While the fitness industry at large is full of misconceptions and fallacies, probably no one subset of the workout world has more of them than how to build muscle for women.
Between the ideas like lifting very super-light weights will get you “toned” and fear of looking “jacked” like a man, female gym-goers have to wade through more misinformation than almost anyone else. Here are a few actual truths women can use to help their muscle-building efforts.
Don’t Fear the Weights
Many women who aren’t regulars in the gym fear lifting weights, as they’re under the misconception that they’ll immediately build the overly-muscular and ripped physique of a pro-level bodybuilder. The truth is that muscle-building is a slow process for even men, and they’re more genetically predisposed to put on muscle than women are. Lifting weights will make you stronger and can put some muscle on your frame, but it won’t turn you “musclebound” overnight.
Concentrate on Myofibrillar Hypertrophy
Often when women do finally decide to hit the gym, they’re under the erroneous idea that they should stick with very light weights for super-high reps. A much better prescription for how to build muscle for women would be to focus on myofibrillar hypertrophy, instead. “Myofibrillar hypertrophy” is the muscle that’s built via lifting heavy weights for moderate sets and reps. It’s a slower process, but the muscle is more dense, it’s stronger, and it will stay with you longer.
Don’t Overdo the Cardio
Too many times newcomers who don’t know any better will hit the cardio equipment as soon as they get in the gym. While you definitely want to improve your cardiovascular health, and doing some cardio can help rid you of some of the bodyfat on your frame, don’t take it to extremes. You’ll build a stronger body, improve your metabolism more, and have a greater overall effect on your physique if your primary focus is on lifting weights. If you do perform cardio, then do so for 20-30 minutes or so after you’ve lifted weights or on a different day. For building muscle, you may also benefit more from HIIT (high intensity interval training) rather than marathon style cardio workouts.
Get Your Calories and Macros in Check
No matter how hard you work or how dedicated you are in the gym, you’re never going to build any muscle if your diet isn’t on point. The same goes for your macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat) intake. You don’t need to start eating everything in sight, or else you’ll just get fat quickly. At the same time, you don’t want to fall into the trap of not eating enough, either. A good rule of thumb would be to multiply your current bodyweight (in pounds) x 13-15 to get your daily caloric intake. Take in your current bodyweight in grams of protein per day, then split the rest of the remaining calories between carbs and fat. You can also use our macronutrient calculator to find a good starting point.
So for example, if a woman weighed 125 pounds and wanted to build muscle, she’d multiply her bodyweight by 13 to get 1625 (125 x 13) total calories daily. She’d then take in her bodyweight in grams of protein, so that makes 125 grams of protein daily. Since protein has 4 calories per gram, that would mean that 500 calories per day would come from protein, leaving her the remaining 1125 (1625 – 500) calories to split between carbs and healthy fat however she likes. Just be sure to remember that like protein, carbs contain 4 calories per gram, while fat contains 9 calories per gram.
One bad meal won’t make you fat, one good meal won’t make you thin, and one workout won’t make you strong and muscular. Women who truly want to build muscle should realize it’s a long-term process that requires consistency. It might not be the “quick fix” the TV infomercials promise (which are lies, by the way), but stick with the above week-in and week-out, and results will come. If you’d like more information, you can also read our “female muscle growth” article.