield the muscle gains you’re so desperately after.  According to Lyle McDonald’s research from the Protein Book, optimal muscle gains are going to be present when one’s intake is roughly between 1 and 1.5g protein per pound of body weight (3.3kg/kg body weight).

2. Caloric Intake – Without excess calories, no muscle building plan will ever work.  Read that again.  You must eat enough to grow.

I understand this might be scary news to most females.  I assure you, I’m not crazy; so please stay with me here.  Since muscle gains for women, genetically, are roughly half of what a man will accomplish (more on this in a bit), their diets needn’t be so aggressive.

Since I am positive no female wishes to pack on an excess amount of weight for the sake of muscle gain, I recommend we take things slowly.  I always suggest females eat over maintenance on training days by about 300-400 kcals and consume their maintenance allotment on off days.  A good starting point for finding your maintenance intake is to multiply your body weight (bw for later use) in pounds by 14, monitor your weight for a few weeks and adjust if need be.

As far as your intake goes, I always recommend a diet full of lean protein, plenty of fruit and veggies with a healthy dose of fat.  Setting up your intake is easy if you follow these simple guidelines.  I actually stole them from Lyle or Alan, I cannot remember who came up with them first.

Multiply BW by 1-1.5 to get your protein intake.
Multiply BW x .4-.5 to get your fat intake.
After you’ve come up with calories for these 2 macronutrients fill in the rest of your intake with carbs*.

Take 3-5g fish oil per day and make sure to get plenty of vitamins and minerals in the form of food or a pill.

*Of course your intake will require an increase in carbohydrates on training days.

Let’s Be Real About Women and Muscle Gain

The maximum rate of muscle gain for men is roughly 35-50lbs of lean body mass, over their lifetime from beginner to advanced, according to Lyle’s brilliant article aptly titled What’s My Genetic Muscular Potential?

So while men and women barely differ in terms of anatomy (muscles, bone, etc) our hormonal profiles differ tremendously (mainly testosterone and estrogen levels).  As a result of such differences, a woman’s genetic potential will be roughly half that of a man.

If we take a woman who weighs 110lbs and is untrained, meaning she has gained no appreciable amount of muscle mass, she can theoretically gain anywhere from 17-25lbs of muscle mass over her lifespan.  This is assuming she trains sensibly and correctly while all other variables (rest, nutrition, stress) are optimal as well.

So, if said female reaches the end of her genetic rope at the same body fat, she will weigh between 127 and 135lbs.  While this may sound horrific to gain that much weight, 20lbs of muscle on a woman appears much different than 20lbs of adipose tissue.

There is one more thing I want all women reading this to remember.  Due to the lack of testosterone, you have no need to worry about getting big and bulky.  Also, there is no need to “shape and sculpt” the muscles with high reps and light weights.  All of that is non-sense and wastes time.  Women looking to build an appreciable amount of muscle are going to have to train intense and fairly often (like I discussed earlier).  While you may not wish to be huge and bulky, if you want to attain that Oxygen-like physique, you must train like you’re heading for the Arnold!

Remember to Have Fun

If you’re the anxious lady out there who’s recently discovered fitness and strength training, remember this muscle building hobby takes commitment and patience.  Have a good time setting and reaching your goals, because the joy is in the journey, not the destination.

Give yourself room to make some mistakes and don’t be upset if you’re not perfect all of the time.  I’m confident all of you can and will reach your goals if you put these principles into place, set some goals and bust your ass.

Nothing worth having ever comes easy; and if it does, it’s likely not worth having.  Go out there and make it happen.

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Comments

  1. Kaitlyn says

    I’m 14 standing about 5’1 and I currently weigh 98 pounds. I was given the all clear by my doctor to do any form of exercise I want. I’m lucky enough to have semi-curves naturally but I want to define my entire body more. Do you have any diet and or workout suggestions for a girl like me? I’m willing to try anything. Thank you!! Hope to hear from you soon!

  2. Yanet says

    Hi, My name is Yanet, I’m 24 years old, I I’m 56 weigh 150 lbs, and I have 23 of BMI. I loss 20 pound in the past two months and my belly still a little big, but my glutes and legs are really skin…I being working out for two months trying to gain muscle in my lower body… Now is a little define, but I don’t see any muscle gain… Honestly I’m not constant in the gym or workout because of my work, but I’m trying to put some weight in my routine… What should I do to get better results???

    • Diana Zaya says

      Hello, not sure if anyone has replied to this.
      With your lower body you should increase both repetitions and weight to gain a considerable amount of muscle. Legs are a large muscle group and they are built for endurance, seeing as we use them everyday in walking. So best to do a compound movement, heavy squat for 4 – 5 sets of 12-15 reps. You’ll see the results, and you’ll see changes in your upper body and abdomen due to changes in your lower limbs.

  3. Cherrelle says

    I’m 8 stone 2 and 5 foot tall , I’ve got some body fat but I really want to loose weight and tone up . I’d love muscly arms legs and stomach but not to much .. Should I drink protein shakes after the gym ?? Also should I eat before the gym if I go at dinner time ? And is pasta, rice, chicken and fish the best thing for me?

  4. Melyna says

    Hi JC,

    I have been doing high intensity cardio kickboxing along with light strength training 3 times per week for just over a year and also walk 1 mile per day on the off days. I am 5’4″ and weigh 118lbs. I recently decided that I love the kickboxing and will stick with it but I really want a more defined body. I don’t want to be “bulky” per say but want to be defined. I am definitely in much better shape and feel muscles I never knew were there but can’t really see them.

    I have always been a healthy eater and avoid refined sugar and grains. I eat chicken and fish along with nuts, eggs and raw milk kefir for protein and amino acids. I recently started to incorporate whey protein to up the grams per day but am wondering, if I do the kickboxing 3x’s per week and also lift on the same days for a total of 100 minutes (30 lifting and 70 kickboxing) do you think I can gain the definition I am looking for?

