In part II of our series on muscle building myths and mistakes we are going to dive into how muscle is built, specifically in women, looking at nutrition and muscle physiology. Sounds exciting, RIGHT? Let’s get into it.
“WOMEN CAN’T GAIN MUSCLE LIKE MEN”
Have you ever heard that women aren’t genetically designed to gain much muscle because of their bone structure or their physiology? Followed by, “women should do a lot of bouncy cardio like spin, zumba, or yoga..NOT lift weights.”
Part of this myth lies in hormones, in particular testosterone. The most famous muscle building hormone and a hormone that men have several times more of compared to women, however, testosterone isn’t the only muscle building hormone. Women don’t have inferior physiologies compared to men, in fact just like many other situations (I watched my wife give birth to our 3 kids..definitely superior) women are simply different. Just because women have 15-20 times less testosterone than men, they have estrogen, another great anabolic hormone. In fact women have 15-20 times more estrogen than men. Women also produce more growth hormone on a daily basis than men, which as its name implies is another great muscle building hormone.
In fact, research on elite athletes, so now genetics are similar, shows that women can build about 85% as much muscle as elite men.
Does this leave you with a question? Then why don’t you see as many ripped women as you do men? I can think of 5 guys I see at the gym on a regular basis that are jacked and I distinctly remember only once seeing a woman that is jacked. Well, science can answer that question as well. Women start out with less muscle than men and due to hormones they deposit it in a different way so having huge arms, back and chest muscles is tremendously harder for women to achieve.
In summary, it’s not that men have far superior muscle building abilities, it’s that they have a huge head start and better distribution.
“LIFTING MORE WEIGHT ISN’T THAT IMPORTANT”
There are basic principles in everything guided by science and the body is the rule without exception. Muscles respond to the demands imposed upon them, a principle called S.A.I.D.- Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands, and those demands have to include progressive overload from mechanical tension (resistance) and cause muscle damage. What does that mean, you need increasing amounts of tension applied through your muscles over time to drive muscle growth.
That is probably why I couldn’t put on any muscle until I followed a structured program with a double progression and specific deload times. Sounds complicated but it really isn’t, however, it does take work and discipline. That is where most people make the mistake of doing the same exercises, the same rep schemes, and basically the same (or even less) weight week after week. If you do that, your body gets comfortable and doesn't need to adapt, a.k.a. build muscle.
Let’s give you some actionable steps to actually accomplish progressive overload:
Follow a proven progression model. I like a double progression with static reps in reserve.
Track your workouts. If you don’t do this you won’t know if you are getting stronger and creating progressive overload.
Make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs, working hard in the gym, and earning your rest days/deload weeks.
I know those are broad strokes but in future articles I will break each one of them down and give you a complete plan of how to execute them correctly. This is what I do with all my individual clients and I take all the thinking out of it for them. We dial in the nutrition, build the habit of working out, and then systematically, progressively overload the muscles to build muscle as quickly as possible.
If you want guidance on how to build muscle, get signed up for our free discovery call so we can answer any questions you might have and get started that same day!
“YOU DON’T NEED TO EAT A LOT OF PROTEIN”
Every woman I meet under eats protein, especially the amount needed to build muscle. What is that number...studies show it’s at least 0.6g to 0.8g per pound of body weight per day to maximize muscle growth. I have found that number to be too low if someone is in a calorie deficit because they simply don’t have enough fuel to build muscle.
Look at it this way, a 140 pound woman needs 84 to 112g of protein per day and I can’t think of a single woman I started working with that was at this level of protein intake. If this 140 pound woman wanted to lose body fat and gain muscle, the protein number has to go up to around 1g per pound of body weight.
It’s really the missing link for the women I see at the gym regularly lifting and overloading their muscles but not seeing any improvements in their muscle size or definition. In fact, just by increasing their protein intake and sometimes their calorie intake, they saw immediate improvements in muscle tone and size.
It’s really this simple, muscle tissue is mostly protein so you need protein if you want to increase that type of tissue.
Well, we covered the physiology of building muscle in terms of what you need to do in the gym and what your body needs in the form of fuel to undergo muscle protein synthesis, so now you just have to apply these principles to your training to build the physique you want.
In the next article we will finish off the top 10 worst myths and mistakes of muscle building by looking at exercise selection, the necessity of exercise tools, isolation vs. compound exercises, and how cardio contributes to a great physique.
As you continue to arm yourself with the truth, spread the word to anyone else you know that could benefit from learning the science behind these myths. This is the only way we are going to change people's perception of the myths out there and fix the mistakes people are making in the gym so that everyone can live a healthy, functional life.
Move Well, Live Well