Today I want to talk about gaining muscle. Most girls want to get "tone". What does tone even mean!? Honestly. It means building muscle (lol) seriously. It's just a nice way to market building muscle because that term scares women. Well, it needs to stop scaring women!!!
I started off a very low weight and low muscle mass and to be honest, a low body fat%. But I wanted to put on size without getting "fat". So how do you do it? What do you do? How much is too much? What is just enough? These are all normal questions. And the process can be scary. But it's actually not as complicated as you may think.
First, I want to show you my "before" pictures. In BOTH of these pics I was under-eating and OVER exercising. I was UNDERWEIGHT in BOTH of these pics even though I look fluffier in the second pic here. That's because my body was holding on to everything it could to survive. I was in starvation mode.
These next pics below, progress pics - were taken last week after my 6 week progressive overload training cycle. So what did I do? Basically what I did was test my one rep max (how much I could lift for one rep of bench press and back squats - those were the two muscle groups and movements I wanted to focus on this round). Then I calculated 80% of that. That 80% was my working weight.
The program progresses like this:
Week 1: 5 sets of 3
Week 2: 5 sets of 4
Week 3: 5 sets of 5
Week 4: 5 sets of 6
Week 5: 5 sets of 7
Week 6: 5 sets of 8
*All using 80% of my 1RM
I cycled my workouts like this:
Day 1: Shoulders/Arms
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Chest/Back
Day 4: Shoulders/Arms
Day 5: Legs
Day 6: Chest/Back
As you can see, I had 2 of each of my workout splits/muscle groups per week. For Legs and Chest/Back I did 2 different styles of workouts on each of those days.
Day 2 was a more technique building and endurance training style. I did 10 sets (yes 10, FML) of 5 reps of pause reps (when you pause and sit at the bottom of the squat for a second and then press back up). I obviously used a lighter weight for this. The point of pause reps is to overcome your weakest point and that's usually the point where you get to the bottom of the movement and have a hard time pressing back up. So doing this helps increase form, strength and overall movement. Then when I completed my 10X5, I did a 5X10. This had my legs and booty on fire, but more importantly it helped my form and technique. This was my lighter leg day, but obviously higher volume.
Then Day 5 (Legs) was my working 5X3 or 5X8 depending on what week I was on, using the 80% of my 1RM. This was where I was testing and truly improving my strength.
The reason we split this up is because you don't want to do a heavy leg day twice a week (doing the 5X4 or whatever progression). I wanted to give myself time to recover and I wanted to work on pause reps and volume - that's truly where strength and magic happens for booty gainzzzzzz. My other movements included:
It was incredible how much strength increased during this period! By the last week I couldn't believe how easier the reps felt and that I was really pushing myself! THAT is how you build strength and muscle...gradually and persistently.
But what other factors play a role? How did a keep "fat" to a minimum while gaining muscle? Because when you are gaining muscle you WILL gain some fat. And you need to accept that. It's just part of the process. Why? Because you're increasing food. Yes, I am eating SO MUCH MORE than I did before, yet my physique looks leaner. HUH - weight lifting makes you bulky? Nah, it makes you BAD ASS.
Tips to Gain Muscle While Limiting Fat Gain
Increase Food Gradually
You may have heard, "eat big to get big"!! Sure, but that's an exaggeration. You simply need to eat ENOUGH. And if you aren't eating enough you need to eat more. But that doesn't mean stuffing your face with a crazy amount of food every day, it simply means MORE than what your body needs at maintenance. You cannot be in a calorie deficit. You cannot be dieting if you want to build muscle. When building muscle you should shoot for 0.25 to 0.5lb of weight gain per week (ish). Women can put on mass without gaining A LOT more weight. You should find out what your resting metabolic rate is, and then add on maybe 100-200 calories per day depending the intensity of your workouts. I simply added a 100 calorie drink of PURE CARBS. I drank it right before my workout as an effective energy boost.
If you don't know how much your body should be taking in, here is a great resource to get a general idea: https://www.iifym.com/diet-exercise-calculators/
REMEMBER! This is just a GENERALIZATION. Your body may want more or less food on each day. First and foremost, you should LISTEN to your body. You do NOT NEED to track macros but you need to make sure you're eating enough. If you have history of obsessive calorie counting, etc. then this route probably isn't for you and THAT'S OKAY. You can still make progress.
