My name is Kate, I’m 24 and I work full time. Bodybuilding isn’t my job. I’m not a personal trainer and I don’t compete. The purpose of this article is to give you an insight into my experience of building muscle from a female’s perspective. I’m not sponsored by a supplement company so I won’t be trying to sell you anything, neither will I tell you what supplements you need to buy. I’m totally natural (drug free) so there’s no reason why anyone else reading this can’t get the same or better results than me, and I won’t talk about other peoples research/results. What I will do is talk you through my own experience of trying to build muscle over the last 9 months. What I won’t do is tell you EXACTLY how to do it. We’re all different and what worked for me may not work for you. There are lots of wrong ways to do things as well as a lot of right ways. Hopefully I can point out a couple of the wrongs and suggest a few of the rights.
A little bit of history about me
I’ve always been keen on keeping fit. Netball, football, athletics; the usual sports you play at school. Back then exercise wasn’t a problem; plenty of free time and plenty of energy! However, things went a bit wrong whilst I was at high school. My weight dropped and I became anorexic. I’m not going to go into that now because that’s not the reason why you’re reading this article. It does play a part in me putting on muscle so it does qualify a little mention. I joined my local gym about 4 years ago. Up until a year ago, my workouts consisted of cardio, cardio, and then I’d finish with a bit more cardio. Running, bike, cross trainer, and the occasional swim. Was I fit? Hell yeah! I could run fast over 100m, or I could run for hours, whichever took my fancy. Was I strong? Did I look athletic? No! I was running my body into the ground. I was over exercising and I was fairly skinny (8st at 5’3”). I was No longer classed as anorexic, but I still wasn’t eating enough for the amount of exercise I was doing. So why was I doing it? Because I thought it was the right thing to do. Cardio for girls, weights for guys.
The switch to weights
As well as running at the gym, I also did a weekly run outside. I was easily running 10miles at a time. I knew I could do more if I put my mind to it, so I decided to enter the London Marathon for 2011. My training was going well (I’d built up to 20miles, completing it in 3 hours). Then last August (2010) I injured my hip whilst running. It was uncomfortable to walk so running was out of the question. Initially I thought it would only stop me from running for a few weeks, but as time passed it wasn’t improving much. So, what to do? Swimming was an option but to be honest I find it really boring. My gym membership was still ongoing so I though that I might as well give the weights a go. September to the beginning of December 2010 I spent ‘messing about’ with weights. To be honest I didn’t really know what I was doing, the correct techniques I should be using, what exercises I should do etc.
Although I didn’t have a clue, I did enjoy it. During this time I was taking part in a ’10 week challenge’ on FitForum.co.uk. During those 3 months I picked up loads of information and help, and without this help and support, the rest of the story wouldn’t have happened. My weight hadn’t changed at all during the 10 weeks, but aesthetically I was starting to look like I had been lifted a few weights, whereas before, it was obvious I was a cardio junkie.
The beginning of December 2010 was the start of a whole new chapter in my life. I’d really got into bodybuilding over the last few months and in order to get the body that I had always wanted, I knew that I would have to eat right. At 8st, I only had one way to go……up! If I wanted muscle, I would have to put on weight. Never in my life had I intentionally put on weight (apart from when I was in recovery from Anorexia), but this would be a different kind of weight. This would be muscle, and you can’t put on muscle unless you’re giving your body enough energy (food), and energy of the right type and at the right time.
Having all the help I needed from Fitforum.co.uk members, including Murph, my very own mentor, I spent the next 9 months slowly putting on weight via well thought out workouts and by slowly increasing calorie intake to keep up with my gains. I never looked too far ahead, and always concentrated on every workout and gave everything 100%, 100% of the time. Nine months after I had started I was a whole one stone heavier. Heavier, but not one stone fatter. I had built up a decent amount of muscle within that time, and my strength had increased like crazy! I was now warming up with weights that were once impossible to lift. I didn’t think it would have been possible for me to put on a stone, and when I say beyond what I thought was possible, I don’t simply mean I thought putting a stone on was impossible. A couple of takeaways, chocolate, ice cream, and its not long before the scales would have started to go up. What I mean is a stone of predominantly QUALITY weight. There was definitely a decent amount of muscle gained, and yes, a bit of fat, but that was to be expected as it’s a fine line between eating enough to build muscle, but without putting on any fat.
On a more personal note, mentally I didn’t know if I would be able to cope with putting on weight due to my eating disorder. Not currently a major problem, but there’s certain aspects of the eating disorder which have stuck with me. For example I don’t drink, don’t eat takeaways and I don’t eat anything that I haven’t made myself. I think the key to this was slow and steady. My first weight target was to gain 7-10lb, and then it increased to 1 stone once I had reached my first target. Doing it this way definitely made it easier and less daunting. If my first target was 1 stone, it would have seemed a million miles away, but when I was at the 10lb gain stage, I could assess how I looked/felt and decided to carry on. I won’t lie; at the end of the 9 months, I was ready to cut down and lose a bit of the fat I had gained.
But as they say, ‘’No Pain, no Gain.’’ I knew that the weight had to go up in order to gain muscle and that the end result would be worth it.
Ok, so you want to know what my diet was. Well, it changed on a monthly basis due to the fact that a) initially I was incapable of eating much, and b) I became more comfortable with eating different types of food. At all times it included at least 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight and roughly 0.5lb of fat per pound of bodyweight. The rest of my calories came from carbs. Please don’t think you will get fat from eating fat; you won’t. You’re actually more likely to get fat from consuming too many carbs/sugars than you are from eating fat. Fats are essential to life and without them your body will suffer. The staples of my diet were oats, chicken, eggs, fish, whey protein….the usual suspects.