    I have only added in the heavy lifting for 2 1/2 weeks but I do feel stronger and firmer. I have very small bones so 118lbs is my limit size wise without looking fat, prior to working out. I hope what I am asking makes sense. Basically I want to know if I am on the right track? I am starting out with more reps 8-12 as much as I can lift in a set and then every two weeks, I will increase the weight and decrease the reps. I just got past my two week mark.

    Thanks for your input :)

    Melyna

  5. Sara says

    Hi JC,
    I’m a 24 Year Old Female 5-2″ In Height And 96 Lbs. Im Very Lean Pettite Girl, I’ve Never Been In The Three Digits And I Want To Look Toned Especially From My Legs. Im Obsessed With Wanting Big Legs. Since Mine Are Skinny And Look Wimpy. My Biggest Problem Is, I Cant Have Big Meals, I Eat Very Small Portions But Eat Continuosly Throughout The Day, I’ve Been Told This Method Of Eating Increases My Metabolism. I Dont Want To Slow It Down But I Almost Feel Like My Body Doesnt Retain Any Food.

  6. Courtney says

    I’m seventeen and I’m 5’7 I weigh 118.
    I don’t want to lose any weight just firm up a bit.. I’ve been doing squats without weights for about a week and cardio for 30min along with other things. Mainly for the derrière I don’t want to do squats with weights because I have knee problems.. How long will it take and how often should I do squats to get a firm and define my derrière?

  7. Usha says

    Hi JC
    Im currently 8 stone, im 5” 3 and is still have a bit of body fat specially around the hips do you have any ideas how i can reduce them… also i was taking a supplement called (maxi tone) but then is stopped and the expire date went out so i threw it away. Now i want to build muscle in the right places.
    How much body fat should a person have before they can build muscle?
    Should i buy the maxi stone shake again, or do u have any other options?
    When is the best time to take it?
    Are there any other supplements that will help me build muscle?
    How many calories should i be eating?

  8. Erin says

    One thing I’m really struggling with is determining how much to eat. Don’t get me wrong, I WANT to eat enough – but the numbers I find are very different. I’m quite thin (underweight), and my “maintenance” calories come out to be 1400 calories. I would be absolutely starving on 1400 calories a day! The calories recommended for me to build muscle is then 1700-1800 a day… which, while that sounds more reasonable, I can easily eat 2000 on a regular day. And like I said, I’m technically “underweight.” Any recommendation on caloric intake besides figuring it out myself through trial and error?

    • says

      right, so this is where generic guidelines aren’t applicable to you.

      you obviously know that you can, and probably should be eating more. So the best thing to do is monitor your intake for a few weeks to establish the baseline, and then add 200-300 kcals to that per day, and then assess again after a few weeks.

  9. Melody says

    Hi JC-
    I’ve been working out for years with breaks here and there. I’m one of those girls who definitely prefers to go hard with heavy weights. I’m 5’4″ and around 176, which most girls would die if they ever saw that number. I’m SOLID – so no one would ever guess I weigh that much. I’ve tried everything…well almost, but I can’t figure out how to get more definition, I have slight definition, but only when flexed. My arms look huge and people say, “yes, they are big, but you can tell you work out and it’s muscle”. Yup, one big chunk of muscle. I need them to be smaller and defined. I look like a linebacker. So…what is the key to definition…is it really just diet that I haven’t mastered. I don’t want average, I want amazing, and I’m not sure how to get there. Your thoughts….Help :(

  10. Kase says

    Hi i have lost over 100kg over 4 to 5 years but now i have lost all muscle tone and i am just skin and bone…. Are u able to help with suggestions on how i can build my muscle back up. I just freak that im going to put weight back on and i cant handle that….

  11. Tasha says

    Hi. i weigh 127…i normally have a ear shaped body but somehow i lost it. When i gain weight it goes to my hips butt and thighs but because lost a good amount of muscle, the gain just looks sloppy. How long will it take to at least gain an inch of butt muscle with training 4 times per wee

  12. Yoko says

    In my previous post I mentioned that I just started work out 3 weeks ago. I m wondering how long does it usually take a woman to gain sufficient muscle? I also forgot to mention that my age is 22.

  13. Yoko says

    Hello. I have recently started training at school gym (since the start of term so for about 3 weeks). I am 5’4″ 110lb. I have tried and successfully trained 4 days a week whenever I have school that day. Sometimes 3 days because my Mondays are all day school.

    I focus on my legs. (I have no muscles in both my arms and legs…I meann you won’t feel them by touching…not much at all). I try to aim 100 caloriesby using step master or treadmill. Then I move to use mat to overly train my body. I don’t reallly follow any postures…ifor each time I go training.

    I usually stay there for 1-1.5 hr.

  14. Rebecca says

    Hello! I’ve been working out with free weights/the resistance machines at the gym and running for about a year now. Running’s been great for my legs, but everywhere else on my body seems to be shrinking! I know that women tend to want to be as thin as can be, but I’d like to gain a couple of pounds of muscle.

    I’m 5’10 and 140lbs, and I’ve started trying to eat the recommended protein and increase the intensity of my strength workouts, and cut back on running. The hardest part is all the eating! I find it extremely difficult to eat 140 g of protein a day. You recommend exceeding your maintenance by only 300-400 calories a day, but unless I’m counting calories wrong, it seems like I need to eat an extra 600-700 calories a day to eat that much, and I’m supplementing mostly with egg whites, boiled chicken breast, nuts and protein shakes.

    Am I counting calories wrong? It seems impossible to juggle all of these nutritional needs and caloric limits all at once.

  15. Layla says

    Hi, JCD.

