The Muscle Building Guide for Women

Do you want to build muscle, tone up, and achieve that lean, feminine look? If that’s you, good. By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly how to go about doing it, and don’t forget to check out my training program to get you started.

There are 3 principles that must be followed in order to get the most out of your muscle building efforts. We’ll cover those in full below, and address some common questions and concerns that come up for many women.

From flat and flabby to toned and curvy

The step by step blueprint to a hot body without obsessing over food or getting bulky.

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Muscle Building For Women Principal #1: Structured Weight Training And Progressive Overload

Resistance training revolves around a single idea: progression, which is evident by increases in strength over time. The common name for this is strength training, but training for strength explicitly can differ from training for aesthetic improvements or even improvements in endurance.

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All forms of resistance training, whether it be barbells, dumbbells, bands, or kettlebells, will result in improved strength over time, but it’s all relative to the specific goal.

If you explicitly want to build muscle, there are two main factors that influence muscle gain: load and volume.

Load  refers to how much you’re lifting (how heavy the dumbbell is, or how much weight’s on the bar). Over time, you want to improve the total load. An example is you might start squatting the bar for 3 sets of 5, but your goal over time should be to increase how much you’re lifting by adding weight to the bar. This is also known as progressive overload because you’re progressively adding heavier weights to the bar over time.

So if you’re not adding weight to the bar over a 12 week training period, you’re not practicing progressive overload, which will typically mean you’re not going to make progress with gaining muscle.

Volume refers to the total work being done in terms of repetitions. So when you do 3 sets of 5 on squats, you’re total volume is 15 reps, but with fairly heavy weights. If you did 4 sets of 15, then you’d have 60 total reps with a much lighter load.

The main goal of any training program to increase muscle mass should be to get stronger over time with adequate amounts of volume. An adequate amount of volume tends to be in the range of 30-60 total reps per body part per session. This can be done with as few as 3 sets, or as many as 10 sets. It can be done with only 1 exercise or 3 different exercises.

If you want a structured program, be sure to check out my muscle building program for women down the page.

In general, there are two types of training that most women focus on with muscle building is the main goal. We have pure strength training and bodybuilding training.

All forms of training will inherently improve your strength, but it’s relative to the goal, and this is the most important thing to realize when choosing the best type of program for you.

Bodybuilding training has a large focus on individual body parts and increasing overall volume. It’s not the best for raw strength, but it does wonders for helping you build muscle, and changing your shape. It makes your muscles full and builds curves in all the right places.

Powerlifting training or Olympic Weightlifting are great methods for improving raw strength, and will elicit gains in lean body mass, but might not be the absolute best for maximally increasing muscle mass, especially in the beginner or intermediate who might not be familiar with certain lifting techniques.

This type of training (powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting) also runs a higher risk of injury due to a demand on precise technique while lifting very heavy weights. There’s a risk/reward tradeoff depending on the approach.

Body weight training will improve your strength, but not to the same levels of training with heavy loads like you would with powerlifting or bodybuilding templates.

But many great bodies have been forged with bodyweight training alone.

The most important aspect is to understand the following:

  • Training with resistance (regardless of the method) will improve strength levels.
  • Improving strength levels is a good way to force your muscles to grow, and to change your shape (more muscle, more strength, less fat).
  • All training methods are valuable, and it’s important to determine what sits well with your temperament, schedule availability, and personal preferences.

For women, I personally prefer a mix of strength trainng and bodybuilding-style training for the best effect.

Some of the above concepts are from my weight training for women article, so check that out to get a deeper understanding of the training.

Where To Start?

The best place to start for most women is to get acquainted with the major compound movements, such as the bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, lat pulldown, and bent over row and their variations.

I highly recommend my beginner workout routine, but I’ve also created a training program specifically for women and you can check it out it below.

muscle building for women
Image Credit: Greg Westfall

Follow A Structured Program

It’s common for people (all men and women) to hit the gym and train whatever they feel like training that day. I’m sure you’ve been there, as I have in the past. You walk into the gym and wing it without much aim for training specific movements or muscles. You only have the aim of working up a sweat, and feeling a pump.

