The Ultimate Training Guide for Women

The main issue that many women have, when the question is “training”, is the fact that they are afraid of getting “Too muscular”.

This guide will enlighten you with some information as to why this is not possible for the majority of females, and encourage you to have more frequent and productive gym workouts, combined with proper nutrition, that will help you get in the shape you’ve always wanted to be in.

Why is it not possible for women to get overly muscular through weight training?

The male hormone (testosterone) is responsible for the most part, when it comes to increasing muscle mass in the human body. The testosterone levels in females, are a tiny, tiny part, compared to those in males.

Normal testosterone levels in men are considered 200-1200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl), while in females, these levels are 15-70 ng/dl. As you can see, in this simple example, the testosterone levels in males are significantly higher, compared to those in females.

Even if a man is in the lower ends of his testosterone levels (200 ng/dl), he still has twice as much testosterone, compared to a female that’s in the higher ends of her testosterone levels (70 ng/dl).

If we average those values, for both males and females, we can tell that the average T-levels for men would be 700, and 42 for women.

From this, we can conclude that males have 16 times more testosterone than females. (And it’s still hard for males to gain muscle naturally.)

This simple equation leads us to the fact that women simply don’t have the required NATURAL hormonal support, to pack on serious, rock hard muscle mass, making those worries completely unwarranted.

Why you shouldn’t focus solely on weight loss

As we mentioned, gaining muscle mass for women is definitely not an easy task.

The myth, that women who use resistance training, get big and muscular is a serious premise for females to train without weights and even use low-calorie diets that mainly consist of fruits and veggies.

Doing that, females don’t let their bodies burn more calories and boost their metabolism.

The main factors for a fast, well working metabolism are two:

  1. Intense physical training
  2. Balanced nutrition plan that fits the body’s requirements

When you don’t do intense workouts, limit your strength training and focus on gentle workouts (That do not burn as many calories) the only way to lose weight, is calorie restriction.

Something you see very often- A female, that weighs 55 kilos and is 170 cm in height, that thinks she must lose more weight to look better. According to our team from meanmuscles, that is probably one of the biggest mistakes, that can be made by a female of those metrics.

This is even a bigger mistake for women that have cosmetic problems like loose skin, stretch marks and cellulite- The additional weight loss and muscle mass sacrifice, will further complicate those problems.

The main reason, as to why we call this a “huge mistake” is- In order for the body to look tight, “curvy” and toned, you need periods, during which you gain some muscle, besides the periods of weight loss.

It’s important to be objective with yourselves, and know which should go first- Gaining muscle, or losing fat.

So, if you’re short and you have a belly, love handles and a rounded face (We’re not mocking you for that, it’s completely normal- No one’s perfect and we all start somewhere!), then gaining some muscle to achieve a more toned physique, is definitely NOT the first thing you want to do- Get down to a healthier weight, then proceed with the toning process.

Here’s a classical example that you might have seen online-

We can all agree that this woman looks better at nearly 63 kg, compared to her shape when she was 56 kg.

Almost 7 kilograms heavier and she looks better? But how?
The answer-Body composition, less fat, more muscle– Simple as that!

Remember that the musculature is not made to make your body look ugly. It’s the thing you work on, when you want to have a more feminine expression and a better-looking physique.

Fasting for a short period of time to lose some weight is not a hard task.

The real challenge comes when we want to achieve actual results and physical progress. This is only possible through consistency in our workouts. A complete, balanced nutrition plan is also required, to give your body the energy it requires to recover and get better.

Fasting for a short period of time to lose some weight is not a hard task.

The real challenge comes when we want to achieve actual results and physical progress. This is only possible through consistency in our workouts. A complete, balanced nutrition plan is also required, to give your body the energy it requires to recover and get better.

Should female gym workouts be any different, compared to the workouts that males do?

Most researches show, that males and females do not necessarily need to have a different training approach.

Of course, there are some differences, but they are only based on the priorities of the two genders.