    I’ve read on other sites that increases in size will follow increase in strength but I’ve been training for a couple of years, have gotten stronger, yet am still very thin and don’t have much mass to show for it, despite my efforts to stuff my face :/. I hover around 18%bf and have a bmi of 18.7.

    Would you recommend NROLfW for women looking to build size? It seems like the workout volume in NROL is quite low for size gain.

    Have you found that women tend to do better with a particular rep range? I’m not sure whether to up the volume of my workouts via more sets (ie. 6×5) or more reps (4×15, etc).

    Thanks.

    • says

      I think it’s a good program but if you’re training hard, and not growing, it’s likely due to diet. I don’t think any other rep range works better for women than men. It’s probably your diet.

  16. Oksana says

    Hello. My name is Oksana. Im 5’9 and weigh anywhere between 110-113 on normal days. I want to gain at least 7-10 lbs of muscle. I met with a nutrition specialist and was explainedthe proper steps to muscle gain, which is through increased protein diet and muscle training. I’ve already changed my nutrition by increasing my protein intake, eating more while still eating healthy. It’s def hard to consume that much protein and calories. I’m just not able to eat egg whites three times a day.
    However I don’t have any weight building exercise. And I know that is crucial to the muscle gain. I am planning to buy weights and exercise at home since I don’t really have time for the gym.
    Would you suggest to count my calories, and know how much of each nutrient group I’m consuming? Because technically I don’t know how much I’m consuming. It’s just a rough estimate.
    So far I’ve been on this increased protein/food diet for a month and I’m not really seeing the results. I feel like its useless. Do you have any advice? Thank you.

    • says

      sure, so the best thing to do for now is to record your intake over the next week. get a good idea of how much you’re truly consuming, and then make adjustments from there.

      you have to establish your maintenance intake first, and then if you’re not gaining, you need to eat more. I’d only consume about 1g/pound of body weight in protein, with the rest of your calories coming from carbohydrate, and then fat.

  17. Em says

    Is this a good program for women wanting to build muscle AND lose body fat? I weigh about 112 lbs (I’m only 5′ 3). But I have a pretty significant amount of body fat – Current percentage is 24.4%. I have lost 40 lbs in the past year, but I still feel like I am really skinny-fats. I’m worried building muscle and eating more calories will only cause me to gain muscle UNDER my existing body fat, essentially making me just fat because I won’t have any definition with my BF %. For someone who also needs to lose a significant amount of fat – Should I focus on losing the fat before gaining the muscle and strength? Does losing fat, NOT weight, absolutely require eating at a calorie deficit? I’m currently eating 1200 calories a day and have been for about 12 months to lose fat and I am starving pretty much all the time. I appreciate any advice. Thank you.

    • says

      Sure, it can be used for fat loss or muscle gain. I don’t see how at your height, and weight that you have a ‘significant’ amount of body fat. 24% for a women is not bad at all.

      Understand taht you can’t gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. I mean, you can if you’re relatively new to training, but trying to do both at the same time usually proves cumbersome for most.

      If you’re eating 1200 kcals, and feel like you’re starving all the time, something is probably wrong.

  18. Anjuli says

    I recently came across your site and this article. Thank you!
    Just wondering, if you have any specific advice for someone who is working on losing lot of fat (35% + BF) & is 5 feet tall?? I’ve been back to training for about a month now doing Starting Strengh program 3x/week and nothing else for now. I do have a sedentary job which sucks! Most of the advice I read on fitness sites, I seem to notice, are geared towards (or seem to comes across) women who are already lean but, want to gain muscle or have to lose say 10-20 lbs fat. Whereas, I’m trying to lose about 70+ lbs of fat (first & then gain muscle) and fear that I’ll stay at my scale weight despite trying to strength train. I am afraid to eat near maintenance or too much. I do keep my protein high.
    Thanks.

    • says

      it’s pretty simple. if you want to lose fat, then you need to maintain a caloric deficit. It’s likely that you’ll gain strength, even when cutting body fat, if you just maintain a deficit for some time.

  19. Milly says

    Hi JC, I just recently stumbled upon this post. Great post! Something I should be able to relate to but my problem is finding the balance between losing fat and also building athletic muscles like these women on Ox mag. My body fat is ranging between 19-21%. Although there id still a bit of belly fat. I’ve been training for 5 months now incorporating cardio and strength. My question is, is it time for me to bulk up (eating 300 cal above maintenance) now or should I drop a few more percent body fat first? Thanks

  20. Karlee says

    Hey great article! I am 20 years old, 5’2″ and 165lbs. I’ve gained some weight over the past six months or so and I’m really looking to get toned down. My future career goal is police officer so I really need to be in good physical shape. What confuses me is the whole protein thing. I have protein powder at home but when do I take it? How much should I take? And what about calories and carbs, how does that work? Thanks a bunch.

  21. Holly says

    Great article! I’m 37, weight train 5x/week. So many other women don’t understand it, all they want to do is use the treadmill. Meanwhile, I can eat twice what they do and maintain a lean physique :)

  22. MB says

    Thanks.
    I have been upping my protein intake – to see if I can help mother nature along.
    I know I should be consuming a fair amount of protein, but there’s only so much chicken, tuna and eggs a person can eat.
    I’ve been using the Holland and Barratts own brand whey powder for an extra 18g – 36g protein per day – usually on the way back from the gym.
    Does it matter which whey I use? Mine (vanilla) is quite nice and comes in at 18g protein for fewer than 100 calories.