Protein, Carbs & Fats
These are macronutrients. They are where your calories come from. Each person responds differently to different ratios of macros. But when building muscle make sure you are getting an adequate amount of protein - about 1g of protein per pound of body weight. Again, this can fluctuate from person to person. But protein helps maintain muscle, so this is important.
Then we have carbs. Complex carbs will give you energy and help you build those muscles in the gym. If you feel sluggish and week, then perhaps increase the amount of carbs you eat before training. I love to eat egg white oatmeal with PB before my workouts. It gives me energy and keeps me full throughout training.
Fats are just delicious haha If I could only eat fats I would ;) Fats also provide you with energy, but they are very dense. AKA 1tbsp of peanut butter is high in calories compared to protein and carbs - so make sure you aren't eating TOO MUCH because you may be in-taking a lot more calories than you may think. But adding fats to your meals/snacks is important to keep you full and satisfied! Don't be afraid of healthy fats!
If you're serious about building muscle, then you need to train like it. Push yourself. You are stronger than you think. Aim for 4-5 sets of main, compound movements like bench, squats, deadlifts, etc. for 8 reps. The last reps should be challenging but still able to perform them. Focus on 3 main movements each workout and then add accessory work to build and truly define that muscle group. But compound movements really use your entire body - that's why some body builders never train abs and have abs - because they are ENGAGING their core when squatting, deadlifting and benching :)
To truly gain the muscle you want, doing this will boost your metabolism and you'll actually burn more energy throughout the day. That's also why you need to eat more, cause you're burning more!
The thing with cardio while "bulking" is, it depends on the person. If you are very lean and have little muscle mass to start, then cardio can be avoided if you simply want to focus on strength and muscle gain. But you can still do cardio if you want to. I did about 2 HIIT sessions a week. These were quick - no more than 20 minutes...actually more like the 15 minute range (lol). And it was just to keep my heart rate up and moving! Plus I enjoy the style of cardio I do. Again, if you're adding cardio, be smart about it. If you're not gaining strength, weight or muscle then limit your cardio. And if you're adding cardio, make sure you're eating enough to sustain all the work you are doing. Because cardio burns more, while you want to gain muscle you need to find a balance with food. Again, this will depend on how much cardio you're doing and it varies person to person. Experimentation is key.
Track Your Progress
Whether it's by measurements, the scale, progress pictures, or whatever works for you. You need to track your progress. Since I have had bad relationships with the scale, I didn't depend on it. Plus your body can change without huge increases on the scale. I only gained about 2-3 pounds in this 6 week phase. I used progress pictures and kept track of my strength in the gym to track my progress. I also notice when my muscles are increasing in size and my body is changing. I especially noticed my chest and booty growing (since those were the muscle groups I was focusing on), yet my weight didn't increase tremendously. So don't focus on the scale if you don't have to!!!!!
The most important tip I can give you is to TRUST THE PROCESS and to PUSH YOURSELF. It is the most empowering feeling to get stronger physically because you will also get stronger mentally... and not just in the gym... in LIFE!! Do not be afraid to gain weight or get fat. YOU WON'T. Okay, you may gain a little extra fat but it's fine! Your body will adjust. TRUST YOURSELF. It's all about experimentation. The number one thing I see women do wrong in the gym is not lift heavy enough. You are stronger than you think and the weight you lift depends on YOU. But if you can keep going for like 15 reps, you are going WAY TOO LIGHT. Up the weight. Challenge yourself. Who cares if you fail. I drop weight almost every workout. THAT IS WHEN THE MAGIC HAPPENS. So have fun and get out of your comfort zone. Weight lifting changed my life and I seriously believe it will change yours too!
And don't worry! A very specific weight lifting guide will be coming soon! I will have workouts planned for you to build beautiful, strong muscle!
OH and check out my "Perfectly Imperfect" tank! It was a beautiful Saturday when my boyfriend and I were on a mini roadrip and he snapped this pic for me! I love the message on the tank! You can grab one at www.fbdapparel.com and use code "xogingy" to get a discount!