The right training and the optimal diet
At a glance:
❖ To build muscle, women and men must in principle train in the same way: with at least 60% of the maximum force input.
❖ Building muscle and losing fat at the same time is physiologically impossible; it must therefore be implemented separately in terms of time.
❖ Women build muscle mass more slowly and less than men, so they only become “very muscular” extremely rarely.
❖ Without the right nutrition (calorie surplus and sufficient protein) and sufficient regeneration, no significant muscle building will take place despite strength training.
Strength training with the goal of building muscle is nowadays also very popular among women. With good reason: It not only serves fitness and health, it also makes you more attractive and improves your body image! Learn the most important facts about “muscle building for women”.
What muscle building training can do for you
Women can build muscle and lose weight through strength training
For a long time, women and muscles were not really associated – apart from top female athletes. But that has thoroughly changed: Many women now know that strength training won’t turn them into “muscle mountains” without feminine curves, because women simply lack the genetic predisposition for that. If you don’t believe it, you only have to look at stars like Beyoncé, Scarlett Johansson or Jessica Biel: They all do intensive strength training and look feminine, fit and sexy as a result.
Due to a lot of sitting in everyday life, we put a very uneven load on our bodies. Especially the back (the calves, the muscles at the back of the thigh, the buttocks and the back) is challenged far too little by the modern lifestyle. The result of this one-sided weakening is, for example, muscular imbalances, which in turn lead to complaints such as tension, back pain or headaches. Certain parts of the body are therefore too weak and need more strength to restore balance.
But also overall our strength is generally not very good anymore. After all, most of us do not work physically – and certainly not hard. We should compensate for this, because we can make good use of more muscle. Just think about everyday life: lugging the water box into the apartment, helping with the move, carrying the bike up to the train platform – you don’t have to work as a mover to benefit from more strength.
If you’re now thinking, “Pah, I can carry that water crate up every flight of stairs without training!”, then all the better: with a little training, you may soon be able to carry two crates. Why is that desirable? Because sooner or later age will make itself felt and then your strength will inevitably go downhill. The higher your starting level, the better it is for you. In addition, strong muscles generally ensure that your ligaments, cartilage and joints are subjected to much less stress.
More performance in sports
It is now widely accepted that increasing strength or building muscle has a positive effect on performance in any sport, be it running, golf, swimming, handball, sailing or horse riding. So if you are ambitious and passionate about a sport, you should definitely do some accompanying strength training. Our tip: If you also want to stimulate your metabolism, use weights during training.
By the way, more muscle not only increases your performance level because it makes you stronger, faster and more enduring, it also protects you from injuries because your joints are better stabilized and your bones are strengthened. By the way, during strength training itself, the risk of injury is very low.
A better body feeling
Strength training makes you feel sexy because it improves your posture and gives you a well-defined body. The extra muscles can also tighten your skin in some places, because the muscles press against the skin from the inside, increasing its tension.
Muscles in women: differences from men
There are some anatomical differences between men and women that affect strength and potential muscle development. For example, although both sexes have the same muscle fiber type distribution (ratio of type-I, the slow fibers, and type-II, the fast fibers), women have fewer muscle fibers overall, which are also smaller than those of men. For example, a Caucasian woman between the ages of 31 and 35 has an average muscle mass of 34 kg, while a Caucasian man in the same age group has 41 kg.
In addition, in three out of four untrained women, the slow type I fibers are larger in cross-section than the fast type II fibers, although the latter have the greater growth potential. Since type II fibers are trained by strength and fast-twitch efforts, it may be that this phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that women use less strength and fast-twitch than men in sports and everyday life.
Women’s weakness: the upper body
What is certain is that a strength training program for women should aim to stimulate just the Type II fibers. This means that the result of strength and muscle building for women depends even more than for men on whether (very) heavy weights are used for training. This is because in order to stimulate type II fibers to grow, one must train at least in the so-called “hypertrophy range” with eight to twelve maximum possible repetitions.
Advanced female athletes should even repeatedly go up to the maximum strength range, where only one to five (explosively executed) repetitions can be performed with one weight. In addition, maximum explosive movements should be integrated into the plan without or with little additional weight in order to additionally train the quick strength. Here, for example, squat-stretch jumps or push-ups with push-offs are suitable.