For example- Men want bigger arms, chest, back and rounder shoulders, while women want a toned lower body- Nice thighs, hamstrings, glutes and calves.

Following that logic, a small change in the workout splits for females, would be paying more attention to those certain body parts, as well as training them more frequently- Prioritizing them, in a sense.

If you’re a female, that looks to improve her overall shape and body lines, you need to focus on gaining SOME muscle, which of course requires resistance training (best realized through weight training that gives you a challenge).

So, instead of doing eternal sets of 30 or more repetitions, like the female fitness magazines would tell you to do, you use a slightly heavier weight, that will give you a challenge in the 8-15 rep range.

Striving for strength development, as well as improving the execution of each exercise is a must.

Below is a table that you can use, when you’re having hard time deciding how many repetitions you should do.

Repetitions Results
1-5 Strength, power development
6-8 Strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth)
9-12 More hypertrophy, less strength
13-20 or more repetitions Endurance, less hypertrophy, less strength

Note: Lower body requires a significantly higher number of repetitions, due to the fact that the legs are pretty much the biggest muscle group- 8 or more repetitions.

Nutrition

We cleared out that workouts for men and women, are not all that different, besides the fact both genders have different priorities.

BUT, is it the same when it comes to nutrition and healthy eating?

Females’ metabolism is similar, even though researches show that women burn more fat than carbohydrates, compared to men.

The main thing you should keep a track of, however, is the total number of calories you take in each day.

Women require less calories than men, simply because men have more muscle mass and less fat than women (absolute values, using the total bodyweight. E.g.- 75 kg with 8% bodyfat means 6 kilos of fat, while 55 kg at 15% bodyfat is 8 kilos of fat- and that’s a completely normal bodyfat percentage for a female at that weight).

The required amounts of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) are dictated by the total number of calories and goals set in mind.

If that’s so, then why do we always see women in the gym that lift light weights or do an hour of low-intensity treadmill jog?

This is mostly because a big part of the females in the gym, are not aware of the fact they actually need SOME muscle to look toned and healthy.

The same thing goes for diets- Most of the ‘quick diets’ consist of insufficient amounts of protein, which is very important when it comes to gaining muscle mass.

Often, fats are also reduced in those diets, which leaves you at a couple of hundred calories a day, leading to a quick weight-gain after the diet (Damaged metabolism).

Basic nutrition guidelines

Control your calories

The most important factor in a diet, is the total caloric intake, versus the total caloric value used (Your total daily energy expenditure).

The value of your total caloric intake, compared to the amount used by the body to maintain its weight, will define whether you lose or gain weight. (Check out our Physiology of Weight Loss article for more information regarding this.)

Coming up with YOUR OWN needs for daily energy intake and tracking it, is important, if you want to be certain that you’re in the right direction- Don’t waste your time on things that won’t have a positive long-term effect.

Tracking your calories also allows you to easily adjust your diet, in case you’re not achieving the results you would like to, over a certain period of time.

Manipulating calories and macronutrients

Having the appropriate macronutrient ratio and tracking it, is an important factor, that is responsible for whether you will gain, lose or maintain weight.

It’s not necessary to weigh every bit of food, but if you go instinctive (just eating what your body tells you it needs), you need to have an idea of how much you should actually be eating, so you won’t go over the top with your food intake.

Hydration

Consuming enough water to keep your bodily functions properly running is extremely important. The needed amount depends on your bodyweight, sweating, climate and other factors.

Drinking enough water will grant optimal hydration levels.

A healthy amount of water for every human being would be at least 2 liters per day.

Food choice

Choosing fresh, unprocessed foods instead of packed, processed foods is a key part in your diet.

Packed foods often contain sodium, additional fats, sugars, etc.

There are many visible, positive effects, like a smaller waistline or a leaner, more toned abdomen, when you avoid processed foods, as most of these foods tend to make your body retain water.

Controlling your insulin levels

When insulin is secreted, the fat burning processes slow down, or even stop. By controlling your insulin levels, you can reduce fat gains or even make the process of weight loss faster and more efficient.

