In today’s world more and more women are interested in adding more muscle to their overall physique — which I think is awesome!! For a while, there was a misconception that lifting weights would make women bulky but that can’t be further from the truth — total BS, in my opinion. If your goal is to add more muscle to your physique whether it be for the added health benefits or to enhance your curves and overall generate a better physique, here are some things to keep in mind and help you fulfill your overall athletic potential.
Implement More Reps per Set
Muscle tissue consists of three main types of muscle fibers Type I, Type IIa, and Type IIb. Type I fibers are slow-twitch fibers and respond better to conditioning and endurance workouts. Type II fibers are fast-twitch fibers and respond better to short and explosive workouts.
Now, studies have proven that when a woman starts incorporating strength training, type I fibers become proportionally larger. On the other hand, men will have larger type II muscle fibers than women. This is the reason why men are usually stronger and why women are more fatigue-resistant and can tolerate more reps at a given intensity.
So how would you implement this in your training?
For optimal muscle growth, you will need to train your type I fibers more often than your type II fibers. This can simply be done by performing more reps per set.
Turn up the Volume
Larger type I muscle fibers not only allows women to perform more reps per set it also provides women the ability to handle more volume.
To make better sense of this lets briefly discuss how women actually build muscle. For men, more testosterone equals more muscle mass but women, in general, have 15 times less testosterone. So what does this mean? Do women build 15 times less muscle?
Not exactly, in fact, testosterone plays a different role in men than it does for women. Muscle development in women is much more dependent in other hormones like the IGF-1 and the growth hormone. These growth hormones work together with sex hormone — estrogen. In today’s society estrogen seems to have a negative effect on society but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Not only is estrogen crucial for health it provides some amazing health benefits— (I won’t go into too much detail about this topic, this calls for another article). In fact, estrogen is an anti-catabolic hormone, which prevents muscle loss and aids in muscle repair and prevents muscle damage during an exercise. This is why women can train at a higher volume without becoming overtrained. A recent study found that women initially respond better to time under tension and can tolerate training stress better than men.
Ladies, use this to your advantage. Below are some examples of how to increase training volume:
- Increase your weight at the same rep and set scheme you did during your last workout
- Lift the same weight but for more reps and sets than you did the last workout
- Perform more sets per workout
Don’t be too Explosive
While women are more fatigue-resistance than men and have great endurance when it comes to the maximum work capacity a women’s ability to outperform disappears. A women’s nervous system is one of the reasons for a women’s lack of efficiency during high intensities.
To be more specific the motor cortex that is located in the brain and controls movement is larger and tends to be more efficient in men than in women. However, this is not something that deems women to not become successful during high-intensity workouts, in fact, with the help of some serious training, the difference becomes minimal between both genders.
The issue with explosive workouts in women is the lack of recovery. Studies show that in general, a woman’s body will have a harder time adapting to explosive exercises, like sprinting. Not only that but after a high-intensity workout woman will produce less muscle protein than men.
Incorporate more Steady State Cardio & Less HIIT
For the reasons mentioned above women will have a harder time adapting to high-intensity workouts. For this reason, women should limit the amount of HIIT sessions per week as you will need more time to allow your body the adequate amount of time for recovery.
However, this does not state that women should completely avoid it, instead just LIMIT. I know a lot of women enjoy HIIT for several reasons, and I myself also love it but it can be harsh on the body when done too often. The key here is to make sure you are not OVER doing it, instead implement a mix of steady state cardio with HIIT.
Performing slow controlled movements will help women take advantage of their high endurance and ability to tolerate lengthening muscle contractions. Women, in general, can tolerate training stress much better than men can and should opt for slower training tempos rather than fast and fixed.
Feel the Burn
Women are more capable of tolerating more time under tension than men for a couple of reasons. During exercise, women can produce more blood and oxygen to flow to their muscle which causes less metabolic byproducts such as lactate to accumulate in the blood. Lactate is the byproduct that causes “the burn”, therefore having less lactate accumulation provides women the ability to function for a longer period of time under stress.
Short Resting Periods
With everything previously discussed, it might not be a big surprise that women have the tendency to recover fast after a set and don’t need as much rest as men do. This is important to note because a lot of training programs directed towards men and women will suggest the same resting period but women don’t need as much rest to complete the same relative volume.
Eat More Fat
Eating more fat will not make you fat but eating more calories will. A high-fat diet is actually better for women. Women depend more on fat as fuel and less on carbs and protein during exercise. A woman’s hormonal system is the reason for a woman less dependency on glycogen. For example, normally women have a higher body fat percentage in their body and within their muscles, so thinking about it makes more sense that a women’s body uses fat as the primary energy source and less of carbs and protein.
Time after time the positive effects of consuming fats in women have been shown. Consuming an adequate amount of fats help keep a woman’s cardiovascular and hormonal system healthy. When it comes to building muscle fats have a very positive effect on women because the more fat women eat the more anabolic hormones are produced such as estrogen and testosterone.
To help support energy levels, hormonal balance, and overall optimal health ladies make sure you’re consuming an adequate amount of healthy fats from a variety of sources in your diet. Generally, try not to let your fat consumption fall below 30 percent.
Sleep, Sleep, and More Sleep
Although, women have the advantage of recovering faster than men because don’t suffer as much from muscle damage its important to still take recovery seriously. Recovery is the period where muscle growth occurs. Sleeping enough hours is important because this is the time were growth hormones will rise the most. So making sure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep is crucial.
BONUS – Think Twice about that Contraceptive
Many contraceptives today harm a women’s strength training progression. The problem with these contraceptives is the progestin they contain because this competes with testosterone and decreases androgen activity which in turn lowers estrogen and growth hormones and instead increases cortisol levels. A recent study found that women who took oral contraceptives not only attained less muscle mass but would also need to train twice as hard to get the same results as someone who does not take a contraceptive.
So if you are serious about gaining muscle, make sure to do your research and lay out your options before making a final decision.
Overall a woman has a great ability to grow muscle. However, it is important for a woman to take advantage of her capabilities to reach full potential and take note of some factors that can hinder results in the long run.