Check out the sculpted bodies of celebs on the red carpets or models in the magazine, and it seems safe to say that muscular is the new thin. By muscular, we don’t mean beefy like Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his Mr. Olympia days. In fact, you can dismiss any fears of looking “manly” muscular, as it’s nearly impossible for women to achieve that shape without the aid of extreme dieting and possibly performance-enhancing drugs–and even then it’s pretty difficult.
The kind of muscle we mean is that which defines the areas of your body to give you a more shapely figure. Strong, curvy legs and butt, triceps you can see without flexing, and shoulders that aren’t bony. A muscular body versus a thin body both are lower in fat, but the former has shape and strength, where the latter is not.
If you’re carrying around a lot of extra body fat, fat loss will be necessary whether your goal is to have a muscular physique or to just be thin. The good news is that body fat reduction can be done more efficiently when building muscle, as the more muscle you have, the more body fat that is being burned–even when you’re at rest.
On board to build a stronger body? Let’s get started!
Obvious as it may be, building strength requires strength training. If you’ve been killing it with cardio, it’s time to swap your aerobic workouts for the more anaerobic variety. Pumping iron is one way to do it, but don’t forget that your own bodyweight can act as all the resistance you may need (at least in the beginning of your training). While there are all kinds of muscle-building workout plans you can follow, here’s how to start your program:
- Start slow: Don’t go too heavy, too quick or you run the risk of injury. Also, use lighter weights when trying something new. Perfect your form before you start adding more resistance.
- Focus: When strength training multiple days per week, break up the body parts that you’re working. For example, if you’re only adding in one day of weights, go for exercises that work the full body, such as dumbbell squats where your press the weights overhead when you stand. Two days? Break it up by upper body and lower body. Three or more days? Hone in on the body parts. Do chest and shoulders one day. Legs and abs another day. And back and arms the last day. The more days you add, the more focused you can be.
- Reps: If your way of lifting weights has been to move around lightweight dumbbells (under 5lbs) for millions of reps, your routine needs a change. While you shouldn’t take on more weight than you can handle, the weight you do move should be challenging. In the first few weeks of your program, go for weights that allow you to do three sets of 10-12 reps. If you’ve completed 12 reps in your first set and feel like you could do more, the weight is too light. Go heavier and keep increasing until the 10-12 reps is intense, but not too much that your form is bad or you can’t complete at least 10. After about three to four weeks, it’s time to increase your weights and decrease your reps. The new goal will be three sets of 8-10 reps. Find the sweet spot of weight the same way you did with the 10-12 reps. After six to eight weeks, you should be seeing results in how your body looks and the weight you can lift. Switch to three sets of 6 to 8 reps, again with higher weights. Once here, your goal will be to add more weight as you progress in your program.
- Rest: One caveat to adding more strength training days is that you need time to rest. Muscles are built after stress causes micro tears in the fibers that the body then repairs for added strength. If you keep beating up these muscles, they won’t have time to grow. The good news is that if you fall in love with strength training (yes, it is possible), you don’t have cut your training short as focusing on different muscle groups will allow one area of the body to heal while you’re building up another area. Still, with that said, give yourself one or two rest days a week, as your immune system will be compromised repairing muscle, and you don’t want to end up sick. Plus, how much convincing do you really need to take a day off? Not much, we’re guessing!
Your body needs energy to do just about anything, and when it comes to lifting weights, never is that more true. Ditch the calorie-counting diets, and instead focus on taking in lots of lean protein (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, cottage cheese, etc.) and vegetables high in fiber. Protein is the main-building block of muscle, so without that, your progress might be slow going. It’s recommended that women get about 10-35 percent of daily calories from protein, which is about 46 grams of protein, according to WebMD. If you’re looking to add a lot of muscle, you’ll need to increase your protein intake, which may require the aid of protein shakes and meal replacements. However, if you start by focusing on healthy whole food with protein as a staple of each meal, you’re sure to see your muscles grow.
We want to know all about your body goals. Tell us in the comments!