While this isn’t a bad thing to do every once in awhile, it’s not the best approach if you have specific goals and are going after a certain look.

If you’re not following a plan that focuses on progressive overload and is built around the big movements, you’re not likely to see the progress you want so badly.

Every time you step foot into the gym you should know exactly the following:

  • Which movements you’re doing
  • How many total sets per exercise
  • How many reps per set you’re aiming for
  • How long your rest periods are
  • How much you lifted the last session in order to make a judgment on how much to lift in your current session

The only way to know this is by following a structured program, and keeping a logbook of each session.

What Does A Structured Program Look Like?

Below is a screenshot of a session from my Muscle-Building Guide For Women Program.

muscle building for women

This is the 3rd workout of the week and the emphasis is a focus on quads and hamstrings while training your entire body.

In the movement column, you see the movements listed out in the order you’ll be doing them on this day. In the next column you see “Sets x Reps,” followed by the recommended Intensity, and finally, your total rest periods.

The 1st movement of the day is the Barbell Squat (BB is short for barbell). You’re performing 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps and resting for 2-3 minutes (m = minutes) between sets.

The 2nd movement of the day is a weighted hyperextension, and you’re performing 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Below that you’ll see the 3rd movement and it’s a combination of 2 movements together called a superset. A superset simply means you alternate the 2 movements back to back for the total amount of sets and reps listed until you’re finished. In the rest column, you’ll see the recommendations are a range of 0 to 30 seconds (s = seconds).

In my Muscle Building Guide For Women Program, I cover the program instructions in depth, where you’ll learn all about intensity, how to train properly, and continue making progress.

How A Structured Program Makes You Better

When you’re tracking your training and aiming to make improvements each week, you’re forcing your body to respond in favorable ways. Muscles don’t grow unless they’re constantly stimulated, broken down, and repairing themselves.

If you lift the same weight for an entire year and never make progress, the chances of your body changing much are slim to none. This is how progressive overload works.

Plus, looking back over a year’s worth of records allows you to see your progress, which is very motivating. But it also allows you to see your weak areas, and where you could improve.

What About Decreased Femininity?

This is a very common question, and I totally understand why. I’ll briefly explain why this shouldn’t worry you, and help put your mind at ease.

For starters, it’s physiologically impossible for most women* to look like men in terms of muscularity. Women, on average, have about 10-15% total amount of testosterone comparatively to men. This makes sense when just looking at men compared to women in body size, strength, facial features, and body hair growth.

This is also why men are able to build much more muscle than women. To further prove my point, many competitive women bodybuilders will take exogenous testosterone (aka steroids) to pack on more muscle to compete on stage.

So if you ever have a fear that lifting weights will turn you into a manly woman, or that your muscles will get big like a man, rest assured there are many women lifting weights every day, training harder than many men, and still sport very feminine physiques.

A quick look at Jen Sinkler’s, or Neghar Fonooni’s Instagram might put you at ease.

On a lighter note, I found this meme below, and it’s fitting in terms of perspective.

muscle building for women

If you take a close look, the women on the left fall under the camp of competitive bodybuilders who have spent a lot of time training, eating for mass gain, and may possibly be taking steroids.

And the women on the right are examples of what’s more likely to happen when training consistently and focusing on a diet in line with how lean you wish to be.

I should note that the women on the right are very lean to the point of being near ready for a bikini or figure competition. So keep that in mind when sizing them up.

*JC note: I wrote ‘most women’ because there is a small percentage of genetic outliers who have more testosterone than other women and build muscle faster than normal, but this is rare.

Lastly, I’ve also written on this topic a bit about weight training making one too big, so give these a read if you’re interested:

Weight training in and of itself will not rob you of your femininity. If done right, it can help you build a curvier frame, if that’s what you desire. Just understand that looking like a competitive bodybuilder will take not only many, many years of effort, it might even require some performance enhancing drugs to boot (and we’re not talking about creatine here).

