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Female Muscle Growth: The Ultimate Guide

By Adam Trainor October 11, 2019

There can be many reasons you may want to learn more about female muscle growth.

You may want to lose weight for health reasons, and you have been told that strength training is a good way to burn fat more efficiently.

Or you may want a leaner, more muscular body because of your career or hobby, for example, you may play for a roller derby team.

…Or maybe you just like the look of a toned body!

Female bodybuilder

No matter what your reason, we can help. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of female muscle growth!

What are the myths? What are the facts? How does it work, and why? Finally, how do you gain muscle?

Let’s start by getting the myths and fallacies out of the way.

Muscle Growth Myths

There are many myths to choose from. As with any other part of women's health, most of the information we have had over the years have been misguided and misplaced factoids from health studies done for, and by, men.

We are finally doing more studies and research on women's bodies specifically, which allows us to shed some of these common misconceptions.

1. Women who try to build any muscle will end up bulky and masculine.

False. Extra false.

Although women are capable of becoming bodybuilders and bulking up, it takes A LOT for that to happen. In reality, women can build just as much muscle, but as with almost anything else, it sits differently on a woman. If you gain muscle and lose fat, you will slim down and get toned.

2. Women cannot meet the same muscle growth potential as men.

Again, no. Just. No.

Nope

Although it is true that women do not produce the same levels of testosterone as men, that is because they are not men. Women produce estrogen at much higher levels than men. Estrogen helps us have the ability to build muscle as well as men. More on that later.

3. Women should only lift lighter weights.

Women can lift any weights they are physically capable of lifting, just like men can.

4. You can eat anything you want if you do strength training.

This one makes me giggle. It does not matter how much you lift or don’t lift, you still need to eat healthily and follow calorie guidelines to have a healthy body. Bad nutrition isn’t good no matter what your exercise regime.

5. Men are stronger than women.

Eh. This one is debatable.

Although men can often lift heavier weights than women, this is due to overall mass. If a man was the same height and had the exact same frame as a woman, pound for pound women can lift the same, if not more, weight.

These myths have all led to women either avoiding strength training altogether or to not training to their potential. As a society, once an idea takes hold we tend to spread it and repeat it so often that everyone believes it, and no matter how many times that idea is debunked it will continue to be repeated.

The reality is that women can strength train without turning into some kind of Arnold Schwarzenegger with boobs.

Here are some of the actual facts you need to know.

Female Muscle Growth: Facts and Tips

We know way more about the body composition of women now than we used to.

Today we will discuss the proper nutrition, how your muscles work, how you build them up, and what role your hormones play.

My job is to make sure you walk away with a better understanding of how you can become the version of you that you see in your mind when you close your eyes!

Eyes closed

Nutrition for Muscle Growth

Nutrition is one of, if not the, most important parts of muscle building and sculpting.

Proper nutrition helps you lose fat while also giving your body the ingredients for healthy muscle growth. There are so many facets to healthy eating and how your body reacts to the force and hormones that strength training that your body creates.

Now, before we dive any deeper, please remember:

The number one rule is to ALWAYS follow the directions of your doctor or a licensed dietitian.

No two bodies are exactly the same, and although we can give you great guidelines we cannot replace the advice of professionals who know your specific hormonal and metabolic makeup.

In the case of healthy eating, weight loss, and muscle growth, macros are king.

Well, Queen in this case.

Getting the right balance of fats, carbs, and protein will allow you to optimize your body to meet your goals. Protein is an essential building block when building your muscles. Carbs and fat are both fuels for your body as well.

Of course, there are good carbs and fats and bad carbs and fats.

For example, you aren’t going to eat a candy bar and count the sugar from it as your daily carb allotment. You need whole grains and fiber.

Healthy fats, like what is found in nuts and avocados, are also very important towards your overall eating regiment.

Another thing is that women tend to not eat enough. Some are so concerned with weight loss or fat prevention that they restrict themselves to near unsustainable levels on a regular basis.

Not only is this not healthy but it will also prevent your body from building muscle in the way it is supposed to.

If you switch your focus from trying hard to lose or prevent fat to trying hard to build muscle and feel healthy, you will see and feel more change quickly!

Eat the right amount of calories while eating the right foods to fuel your body and your mind.

healthy balanced meal for muscle growth

If you do slip up and eat a big juicy burger on a white bread bun with a ton of fries every once in a while, that’s fine. Have an occasional slice of cheesecake, eat those chips on Friday nights during your movie night.

While these foods are unhealthy, it might be even less healthy to never ever indulge, as it could lead to an overall eating disorder (a bad habit of bingeing or restricting yourself more and more until you develop anorexia).

