How Much Muscle Can a Woman Gain With Strength Training?

U.S. Olympian Holley Mangold snatches 110 kilograms -- 242 pounds.
i Jamie Sabau/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

If you’ve spent a little too much time Nesting and not enough time pumping iron, you can definitely do something to tone up those formless biceps and glutes. Even without aiming to emulate Holley Mangold -- an Olympian who can clean and jerk 145 kilograms, almost 320 pounds -- you can gain muscle and become very strong indeed.


    Strength training is the best way to stimulate muscle growth, writes U.K.-based nutritionist and health writer Anita Bean in “The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition.” You’ll gain the most muscle working with heavier weights that you can only handle for six to 10 repetitions per set. How much muscle you gain as a result of strength training depends on genetic factors, such as your body type and your mix of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, as well as the rigor of your strength-training program and your diet.

Monthly Gain

    The biggest factor in muscle gain for exercisers who strength train is hormonal. Men can gain muscle faster because of the beneficial influence of anabolic hormones such as testosterone, which they have at levels 15 times higher than women. Still, even though it takes longer, women can achieve significant muscle gains. Men who perform strength training can gain 1 to 2 pounds a month. Women can gain from 0.5 to 1.5 pounds a month, because of their initial smaller body weight, smaller muscle mass and lower anabolic hormones, Bean notes.

Body Makeover

    The thing is, women increase muscle proportionately about the same as men, note the authors of “The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess.” They cite a hypothetical 200-pound man with 20 percent body fat and a 120-pound woman with 30 percent body fat, who both undertake six months of workouts in the weight room. Both will increase their muscle by about 10 percent. For the man, that’s 16 pounds of muscle in the form of rippling biceps and a bulging chest. For the women, though, she’s got 9 pounds of muscle -- but it looks completely different. Her quads don’t look much bigger, but “they look like they were carved out of stone, rather than fudge ripple ice cream,” write Lou Schuler and Cassandra Forsythe. And her waist is a half-inch smaller. She’s got a new bicep bump and toned contours all over her body.


    So depending on how assiduously you train and other factors, you can gain from 1 1/2 to as much as 2 1/2 pounds of muscle a month, Schuler and Forsythe conclude. California-based chiropractor Ric Alexander calculates in his book “Victory over Fat” that with a few years of hard training and a higher-than-average testosterone level, you can add up to 20 pounds of muscle. But that level of commitment is not necessary to lose inches, increase strength and improve your figure, which can result from just a few months of strength work and the resulting modest muscle gain.

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