Muscle Building For Women Principal #2: A Caloric Surplus Is A Must

Eating for muscle gain can be tricky for some. I get emails every day along the lines of this:

“I’m having problems losing fat so I can see my muscle.”

Or

“I want to build muscle, but I’m not seeing any progress. Not sure what to change in my diet, but I started having a protein shake after training.”

Or

“I want to improve my muscle size, but don’t want to gain weight.”

The simplest truth of all is this: you must have a caloric surplus (though it doesn’t have to be a big one) to effectively build muscle.

I would argue that your training is more of the determining factor about whether or not you build muscle, but the food surplus and macronutrient composition does play a role.

So let’s go over a few ideas here quickly:

Calorie Surplus

To build muscle, you must eat more than you’re burning. The best thing to do is start off with your maintenance intake. To calculate your maintenance intake, the quickest way is to multiply your body weight by 13-15 depending on how active you are.

If you’re not very active and sitting most of the day at work, then start with 13. If you’re very active during the day, training 4-5 days per week at the gym, then start with 15.

For a woman at 120 pounds and fairly sedentary (sitting at a desk most days), you’d make a calculation like this:

120 (body weight in pounds) x 13 = 1,560 calories.

When I ran this through a TDEE calculator, you get roughly the same figures as you’ll see below.

Here’s the home page where I input the data:

muscle building for women

Here’s the next page with the results:

muscle building for women

If you’re training hard 3 days per week, you might bump it up to 14 x body weight as a starting point.

One you know your maintenance intake, you know that you’ll need to consume more food to help with muscle growth.

Since women are not prone to building muscle as fast as men, I recommend a smaller calorie surplus than a man might consume.

For training days, I think 200-300 calories over maintenance is a good starting point, and for off days, eating around maintenance is good. I like the extra calories to come strictly from carbohydrates.

Below I’ll show you how to create that surplus.

Macronutrient Split

We have 3 macronutrients that make up the total caloric intake. Those are protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

The ideal protein intake is somewhere between .08 – 1 grams per pound of body weight. For an in-depth explanation, check out my article on how much protein you need.

For fat, I like to take 20-25% of your total maintenance caloric intake and make that your total grams of fat to aim for.

And carbohydrates will typically fill up the rest of your intake. If you’re afraid of carbohydrates, for any reason, check out my article Don’t Fall For The Low-Carb Trap. I’ve also discussed the importance of carbohydrates and their role in thyroid health in my premium women’s program HOTBOD.

Maintenance Math:
We’ll use the 14 x bodyweight example from above.

120 (pounds) X 14 = 1680 calories for maintenance.

Calorie Key:

Protein contains 4 calories per gram

Carbohydrate contains 4 calories per gram

Fat contains 9 calories per gram

Protein Calculation:

120 x 1 = 120 grams of protein

120×4 = 480 calories

Fat Calculation:

.20 x 1620 = 324 (calories from fat).

324/9 = 36 grams of fat

Carbohydrate Calculation:

Take the difference of the calories leftover.

480 (calories from protein) + 324 (calories from fat) = 804 calories.

1680 (maintenance calories) – 804 (fat and protein calories) = 876 (remainder of calories leftover for carbohydrates).

876/4 = 219 grams of carbohydrate.

Maintenance Macro Totals:

Protein: 120 grams

Carbohydrates: 219 grams

Fat: 36 grams

Not sure how to track your macros and calories? Check out how to count macros.

How To Create The Surplus:

I like to create the surplus from carbohydrates. Since a gram of carbohydrate is worth 4 calories, and you are adding 200 calories to your intake on training days, you’d simply add 50 grams of carbohydrate to your maintenance intake.

So your nutrition would look like the following:

Training Days

Protein: 120 grams

Carbohydrates: 269 grams (+50 grams)

Fat: 36 grams

Off Days

Protein: 120 grams

Carbohydrates: 219 grams

From flat and flabby to toned and curvy

The step by step blueprint to a hot body without obsessing over food or getting bulky.

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Fat: 36 grams

Remember you want to manage your caloric surplus as opposed to traditional bulking.

