building muscle

What Every Woman Ought to Know About Building Muscle

Jason Maxwell is a Rocket Scientist turned Fitness Pro that has helped over 6300 people gain at least 10 lbs of muscle in the past 3 years. Here (in brevity) are 43 of the things he has learned that works best for women.


    1. It’s more difficult for women to gain muscle than men.  The average testosterone level for women is 30 to 95 ng/dl, while the average testosterone level for men is 300 to 1,200 ng/dl.  While building muscle doesn’t depend solely on testosterone level, it does play a role.  The muscle fibres on men and women are the exact same, and therefore the mechanisms in which a muscle grows are the same in men and women.
    2. You can get too bulky.  While it’s possible to get too bulky, it isn’t as common as most people think.  Based on experience, if a woman builds substantial amounts of muscle but keeps an hourglass figure, she will look lean and fit, but not bulky.  You will look bulky if your have too much bodyfat, but if you’re conscious about your diet, then this is not an issue.
    3. “Everything works for 6 weeks.” – Dan John. No matter what you try to do, if you stick to it for 6 weeks, it will work. This doesn’t mean that it is what you should be doing long term.
    4.  Mechanical tension makes a muscle grow. The harder the contraction, the more tension present in the working muscle. This leads to muscle growth.
    5.  Metabolic stress makes a muscle grow. The building up of metabolites after the “burn” in the muscle signals the body to make a muscle grow.
    6.  Muscle damage makes a muscle grow. Intentionally damaging a muscle fibre through exercise will cause the muscle to grow larger.
    7. Learn to “feel” a muscle working. If you don’t feel a muscle contracting, you are not applying optimal mechanical tension.
    8. Get a pump in the muscle. When your muscle is pumped, its cells temporarily fill with fluid. Not only does it make you feel like your skin is going to tear, it applies mechanical tension on your muscle cells, and induces metabolic stress on the muscle, leading to more growth.
    9. Higher volume training leads to muscle growth. Increasing the number of sets and reps of a certain exercise, or for a certain body part leads to more muscle growth.
    10. Low reps build muscle. Using reps between 1 and 8 can build muscle.
    11. High reps build muscle. Using reps above 12 can build muscle.
    12. Moderate reps build muscle. Using reps between 8 and 12 can build muscle.
    13. Practice makes perfect. Practice good form with lots of reps. Not only will you get stronger, using good form means less potential for injury.
    14. If it hurts, don’t do it…yet. If you are injured or an exercise hurts, there is a good chance that you are doing it wrong, or the exercise isn’t right for you (at this time). Learn to do the exercise or movement properly, and work around the injury until the movement doesn’t hurt. Find a good physiotherapist to help get you pain-free. If a muscle is burning, keep going. Muscle burn and joint pain are completely different.
    15. It is easier to build muscle if you are strong. Strength will always be your foundation when it comes to building muscle. After all, who will have bigger glutes: the woman who can squat 95lbs for 10 reps, or the woman who can squat 155 lbs for 10 reps? Your end goal should be the following (or a variation of): Bench Press bodyweight for 1 rep, Squat 135 lbs for 5 reps, Deadlift 275 lbs for 1 rep, and 3 strict bodyweight pull-ups or chin-ups. Having these strength levels are a game-changer for women when it comes to build muscle.
    16. Training frequency depends on how strong you are. If you are stronger, you can train a body part less frequently. With that being said, it seems that women can get away with training each body part more frequently than men.
    17. Use a lifting tempo. As a general trend, controlling the eccentric portion and lifting the concentric portion under 1 second seems to build more muscle. If you are stumped, resort to a lifting tempo of 3010. Use a weight that is appropriate for the tempo.
    18. Rest periods depend on your goal. If you are lifting for strength, opt in for longer rest periods. If you are training for metabolic stress (a pump), then use shorter rest periods. Everything else is in between these two.
    19. Many rep ranges can hypertrophy a muscle. The ones that seem to never fail are: 6 sets of 6 (short rest), 8 sets of 8, 10 sets of 10, and 4 sets of 8-12.
    20. Many rep ranges can build strength and mass at the same time. The ones that seem to never fail are: 5 sets of 5, 6 sets of 6 (long rest), 5/4/3/2/1 + Challenge Set, and Poliquin’s 1-6 Contrast.
    21. Intensity techniques will build muscle when used occasionally. The most frequent intensity techniques used seem to be: drop sets, rest pause, forced reps, partial reps, heavy negatives, and iso-holds. They all work; you just need to learn how to push through the pain (of a burning muscle).
    22. It is easier to build muscle when you are lean. If you are under 23% body fat (depending on your breast size as this affects body fat percentage), it seems to be easier to get a pump in the muscle, feel fresh, and ultimately build muscle. If you are over 23% body fat you should first prioritize fat loss (as a general rule).
    23. Most women will see their bodyweight increase as their waist size decreases. Based on past experience, most women who start lifting will see the scale increase as they start to build muscle.  This is because the average beginner is generally more comfortable with cardiovascular exercise, and will respond well to training to build muscle.  With that being said, there seems to be a local maxima in a woman’s weight, as her metabolism increases and she starts burning more fat, thus leading to her total bodyweight decreasing.
    24. Most women can benefit from stability work over stretching and mobility. Most women are more flexible than men.  There’s no point in doing mobility work on women if they don’t need it.  Based on what I’ve seen, most women do not need to stretch, but instead need to add stability to their bodies.

