Women & Lean Muscle: A Guide
If you’re a woman looking to building some lean muscle but are new to the neighborhood, then let me be the first to welcome you! If you’re a veteran when it comes to throwing it down in muscle town but are looking for some new juicy tidbits to further perfect your bodily craft… then let me be your huckleberry for the next few paragraphs!
Firstly, let’s talk “fear” and “apprehension.” Are you fearful that the moment you start messing around with some weights you’re going to wake up one day having accidentally morphed into a gargantuan she-beast, ripping your pajamas at the seams with an insatiable bloodlust for steak? Does that make you apprehensive to starting a workout program beyond cardio components? Well then, it’s a good thing we’re here because I can 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, and unequivocally assure you that will never happen.
Cue sigh of relief.
What you’re up against is your body’s natural chemistry impeding you from bulking up like an Oklahoma hay bailer without a LOT of a hard work. I mean… a lot. It can take months to see standard fitness progression let alone years for a complete muscular metamorphosis, and that’s with specified intensive training (i.e. definitely not accidental). That’s not even factoring in the nutritional component! You’d need to eat like an NFL linebacker every day to gain the kind of muscle mass you’re fearful of. I guess what I’m saying is muscle building in any capacity takes blood (flow), sweat, and tears (micro tears in your muscle fibers that improve themselves via the repairing process to be more specific). Never will you bulk up accidental. Ever.
Plus, I’ll be damned if I spent 4 years competitively body building in daily pursuit of size, strength, and more size with the effort of Atlas and the progress rate of your local government’s highway construction only to find out someone new to working out stumbled upon the Rosetta stone of muscular development with a few bicep curls and some anxiety…
… Kidding! You know, mostly.
What are the major ways women can build lean muscle?
Building efficient & functional lean muscle is going to require resistance training of some sort. To get technical, resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, tone, and/or endurance. Hence the intro. Henceforth these tips:
- Start Weight Lifting with Compound Movements – Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time. They tend to mimic every day movements while engaging most of your muscles. That means increased caloric burn, improved endurance/joint stability/balance, better functional strength, decrease your risk of injury, and overall improve all aspects of your health & fitness. The following are your best bets when it comes to checking out compound movements;
- Overhead Press
- Pull Down
- Chest Press
- Bicycle Crunches
Be sure to do your research on proper form! See how these can fit into your current schedule… or make a new schedule with these included!
- Incorporate Circuit Training – Circuit training is when you take multiple exercises and put them together back-to-back (to-back-to-back etc. depending on how many you include… the sky is the limit!). This methodology keeps your body from getting complacent in a routine while diversifying your movements. You can expect some fantastic heart health too when you incorporate some circuit training at least 1-2x a week. The best part? You can make a circuit with as many compound movements that your healthy heart desires feeding 2 birds with 1 seed on your fitness agenda!
- Incorporate HIIT Training as well! – HIIT, or “high intensity interval training” typical involves doing quicker, more cardio based movements for 30 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between. This will not only help keep your body fat percentage down but will also target your fast twitch muscle fibers which are essential to muscle building. Lean and a machine, baby! The following are some primetime examples to crush, HIIT style;
- Butt Kicks
- High Knees
- Jumping Jacks
- Mountain Climbers
- Russian Twists
- Jump Squats
- Jump Lunges
- Planks Jacks
- Star Jumps
- Flutter Kicks
Are there any habits or things women might be doing in the gym that are hurting their chances of building lean muscle mass?
- Cardio Killer Queens – All too often women will jockey the elliptical, treadmill, or bike with little regard to much else. Although you’re working a major sweat and burning through calories like you’re trying to collect them all, it’s long term ineffectual. You’re not really enhancing anything once your body gets used to it. You burn the calories, you build a sweat, and that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not bad at all! However, if that’s all you’re doing then it’s time to expand your program. Instead of giving yourself long term benefits with a balanced program your keeping your goals shortsighted with little room for improvement beyond wherever you’re at now.
- Stretch! – If you’re constantly working your muscles via resistance you are simultaneously building tightness. It’s a natural byproduct of high intensity muscle flexion that can potential leaving you feeling like a ball of stress. Proper static stretching and foam rolling (SMR… look it up!) will balance you out and enhance that lean look you’re searching for.
- Do the Research – Have you ever REALLY wanted something and decided you’ll do whatever it takes to get it? Could be a job, a new piece of technology, running shoes, a midnight pizza… you know, the usual suspects. Anyways, that determination can tend to fall juuuust short when it comes to health & fitness goals for some women. Have you researched exercises and programs? Have you tried them? Have you talked to a professional about how to do them properly? Practiced proper form? Met with anyone that could help you? The lack of proactivity from individuals who are desperate to better themselves doesn’t fall on laziness the way one might think… it falls on self-sabotage. You skip out on the leg work because you’re fearful you’ll never achieve what you want since “it’s just not meant for you”. Or you’ll look silly trying. Or you’ll give-up halfway through “like usual.” You’re padding your crash landing so when that moment comes of you falling out of sky, you’ll have a nice, soft nest of inner voiced “I told you so” waiting for you at the bottom. It’s time to buck your personal trend and get after it. Do the diligence, try out everything you need, practice till it’s perfect, and never stop believing in yourself. Sometimes you’re all you’ve got and in cases like this it’s time to be your own best friend.
What are the best ways to eat for lean muscle?
Nutrition is integral to lean muscle building and quite honestly, we could be here all day on the topic. Since that’s not an option here are the simplified staples;
- Keep Your Macros Balanced – Macronutrients are comprised of fats, proteins, and carbs. It’s a relatively simple approach to the complex nuances of the human body… but it works. If you can keep these 3 macros balanced in your daily nutrition then you’re on the right track with your foot fully on the pedal. Carbohydrates keep you fueled, energized, & sharp (as long as you don’t go overboard!). Proteins will keep your muscles satiated, repaired, and strong. Fats will lubricate your joints, better your brain, INCREASE your fat burn (when having the proper amounts of good omega fatty acids), and keep you satisfied. Leaving any of those out (unless on a specialized diet) will only set you up for failure in the long term.
- Ditch the Booze – Wine, beer, hard alcohol; it all causes your body to react to it like a toxin. Effectively shutting down your body’s reparation on the work you put in at the gym and instead focuses on getting the alcohol out. “Luxury” functions take a backseat as your body just tries to reset to zero. Kudos to you if you’re well practiced enough to not feel the effects of long term, consistent alcohol intake anymore… but that just means you’re stunting your results big time.
- Limit Your Sugar – This seems standard at this point but in case you haven’t heard sugar isn’t all that great for you… it’s not. Essentially every time you flood your body with a rush of sugar it spikes your insulin like a climbing roller coaster. While you experience a surge of short-lived energy your body’s fat burning switch turns all the way off. It stays that way even as you start to crash. All the while your hormones are going bonkers causing you to feel all sorts of terrible. Then that gremlin of sugar addiction gnaws away at you, yearning for a new fix since internally that insulin spike hits all the pleasure buttons in your body and it can’t WAIT to experience it again. Detox is hard… I recommend cold turkey. It’s sugar free and jam packed with protein that your body needs *rimshot*
- Stay Hydrated – Another one that is par for the course but always a good reminder. Especially if this one tends to elude you. Without high quality h2O running through your system your cells can perform their jobs correctly. Your cells make up, um… every single bit of you. That should be motivation to throw in an extra glass of water here and there, right? … Right?