Muscle Building For Women Principal #3: Stress Management And Proper Rest And Recovery

Recovery is the most overlooked piece of the puzzle when it comes to building muscle. Most everyone focuses all their effort on training and diet but forgets to place an equal emphasis on their recovery efforts.

If you’re consistently getting less than 7-8 hours of rest per night, your recovery and repair could be affected negatively. It’s not uncommon for those working long hours to skimp on sleep.

Consistently not getting enough sleep can result in the rise of stress hormones such as cortisol. Not getting enough sleep can also affect hunger levels causing you to eat more, and can even influence whether or not you burn fat, or lose muscle.

For many, sleep hygiene seems to be a foreign concept. Getting enough sleep and to bed on time is not only good for your muscle gain efforts, but for mood, proper recovery, immune system function, and general well-being.

The Circadian Rhythm

Rising and falling with the sun seems to endogenous and totally in line with our biology and evolution. So it makes sense to try to get to bed a few hours after nightfall and to wake with the sun.

Staying up late can be a result of many things such as anxiousness, working late, depression, partying, or late night smartphone scrolling.

One culprit messing with our ability to get to sleep is blue light from our computer screens, televisions, smartphones, and tablets.

At night, our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin, which is very sensitive to the light entering our eyes. This hormone is produced as the sun goes down, and will continue throughout the night as we sleep.

As light hits our eyes in the evening, melatonin production can be switched off, which in turn makes it increasingly difficult to fall asleep.

Any light (sun, lamps, etc) can suppress melatonin production, but our circadian rhythms seem to be mostly affected by the blue light from our computer screens and more modern light bulbs. For more studies, check out this NYT article.

It’s not necessary, nor practical, to rid yourself of artificial lighting after the sun goes down, but you should definitely keep in mind how it’s affecting your sleep, and thusly your muscle gains and overall health.

To cope, I’ve found the following apps to be of tremendous benefit. For my macs, I use a software called f.lux.

If you’re using a Windows machine, it seems f.lux is now available.

The iPhone now has a built-in feature similar to f.lux but I’ve read it doesn’t actually block the blue light that well, so a blue light blocking screen might be a good idea.

If you’re an Android user, there’s an app I just installed on my Nexus called Twilight, and so far I love it. It’s very similar to f.lux. With Twilight, I use a very dim setting so my sleep is not affected at all from reading my Kindle books before passing out.

However, the best option is to avoid computers, phones and tablets a few hours before bedtime, but that’s not always possible, which is another reason to install those free apps above…

Just like nutrition and lifting are very important, sleep is just as crucial to your success.

Make Your Training Fun And Enjoyable

Training for muscle gain and building your body is hard work, but it should also be enjoyable, too. It’s really easy to get caught up in the body comparing mental trap due to Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and all the other social media full of selfies and bikini pics.

And if you’re always comparing yourself to others who are further ahead than you, it’s really hard to have a good time. And if you’re not having a good time, you may not dedicate the time and effort to training that will eventually allow you to reach your goals.

This journey is about the process, and not the outcome. The following is from my article Fitness Goals: Understanding Why We Give Up.

The only thing you have conscious control of is the present. And as the saying goes, your daily actions creates the ripples which form your future.

In short, what you do in this moment is responsible for what you experience in the future (another present moment you will get to experience).

So if you want to feel good in the future, you need to do what will hopefully give you that future experience.

From here on out, I need you to shift your thinking from goal-oriented, to process-oriented.

Goal-oriented is purely focused in the future. Goals are great to have, but if you’re always focusing on the future, you’ll never truly be able to keep your mind in the present, where it needs to be.

By focusing on the present, you’re forced to focus on the process.

And the process is the daily grind of the physique-transformation routine. It’s preparing meals that are in line with your training. It’s training mindfully (my piece about mindfulness on schwarzenegger.com), and focusing on the work you’re putting in.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the movie Gladiator.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

So imagine that life equals the present and eternity equals the future, and this quote is a perfect mantra worth keeping in your head at all times.

