Before revealing the secrets behind how women can add just the right amount of muscle, let’s get one thing straight: strength training is not going to make you bulky, ladies!
The common myth is that lifting heavy weights is going to make a woman look hefty and, shall we say, “manly”. However, it’s physiologically impossible for a women to put on large amounts of muscle mass unless they are specifically eating and training to do so. Even then, women cannot put on the same amount of muscle as men because of a woman’s hormonal composition. “Women produce about 5 to 10 percent the amount of testosterone men do, limiting our muscle-building potential when compared to men,” Jen Sinkler, an Olympic lifting coach, tells Fitness magazine.
With all of the benefits that come with lifting weights, it is unfortunate that there is so much misinformation out there when it comes to women and building muscle. In fact, strength training has been proven to be one of the best types of exercises to blast fat, burn more calories, and help you drop a size.
New York Times best-selling author and celebrity fitness trainer Chalene Johnson even calls building muscle her secret weapon: “I know that by lifting heavy weights, I’ve been able to completely transform my body. It’s how I’ve been able to keep my body fat lower and to make working out much easier. I don’t always have to be doing cardio. I can burn more calories by putting, what I call, that secret weapon in my body, which is muscle.”
The more muscle you have, the better your body is at burning calories even when you aren’t exercising. As reported by the Mayo Clinic, “The bodies of people who are larger or have more muscle burn more calories, even at rest.” Therefore, when women can add just the right amount of muscle they have more potential to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight.
So it is understood that strength training is crucial when it comes to transforming your level of fitness and the overall look of your body. But how do women strike the perfect balance between trimming fat and adding just the right amount of muscle?
So you’ve planned your workout and are ready to hit the weight room. Then you get stuck on the question: how much weight should I be lifting in order to add just the right amount of muscle?
According to bodybuilding.com, women who want to add muscle should “Focus on putting more of your energy into lifting heavy enough weights that you create small microtears in the muscle tissue so that when given rest they will rebuild themselves back up stronger and bigger (in a process called hypertrophy).” Hypertrophy of the contractile proteins myosin and actin of the skeletal muscle increases your myogenic tone, which gives your muscles that hard, tight, and firm look.
You’ll want to train with heavy loads and low volume (sets x reps) in order to add just the right amount of muscle, but not get big. Furthermore, bodybuilding.com explains that big, compound movements, such as the deadlift and the squat are superior to machines. Why? Machines isolate the muscle groups that are being used whereas compound movements enable you to use maximal weight while simultaneously training several different muscle groups.
If you are already strength training on a regular basis and want to switch it up a bit, try adding drop sets. What’s a drop set? You start with a strength exercise using moderate or heavy weight to the point of failure (you cannot manage another rep), then you quickly decrease the weight and repeat the same exercise to failure. Chris-Tye Walker, a trainer in Barry’s Bootcamp in Los Angeles, tells Shape, “This taxes your muscle fibers more than a typical to-failure set, so your body has to work harder than usual to repair them, which is how you build muscle – and get a bigger afterburn.”
In order to add muscle while still remaining lean, women should also incorporate a cardio routine into their fitness schedule. The ideal scenario would be a combination of the two exercise methods with an emphasis on strength training.
One way to balance cardio and strength training is to add a short run or jump roping session as a warmup before lifting. If you want to separate your cardio and strength training days, bodybuilding.com recommends one to three HIIT (high intensity interval training) days per week. The intensity of HIIT workouts almost mimics the anabolic environment in your body that would ensue during a strength training session.
Combining cardio and strength training methods will help you to be better rounded and more functionally strong than either type of exercise alone.
Another myth that needs to be dispelled is that women who increase their protein intake will start to bulk up too much. Conversely, eating healthy protein can give you the momentum to push through tough workouts, build lean muscle, and help you lose weight. So, ladies, after you’ve crushed your workout in the weight room blend up a post-workout protein shake or grab a protein bar if you’re on the go.
Similarly, women can add just the right amount of muscle by adjusting their carbohydrate intake. This isn’t to say you should completely cut carbs, however. Your body needs carbohydrates; they are its primary source of fuel. The key is to eat the right kind of carbs. For example, the carbs from your favorite candy bar are not the same as the carbs from a fresh salad, even though the quantity may be the same. The right carbs can fuel your workouts and help you add just the right amount of muscle.
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