  23. MB says

    Hello JC,
    I wondered if I could have some advice about how to get into better shape.
    4 months ago I started a fitness plan. I’m 36, 5’8 and started at 185 lb. I hadn’t been to a gym in about 15 years!
    I’m now 154 lb, I work out 6 days a week. (I have to go often – when I am at home, I find myself eating too much.) I do 1 hr of cardio 6 days p/w (crosstrainer mainly or box fit type classes) and do 3 hours of weight-type exercise per week (body pump mainly).
    My muscle gain is VERY slow. I only gained 0.4 kg of muscle when busting my ass over the past 3 weeks (and lost NO weight for the first time in 4 months!). Is there anything I should do to gain more muscle faster and ever shift some weight at the same time?
    Yours slightly stressed,
    MB

    • says

      only .4kg muscle? That’s damn near a pound in 3 weeks… that’s actually very good progress considering you’re a (assuming due to the article) woman. This process is slow – you have to maintain a marathon mindset if you want to win.

  24. Brenda says

    Hello. My name is Brenda. I’m 23yrs old 5″2 and weigh 112. I started working out 6 months ago I started at 134. Have lost all body fat at this point but I can’t seem to gain muscle definition . I started using micro-dosing Creatine n see no change have been using it for bout two months now. Still losing weight which I don’t want. Oh n I eat all day I don’t hold back on eating at all. The workout regimen I am doing is a crossfit. I workout 5 days out of the week. Ne tips on wut I should do or not do?

  25. Robinette says

    I WAS LOOKING UP HOW TO GAIN MUSCLE IT TOOK ME TO THIS SITE, I’M 5/4 N WEIGHT 220 POUNDS WAS 250 LOST WEIGHT DOING EXERCISE, LOST 35 POUNDS THEN START TOINING AT THE GYM N GAIN 5 POUNDS. WHEN I EAT I GAIN WEIGHT N I DON’T WANT TO GAIN WEIGHT, I WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT N HAVE MUSCLES. SINCE EATTING MAKE ME GAIN WEIGHT ,WHAT SHOULD I DO N HOW DO I LOSE THE WEIGHT OR THE INCHES? N HOW DO I GET MY STOMACH TO GO DOWN? IT’S LIKE WHEN I EAT IT LOOKS BIG!! I WORK MY STOMACH OUT BUT IT LOOKS LIKE INSTEAD OF GOING DOWN, IT LOOKS BLOATED WHY IS THAT? MY HUSBAND SAYS THAT MY MUSCLES IS SWOLLEN WELL IT’S ALWAYS SWOLLEN TO ME N WHEN WILL IT GO DOWN? I WANT TO GET DOWN TO 180 OR 190 POUNDS WITH THE MUSCLES!! HOW DO I DO THAT? PLEASE HELP ME!!! I USE TO DO WEIGHTS 6 DAYS A WEEK N STOP THE EXERCISE FOR AWHILE NOW I DO WEIGHTS 4 DAYS UPPER BODY 2DAYS N LOWER BODY 2DAYS N DO EXERCISE ON WEDENSDAYS N 30MINS ON THE DAYS I DO WEIGHTS SO I CAN LOSE WEIGHT TOO. I’M I DOING THE RIGHT THING? HELP ME PLEASE!! THANK YOU!!1

    • Chrisu says

      Hello Robinette,

      After perusing your family history on ancestry.com, it appears that you come from a long line of endomorphs dating all the way back to the Paleolithic era; as a matter of fact, your family’s clan actually waged war on the paleo CrossFitters of the Paleolithic era and emerged victorious after a long and bloody battle of kip-warz, and thus settled the morbidly obese land presently known as “America.”

      After conferring with several of my CSCS colleagues, I believe we’ve found the underlying problem in why you aren’t seeing the results you so deeply desire: when your husband says your stomach is “swollen,” the air patterns formed when enunciating the word (swol-LEN, note the emphasis on the latter portion) are actually causing devastating effects on your mitochondria and it’s ability to synthesize abdomen fat into upper body muscle. And cartine. Lots of cartine.

      I am prescribing divorce. A number of well-established divorce attorneys exist in many areas of the United States and are more than willing to help expedite your fat-loss program at a very low cost.

      From what I’ve seen, you have awesome pics. Great size. Look thick. Solid. Tight. Keep us all posted on your continued progress with any new progress pics or vid clips. Show us what you got woman. Wanna see how freakin’ huge, solid, thick and tight you can get. Thanks for the motivation.

      • says

        I DON’T WANT TO GET HUGE!! I WANT TO GET SMALLER N SOLID, STAY THICK N GET TIGHT!!! SO WHAT CAN I DO TO GET MY STOMACH TO GO DOWN? EAT LESS, DO LESS WEIGHTS WHAT? R WHAT CAN I TAKE? HELP ME PLEASE N BY THE WAY WHERE DID U SEE PICS OF MY AT? N THANKS FOR THE COMPLEMENTS!!!! THANK U!!

  26. Deepika says

    Dear Sir,
    I have started strength training since 8 months. I can also see changes in my body composition. But I am finding it really difficult to increase my muscle mass. I am working out at moderate intensity now. 8-10 reps. Thrice in a week. I have pull and push splits like Legs-Chest,shoulder, triceps (CST)- Back biceps. Due to family and job responsibilities, I am not able to include solid proteins in my diet. I have 130gms of protein per day out of which 3 egg whites in breakfast and 20g of chicken at night is the only protein through food. Rest I have to complete with whey and casein supplements. Does that make any difference in muscle mass gains? Is it that with supplements, muscle gain is slow?

        • Deepika says

          Dear Sir,
          Please help me with one more query. I take 40g glucose post workout (Strength training) for glycogen replenishment. But I can see increase in fat%. I also understand the importance of fast absorbing carbs immediately after workout. To gain muscle I workout only thrice in a week and do not do cardio. Should I start with walk or something to get rid of the increasing fat%? Or is there any better way to control it sir?

          • says

            meal timing is largely irrelevant as long as you’re hitting your macros. I would assess how many kcals you’re eating first before you make any changes.

