From what I’ve seen, there are two camps when it comes to women and strength training: Those who don’t want to gain weight from lifting weights and those who do want to (that is, gain muscle). This article will give you the facts about achieving either goal with weightlifting.
Fat Loss and Weightlifting
Hopefully you understand that lifting weights is critical to fat loss. Even so, you might be worried you’ll actually gain weight from lifting weights. If this is you, check out these common misconceptions to find out why you don’t have to worry.
Misconception #1: Muscle “weighs more” than fat
When someone says muscle weighs more than fat they’re either misinformed or they mean that a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. That is, muscle is denser than fat and doesn’t wiggle and jiggle like fat. As a result, having more muscle and less fat helps you look lean and tight. That’s why when you build muscle your clothes fit differently.
Which leads to the next misconception.
Misconception #2: The scale is the best way to measure weight loss
The scale is the golden standard for measuring weight loss, even though it can’t measure fat vs. lean body mass (organs, blood, muscle, bones, water, etc.). So when you lose weight, you could be losing water or muscle, not fat.
I’m not one to bash the scale because I do feel it can be a powerful tool. But more accurate ways to measure progress exist for tracking both fat loss and muscle gain. These include body fat percentage, circumference measurements, pictures, and the way your clothes fit. (By the way, clothes sizes aren’t as important either, as I discuss here.)
The leaner you are, the more muscle you can see (i.e., muscle definition). And the leaner you are, the less change you’ll see on the scale (conversely, the more fat you have to lose, the more dramatic the changes on the scale). So give other measuring tools a chance for a more accurate picture.
Misconception #3: It’s easy to build muscle while dieting
If you’re in a calorie deficit (that is, trying to lose “weight”), or even if you’re eating just the right amount of calories to maintain your weight, you probably will not build any muscle. That’s because muscle building requires a calorie surplus – eating over your recommended daily calorie intake.
There are some situations in which you can lose fat and build muscle simultaneously, but for most people it’s simply not going to happen.
If you’re gaining weight or not losing weight it’s most likely not due to strength training. It’s because you’re not in the proper calorie deficit.
The truth is, gaining muscle is very, very slow. It’s also difficult to build muscle, especially for women, because we don’t have the testerosterone levels of men. In fact, fat is much easier to lose than muscle is to build.
So if you’ve hit a weight-loss plateau or are gaining weight, look at how much you’re eating and how active you are, not at how much muscle you might be building.
Muscle Gain and Weightlifting
The same principles apply to you if your goal is to add muscle mass or gain weight from lifting weights. Muscle gain is slow and requires consistency and effort; you won’t be bulking up to gladiator status just by weight training. Follow these guidelines to build some real muscle.
Eat at a Calorie Surplus
As I talked about above, you need to eat above your recommended daily calorie intake to build muscle. In fact, this can’t be emphasized enough, as hypertrophy expert Nick Tumminello says here.
How much more you should eat depends on your size, gender, and calorie needs and is beyond the scope of this article. Take it slow and add anywhere from 200 on 400 calories on training days. Consume your maintenance intake on non-training days. Monitor your weight (or use another measure) for a few weeks and adjust as needed. Some people go overboard and try to “bulk up” by eating too much. Please don’t do this.
You’ll need to couple a calorie surplus with eating the right foods and a rigorous training program as I discuss below.
Eat Enough Protein
Lift Heavy Weights
Obviously! And heavy lifting isn’t the only training component important for muscle building – you also need a progressive training program, using the right exercises and getting adequate rest. It can seem overwhelming, but I’ve written hundreds of articles on building muscle right here.
If you need help becoming a leaner, more muscular version of yourself, look into online personal training with me. I train both very experienced lifters who don’t need a lot of support and novice lifters who’ve only been training six months. My clients have good things to say!
Be sure to check out Strength Training for Beginners and All About Proper Form for more on how to lose or gain weight from lifting weights. Also sign up for my free newsletter for tips on achieving a lean, strong physique (just enter you name and email in the green box).