Gaining Muscle – A Women’s How-to Guide
Learning how to build muscle should be the main focal point for individuals and athletes before they even lift a dumbbell. Walking straight into the gym and curling a dumbbell for 100’s of reps is not going to help you build muscle and put on weight.
Without the correct knowledge, you are setting yourself up for disaster straight away. Take a step back from training and firstly learn how to build muscle with this ultimate beginner’s guide on how to build muscle.
The only problem is that many people simply do not know how to build muscle and are wasting valuable time and effort in the gym. Luckily for you, I have written a whole article dedicated to building muscle and will explain to you in simple terms how to build muscle through good nutrition and effective training.
Eat More Calories
The first thing you will need to know about building muscle is that you will need to eat more calories. For your body to put on weight and muscle, you will need to be eating a calorie surplus. This means you need to be eating over your body’s maintenance level of calories to put on weight.
Your body’s maintenance level of calories is the amount your body needs to maintain what it currently has and nothing more. When consuming more calories than your body needs it will use these additional calories to build muscle. However, you mustn’t overload your body with thousands of calories just because you need them to build muscle.
Eating too many calories will not make you build muscle any faster it will simply add more fat to your body. Be smart and eat around 500 calories a day over your maintenance level to put on weight and muscle. This will save you from wasting time trying to burn off the fat you gained, later on, resulting in less time dieting and more time spent building muscle. When I say eat more calories this doesn’t mean eat anything.
You should be eating clean foods with a good combination of carbs protein and fats. We will discuss this a bit more in a moment but let’s discuss probably the most important macronutrient out of the three.
Consume at least 1g of Protein per Pound of Bodyweight
When looking to build muscle protein is vital. Without it, you are unlikely to build any noticeable amount of muscle mass and your results will stall very quickly. Protein is what our bodies use to heal, repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Without sufficient amounts of protein, there is no way your body can fully repair and rebuild your muscles.
If your muscles are not fully recovered before your next workout you will not be able to lift more weight or reps. When you workout you are tearing down your muscles.
Good nutrition, rest and a sufficient amount of protein are then required to rebuild your muscles and make them that little bit stronger before heading into your next workout. So how much protein do you need to build muscle? Aim to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
This means that if you currently weigh 160 pounds consume 160 grams of protein each day. You’re probably thinking that you’re never going to be able to consume all that protein in one day but it is surprisingly easy.
You will want to be eating a complete protein source with every meal you have throughout the day whilst ensuring you are consuming at least 4 meals a day, preferably 6 or 7. Space your meals out throughout the day and consider your pre-workout meal and post-workout meal.
These will both count as a meal/snack so make the rest up consisting of a complete protein source along with some complex carbs and healthy fats if possible. If you’re looking for the best protein foods that will help you pack on the muscle be sure to check out my article on the best protein foods to build muscle.
Consume Clean Healthy Foods
Building muscle has a lot to do with nutrition and a healthy diet so you will want to be eating clean healthy foods in your diet. Foods high in protein will need to be your main focus point so ensure your diet includes plenty of chicken, turkey, lean beef/steak, tuna, fish, low-fat cottage cheese, milk, and whey protein.
These are all great sources of protein and will go a long way towards meeting your daily protein requirements. Carbohydrates and healthy fats will also be needed in your diet to make up the additional calories and to provide your body with valuable nutrients and energy. Good types of carbs to include in your diet would be vegetables, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, brown/wholemeal bread, oats, and jacket potatoes.
Healthy fats can be consumed sparingly as they are a lot higher in calories than your normal foods so small handfuls of mixed nuts and a teaspoon or two of virgin olive oil over your salads or meals will be sufficient. Peanut butter is also a great source of healthy fats and has a good amount of protein in it as well.
Fish is another food that is loaded with healthy fats such as omega 3 and is extremely low in calories when eaten without any batter or bread crumbs on. You should be aiming for the majority of your calories to be coming from carbs, protein, and fats in that order. This makes for a well-balanced diet and should provide your body with the key nutrients it needs throughout the day to build muscle and stay healthy.