It’s falling in love with the aspects of the day-to-day, instead of constantly losing yourself daydreaming of how it will feel once you finally reach your goal. Why is this important to know?

Because one day, you’ll eventually wind up where you once dreamed yourself to be, and the only way to make sure you continue progressing is to stay in the present, and fall in love with the process that gives you the results you want and work for.

From flat and flabby to toned and curvy

The step by step blueprint to a hot body without obsessing over food or getting bulky.

Yes, tell me more

157 thoughts on “The Muscle Building Guide for Women”

  1. Thanks so much for this article! I’m so glad I found it.
    I have recently become aware that I was restricting my diet WAY too much and not giving my body what it needs in pursuit of fat loss. I somehow forgot that muscle building tends to drive away fat, duh.

    Anyways, just wanted to let you know how much this helped get me back on track! 🙂

  2. Hi there! I’ve been lifting weights for about 3 years but seem to have issues putting on muscle. I have a pretty strict plan of what I lift on what days (lifting 5 -6 days a week) and also take a 45-50 minute cycle class 3 – 4 days / week. With my weight lifting I change exercise week to week and also try to increase my weight on a bi-weekly basis, although it does not always happen with my upper body. Im 5’2, 110(ish) pounds, 33 y/o female. My body fat is 23% but would like to drop it around 20%. I can’t not seem to put on and retain muscle. My calories are around 1600-1700/ day, and I increase that by 200-300 on days that I take spin. My protein is high – 140-160 grams, and then I split the rest of my daily macros between fat and carbs. Ive tried throwing in some cheat meals to curb my metabolism, decreasing calories, increasing calories. Just kind of in a rut with my muscle growth. Help!

  3. Hi, I’m a postmenopausal ectomorph vegetarian who’s been lifting for 30 plus years but not looking the way I want, i.e. skinny arms and legs but fat on the belly. Any tips for my situation?

  4. I’m 55 and have been weight training for about 2 years. I’m having difficulty gaining muscle and realize I need to be eating at a surplus on training days. It seems that the surplus is easily turned to fat and losses are losses of muscle. Do you have any special tips for older weight lifting women?

  5. HI,
    I’m a female, 28 years old, I’m 4’10” and 104 lb. Currently at 21.5% body fat, would like to be around 16-17%. I workout 5-6 days per week with weight training, 4 day cycle (chest, back, shoulders, legs-all of them for about an hour to hour and half). and fifth day HIIT training. My calorie intake is 1250 per day with 125g of protein, 94g carbs and 42 fats. And I still cant figure out if I’m doing it right, consume enough or train enough, maybe lack of cardio? And like I stated earlier I’m not trying to loose weight, would like to loose fat and turn that into lean muscle to look toned, and of course midsection of my body is the biggest issue (would like to see those abs, so far I only see the definition). Please advise!!

    • it sounds to me like your intake is pretty low.

      you can’t really turn fat into lean muscle tissue. That’s not a possibility. It’s best to focus on one goal or the other at a time.

  6. Your tips are great and they work because this is what I’ve been following (very similar) and since I’ve started strength training I’ve lost 10lbs in 2/3 months. I went from 137 to 127 (I’m 5’6). I can see muscles now (yay!) and I am still working hard towards that athletic physique. I can’t wait to get your book, in some previous comments you mentioned a FB group. Can you send me the link to that? I’d love to join for support. Thank you!

  7. Hey JC!
    Thank you so much for this article. I’m having the absolute worst time gaining muscle. I’m 28f, 130lb, 5’4. I strength train lower body M,W,F and upper Tu, Th, about 8 machines, 3 sets of 10 each. I eat no added sugar/processed food, 1300-1400 cal with 95g of protein which mainly comes from eggs (I’m a vegetarian) quinoa, veggies and some fruit (not a lot).
    I took an InBody230 Comp test and it said that I gained less than 1lb of muscle over 5 months. This made me super sad, all those morning training sessions before work/class, not much change. Any advise for me? Nutrition/training? Where am I going wrong? And how long should it take me to see change using a tape measure?
    I’d like to thank you for writing so many articles that also apply to women, thank you!