What nutrition comes down to is moderation and planning.

Talk to a professional and adjust your macros. Find the right amount of calories for your body and your goals. Focus on health and not so much on that ugly, three-lettered word; “FAT”.

Why?

Because muscle melts fat.

That's right:

The more muscle you have, the more fat you can burn. Building up your muscles and eating healthy will help you get rid of that fat effortlessly without the need to be hyper-focused on weight loss!

Boom

That is why we are here! We want you to focus on muscle growth, not fat loss. The two can go hand in hand, and positivity is key.

A Special Note on Body Type

There are three major body types.

These are Endomorph, Ectomorph, and Mesomorph.

Each of these body types means you will have a different response to different types of diets. Figuring out which body type you have can help you and your dietitian come up with the right eating plan for you to achieve the desired results.

three body types

Source: fitsnippets.wordpress.com

Endomorphs have the slowest metabolism of them all. An endomorph will store fat in their stomachs and other body parts in order to stave off starvation. A gene that was once helpful in keeping us alive by storing energy for later now causes us to carry around extra baggage. The good news is that endomorphs do not need to bother with cardio-heavy workouts. Weight and strength training are the name of the game for those of us who are endomorphs! You will need to eat less carbs and fewer calories overall though. Those tend to stick around the middle.

Ectomorphs are at the other end of the spectrum. They have high metabolisms and do not store fat for later use. This may seem great in theory, but as endomorphs can do some good strength training to build muscle and burn fat, ectomorphs will have to struggle to make any gains at all. They need more carbs, fats, and proteins. Higher calories all around with fewer workouts are what will help these ladies finally make some gains!

Mesomorphs have the best of both worlds. They can easily build muscle while keeping the fat at bay. Lucky. As long as a mesomorph eats a balanced diet, their metabolism will do the rest. They can also work out pretty much however they want. They can choose to workout less, or more, and still make gains.

All three of these body types need specific nutrition to keep their bodies in optimal condition.

Talk to your dietician about figuring out your body type and creating a nutrition plan catered to you!

Hormones

Now, let’s get to hormones! These little chemicals released by our endocrine system affect each and every part of our bodies, minds, and life...

...That includes our ability to build muscle and tone our bodies. Contrary to popular belief, we do not need excess testosterone to build muscle effectively, and estrogen is not the enemy.

Testosterone

Testosterone is the androgen hormone that men’s bodies use to produce the anabolic reaction needed to build muscle. In women, testosterone is not as important as other factors, such as Insulin Growth Factor one, or IGF-1. Women produce IGF-1 in higher quantities when compared to men, and therefore they build muscle just as efficiently.

Estrogen

Many of my female patients tell me they hate estrogen. Estrogen can suck.

It causes women to feel bloated, hungry, and tired. This is especially true around the time of the month you are supposed to be getting your period.

However, it also has many benefits.

When it comes to muscle building and health in general, estrogen can be helpful in several specific ways. It can help repair muscles after intense exercise. It prevents muscle loss and boosts your metabolism when you are active and eating well. Estrogen can also protect your joints, bones, and tendons from injury while you are working out.

As you can see, estrogen has several amazing effects on your body when you are eating right and strength training. It is not the demon people make it out to be, and in fact, being a woman may help you avoid injury!

A Special Note on Birth Control and Menstrual Cycles

Birth control messes with your hormones. You already know that. Bloating, acne, mood changes, loss of libido, and more, are all side effects of birth control on the body. Hormonal contraceptives can also inhibit muscle growth.

Talk to your doctor about your options if you are serious about muscle growth but you need protection.

Different times in your cycle can affect you differently. During ovulation, for example, you will feel healthy and energetic, whereas during your period you may feel sluggish, tired, and bloated. This is ok, and it is ok to pamper yourself a bit when you need to. However, do not completely ignore your fitness routine! You can still work out, just with a bit less intensity. Exercise is actually known to relieve cramps.

Equipment

Equipment is a big factor in female muscle growth.

One of the primary reasons women do not build muscle as well as men has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with perceived ability. For some reason, you don’t think you are as capable as men at lifting, so you get smaller weights and lower resistance equipment.

Listen; you are women. You are strong. You can handle heavier weights and higher resistant bands. There is no reason for you to go for the little pink weights other than your own perceptions, and those of the society we were raised in.

Some women admit that they do not want to attempt to lift or use equipment as heavy as the men at the gym because they are worried about the perception. They are protecting the egos of the men around them by limiting themselves.

This is no longer necessary. Men are accepting women can be strong. Women are done forcing themselves to lessen their potential.

Get the heavyweights! Use more resistance! Be strong!

