Serious gains, right this way.
I have to admit, I crush on women with muscles. When I see a well-muscled woman, I know she’s paid her dues. After all, you don’t get Linda Hamilton arms by accident. Building size and shape takes deliberate, consistent effort over a long period time—especially for most women. (You can blame the lower levels of testosterone compared to our male counterparts.)
When I see a woman who puts everyday gym bros to shame, I also know that she doesn’t really care about social expectations. You know, those subtle and not-so-subtle messages that say women need to be small and weak in order to be attractive? I'm also so glad that in recent years, beauty standards have changed a lot and we've finally begun recognizing that a wide range of body types are attractive in their own ways. That's also thanks in part to the fact that more and more women are calling bull and showing off their muscles with pride.
Of course, building bigger muscles isn't a fitness goal for everyone. There are so many great reasons to work out, mentally and physically, and for some people, changing the size of their muscles isn't a priority. Plus, depending on genetics and hormones, putting on muscle can be harder for some people than it is for others. Your diet also has a huge influence on your body composition. But if building bigger muscles is a goal of yours, that's awesome, too, and there are some things you can do to work toward it.
Are you ready to join the Muscular Woman Club? Hell yeah, you are. Here's how to do it.
First thing's first: If you want to build muscle, you have to do some damage.
When you lift weights, you inevitably injure your muscle fibers. Once injured, the muscle will work to repair itself by sending an SOS for more cells. In response, satellite cells—key cells involved in growing and regenerating skeletal muscle cells—rush in to help, ultimately increasing the size and length of the damaged muscles. This is also known as the overload principle, which says the muscle only adapts and grows when it encounters greater stress than it’s accustomed to.
After you train, your muscles are swollen—aka, "swole"—because they continue to fire in an effort to cool the body down, Melinda Sothern, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and professor at LSU Health New Orleans, tells SELF. They’re also injured, which signals the rush of fluid to coat and soothe the muscles to keep them from getting even more damaged. Sothern explains that once your muscles repair and adapt, they get better at staying contracted longer.
Ready for your gains? It’s time to focus on training for muscle hypertrophy—the growth and increase of the size of your muscle cells. Whether you’ve been lifting weights for a while or you’re just starting, incorporating these simple hypertrophy-specific changes into your routine will make you look like the strong woman you are.
1. Switch things up.
Change is the name of the gain game. Whether you vary the number of sets and reps or add new exercise variations, you’ll stimulate more muscle fibers. “And the more muscle fibers you recruit, the better the results,” Sothern says.
When it comes to building muscle, the sweet spot is in the eight- to twelve-rep range. According to Sothern, it’s within this range that you’ll be able to hit both the fast-twitch (power and strength) and slow-twitch (endurance) muscle fibers. While the fast-twitch fibers have greater size capacity, the slow-twitch, or endurance fibers, will allow you to lift that weight repeatedly. Play within this range to hit as many muscle fibers as possible.
Another easy way to make sure you’re keeping your muscles guessing—while giving them a chance to adapt and grow—is to progressively increase your work volume over time. (This process is known as progressive overload, which is basically the same thing as the overload principle.)
There are endless ways to sneak in more volume without feeling like you live at the gym. Start by making incremental increases, like adding an extra set to bigger, compound lifts like squats, shoulder presses, and deadlifts. Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S., says she likes to incorporate changes over a two- to three-week period to get clients used to the increase before adding more.
How you incorporate volume can also be determined by your goals. For example, if sleeve-busting arms are a must-have, you could add in an entirely new exercise variation like preacher curls to your arm workout. If your shoulders are your weakness, consider adding in an entire training session dedicated to building them up.
2. Slow it down.
If you want to ramp up your muscle-building results, try slowing down the eccentric, or the lowering portion, of your lift, to increase the time your muscles are under tension—a critical component for adding size. A slow eccentric is more effective than a slow concentric (the lifting portion) because you have fewer muscle fibers available to resist that force. Sothern explains that since it takes less muscle surface area to perform an eccentric motion (because you're working with gravity), there are fewer muscle fibers available, and the fibers themselves are smaller. “Therefore, the muscle fibers get hit harder and they actually get injured faster,” Sothern explains. Once those fibers get damaged, the muscle-building response speeds up as well, meaning that so long as you’re resting and refueling afterwards, your muscles will grow even quicker.
Experiment with slowing down the eccentric of every exercise during your next workout. Aim to spend two to three seconds lowering the weight. Thomas recommends counting to five when lowering the weight, “because chances are you counting to five might actually be three [seconds].” To really maximize the burn, count to five as you lower the weight, take no pause at the bottom, and take one second to lift it back up. Then go right into the next rep without taking a pause.
3. Mind your muscle.
You can’t think your way to bigger muscles (if only...), but you can use your mind to focus your efforts for greater muscle-building success. Thinking about the muscle you’re working as you're lifting, as opposed to zoning out, can help you maintain good form, which ensures you get the full benefit of the exercise. “If you don’t isolate the muscle, you can’t push it to the level where you can get the benefits of the overload principle,” Sothern explains. And if you’re not working the muscle hard enough to cause (good) damage, what are you here for?
According to Sothern—and a few small studies done on the topic—it’s possible to train your mind to visualize the exercise technique, which then trains the brain to fire the right muscles downstream. But that takes practice; you have to visualize yourself doing that exercise over and over again.
To get you started on your journey to mindful gym sessions, Thomas recommends you close your eyes and really think about the muscles you’re contracting as you lift. So, if you’re working on biceps curls, instead of mindlessly cranking through your set, focus on the motion of flexing at the elbow and the squeezing sensation at the top. "If you give yourself even a few seconds starting a set to just try and zone into your muscle, it can often just spark that connection,” Thomas explains. "It will come a little easier every time you do it."
Source : www.self.com