Construct a Weight Training Diet
Now you have an idea of what you need to be eating to build muscle you need to construct a weight training diet that you are going to stick to. Sit down with a pen and paper and write down the times of the day you plan on consuming your meals. Next to the times note down what meals you are going to eat and try and keep a rough estimate of the number of calories each meal has along with how much protein you will be getting.
Remember to try and plan your meals so you are getting a combination of protein, carbs, and fats in each. This is not vital but will help. You will also need to ensure your weight training diet provides you with at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and is around 500 calories over your maintenance level.
You may also need to take into consideration how you are going to prepare your food. If you’re at work most of the day then you are going to need to come up with a plan as to how you are going to consume your meals and get in your daily amount of protein.
Your best bet is probably to cook some of your meals the night before such as chicken, pasta e.t.c. You can then store these in plastic containers or lunch boxes to bring in to work the following day.
Preparation is important and if you don’t plan your routine properly the chances are you won’t be successful at building muscle and getting into shape. Protein shakes can be an extremely useful addition to your weight training routine and diet.
They can be mixed with water or milk and be ready to consume within seconds. Try placing a scoop or two in a bottle and add water to it whilst at work. Give it a good shake and you have at least 20 grams of protein for you right there. Consumed within seconds protein shakes are a great way to get your protein fix when out and about.
Once you have trial-tested your plan for a week or so you will get used to it and it will no longer be a problem, it will become routine. So cook your pasta and chicken the day before work, prepare your protein shake, make a few tuna rolls/sandwiches to help supplement your protein intake between meals while at work and you won’t regret it!
Design Yourself a Good Workout Routine
Good nutrition and a healthy diet is one part of the journey to building muscle, the next part is to workout. You will need to get yourself on an effective workout routine that will enable you to build muscle.
My advice is to follow either Stronglifts 5×5 Workout Routine or Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Routine. These are both great programs for beginners and will make you stronger and more muscular. Be sure to read through each routine and how to properly perform each one.
Once you feel you have achieved all you can out of each of these workouts and no longer regard yourself as a beginner you may then design your own workout split. A workout split is one where you dedicate specific days to working out a particular set of muscle groups. An example split may look something like the following:
– Monday – Chest/Triceps
– Wednesday – Back/Biceps
– Friday – Shoulders/Legs
A workout split can consist of 3,4 or 5 workout days. The choice is yours. Make sure you leave enough rest time between muscle groups and get enough sleep each night to fully recover from your workouts.
If you decide to do a 5-day split do not perform your chest workout on a Monday immediately followed by your tricep workout on a Tuesday. This is common sense as chest exercises such as the bench press will work your triceps pretty hard so they will need adequate recovery time before you hit them again.
If you’re looking to design your own workout but are not sure which exercises to perform for each muscle group be sure to check out our page of Weight Training Exercises.
Use Free Weights
Free weights are best for building muscle. Don’t be fooled by all the machines in the gym that claim to build you more muscle. Machines will balance the weight for you and force you to lift the weight in a fixed unnatural movement.
Dumbbells and barbells, on the other hand, will force your body to stabilize the weight when moving it and allow you to move the weight in a more natural movement. This helps build more muscle and will help you become a lot stronger.
Unfortunately, strength gains made on a machine such as The Smith Machine (used for benching) will not replicate the weight you can lift using free weights. A 200-pound bench press on the smith machine will not mean you can perform a normal 200-pound bench press using a barbell. Stick to free weights and leave the machines alone.
Perform Compound Exercises
There are two main exercises you can perform to build muscle. These are known as compound exercises or isolation exercises. Compound exercises are exercises that work for several muscle groups at once. Isolation exercises on the other hand mainly focus on working for just one muscle group.
When you’re just starting out you should focus on performing compound exercises with none or very little isolation exercises. The reason behind this is that you want to become stronger and bigger when you first start out and for that to happen you will need to build base strength and muscle.
Stronglifts 5×5 and Rippetoe’s Starting Strength will do exactly that as both incorporate several compound lifts into their routines. The big three compound exercises are usually referred to as the bench press, deadlifts, and squats.