Yes to heaveweights

How to Exercise

The best way to exercise for muscle growth is to specifically target the big muscle groups.

Use heavier weights with fewer reps and sets. For example, do 10 bicep curls at 5lbs to start, rest, then do 10 more. Repeat 4 or 5 times and then break. This is the low-rep high-weight method, which is great for building muscle.

Lower weight with more reps is a great cardio workout, but won’t give you the gains you are looking for.

Your body can also be used as an effective piece of exercise equipment. Do squats, push-ups, pull-ups and more. Focus on those areas of your body that you want to chisel down to goddess-like proportions. Get sweaty and gross. Give it every bit of blood, sweat, and tears you can muster.

If you don’t, then you are wasting your time even trying. You need to be ready and willing to put in hard work and pain to meet your goals.

Stay away from the cardio machines and other long, arduous exercises that do nothing for your muscle groups. It is a practice in futility. If you enjoy running, by all means, continue. However, do not feel like you have to do it to be successful in your fitness journey.

Some of the best exercises to really build those muscles and target multiple muscle groups at a time are:

  •  The goblet squat
  •  The military press
  •  Planks
  •  Deadlifts
  •  The glute bridge
  •  Lunges
  •  The squat and shoulder press combo
  •  The kettlebell swing

    These exercises are sure to get your blood pumping and your muscles working. As you progress in your workouts you can learn more advanced moves and techniques.

    Love Yourself

    One thing that really will affect you is your mind. Your mind is the most important part of this entire equation. You need to love yourself through every bit of this process. Are you a woman on a weight loss journey who is not only trying to lose fat but gain strength? That is amazing! Get yourself some cute workout clothes that wick moisture and shape your thighs.

    Are you already thin, but you want to feel stronger and look more defined? Awesome! Get some comfortable and flattering workout gear and get to it!

    Maybe you land somewhere in the middle and you just want to look and feel better.

    Maybe you don’t care about looks at all.

    Maybe that is all you care about.

    What matters is you!

    The point is: love yourself throughout this journey.

    You are just as beautiful at 300lbs as you will be at 150lbs. Enjoy your life.

    Do not constantly release a string of “when I’m skinnier I will” or “When I have a toned body I will” statements. Live in the now! To do it any other way will actually hold back your progress.

    Muscle growth is a journey. There is no part of fitness that will happen overnight, and the best thing you can do is accept that and find ways to be happy as you work towards your goals.

    Take nice Epsom salt and lavender baths to help your muscle soreness after workouts while also allowing you to relax your mind. Celebrate milestones by treating yourself.

    LOVE YOURSELF!

    Go you

    To recap...

    Ultimately, female muscle growth is like any other fitness goal.

    It will take hard work and an iron will. You need to try your best every day and do not hold yourself back because you are a woman or because of your thinking strength training is for men.

    You are just as capable of building lean and strong muscles as any man at the gym.

    With the right focus and the guidance of a professional doctor, dietician, and personal trainer you can strategically build your body into the beautiful machine you know it can be.

    Your hormones and diet will play a pivotal role in creating the physique you dream of. You may not have as much testosterone as a man, but you aren’t supposed to! You have IGF-1 and estrogen!

    Eating right will play just as large a role as your workout routine. You need to calculate your macros with the help of a professional and eat in a way that will best benefit your body.

    Healthy carbs, healthy fats, and lots of protein will help you build muscle, maintain your energy, and protect your body from injuries.

    Go to the gym and lift the big weights. Increase the weight anytime you start feeling like your routine is becoming easier. You can lift the heavy ones, and they do not need to be pink! Make a friend and ask them to spot you. Push as hard as you can. You can do it!

    Buy the moisture-wicking stuff with the positive affirmations written on the front. You will need those little pep-talks because you will want to stop sometimes. You still need to push. Get the pants with good stretch and thick fabrics that don’t show your underwear or the fact that you aren’t wearing any. Be comfortable and focus on positivity.

    You will need the positivity because this process will be hard. You will get sweaty. Your makeup, should you choose to be brave enough to wear any, will smear, Your hair will frizz up and get wet with sweat. Your muscles will burn, and you may even cry. It is a hard process.

    However, it is also rewarding.

    You will feel powerful and strong. That booty will lift up, those arms will be defined, and your waist will curve like a coca-cola bottle. Exercise is known to help with anxiety, depression, and provide stress relief. These are all things you can look forward to. This is what all the hard work is for.

    Muscle growth for females is just as easy (or should I say as hard) as it is for men, and you are capable of doing it. Believe in yourself. Put all your effort into doing it. Love yourself enough to go for your dreams and goals!

    We believe in you!


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