How Can Women Gain Lean Muscle Mass?


question-icon-newI’m a tiny little girl who wants to gain some healthy weight and at the same time tone and tighten my body. I only weigh 110 pounds soaking wet and I’m 5’0″. I have 3 kids and parts of my body are a little loose and flabby. Although I’m very petite, it’s like I’m holding onto a lot of body fat which I can’t stand. I would like to bulk up a little and add some lean muscle mass while toning and tightening the loose parts. Can you please point me in the right direction with some diet and exercise recommendations to help me reach my goals?

answer-icon-newFrom what you have explained, it looks like you suffer from something referred to as being “skinny fat”. This happens when your overall percentage of body mass is mostly fat versus muscle. Even though you only weigh 110 pounds, it sounds like you have some “soft” areas on your body that contain a lot of fat which results in a loose and flabby appearance. Being “skinny fat” is kind of a double whammy when it comes to fitness. Since you don’t have a large amount of lean muscle tissue, you probably have a very hard time burning a lot of calories every day so your diet really needs to be clean in order to avoid packing on even more fat. Muscle tissue is one of the most metabolically active tissues in your body and 1 pound of muscle burns approximately 6-10 calories per pound. Being able to build quality lean muscle mass should be your number one goal with your fitness program since it is truly your body’s furnace for burning calories and fat.

The best way to tone, tighten and build lean muscle is to focus on three main areas. This includes a clean diet, muscle building workouts and calorie burning cardio exercises. We will touch upon the weight training workouts first. The foundation of your workouts should include compound multi-joint movements like these:

These exercises are the main movements which work the largest muscle groups on your body and will help stimulate muscle growth, especially the squats. Try to focus on lower repetitions with a range of 8-10 reps per set (after warming up) and really push yourself to positive failure on each set. By focusing on these specific exercises, you will add quality muscle to your petite physique.

Don’t worry about bulking up too much if you add these compound exercises to your routine. Most women believe the myth that if they even look at a barbell, they will blow up and pack on 20 pounds of thick muscle mass instantly! That is a complete myth and you are not going to look like one of those massive bodybuilders. You know those women in the gym with crazy veins popping out everywhere and arms bigger than most of the guys. It’s not going to happen and the reason why is simply due to the limited amount of muscle building hormones in your body. As a woman, you have a very small amount of testosterone which is the primary hormone that builds muscle. Those huge women you see in the gym are most likely on some type of testosterone based drugs that are needed to attain those high levels of muscle mass. So, don’t worry about getting huge if you do a few sets of heavy squats or some bench press. These are some of the best exercises to include in your routine for building a firm, toned and athletic physique.

Along with your muscle building workouts, you absolutely have to place a lot of attention on your diet and cardio workouts. The old saying is, “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet” and this is so true when you want to lose body fat and tone up. You can easily consume 1,000 calories in 5 minutes by drinking your favorite large chocolate frappuccino versus slaving away to burn those same 1,000 in about 2 long and sweaty hours of cardio exercise! So, it’s paramount that you focus on eating a clean diet with nutrient dense whole foods. To learn the basics of proper nutrition along with a list of healthy foods to include in your diet, make sure to read our Nutrition 101 article and access the perfect road map for eating the right foods to help you reach your goals!

With a clean diet and a solid weight training plan, you are on your way to a leaner physique. However, the last component you really want to include that will help burn off extra calories is cardio exercise. This is what I call “fat burning insurance” and it comes in very handy when you slip up on your diet. If you get your 45-60 minutes of cardio work in each day, you will have some wiggle room if you happen to get off track with your nutrition plan. Things happen sometimes and with that little bit of “calorie insurance” that comes with cardio, you will be able to easily get past a minor dietary setback. Read our cardio guide for different exercises to include in your overall fitness plan to burn a lot of calories and melt away the fat!

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  1. I’m a 30 year old mom of 3. I’m really tiny at 4’11” and 95 pounds, but I am not toned at all and would love to be more fit. I’m very active and I workout a little but nothing seems to work so I’m asking for help.

    • Hi Sara – Make sure to add in weight training workouts at least 3 times per week and don’t be afraid to train with heavy weights. Since you’re so petite, you should see great results by implementing weight lifting sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Include compound multi-joint movements like bench press, squats and deadlifts.

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