The best way to control your insulin levels is choosing the optimal carbohydrate sources- Unprocessed foods with a low glycemic index.

Such are- Rice, oats, cereals, vegetables, some fruits, etc.

Stable blood sugar levels can also have a pleasant influence upon your mood and energy levels.

However, if you mainly use fast foods, the blood sugar levels will constantly go up and down. This way, we don’t allow our organism to use its fat stores as energy, because that food gives us a short-term energy source, leading the body to a constant need for fast food.

Protein

As we said, building muscle requires an adequate amount of protein.

The recommended amount of protein per day, for people training to achieve hypertrophy, is 1.5~1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight for women.

So, if your body weight is 70 kilograms, your daily protein intake is approximately 105 to 120 grams.

Protein consists of amino acids. They are the building blocks of many tissues inside the body, including the muscle tissues.

Some amino acids are essential, which means the body cannot reproduce them, and you need to get them via outer sources (Food).

When we workout, we damage our muscle tissues, so it can recover and hyper-recover.

In order for the body to be able to recover from this damage however, it needs amino acids. In case your diet lacks protein, your body won’t be able to get enough essential amino acids and therefore, recovery (progress) is not achieved.

When you don’t give your body enough protein, it starts to break down the muscle tissues to compensate for the lack of protein.

Protein and amino acids are not only important for hypertrophy, but they also serve a couple of functions:

  • Maintain your immune system
  • Maintain healthy connective tissues, hair and nails
  • Maintain energy levels

However, getting enough protein through food requires knowledge and the appropriate budget.

Protein sources:

  • Whole eggs, egg whites
  • Chicken, turkey meat
  • Veal
  • Fish
  • Protein supplements
  • Dairy products

Fats

Essential fatty acids are vital for the body to run its functions properly.

These essential acids have a bad reputation, because of the old diets that recommended to avoid fat as much as possible.

Nevertheless, fats have their place in a healthy and balanced diet. They maintain optimal levels of different bodily processes- Endocrine balance, fat burning, etc.

Consuming fat is not equal to gaining fat.
Fat sources:

  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil, coconut oil
  • Avocado
  • Linseed

As we said, women don’t need to have a totally different approach to nutrition compared to men. The foods for both genders can be pretty much the same, however, the number of calories should be tailored to your specific characteristics like age, weight, height, activity levels, etc.

Basic training guidelines

As a female in the gym, you are probably glued to the cardio section. Even if you decide to pick a weight up, you avoid going heavy. However, as we mentioned, using weights that actually challenge you can be quite beneficial for your physical looks and performance.

Of course, machines are good for beginners, and can grant enough stimulation for hypertrophy, but nothing beats exercises that require the use of free weights (barbells, dumbbells, kettle-bells).

Below are some basic, compound movements that are done, using free weights- They activate a big part of your musculature, burning a higher number of calories.

Barbell squat

This is one of the most effective exercises for the thighs, that also partially involves your hamstrings and glutes.

Deadlifts

This is an exercise that involves nearly every muscle group in the body. The main muscle groups trained during this exercise are the back, hamstrings, trapezius muscles and abdominals. It’s considered to be one of the fundamentals, when it comes to building a balanced physique.

Lunges

A great exercise that targets the thighs, hamstrings and glutes. This exercise will help you achieve those so-desired curves.

Romanian dead-lift

Unlike the conventional deadlift, which is mainly used for back development, the straight legged deadlift targets the hamstrings and glutes. A perfect building exercise for that group of muscles.

Flat/incline bench press

An exercise that will tone the muscles around your collar bone. This exercise also involves the front part of the shoulders, as well as the triceps, as secondary muscles.

Shoulder presses

This exercise, done with a dumbbell or a barbell is a perfect building exercise for the deltoid muscles, targeting mainly the front deltoid head. Secondary muscles involved- Triceps, trapezius.

If you’re a beginner, you should MASTER these exercises, as they are your most basic ones.