  27. Cam says

    soon to be 50 5’9″ 123 lbs…. have not exercised in 4 years .. notice beginning of skin sagging on the top of my thighs… HELP! Is it too late to turn it around? What do I eat, where do I begin… any good books?? DESPERATE to save myself from that end!

    • M. Puckett says

      Seriously…you cant comment on this womans issues? it seems like a perfectly good question and right up your alley? What gives?

      • says

        I don’t really know how to respond. I don’t have all the answers, M. Puckett, and I don’t know if there’s a remedy for sagging skin.

        The only thing I can think of is to start working out and to possibly use a Vitamin E supplement. Then again, sagging skin is not something I deal with every day, so not really ready for this type of question.

    • Sue says

      Hi, my name is Sue and I’m a beginning lifter. I’m also 50 years old. I’m 5’3″ and 148 pounds, so one of the reasons I’m lifting is to lose weight.

      Here’s what I’ve noticed about training at the sorta-advanced age of 50 (warning, your mileage may vary):

      Yep, everything’s older and crankier. You may have to go slower than your 30-something colleagues at the gym, but that doesn’t mean you won’t realize gains. If you built muscle years ago by playing tennis, or volleyball, or climbing – your body may no longer look like it did back then, but it will still remember. And it *will* come back to you, if you “remind” it.

      Eating right is eating right; that means more protein and stay away from those simple carbs that are everywhere (like white bread, white rice, etc.) My preference (again, your mileage may vary) is to eat whole grains as part of a balanced diet – but you should always check with your doctor *first* before altering your diet or embarking on a new exercise regimen.

      I have few books I can recommend, but for new women lifters, your saviour is Krista: http://www.stumptuous.com/ Her advice is incredible, accessible, and free. :o)

      Will lifting save your sagging skin? That’s a tough call, and no one can say for certain. What it will likely do is prevent the osteoporosis for which any perimenopausal woman may be at risk, enhance your strength, endurance, appearance, and attitude toward life. It’s hard to get started, but it’s very, very worth it. :o) Good luck!

  28. Kat says

    Hi, I just read your article since I’m struggling to gain weight. I’m an 18 year old, standing at 5″6 tall, and weighing at 95 pounds. I have been trying to gain weight for the past 2 years, and I’ve never gone over 100 pounds. My goal is 105 at least, and to maintain that weight. I’ve currently been introduced to protein powders (Body by Vi), and I’m dying to see if protein shakes will make a difference. But the thing is, I don’t know when to drink it? Or what to do when I work out? I was hoping you could maybe give me a tad bit of advice there. I’m just looking to gain weight, and tone my arms, legs & butt. I’ve got to admit, I do like my core area. I just don’t want to gain weight, and have all the weight I’ve gained go to all the wrong places. Any advice? Please and thanks!

    • says

      Hey Kat,

      Thanks for writing. Honestly, I wouldn’t waste my money with the Body by Vi protein powders. If you want to use a protein powder, there are definitely more affordable options out there. Also, a protein powder alone is not going to make you gain weight. Gaining weight is a matter of eating more calories.

      So in saying that, if your goal is to gain weight, start tracking your intake – see exactly how many calories you’re really consuming.

      Then when you figure out that number, start eating more to make sure you gain weight.

      As far as training routines, you can start with one of the routines I placed in the article, or you could my beginners routine.

      let me know if you have any questions…

  29. Margarita says

    Hi JC,
    I found your blog while looking up on how to gain muscle weight for women. I am sturdy 90lbs. Always have been 90 lbs ever since I developed into a woman ( still wear skirts and pants I wore when I was 16 and I am 37 with one kid).

    At 5’4” and weighing 90 lbs I do not have a problem putting on a string bikini and heading to the beach or being naked for that matter (I am a nudist so being naked is a natuarl state for me). I always did moderate excersize. As I am moving into my 40s I realized that time comes when I start losing the smal amount of muscle I have.

    I want to inscrease my muscle weight while maintaining my muscle definition. I have been doing strentgh and resistance workouts 3 times a week, increasing my protein intake and drinking those aweful protein powder mixes after each workout. The case in point: I was able to gain up to 96 lbs and then I stopped at that.

    I mean my body did. After a while it dropped back to 92. It seems to me that no matter what I do my body wants to drop back to its 90-92 lbs weight range. Is it possible for me to build muscle weight for more than 6 lbs (I would like to make it to 110 at least) or am I one of those genetic freaks whose body just refuses muscle weight gain?

    I do have very high metabolism and everything I eat burn out fast. I also eat 6 times/day (3 meals and 3 snacks) as I used to this type of eating since my childhood. Thanks for any advise you can give me.

    • says

      hey Margarita,

      Most women would love to have your problem.

      I’m afraid the answer is really very simple. You just need to eat more. I’d keep your weight training consistent and try to get more food in.

      A good way to do this is to start making a shake with ice cream, milk and peanut butter. It’s a really easy way to get some extra calories if you find yourself stuffed all the time from other food you’re eating.

      if you don’t like those options or have issues with eating these foods, you can opt for other calorie-dense choices.

      Let me know if this helps.

  30. Cass says

    I know this is an old article but I feel inclined to respond!
    Back in January I began strength training. I was 130lbs, and I’m 5’6″. I had just had a baby that past August and was looking to get into shape for the first time in my life. I’ve never had muscle of any kind. I have never been athletic, and was encouraged not to be because I have a bad lower back which I’ve had surgery on.

    WELL, I got over that. I started targeting my arms, legs, butt, chest, abdomen, back…every where you can think of and doing pretty much zero cardio. Maybe I should be doing it, but I haven’t been. Fast forward to now and I am seeing a six pack coming into form, my love handles are shrinking, my legs are tightening up, my arms are getting more fit, and my upper back is looking pretty awesome to.