  8. Hi, I’m looking to gain muscle and have no clue about working out. Im 22yrs old, weighing 127lbs, and 5’6. Where do I start? Im starting at the gym 3-4 days out of each week. *Please help

  9. Hello,

    I’m a 27 year old woman who is 5’2 and weighs 110 pounds. I would like to gain muscle, not that much, just enough to have a lean physique, visible even if I don’t flex. I was active and doing some kind of training for 2 years now ( I never had any weight problems ), but only this year I’ve decided to start taking weight training seriously. I upped my calorie intake to 1925-2100 a day ( depends on the training intensity ).
    I’m training 5 days a week, each training session is one hour long. Day one consists of HIIT and lower body strength training ( first a section of HIIT – no more than 15 mins – then 30 minutes of weight lifting) Day 2 is cardio and upper body combined with more focus on upper body, cardio added only as an interval at the end of every strength exercise. Day 3 is HIIT mostly with a bit of pilates at the end. Day 4 is again the same as Day 2 and Day 5 is the same as Day One. I always do warm ups and stretches.
    I can definitely see small progress, but will this plan be good enough for the long run?
    Thank you for your response in advance!

  10. I have been lifting weights for a year now. Its been a trial and error. I weigh 125 and i am 5′
    I eat 140 grams of protein and carbs. I do 40-40-20 ratio. If i flex i can see muscle and i am lifting more than before. But i do not see an athletic body. I can not just stand there and have muscles popping. I do jot want to be a body builder but i do want muscle defintion.
    HELP!!! Am i doing something wrong?

    • My advice, if you want to look athletic, is to train hard like a bodybuilder or athlete would. Take it very seriously, and push yourself. The results will come in time with that type of intensity.

  11. Hi I am 33 years old. Mom of 3. I weight 124 and I’m 5’6 and I’m 14% body fat. I currently try to intake atleast 2800 calories daily (300 carbs/300g protein) include in 2 shakes Epiq Gain daily. I currently lift weights 5 days a week and minimum cardio due to the fact that I lose weight easily. My goal is to gain muscle while maintain a low body fat % but I am having difficulty gaining at maybe a pound of muscle every 4-5 weeks. My question is do I just need to be patient or do I need to change my routine. I mostly list heavy…80% to max weight. What can I do for my body type which has a really fast metabolism and very lean?

    • Are you sure your intake is 2800 kcals daily? Most women aren’t ever going to need this much unless they’re a competitive athlete. 300g protein is way too much. if you’re not gaining, you’ll have to eat more. simple.

    • Like JC Deen, I am also wondering if you are really getting 2800 calories per day, and I am especially curious as to how you are getting 300g of carbs AND 300g of protein, every single day. However, eating more is not always the answer. If these are really the correct numbers, I’d be interested to see what you eat on a day-to-day basis. While 1/2 to 1 pound of muscle per month is about average for women, if you want to keep that weight on and potentially gain more, I would recommend decreasing carbs and protein and adding a bit more healthy fat (almonds, avocado, olive/coconut oil, etc.). This should help your gains while helping to regulate hormone production, which requires fat. This should also help you keep the body fat you need to gain more. Based on your numbers, you’re only getting about 45g of fat per day, which is less than 15% of your daily intake. By increasing fat, you won’t have to increase the amount of food you consume since fat contains more calories per gram (1 Tbsp olive oil=120 calories). While dietary guidelines recommend that 20-35% of calories come from fat, more can be healthy if carbs and protein are reduced. For my reasoning, check out http://www.marksdailyapple.com. I’m still wondering how you can get so many grams of carbs and protein in one day. Also, when you increase the amount of fat, you should be able to bring down the number of total calories as well since fat helps you stay full longer. Good luck, and I hope Mark’s Daily Apple can offer you some useful insights!