Barbell rows, the overhead press, and chin-ups may also be associated with this list. When you get stronger on the compound lifts a number of your other lifts will go up as well so focus more on the compound lifts than isolation lifts. Once you build up a sufficient amount of strength and muscle on the compound lifts you can then incorporate a few more isolation exercises into your routines such as bicep curls.
Train all Muscle Groups
For overall development, you should train every muscle group. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you’re following Stronglifts 5×5 or Rippetoe’s starting strength. The only noticeable exclusion maybe abs. What I’m trying to say is that if you’re using a workout split don’t neglect a major muscle group such as your legs or your back.
Legs are the main culprit as they are one of the toughest workouts you can have. A heavy set of squats can be extremely taxing on the body and are a lot tougher than performing a few sets of bicep curls. The same goes for deadlifts. Both will make you sweat and will probably have you slightly out of breath at the end of each set but you still should not neglect your legs, back or any other major muscle group.
Always Look to Lift More Weight or Perform More Reps
The only way to build muscle and get stronger is to continually challenge yourself. Lift more weight or perform more reps than your previous workout if you can. This is what will build you more muscle and is known as progressive overload.
Change Your Workout Every Couple of Months
This one mainly refers to those who are no longer beginners and are not following Stronglifts 5×5 or Rippetoe’s starting strength. There will come a time when your current routine no longer produces the results it once did and this is the time to change it.
When you notice you are not making any progress for a week or two on your lifts you should try and switch things up. You can either change the exercises you perform, change the order in which you perform your exercises, increase/decrease rest time between sets or even completely revamp your workout routine.
Just make sure you change something. Changing up your workout can boost your motivation and give your workouts a new lease of life.
Get Enough Recovery Time and Rest
Another important part of your training is to ensure you are getting enough recovery time between workouts for optimum muscle growth. You will never build muscle if you are not allowing each muscle group at least 48 hours rest before hitting them again (depending on how hard you train them). In my opinion, you only want to be training each muscle group hard once a week.
Don’t forget that certain muscle groups are often worked more than once a week without knowing it. For example, performing your standard bench press exercise during your chest workouts will also bring your triceps and shoulder muscles into the equation.
This isn’t a problem as they are not worked hard enough during the exercise to dedicate a whole week’s rest to them but be smart and give them a day or two before you perform your next tricep or shoulder workout.
If you perform your chest workout on Monday the smart thing to do would be to work out your triceps on the same day turning Monday into chest and tricep day. On the other hand, if your workout split is designed slightly differently be smart and ensure you do not work your chest on Monday and then your triceps or shoulders on Tuesday.
Wait until Wednesday at least before even touching them again, preferably Thursday. If you are not getting enough recovery time between your workouts your muscles will not have sufficient time to repair themselves and grow back stronger. This can only mean that your workouts will suffer, you will be unable to lift more weight and you will eventually stop building muscle.
Muscle is built when you are sleeping and recovering, not in the weights room. Try your best to get at least 7+ hours of sleep a night as this will help towards the recovery process.
Your body carries out many important functions when we are asleep one of which is healing, repairing and building muscle. Get enough recovery time and rest in between your workouts and you will see better results.
Keep a Workout Log to Track Progress
Tracking progress is vital. To build muscle and continually improve you will need to be tracking your progress every workout. Exercises, number of sets and number of reps performed should all be noted down somewhere so you can look back on them for your next workout.
You then know what you are looking to improve upon. You don’t want to be performing the same number of reps for a particular exercise every workout nor do you want to be lifting the same weight every workout. Always look to perform that extra rep or two and then increase the weight. This is the only sure-fire way to build muscle.
A workout journal is not only good for tracking progress but is also a great method of getting motivated. Look back at what you were lifting a few months back and compare it to what you are lifting now. There should be quite a difference and you can use this progress as motivation. Imagine how far you could get with a whole year worth of training behind you. Imagine how much better you would look and how much stronger you would be. Keep a workout journal!
If you want to put on some serious muscle you will need to be consistent with your training. Don’t skip workouts unless you have to. Stick to your diet consuming mostly clean foods as mentioned earlier and continue to get in your 1 gram of protein per pounds of body weight every day. Consistency is often the key to a lot of things and building muscle is no different.