What Works Best for the Feminine Figure

    1. Focus on your glutes. When a woman increases the size of her glutes, it helps her waist appear smaller and gives more of an hourglass figure.  The hip thrust is a great exercise for achieving this (and its creator, Bret Contreras, has known this for years.)
    2. Focus on your upper back and shoulders.  Increasing the width of your upper back and shoulders will make your waist appear smaller and add to the hourglass figure.  My favourite exercises for achieving this is the Behind-the-Neck Overhead Press, and the Gironda 45-Degree Pulley Row.
    3. Focus on your upper chest (pec minor). Building the upper chest seems to give the illusion of a slightly lifted bust.
    4. Women do not need as much direct arm work as men. Women don’t want ridiculously huge arms like most men.  Instead the focus should be on the glutes, upper back, shoulders, upper chest, and more glutes.

What Works For Nutrition

      1. Digestion is the most crucial part of nutrition. If your body has trouble digesting a food, it will not be fully used for building muscle. Instead, it will be excreted as waste, and may also cause inflammation in your body. If a food makes you feel sick, bloated, gassy, or all of the above, it is best to limit its consumption.
      2. The most important meal is your Peri-Workout nutrition. Eat a balanced meal containing protein, carbs, and fat before and after your workout. During your workout, drink a shake containing a low-osmolality carbohydrate, and a fast digesting protein.
      3. “Vegetables for health, meat for strength, [carbs for muscle.]”– Paraphrasing Pavel Tsatsouline. If you follow any nutrition rule, it needs to be this one, which should be the backbone of any solid nutrition plan.
      4. Aim to gain 0.25 – 0.5lb per week. Gaining muscle should be sustainable. It takes longer to gain muscle than it does to gain fat. Small increases over short periods of time lead to large increases long term. Start off by consuming your bodyweight (lbs) x 16 in Calories. For example, if you weigh 120 lbs, you’d start off by eating approximately 120 x 16 =1920 Calories per day. If you are not gaining 0.25-0.5lb per week, then adjust accordingly.
      5. Get at least 0.8g of protein per lb of bodyweight, daily. For example, if you weigh 120 lbs, then you would need at least 96 g of protein per day.
      6. Dieting can be flexible. Using an If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach can work, but it isn’t recommended to get 100% of your calories from junk food. As a general rule, as long as at least 80% of your dietary intake contains meat, eggs, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and grains (when appropriate), the other 20% can be junk food.
      7. Creatine is your friend. No other supplement has been studied as much as creatine. Take at least 5g of creatine monohydrate daily.

What Works for Fat Loss

  1. Aim to lose 0.5 – 1% of your total body weight per week. A good starting point is consuming your bodyweight (lbs) x 14 in Calories. For example, if you weigh 120 lbs, you’d start off by eating approximately 120 x 14 = 1680 Calories per day. If you are not losing 0.5-1% of your total body weight per week, then adjust accordingly.
  2. Consume adequate protein daily. As a general rule, ingest 1-1.4g/lb of Fat Free Mass daily.  For example, if you are 120 lbs with 20% body fat, your Fat Free Mass would be 0.8 x 120 = 96 lbs. Thus, you would eat between 96 and 134g of protein per day.
  3. Consume adequate fat daily. Total fat should be between 15 and 30% of your total daily Calories.
  4. Do not skip carbohydrates. Following the advice above, the remainder of your calories should come from carbohydrates.
  5. Do not stress over meal frequency. Aim to eat between 3 and 6 meals per day, including your peri-workout nutrition. If you miss a meal, realize that it’s not the end of the world and that total daily protein, fats, carbs, and calories are more important in the big picture.

What Works for Strength

  1. Work up to your 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 RM. Lift an empty bar for 1-6 reps. Add weight and lift it again for another 1-6 reps. Continue until you can’t lift the weight for 1-6 reps. This will get you stronger.
  2. Use the “Rule of 10”. A rep scheme of 10 total reps seems to build strength. Examples of this include: 3 sets of 3, 5 sets of 2, 2 sets of 5, 6 sets of 1, and 10 sets of 1.
  3. Use a proper lifting tempo. What seems to work effectively is controlling the eccentric portion of the lift, and then exploding the concentric portion. Use a weight that is appropriate for the tempo.

How can you use this information to build muscle?

These techniques will dramatically ease the muscle building process and allow you to have complete control over how you want your body to look and feel, but you still need to know how to implement these techniques. That’s done by following the solution that’s helped over 6,300 women gain at least 10 lbs of muscle in the past 3 years.

I’ve created program specifically for women who want to build muscle, get stronger, and lose fat. The training is very easy to follow, and if you’d like more info, enter your name and email on this page here:

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