Check out our Upper and lower body workouts article, for full beginners/intermediate workouts, to get an idea of what your workout should look like.

Generic training advices

Proper exercise execution

The proper execution of each exercise is crucial. Use a weight big enough to challenge you, but not too big to restrict you from keeping a full range of motion. Big weights are a premise to injury.

An example of a proper squat would be described as: Puffed chest, heels at shoulder width, keeping your head up, not bouncing at the bottom.

Warm up

A mandatory part before every workout. The warm up usually consists of rotations, stretching, light cardio (Light jog, rope jumping), as well as 1-2 warm up sets with a light weight for the first 1-2 basic exercises.

Example: If we start our leg workout with the exercise “Barbell squat”, the first 1-2 sets would be done with body weight and an empty bar, followed by 3-4 working sets with a significantly higher weight.

Rest time between sets

Strongly individual. Recommended time is between 60 and 100 seconds. Rests of 4 or more minutes can ruin your workout and make it pointless.

An exception to the rule is rest time between extremely heavy sets on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench presses.

In between warm up or weightless sets, like exercises for your abdominals or lower back, ~60 second rests would be appropriate.

Missed workouts

Track your workout split and don’t miss a day!

.. But if you miss a day, make sure to hit that same muscle group you were supposed to train, and not the one you like most- That’s a premise to a disproportionate physique.

Expose your weakness

Females and males have specific “problematic zones” in the body, where the concentration of fat is the highest.

Usually, those are the spots that are last influenced, during a fat loss phase.

For women, those parts are mainly the thighs, glutes, love handles and the triceps.

From this, we can tell how important nutrition actually is.

If you don’t maintain a healthy diet, you will mostly gain weight, and when you decide to get back on track, you’ll have an issue with the already gained weight.

Cardio

Appropriate cardio workouts, that are not excessive would be a perfect addition to strength training, to improve overall performance and endurance.

The type of cardio workout depends on the goals you have in mind, as well as personal preferences.

Some options:

High intensity interval training (HIIT)

This type of cardio training is most effective when the goal is fat loss.

The goal is completing intervals, during which the maximum intensity of the movement is reached, for a certain period of time, followed by an active or full rest.

An example: Running on a treadmill with a speed of 14 for 30 seconds, followed by 30-45 seconds of walking. After that, the intervals are repeated.

Low intensity cardio

This is the most popular type of cardio training for most women, even though it’s not the most effective fat burning method. However, it can find its place in your workout, combined with strength training, if your goal is maintaining the muscle mass.

This type of cardio can have bigger benefits if it’s done right after the strength workout, or in the morning on an empty stomach.

If you don’t like cardio, and you wouldn’t want to spend time on the cardio machines, there’s still an option for you to burn some additional calories: Lower your rest times between sets.

If your usual rest is 90 seconds, reduce it down to 40-50 seconds and use a lower weight. The shorter rest times will increase the heart rate and help the body burn more energy.

Another option is doing a circuit of exercises, for example: 1 chest exercise, followed by a back exercise, followed by a thigh exercise, followed by a hamstring exercise, done with small weights and no rest in between the exercises. When one of the circuits is completed, you take up to 2 minutes of rest and go for another circuit.

Summary

  • Females won’t get huge, striated muscles if they lift some weights. However, you can lose excess fat and shape up the body in a more feminine way.
  • Females don’t need a different diet approach. All they have to do is calculate the number of calories they need, according to the individual characteristics. The only difference in diet approach can be the slight change in macronutrient ratio, compared to males.
  • The main thing when it comes to nutrition is caloric intake VS. Caloric output of the body. Tracking macronutrients can be a big plus.
  • Basic exercises using free weights have a better effect on toning and fat burning, compared to machines and isolated movements
  • Cardio workouts, combined with strength workouts can lead to better results.
  • Last but not least- Consistency is key!

Now that you are equipped with this powerful information, go and apply it in the gym, kitchen and everyday life!

 

Stay fit!

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