You've figured out that lifting weights is not just for the boys. Strength training is the way to look and feel like the fit female you crave to be. Men and women put on muscle in much the same way, but exactly how fast you gain muscle is a matter of genetics, body composition, body size and hormone levels. You'll have to put in the work, but with proper diet and training methods you can gain as much as one pound of muscle per week.
How Muscles Grow
Your muscles grow in response to stimulus. When you lift weights, you create micro tears in the muscle fibers. When these tears repair, the fibers grow back thicker and in greater number. This results in hypertrophy, or increase in size. To induce the breakdown that eventually results in an increase in size, lift weights that are 80 to 85 percent of your max repetition weight -- the maximum amount you can hoist one time. Train all of your major muscles with three to six sets consisting of eight to 12 repetitions with this weight to build muscle.
Out of Your Control
Certain factors outside of your control determine your rate of muscle growth. The rates at which your body produces growth hormone, insulin and testosterone affect the ability of your body to build muscle. This rate is largely determined by genetics and the fact that you're a woman – you just don’t produce as much testosterone as a man. Be happy, though -- this prevents you from getting big and bulky. Your body type also affects how fast you put on muscle. If you're a waify ectomorph or a voluptuous endomorph, you may build muscle more slowly than your naturally muscular mesomorph friends. Age also affects the rate of muscle growth. The older you are, the more slowly you will put on muscle.
Diet and Training
Consistent training at least three times per week with weights will help you maximize muscle growth. Compound exercises that move multiple joints at once, such as bench presses, squats, lunges, rows and shoulder presses, stimulate more muscle fibers than isolation exercises. When you stimulate more muscle fibers, you also stimulate a greater release of growth hormone, which promotes greater muscle gain. Eating a diet slightly higher in protein than the average diet can also help maximize muscle growth. Aim for 0.68 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily, recommends Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, of Penn State’s Center for Sports Medicine. Consume about 20 grams of this daily allotment right after your strength-training workouts. Your muscles are particularly receptive to using protein's amino acids for growth and repair right after a strength-training session.
Allowing adequate rest for your muscles is also an important part of maximizing muscle growth. Leave at least 48 hours between weight training for specific muscle groups. Drinking enough water and getting proper sleep nightly also promotes growth. Even with consistent training, it can take weeks or months for muscle growth to show up as changes in your body, even if you're gaining at the rate of one pound per week. As you become fitter and more muscular, the rate of growth slows down too -- you don't continue to put on muscle forever. At a certain point, training doesn't add muscle -- it maintains your levels and prevents the natural loss of muscle that occurs with aging. This point is different for everyone, again depending on age and genetics.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.