Over the past decade, women have heard a convoluted message about weight training: lift lighter weights with higher repetitions for a lean physique. Although adherence to this plan yields muscular endurance, it does not increase muscle tissue to produce a lean, sculpted physique. In the gym, women -- like their male counterparts -- require a rigorous resistance program to gain lean muscle.
Lift heavy weights with fewer repetitions. For maximum muscle gain -- also known as hypertrophy -- choose heavy weights that allow you to complete no more than 12 reps. If a dumbbell has pink neoprene on it, it’s probably too light.
Focus on proper form and lifting slowly. The National Academy of Sports Medicine, an organization that trains personal trainers, recommends beginning with a tempo of 4-1-1 for eccentric, isometric and concentric movements, respectively. For example, when performing a squat, lower for four counts, pause at the bottom for one count, then rise for one count.
Vary your routine. In the interest of efficiency, your body will adapt to resistance training quickly, yielding less muscular gain. To combat this effect, change your strength training routine weekly with different exercises and different acute variables, such as tempo, weight and repetitions.
Drink nonfat milk immediately following your resistance training workouts. In a study published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” in 2010, researchers from McMaster University in Canada concluded that women who consumed fat-free milk following resistance training workouts experienced greater hypertrophy, strength and fat loss than women consuming a carbohydrate beverage of equal caloric density. So skip the energy drinks and go for good old-fashioned milk.
Eat a balanced diet including complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and especially lean protein. Just like building a house, building lean muscle requires building materials in the form of food, namely protein. However, don’t skimp on carbohydrates or fat either, as the body will burn muscle tissue for energy when overall caloric intake is insufficient.
Limit alcohol intake. Drinking alcohol decreases testosterone and increases estrogen levels. The combined effect blunts muscle building for about 24 hours following consumption. If you desire a drink, limit consumption to one unit per day and religiously avoid sugary drinks, such as margaritas and other fruity cocktails.
Rest well. Muscle recovery and growth happen outside the gym as your body repairs itself. Aim for eight hours of sleep at night and wait 48 hours between training sessions for maximal lean muscle gain.
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; M. Clark, S. Lucett and R. Corn
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Weight Training Increases Fat-Free Mass and Strength in Untrained Young Women
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Body Composition and Strength Changes in Women with Milk and Resistance Exercise
- Alcohol: Sex Hormones and Adrenocortical Steroids
- Include a warm-up and cool down with all training sessions to prevent injury.
- Consider hiring a personal trainer to teach you proper form.
- Always use a spotter when performing exercises with free weights over your head or chest.
Pamela Ellgen began writing in 2000 for "The Asian Reporter" newspaper. She is an award-winning journalist and writes on religion, culture, health and fitness. Ellgen graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in writing from Washington State University and is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.