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Many women gravitate to the cardio machines due to a fear of getting bulky if they incorporate too much weight into their workout. However, strength training is often the solution to the aesthetic look so many women chase. As a trainer, it is important to understand the benefits of muscle and how to help your female clients build lean muscle as you help them achieve their goals.
It's quite challenging for most women to get bulky from lifting, unless they make an intentional effort to do so. Building muscle along with proper nutrition helps create a strong, toned physique that is a fat-burning machine. Here are a few benefits muscle gain can offer your clients:
Muscle burns calories, even at rest. So, the more muscle gain you have, the more calories you will burn throughout the day. This equates to a faster metabolism which can help burn fat and speeds up weight loss. Or, it can allow an individual to consume more calories.
Proper muscle building, along with good nutrition, can help shape the body. Rounder glutes, broader shoulders, and more defined abdominal muscles are all realistic changes when you target those muscle groups and eat right.
Fat doesn't change into muscle and muscle doesn't turn into fat. But, if your client starts gaining muscle and losing body fat weight, using the scale as a measure of success can be misleading. Muscle is much denser than fat and takes up less space. So, although the scale may not move, body measurements will change, and clothing will fit better.
Strong, healthy bones are essential for quality of life and healthy movement. And, weight training is one of the best things a client can do to help increase bone density. Just like muscles, the extra stress (from lifting weights) placed on the bones helps them grow and strengthen.
Once your clients are ready for more strength and resistance training, here are a few tips to help them build muscle:
Muscles respond to the demands we place on them. So, if a client's goal is muscle hypertrophy (increase the size of the muscle), they need to increase the amount of stress on the muscle.
Heavy lifting creates micro-tears in the muscle which trigger the body's repair system. Cells, hormones, and nutrients are activated and sent to muscle to help repair the tears (muscle protein synthesis). Over time, this process helps create bigger, stronger muscles equipped to meet the demands consistently placed on them.
The recommended number reps for muscle growth is typically 6-12 reps and ideally 3-4 sets. So, in alignment with lifting heavy, the weight needs to be heavy enough that your client cannot complete more than 12 reps each set.
It is important to ensure your client uses proper form throughout all sets. Heavy weight isn't the only goal. If the exercise cannot be done properly with heavy weights, decrease the weight. If your client is lifting improperly, they may not be engaging the proper muscles and they are much more likely to get injured.
Learn more: How to Train for Your Body Type
For muscles to grow, they need proper nutrition. Review the following key elements to get adequate nutrition for muscle growth.
Protein is one of the most essential macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) for building muscle. Protein is made up of amino acids that help repair and build the micro tears that occur during heavy lifting. This helps rebuild the muscle bigger and stronger. For building muscle, research suggests women need 1.6-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day (1). And, more isn't necessarily better. Much more protein intake than that may not provide any value in regard to muscle growth (2). Good sources of protein include poultry, fish, eggs, hemp seed, and red meat.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, women should typically eat between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. However, the actual number of calories your client needs varies based on age, height, metabolism, weight, physical activity level, etc. A client should first determine how many calories they need daily with their current level of activity.
The question then becomes: How many additional calories do they need to build muscle?
This can be a delicate balance. Too many calories can add fat weight. Not enough calories may not be sufficient for muscle growth. Many fitness professionals suggest the magic number is somewhere between 250-500 extra calories per day as it takes somewhere around 2,500 calories to build a pound of muscle.
The body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to function properly. Removing toxins, supplying the body with oxygen, feeding the muscles, etc., are all essential for exercise. So, although there is an emphasis on protein to help build muscle, don't forget about all the other important nutrients in your diet that make the body work!
Allowing the muscles to recover is one of the most essential parts of muscle growth. During heavy lifting, the muscle fibers tear. Rest periods are when the muscles build, heal, and grow.
There are two key elements to rest in regard to supporting muscle growth:
A client can lift hard and eat well all they want. But, if they don't allow the muscles the time to recover and rebuild themselves, muscle growth will be slow or non-existent. Not only does muscle tissue need rest for building and recovery but, without it, the body may become more susceptible to injury.
Lack of sleep can hinder muscle growth. One study found a substantial difference in muscle mass when comparing subjects that slept 5.5 hours verses 8.5 hours each night (3). The amount of sleep that each individual needs can vary. However, experts typically recommend 7-9 hours of sleep each night for overall health.
It will take time for the body to grow and change. Clients shouldn't expect to see changes after one workout in the weight room. Depending on your client, it may take 1-2 months to see visible signs of muscle hypertrophy.
When it comes to staying consistent with frequency, one study found that the major muscle groups should be worked at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth (4). And, it isn't ideal to have those two days back to back. Remember, there should be rest in between. Help clients develop a regimen that puts enough stress on the muscle to create change and enough rest time to allow it to build back up. And, encourage them to stick to it.
When given the right information about exercise, diet, adequate rest, and consistency, you can help your female clients can feel confident in their efforts to build muscle. Knowledge can help them push aside the apprehension to build muscle for a fear of getting muscles that are "too big". For most women, getting bulky isn't a realistic side effect of muscle gain. However, building lean muscle will help them create the strong, healthy bodies and minds that they want.
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Leom, Peter. "Beyond the zone: Protein needs of active individuals". Journal of the American College of Nutrition. October 2000. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298966129_Beyond_the_zone_Protein_needs_of_active_individuals
Campbell, Bill, et al., "International Society of Sport Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise". Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition4. 2007. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-4-8
Dattilo M, et al., "Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis". Med Hypotheses. 2011 August. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21550729
Schoenfeld BJ, et al. "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis". Sports Med. 2016 November. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27102172