    Back in January I wasn’t really watching what I ate or focusing on consuming protein. I changed that about 2 months ago and have seen a drastic change since. I used to eat a ton of fried food (own an at-home deep fryer), pop tarts etc…it was pretty bad. I am no longer eating ANYTHING that is fried, or pop tarts. It’s baked in the oven or grilled. I eat a ton of fish, chicken, and veggies (mainly broccoli). I don’t count my calories or anything like that because I’m very touchy when it comes to my eating habits. If I restrict myself, I will binge. However I eat constantly and never really have huge meals, so my metabolism is awesome. I’m 124lbs now (1lb shy of my pre-pregnancy weight) and I look soooo much better than before I was pregnant. I know that’s only a 6lb difference from my original weight, but remember muscle weighs more than fat, it has more density, and I have been gaining a lot of muscle.

    I go to the gym and train hard 3-4x per week and it’s paying off big time. I know some women are intimidated by strength training because there are so many men typically in those areas of the gym and it just doesn’t seem very female friendly; look past all that. It’s easy for me because I go to the gym with my boyfriend, but I go without him now also.

    Strength training WORKS. I can’t stress it enough. You won’t look like a twig either which is what I didn’t want to happen for myself. This article is the perfect guide, and it’s correct when it says it takes time but is worth it! Push yourself and make it happen. Also, enjoy your workout, think about how great you will feel seeing yourself achieve your goals and keep in mind that it can take some time. It’s not over night. As long as you push the amount of weight you’re doing, make sure you’re comfortable in what you choose to do, and keep the right type of diet, you WILL get there!

  31. Gisele says

    Hello JC…
    I’m 5’3, 125lbs, BMI 22; i’m trying to go back to the gym, my goal is to tone my body and lose my belly fat. Do you have any supplements, protein shakes and vitamins that you recommend? and should i also take creatine to help build muscles? (but i heard that creatine makes you fat because accumulates water) I just want a toned body, I dont want to gain weight and I want to keep my size 2!
    I appreciate if you could help me, Thanks
    Gisele

    • JC Deen says

      Hey Gisele, first of all, I don’t recommend any supplements other than some fish oil caps (3-5/day) if you aren’t eating fish regularly. A multivitamin might be good, too. Creatine will certainly help you build muscle and strength. It’s impossible for it to make you fat because it contains no calories. It may make you bloat a little bit due to the water retention, but trust me, that is not fat gain. if you don’t like the bloat, simply go off of the creatine and it should go down.

      My advice would be to set up your diet to where you’re consuming maintenance calories by the end of the week. On your off days, you might eat a little bit less (say maintenance -10%) and then on your training days you’d eat a bit more (say maintenance +10-15%). So essentially you’re putting more food around your training for muscle growth and keeping body fat in check by having a moderate deficit on your off days.

      With a plan like this, you can still build muscle, change your shape without gaining a lot of fat in the process.

  32. Andrea says

    Thank you for the great article. I have a question regarding the protein and fat calculations. Are you supposed to use your existing body weight for the calculation or a target body weight? Secondly, I’m having trouble getting where I want to be with muscle building or at least it seems that way. I’m a spin instructor, so I’m doing moderate to intense cardio 4 times a week. I love my job and don’t want to stop, any recommendations for offsetting this. My body type is ectomorph, very tall and lanky.

    • JC Deen says

      Well in general, you will use 14-15xbw to get your maintenance intake.

      I’d use the figures for protein and fat I gave for current body weight, then adjust downward from total calories to get the deficit. does that make sense?

  33. Miriam Tapia says

    Hey JC,

    Just came across your article, I have been reading up on how to get bigger for quite a while now. But I can’t seem to get a grasp on a real muscle gain goal. I’m 5’7” weigh 128 Ibs, have 17% body fat and a BMI of 20. Im more of a cardio endurance type. However I feel so flippin week, I know im a woman but come on..I can’t even lift half the freakin couch. So anyhow, what do you think my muscle gain goal in – lets say, 4 months (if any) would be?

  34. Toni says

    I actaully read this article awhile ago but didn’t want to report back until I made some progress. First off, I have to give you a visual of what I had to work with – bodywise. Friends and family always tell me that I’m the blonde version of The Real Housewife of NY, Bethenny Frankel. Eerily we are the same age, same height, same weight, same dress size and yoga enthusiasts. So…halfway decent body but not much in the way of real muscle development. Anyway…

    I was one of those girls that lifted teeny tiny weights and wondered why my arms still looked scary skinny until I fell upon this post. I went out and bought dumbbells that were 5X heavier than what I’d been previously using. I also started upping my caloric intake thrice weekly like you suggested and was freaked out at first but then when I actually saw what 300 calories looked like it wasn’t much.

    I had to fight the urge to be impatient and constantly scruntinize my body to see if there was any improvements. I also really tried not to pay attention to the scale which swung anywhere from 115 to 119 lbs. BTW, I’m 5’6″ tall. I sound kind of light on paper but remember what Bethenny looks like – lanky, lol.

    Then a couple of days ago the most amazing thing happened. I was brushing my hair and looked in the mirror and wash shocked to discover that my arms were sporting some biceps when my arms were in a raised position. Not huge ones, mind you but smaller biceps. I couldn’t believe it because for so long, I was under the impression that my body type (ectomorphic) was really incapable of building any real muscle. Also, I never wanted to train like a man because I was scared that I would turn into one, lol.

