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Gaining Muscle: A Guide For Women

Updated on September 26, 2012

Ladies often tend to think that working out, for them, is completely different than what they see guys at the gym doing. This really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re a lady and want to put on as much muscle as possible, then you’re in the minority and should look elsewhere for information. This article is focused toward the ladies that are not looking to get bulky, buff or even tremendously muscular. Let’s say you just want to tone up and put a little bit of lean muscle on those arms and legs, but nothing tremendous. If that’s you, then this article is what you need and my experience tells me that you are in the overwhelming majority of ladies hitting the gym (or home gym). Read on and we’ll get you where you want to be.

First of all, realize that your muscle tissue is basically the same as that of your male counterparts. It might not be oozing with testosterone, but it’s the same basic stuff. So, don’t be afraid to adopt some “male” workout techniques. I promise, if you do it right, you’ll get the results you want. Remember that there’s a lot of different ways to workout and just because you’re adopting a few new things doesn’t mean you’ll wind up huge and bristling with muscle. To get or stay lean and put on a little feminine muscle, you’ll need to eat right, first of all. Remember to eat healthy, complex carbs like whole wheat breads and pastas, sweet potatoes, whole grain oatmeal, and brown rice. Proteins should be lean (preferably grilled meats).

We’re going to focus on pretty much the basic movements of weight lifting, but with some alterations. One of the most important exercises you can do is squats. Now ladies, its important to go light on squats. If you’ve never done them before, start out with no weight, just body resistance. Then you might work your way up to a little more weight in the interest of muscle confusion, but once again not very much. For a small-framed lady, 30 pounds is sufficient, depending on your lifting and exercising experience. The proper form requires one to keep the weight back on the heels, while slowly dropping the hips. You don’t want to bend over at the waist, or extend the knees beyond your toes.

Lunges are also vital, as they work the legs and butt and recruit large muscle groups to kick up that metabolism and promote lean muscle gains, similar to the effect of squats. When you lunge, take a fairly long stride forward and drop your back knee almost to the ground. Your front knee will bend, but once again, don’t let it go past the toes. This puts strain on the knee joint and basically welcomes injury. You can avoid this by taking a longer step (taking a short stride pushes the front knee forward). It’s important to take a long stride and drop your back knee almost to the ground to avoid cheating. Cheating on form will neglect the quads, butt, and hamstrings severely. Don’t cheat, do it right!

I could talk all day about why you should not focus on bicep curls and tricep extensions to “tone your upper arms”. Spot reduction doesn’t work, period. You simply can’t isolate fat, it doesn’t work that way. If you want more information on that, visit my hub Debunking Midsection Myths. But for now, we’ll focus on what you should be doing. For upper body you can’t beat good old-fashioned push-ups. If you cannot do 3 or 4 sets of 12 “regular” push-ups, then work with the “girl” push-ups (knees on the floor) until you can perform the regulars. Do not go easy on yourself! If you can do regular push-ups (3 to 4 sets of 12), then do them! You are just holding yourself back if you’re doing girl push-ups and have the strength to do real push-ups. Use the knees-on-the-floor style if and only if you can’t perform the real style. I know a lot of ladies that frantically pump out curls in an effort to tone their arms, yet can only do 3 or 4 real push-ups. You will benefit much more from push-ups than simply trying to isolate your biceps or triceps.

Okay, so far we’ve covered squats, lunges, and push-ups. Let’s talk about a pulling exercise: the row. I recommend performing one-hand bent-over dumbbell rows to start off with. Once again, ladies, you won’t use much weight. You should be able to easily complete 8 to 10 reps, and make it to 15 or 20 with difficulty. If you can only perform 5 or 6 reps, you’re using too much weight. You want to get over top of the weight if possible and let your arm relax (not completely flaccid) with the weight hanging down. The picture to the right shows the proper form. Remember to not yank the weight up. Pull it up slowly while thinking of raising the elbow straight up. When you reach the top of the movement you should feel your lat (back muscle) tighten. Then slowly lower the weight back down, completely controlling the movement.

The variations on these exercises are innumerable; you could literally do them differently each day for a month or more. These are the basics though, and a great place to start. Doing your own research and broadening your knowledge will help you incorporate more into your exercise routine. However, these four movements will prove invaluable to any fitness program. I suggest working on these exercises until you have made considerable progress, and then looking to broaden you scope a little. I am a big fan of quality fitness programs, and suggest that anyone serious about putting on some muscle and getting or staying lean try one out. P90X is my all-around favorite; it is more helpful for packing on muscle than most programs. Stay focused, disciplined and don’t give up. You can achieve your goals, you just have to keep at it. Good luck.


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    • Bobski606 profile image


      6 years ago from U.K

      Some great advice here. I've done p90x in the past and it was awesome! I'm now working up to that program after some major health problems. Voted up for interesting info.

    • jclaffee profile imageAUTHOR

      Jesse Claffee 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Thanks Kaili! Yes, I agree. There are some very popular misconceptions when it comes to female exercese and training.

    • Kaili Bisson profile image

      Kaili Bisson 

      6 years ago from Canada

      some great info here. Too many women think they will get bulky if they do weight training...nothing healthier or better than some nice lean muscle ;-) Thank you for sharing.

    • jclaffee profile imageAUTHOR

      Jesse Claffee 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Thanks rodney80!

    • rodney80 profile image


      6 years ago

      Absolutely correct knowledge, thumbs up.

    • jclaffee profile imageAUTHOR

      Jesse Claffee 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      lindiesl- thanks so much! I hope it helps you, good luck.

    • lindiesl profile image


      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank You so much for writing this. A lot of great information, I enjoy your hubs! ;;)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      who is this hot babe ? fdkohfas;ohfdawph My computer crashed lol


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