Gaining muscle as a woman is NOT easy, but there are many mistakes that I commonly see women make that make it even harder.
The fact is, most women(there are exceptions, as always) need to work WAY harder than men to build muscle due to our lower testosterone. It takes years and years of concentrated focus and consistent training and eating with the sole intention of building muscle to ever achieve a muscular physique.
And remember, if your goal is to be “toned”, then your goal is to build muscle. Without muscle, you will either be skinny, fat, or skinny fat…but you will not be toned.
Here are a few reasons why you may not be gaining muscle:
1. You’re doing too much cardio(seriously, cut it back and focus on lifting).
Women often make cardio the focus of their training. They mistakenly think that they need to be dripping in sweat or keeping their heart rate elevated throughout their whole workout for it to be effective. Cardio is NOT bad, but it should be secondary to weight lifting if muscle building is the goal. I think most women would be amazed at what would happen if they cut back on the hours of running, or spin classes, or elliptical workouts they’re doing and instead put their focus and effort into lifting weights and building muscle. A few days of cardio or short HIIT workouts won’t hurt you, but excessive cardio will definitely hinder muscle building.
2. You’re not lifting heavy enough and getting STRONGER on the basic, compound lifts.
Many women just don’t train heavy enough with the right exercises to force the muscles to grow. Muscles need progressive overload, meaning as you get stronger, you must challenge them in new ways. Over time, you should be getting stronger and adding more weight to the bar, little by little. No, you may not be able to go up in weight every week, especially the more advanced you are, but if you’re getting stronger on the compound lifts over time, you’re going to be much more successful at building muscle than if all you focus on is feeling the “burn”.
3.You never train with lower reps.
Have you been training in the 12-15 rep range for as long as you can remember? That seems to be the rep range most women get “stuck” in, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a fear of getting injured with heavier weights, or it’s just what they’ve been told is the best rep range for “toning”. Regardless, by never training with heavier weights in the lower rep range, you are definitely holding yourself back from making progress. I’ve found some of my greatest muscle gains were made in the 5-8 rep range with heavy weights. Higher reps most definitely can be effective, but you should make sure to include some lower rep training into your workouts as well.
4. You don’t take rest days.
Here’s the thing: you’re not actually building muscle in the gym. Your muscles grow OUTSIDE of the gym with adequate sleep, food, rest and recovery. Taking a few days off from the gym to allow the muscles to repair themselves will NOT hinder your progress, but most likely will enhance it. I’ve found 4-5 days in the gym to be plenty for most women. Don’t fear rest days!
5. You’re not eating enough CARBS.
For so many women, it is ingrained in their minds that carbs are bad and will make them fat. Ladies, it is NOT true! Repeat after me: “Carbs are not bad. They will not make me fat.” Yes, you need to balance your caloric intake between protein, carbs, and fats, but CARBS are the muscle’s best friend! You will only be spinning your wheels if you are trying to gain muscle while only eating protein, fats and vegetables. If you want to gain muscle, start by adding in some carbs before and after a workout. Then slowly work up from there, and watch the gains commence.
6. You don’t eat before and after workouts.
If you want to build muscle, you need to fuel your body properly before and after workouts. Training fasted may be okay for low intensity exercise, or for fat loss, but it is NOT ideal for muscle building. Muscles use glucose(stored carbohydrates) as energy to contract when lifting weights. Having a carbohydrate and protein based meal will give you the energy your body needs to push harder during your workouts. Also, because weight training depletes muscle glycogen, you want to make sure that you replenish those glycogen stores after a workout with another protein and carbohydrate based meal soon after working out. Feel the muscles!
7. You’re scared of gaining body fat.
This is a big one. It’s extremely hard to build muscle while trying to stay super lean. Many women make the mistake of constantly trying to diet for fat loss but build muscle at the same time. Men may be able to get away with this, but for most women, it’s next to impossible. I know, I know, you want abs, but look-they aren’t going anywhere. Your abs will always be there to be revealed at a later time if you so choose to. The thing is, anyone can lean down. But it takes HARD WORK to build your body UP and to create a solid, muscular physique. If you want fuller glutes, rounder shoulders, and bigger biceps, you may have to sacrifice those 6 pack abs for a while.