    Long story short, I’m far from done but am encouraged by my progress thus far so…thanks! :)

  35. says

    Adam Stoffa suggested these links to me in a recent blog post, he was right to do so. I have enjoyed reading these and hope to discover more over the next few days. I have been lifting weights for longer than I care to report here and can attest to the amount of food that needs to be eaten, don’t worry ladies it gets burned off. As long as your food choices are sound you shouldn’t have issues, many of my non lifting friends are astounded by the amount of food I put away and as they put it “still stay fit and trim.” I advise them all to exercise and lift but that sounds like too much work they say or they don’t want to get big muscles. That line always makes me laugh to myself as I would love to develop a bit more and work hard to do so.. If they only knew…

  36. Toni says

    Wow awesome post. I’ve been reading so many articles on women lifting weights and i’m very interested. But since i am a newbie, i’m also a 15 year old girl who is skinny-fat and plays sports but wants to start lifting heavy. I’ve done P90X for awhile but i want to bring it up a notch. Unfortunately joining the gym right now isn’t an option for me, do you think doing Starting Strength would be good for at home training? I have a couple dumbbells but do you know what equipment i would need for the program? For the barbell, how much weight should i begin with? Thanks so much for your articles they are very helpful btw!

    • JC Deen says

      SS is a good program – but it’s hard to get the form down if you’ve never done it before. I would check out The New Rules of Lifting for Women.

  37. Kylee says

    Love it JC. I agree yes yes yes to it all. Lifting or body weight exercises shape your body in a way that cardio cannot. I went through the fat loss stage. the skinny stage and the mix up workout stage. Consistency is the key and eating the correct foods with the necessary nutrients in it at correct times, protein a must and definitely make it fun otherwise you will fall off the wagon. Awesome post ;)

  38. Lamia says

    Hey, I like your website. I used to be one of those skinny ( 5 4 106-111 lbs) cardio bunny females; then I ventured into the weight room at the gym , even though my stepmom insisted that I should not train with more than 1 kg (2.5 lb) weights. I then discovered p90x the following year, and did that twice followed up with p90x plus, then one round of Chalean Extreme and then mixed it up, also incorporating HIIT, intervals. Within the first two years of resistance, my weight climbed up to 115 -117 lbs range; I got my BF tested and it went down from 19.5 -20 range to the 17-18 % range (not bad for a female) and of course I added strength and visible definition all over.

    I’d been doing 50 crunches 4 days of the week with hours on cardio and bike and had been wondering why I had a flat skinny tummy but no abs and incorporating the various ab exercises–including dips raises on the pull up bar–I finally developed that definition, not 6 pack per se but 3-4 pack I’d say.

    My concern is this: lately I’ve been focusing also on the lower body lifting truly heavy and doing deadlifts, squats, lunges–this is part of my program and though I was mostly on a maintenance regime with 120 to 180 grams of protein (also supplementation with whey and glutamine), and my weight has climbed up to 120 and my clothes fit tighter. My guess is that on days that I went overboard with protein and calories, I also added fat or at least did not lose any and muscle still takes 78% as much space as fat.

    I am a mesomorph so I guess I have the predisposition to gain muscle more so than my female counterparts. Oh when I started lifting I was 27 now I’m 30 (no kids, single, never preggars; I only give that info as it affects hormones and body composition).

    So is this possible ? with lifting, on maintenance diet, clothes can actually become tighter?

    I added volume all over–mostly shoulder and biceps and then lower body–quads, glutes and some in the mass so how much of this gain in volume is fat I wonder?
    I know I’m going in the right direction and approaching the Oxygen look–not quite there yet–and finally got the definition in hard to define places for women like thighs and lower abdomen–but I fear I’m also packing on fat. I know it’s voicing a classic female fear but I can’t help it. Now I’m trying to ‘cut’ by increasing the cardio to 90 to 120 min a day in addition to resistance training 3-4 times a week, and going down to 1200 -1300 calories. Is this recommendable?

    I posted on yahoo and no one replied–except for some spam advertisements and you sound knowledgeable and wise on this topic so I’d appreciate it if you could reply here…

    • JC Deen says

      Hey Lamia,

      thanks for writing. lots of stuff here so I’ll take a quick stab at your questions.

      if your weight is climbing, then you’re not truly at a maintenance intake. So, somewhere in there, you’ve definitely been overfeeding, thus the weight gain.

      If you’re still visibly lean, it’s a good indicator that most of the weight you added was muscle – but it’s really hard to say either way. Did your lifts go up significantly?

      Your calories are fine for fat loss at your weight. I wouldn’t advise doing cardio everyday tho. I’d like to see you strength training 3x per week and doing cardio 2-3 days with 1 day completely off.

      • Lamia says

        Hi JC,

        Many thanks for the response here; I admit it’s really a hard calorie deficit to maintain when I’m adding in the extra cardio and every day–esp on an empty stomach in the mornings to get the first session out of the way, it’s tough. I’m not talking about craving sweets and being lazy, I’m talking about feeling faint and dizzy at times.

        That is the funny thing–I look leaner with much more definition–others have commented on it–accompanied by increased strength, and less ‘fat’ to grab onto –like how they’d do the basic test with a caliper–and so I was dismayed upon noticing that my pants fit tighter. I believe I was at maintenance most of the time but I would go over the calories occasionally–never on sweets or alcohol , so usually on ‘clean ‘stuff (yeah I read you don’t buy into this concept but you get what I mean) and usually on lean protein and I thought I was compensating for this with days eating below the intake.
        My guess is that I’ve put on both muscle and fat but it’s mostly muscle and that is why I can see more definition and overall tighter look and feel but together with the fat it’s just added volume. I’m talking about an inch gain overall.