There’s no ‘magic pill’, just good quality food with a bit of help from supplements to fill in the gaps. I look back at my old diet now and it actually makes me laugh. It was rubbish! And I knew that back then, but I didn’t know how to change it. For me, small changes worked, for others a complete overhaul may be needed, but either way, the sooner you get your diet sorted, the quicker you will see results. Your diet is just as, if not more important, than the effort you put in at the gym.
My diet has always been clean and if you want to gain lean muscle, then diet is important. You spend roughly 4 hours (some people maybe a few hours more) in the gym a week. That’s not long enough to undo a weeks bad eating, and nor is it the reason you go to the gym. The gym isn’t primarily for burning fuel; it’s for providing the stimulus for muscle growth.
At the time of writing this article, I’m about to start my cutting phase. My aim is to lose around half a stone, but my focus will be in the mirror, not on the scales. I also hope to build up my fitness again, but nowhere near the level it used to be! I would burn away all my hard earned muscle doing so much cardio and I don’t want to do that!
Tips/advice to anyone thinking about venturing into the world of weights…especially for the ladies!
Ladies, we belong in the weights room as much as the guys do. If you want a toned/athletic physique, then you need to have the muscle mass. Cardio can keep you fit and help burn fat, but it won’t build muscle and it can even cause you to lose muscle if you do too much.
Don’t worry about looking HUGE or BULKY. It won’t happen. The main reason is testosterone. The HIGHEST level of testosterone that a woman can have is 5 times LOWER than the MINIMUM possible in a man, and 17 times LOWER than the HIGHEST possible in a man!! (Female range from 0-50ng/dl, men from 250-850ng/dl). Men are always complaining that they can’t build muscle; they wanna try being a female!
Make sure your enjoying what you’re doing. Finding motivation to go to the gym is never a problem for me. I enjoy going. It’s time to myself, doing something which is a benefit to my body and overall health and in every session there is always a mini achievement (even if it is just managing an extra rep here and there). I always give it 100% when I’m in the gym. It’s one hour, 4 times a week. That leaves 164 hours out of the gym so it isn’t really much of a sacrifice, is it? Add up how many hours of TV you watch in a week...still think you’re too busy to go to the gym?
If you’re lacking motivation/energy to get to the gym on a regular basis then you need to ask yourself why you’re going in the first place. Because you think you should? Because you’re friend goes? Just to pass the time? None of those are real reasons and it won’t be long before you start talking yourself out of going and coming up with lame excuses.
If you’re like me, then the scales are your biggest enemy. It can be scary to watch them steadily go up, and up, and up. But as long as it happens slowly (a weekly gain of 0.5lb a week is a good rate), then the weight should be due to muscle gain, and not fat.
Another problem I found was people that see me on a regular basis, but that don’t train. Most females are dieting to lose weight most of the time, so to gain weight on purpose goes against the grain. You will have negative comments, people will criticise you for your diet; the foods you eat and the frequency that you eat them. All I can suggest is that you ignore them! They don’t understand your reasoning, and you could try to explain to them the importance of regular protein intake and essential fats, and why they shouldn’t be eating their low fat food which is crammed with sugar, but chances are they won’t listen. I’m hoping that in a few months the same people will compliment me for my figure. I bet they will then ask how I did it, but again, still probably won’t listen!
A few more Tips/Advice for anyone beginning wanting to cut/bulk
The below isn’t anything new, I’m sure you will all have read it somewhere before, but there’s a few points that I would recommend everyone does…
1. Set a goal/target, whether it be weight gain/loss, fitness, strength targets, or whatever.
2. A plan to get to your target. – Plan your routines, including exercises, weights, sets, reps. Weeks and even months ahead (thanks Murph for doing that bit for me)
3. Record every session – What you did (weights, sets, reps) and even how you felt. Use a notebook or an online log (FitForum.co.uk of course).
4. Take photos. Same place, pose etc so they can be compared. You won’t notice the difference from day to day but over time you will notice the changes.
5. Regular progress checks. The best thing I ever did and what I would recommend to everyone is to calculate your 1RM’s (1 rep max – the heaviest weight/reps you can manage). I could then use them to gauge progress and believe me, there is no better feeling than being able to lift/move/push something which only a few weeks ago was impossible. Without doing these retests, how would I have known what I was capable of then and now? It should be there with the weigh in and measurements; right at the beginning before you start your plan.
6. Always give it 100%. Yes we all have good days and bad days but always do the best you can on that day, never give up. I had days which I could have skipped a few sets to make life easier, but I always did them. And finally…
7. Never lie. I mean to yourself. Tell others whatever you want if it makes you feel good but you’re only cheating yourself. This applies to everything from Diet to training. Don’t look confused if you’ve not gained/lost weight when you know that your diet wasn’t spot on for the week. If you’re over/under eating, sort it out. Regarding training, don’t put your 1rm as being 50kg when you know you only managed 45kg. These figures are there to help you plan your training over the next few weeks and if you lie from the start, you’ll either have to continue lying or appear to not progress. The same applies to your workouts, be honest, if you did 6 reps, don’t write 8 reps, or how will you see any progression? Don’t be ashamed of what you can manage now; be proud of what you achieve at the end.
Hopefully you will have learnt something from reading this article. I bet you’ve read plenty of articles telling you which diet is best and which routines are best and no doubt they have left you a little confused. I purposely haven’t included much detail about my training and diet because we’re all different and we will all respond differently to different things. My advice is to pick a routine that you like the look of, and give it a go! You’ll never know what works until you try it. If it doesn’t work, then try something else. All I will say is, girls, you can, and need to, do the same exercises/workouts as guys. Anyone who tells you any different is talking rubbish. Muscle is muscle regardless of sex, and our bodies require, and are capable of the same achievements. The only difference is in the end result, aesthetically men will be bigger, but that doesn’t mean better!