The smaller number of muscle fibers compared to men, as well as their lower average, are reflected in a 40% lower total body strength, with women primarily lacking strength in the upper body: While women’s lower bodies (legs and buttocks) can generate 70 to 75% of the strength of male lower bodies, the torso and arms only manage 25 to 55%. It is therefore immensely important for athletic performance and everyday resilience that women do not just focus on their natural strengths in strength training. Instead, training should also and especially strengthen the upper body.
Different hormonal milieu
Even women with comparatively high concentrations of androgens, the “male” sex hormones that include testosterone, only get 1/10 to 1/20 the amount in the male body. The greater amount of androgens ensures, among other things, that men can build more muscle in absolute terms and form less body fat. Thus, men have about 8 to 15 kg of body fat and women 10 to 20 kg. Probably the so-called “Human Growth Hormone” (HGH), which is present in the female body in higher concentrations than in the male and which also ensures the building of tissue, compensates for the lower testosterone level.
Tips for muscle building training for women
For your maximum fast muscle gain, here are the most important tips for your training plan in brief. Stick to the values as closely as possible, because they are the standard parameters for an effective muscle building training plan.
Strength training builds muscle for women
First, on the question of how often you should train as a woman: Each muscle should be challenged two to three times a week. Between two workouts for a muscle should be at least 48 hours break. It is therefore a good idea to train on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for example. If you don’t want to train at least four times a week, you should choose a full-body workout, since a split workout in this case provides too little stimulus for optimal muscle growth. With four workouts, on the other hand, you could train your upper body twice a week and your lower body twice a week, for example, so that all the major muscle groups of your body are intensively stimulated twice a week.
The strength training itself should take no more than 45 to 60 minutes. Add to that five to ten minutes of warm-up. This should consist of a short round of cardio training to raise your heart rate a little. After that, you should continue to warm up with the exercises themselves by first completing a few sets with significantly less weight than the so-called “working weight.”
Stretching, i.e. static stretching, does not belong in the warm-up or cool-down program of strength training: it robs you of strength before the workout, and after the workout it further damages the muscle tissue, in which small tears have already developed, which can prolong the recovery process and increase muscle soreness.
If possible, you should not do cardio training on the same day as strength training, because if you do it before strength training, you may be wasting valuable energy, without which you won’t be able to perform at your best on the dumbbells. If your primary goal is to train your endurance, this is not a problem. If, on the other hand, your main goal is to build muscle, you should make that training a priority and always go all out.
Cardio training after strength training is therefore the better choice in case of doubt, but it also has a disadvantage: Your muscles are exhausted from the training and should now be supplied as quickly as possible with the substances they need to regenerate and grow (especially water, carbohydrates and protein). If you climb the ergometer or cross trainer instead, you will do the opposite by depleting your body’s energy reserves. If you do this, you must take this into account in the first meal after the workout by making it very generous.
Design of the workout
Classically, for muscle building you choose the following parameters:
- Sets per exercise: 3
- Repetitions per set: 8 – 12
- rest between sets: 1,5 – 3 minutes
- speed of execution: continuous-generous (4 – 5 seconds for one complete repetition)
Breathing: inhale in the eccentric (yielding) phase, exhale in the concentric (overcoming) phase. In basic exercises, however, in most cases the so-called “press breathing” is used, which must be learned.
For a total body workout, choose exercises that work all major muscle groups. If you are unsure which exercise works what, consult a trainer. Try to include as many “basic” exercises in your plan as possible, such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups or shoulder presses, because these work many muscles at once and are the most functional. However, they are very demanding.
If you don’t have the opportunity to be taught these exercises by a professional, the second best choice is to rely on training equipment that more or less exactly replicates the basic exercises (leg press, chest press, shoulder press, lat pull). If, as in the case of deadlifts, there is no single machine, you will have to make up appropriate “isolation exercises”, that is, exercises that train only one or two muscles.
You should hold back on the number of exercises not only because of the limited training time, but also because with the basic exercises (on machines) you already have the best variations on board. They also allow you to do without a separate arm workout, because the arms are already intensively involved. If you perform the basic exercises freely, you can also save on abdominal training, because the torso always remains under tension and is thus already optimally strengthened.