        Oh and I found your website when searching for info on ideal caloric deficit. I had the Body Bugg (I suspect you’d be the type to be opposed to fitness gadgets ) and had a subscription to it and know that with that added cardio and resistance I burn approx 2250 calories–anything between 2000-2450 per day depending on exercise and other activities–per day with that regimen so right now I’m shooting for a 1000 calorie deficit. I know that this would definitely not cause the so called starvation mode (perhaps you think this is a myth as well since I have the impression that you’re the sort to debunk extant beliefs that are taken for granted in the fitness world) but would it cause some % reduction in metabolic rate (RMR)? I suspect that if I could shake off 4-5 lbs of ‘fat’ the extra inch would be gone, revealing more of the toned new muscle and so this regimen is intended to be an emergency temporary short-lived thing. If my metabolism were to slow down, how long would it take to recover ? my guess is that with a 800-1000 cal deficit and 1.5 to 2 lbs or less loss per week, esp with sufficient protein grams and lbm protecting glutamine at night, I’m not at a risk of losing much of the muscle tissue. and I don’t think 2-3 weeks of this regimen is sufficient to wreak havoc on my bmr/rmr. Am I correct?

        • JC Deen says

          I’m not opposed to fitness gadgets. I’m only opposed when they end up making us crazy. I actually used the bodybugg for a good while, more than once.

          It just reassured me that we burn a lot of calorie through NEAT.

          A 1000 kcal deficit for the short term is not going to wreak havoc on your metabolism. But any deficit, for a long time will cause a down regulation in metabolism and other hormones. That’s why it’s important to take diet breaks and have carbohydrate refeeds to bump hormones such as leptin.

  39. Marlena says

    JC,

    Where were you when I first started working out? Oh, yeah, you weren’t born yet. I just regret many years of wasted time and wasted anxiety trying to achieve those goals with the absolute wrong game plan.
    Anyway! How the heck do you get that much protein in everyday? And seriously, cardio only 2x per week? I HATE doing cardio. It just sounds too good to be true.

      • belinda says

        It is soooo reassuring to hear that you hate cardio too!

        I am 5’3, 112 lbs with a blood pressure of 90/60. My blood pressure remains the same at my thinnest 88 lbs and fattest 128 lbs. Having a low blood pressure puts a crimp on my energy levels and reduced heat/cold tolerance. I enjoy doing weights training very much but abhor cardio. Nothing worse. Cardio after a point makes me feel like blacking out.

        Back in school days many years ago when we were forced into PE regimes, I have actually thrown up after finishing a 2.4 km run in Miami type humidity.

  40. Debbie says

    Great article! Do you have any suggestions for a woman who has been lifting for a year – full body workouts 3X a week – and is in need of a change. I love the way I look except for………… you guessed it! My abs.

    • JC says

      Yes, if you’re ready to move to a different routine, Lyle McDonald’s Bulking Routine is a good one. It’s best suited for intermediated trainees but if you’ve a solid year of progressive training under your belt, you’ll be alright. I’d recommend beginning on the lower end of the range regarding volume.

      and about abs… that’s highly dependent on body fat levels. If you want to see your abs, gotta lose some more fat.

  41. says

    Great article JC,
    thanks for including the muscle gaining potential for females. Most articles for women never seem to touch on the subject. It’s a true reality check and for us women that have been training for a long time and actually want to gain muscle knowing that the gains will be so minor, at least for me takes some of the pressure off. For women that are afraid to train because of bulky fears, hopefully it will put things in perspective.

    • JC says

      thanks for chiming in. I’ve found many women never train for the fear of becoming abnormal looking. The good news is 99% of women will never become huge without drugs.

  42. says

    Always like reading about women lifting weights! My body seems to work differently than a lot of people so some of this does not work for me but that is always the key, find what works for you.

    I did do a basic routine when I first started lifting & during bodybuilding years but after that, I changed it up a lot & my bod liked it. Also with age, change is pretty darn important for my bod.. it is just that way it is…

    I also gain muscle easier than some women so I watched that too.

    Glad you are getting the word out for women to lift!

  43. says

    Hi JC,
    Great post! I love your training tips. What if you want to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time? If you are gaining muscle, is it “replacing” the fat? I love the look of the Oxygen models, that’s what I’m aiming for!

    • JC says

      gaining muscle and losing fat rarely occurs in anyone except for the newbies. It’s not that it’s impossible; it’s just very sloooooow.

      I’d much rather a person focus on one goal at a time as it’s much more productive and progress manifests more quickly.

      I will definitely write about this in the future.

  44. Jon Fernandes says

    This is an awesome article that most woman need to read, A very good reality check. I will definitely be telling all my female friends to read this.

  45. says

    Great article, JC! I like that picture of April. I would love some abs like that :) Working my way there now.

    I am planning to add creatine next week so I can add some muscle. Other than that, I won’t be increasing my calorie intake just yet.

    Anna

  46. Joe says

    Nice!

    I’ve had my girl on Rippetoes SS for a month or so and currently trying to clean up her eating… but thats a task in itself. Gonna have her read this article.

    • JC says

      cool. tell her that it’s you who’s been authoring the site this entire time since we appear to be twins.

  47. says

    Good stuff JC. As much as it sucks, women who have been training are looking at such a small rate of muscle gain it can be a bit discouraging-but it still adds up, over time. The slow and steady approach works better from not just a physiological standpoint, but a psychological one as well. The GFH approach just does not still well with most women, nor does it seem to work very well. Plus, we’re a little nutty to start with. Then add the OMG I’m FAT! on top of that-and we’re full on nutso. Slow and steady, lift heavy, work hard, and be patient. Patience sucks ;)

    • JC says

      GFH is not a good approach for anyone unless you’re an underweight teenage boy.

      and yes, patience sucks.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] To the women out there who feel weightlifting will make them huge like Arnold, no need to worry, A woman’s body is not designed to gain as much muscle as a man’s. If anything, a good program will yield an awesome beautiful physique. (And we can all agree that women are beautiful.) Girls, for more information read JC’s “The Muscle Building Guide For Women”. [...]