  12. Hi,
    The article helps me a lot. I train for the past 9 years once in a while (maybe once a week) since the beginning of 2016, i made a resolution that I really wants to gain in muscles.
    So i started to take it more seriously and i’ve been training up to 3 times a day. One or two rest days per week. Im doing between 20-40 min of weights each time. Is it to much? Because I can see a difference but I wonder if i would do one big training once a day, 4 days a week, if i would see results faster.
    thank you

  13. Hi JC,

    I’ve seen calorie cycling in the form of 300-400 calories for training days and maintenance calories for off days recommended a lot for women. However, for men, sources out there seem to be equally distributed between recommending a constant surplus each day vs cycling.

    Is there any actual reason/benefit why you/most sources recommend calorie cycling like this for women and not just a constant 150 calorie surplus every day?

    • Sure. women are less inclined as men to build muscle, therefore it doesn’t make sense to overeat a ton. also, 150kcal surplus is negligible and I think hitting a larger surplus 2-3x per week will ensure it actually happens.

  14. Hi! I’ve been contemplating whether I would enroll in a cross fit training program or do kickboxing. I need to lose 10 pounds and I wanna tone my arms, legs, and butt.

    • are you more interested in the programming or the accountability? if you just want the programming, then HOTBOD would be a good fit for your goals. We also have a nice little Facebook group of other women who are working toward similar goals.

  15. Hi,

    Thanks for this article. I’m looking to build muscle for a period of about 6 months (already been weight training for 3 months) and then try a “cut” of 8 weeks to get more definition, I’m going to follow your recommendations above and then reduce daily calorie intake by about 200-300 during the cut phase, do you think this is a good plan? 🙂

  16. I’m excercising andtrying to get my thighs big and my but lifted but for some reasoning I don’t see my thighs getting big what Shake can drink or what can I do my legs are weak also

  17. Good Information, Want more been on my journey for 1 year, I can’t seem to build that muscle that I want.

  18. I’ve been in the gymn 7 months now, I power walk the treadmill twenty minutes, and weight train an hour. I am 62 years old, I eat a lot of chicken salads, have a protein drink after my work out. I forgot to add that I’m in the gymn three times a week, Mon, wed, fridays. I’ve been working super hard, I want more definition in my arms,I already have a little. But I really want to look sculptured. Do you have any advice for me? I also drink a lot of water, no soda, no snacks, no sugar!

  19. I’m 46 years old. I’m 5’8″. I weigh 166 lbs. I’m trying to lose weight with Weight Watchers. It has worked for me before. I’m doing cardio a couple times a week. And I’m doing weight resistance a couple times a week. I stayed planking every day for a minute about 7 months ago. The scale is not showing weight loss after losing 6 lbs. I’m noticing muscles in my legs and a little in my arms. I had no muscle before. I had foot surgery and couldn’t do anything for a couple months except be a couch potato. Any suggestions?

    • My best advice is to start tracking your intake, and aiming for a certain amount of food daily, and then assessing results. Weight watchers can and has worked for a lot of people BUT when it stops, it’s usually time to try something else.

  20. 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!

  21. 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???

    • 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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

  24. 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.

  25. 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?

  26. 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?

  27. 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?

    • 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.

  28. 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 🙁

  29. 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….

  30. 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

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

    • 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.

  35. 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.

    • 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.

  36. 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.

    • 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.

  37. 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.

    • 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.

  38. 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

  39. 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.

  40. 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 🙂

  41. 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.

  42. 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

    • 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.

  43. 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?

  44. 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

    • 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.

      • 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!!

  45. 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?

        • 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?

          • 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.

  46. 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!

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

      • 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.

    • 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!

  47. 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!

    • 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…

  48. 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.

    • 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.

  49. 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!

  50. 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

    • 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.

  51. 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.

    • 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?

  52. 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?

  53. 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! 🙂

  54. 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…

  55. 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!

    • 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.

  56. 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 😉

  57. 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…

    • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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.

  58. 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.

      • 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.

  59. 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.

    • 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.

  60. 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.

    • 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.

  61. 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!

  62. 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!

    • 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.

  63. 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.

  64. 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

  65. 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.

  66. 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 😉

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