Looking to build some lean mass and get geared up for the beach season ahead? Contrary to what many women believe, putting on muscle will only improve how you look when you head out in your swimsuit. That's right, I'm talking about gains.
Building lean mass will not only help add curves in all the right places, it will also skyrocket your metabolism so that you burn more calories every hour of the day—even when you're at rest.1 This means that even two hours after your lifting session is over—when you're slumped over on the couch and binge-watching Netflix—your body is actually burning fat. The end result: You look leaner overall.
If you're worried that lifting heavy will make you manly, feel free to put those fears to rest. Given our hormonal profile, and the fact that we produce one-tenth the amount of muscle-building testosterone of a man, getting huge by lifting weights isn't even an option for women.2 And if you're just worried about putting on mass and being greeted by a high number when you step on the scale, don't be. In fact, women who build muscle mass typically look smaller than they did before. How? Well, a pound of muscle takes up less room than fat on the body, and building that added muscle often means burning up some fat.
Now that your worries have been address and dismissed, you're ready to start on the muscle-building path. First things first—you need a good plan of attack and a great mentor to help get your started. IFBB Figure pro Jessie Hilgenberg is here to show you the way, using concepts she incorporates herself into her very own Jessie's Girls Muscle Building program, which can be found at Jessiefitness.com.
Here are her top tips along with a sample workout to try.
Put A Plan In Place
You wouldn't head out on a road trip without a map, so don't try to achieve your goals without a guide either. "You can't build your physique by mindlessly wandering around in the gym, choosing machines that are empty, or by simply showing up whenever you feel like it," Jessie explains. "You must have a schedule and plan for your workouts and make them a priority."
Check out your schedule and see if you can carve out 45-60 minutes 4-5 times a week to train. Do your best to keep this at the same time daily. Having a set schedule will help you build consistency and stick to the program!
Incorporate Progressive Overload
One important element that Jessie swears by is progressive overload. It's the foundation of her Jessie's Girls Muscle Building training program. "I like to use a progression period of 14 weeks where each week increases the demands being placed on the muscles," she explains. In order to prevent plateaus in your strength-training program, progressive overload is necessary for maximal muscle recruitment, and consequently muscle hypertrophy and strength increases.3 To achieve progressive overload, Jessie uses different techniques—increasing the overall volume with added sets and reps, adding more weight, or changing up the frequency or duration of rest periods.
Track Your Progress
"You won't know how to progress and build upon what you've already done if you can't look back at past notes and see how you're progressing," Jessie explains. She recommends charting your progress on your Bodybuilding.com tracker or using your own personal journal. Seeing what you lifted last week, last month, or even last year can be extremely helpful, especially when you feel like you're hitting a plateau. "During times you feel stuck, you can look back over your training journal for a boost in confidence and see how much strength you've gained," she adds.
Jessie also recommends taking starting and progress photos. While you might be reluctant to photograph yourself at the start, having a physical reminder of where you began can be a powerful catalyst for change. Taking photos on a biweekly basis will allow you to see changes that might be hard to spot in the mirror. "Doing this will help you see the transformations in your physique when you don't really feel like you're progressing," Jessie adds.
Vary Your Rep Scheme
Another technique Jessie employs is working her muscles across a variety of different rep schemes. Each rep range affects muscles differently and has a different result. "Set your training up so that you condition your muscles with higher rep ranges of 15-20 reps, grow your muscles with hypertrophy rep ranges of 8-12 reps, and build your strength with 3-6 rep ranges," Jessie says. Constant variety will keep your body responding and reduce your chance of hitting a plateau.
Split Your Program Up Right
When it comes to your program selection, target your body wisely. Planning your weekly split ahead of time will help insure you're training your entire body effectively. Doing this will also help to keep the overall stress load of each workout manageable, reducing your chances of overtraining. "Only train 1-2 muscle groups per workout," Jessie suggests. "Legs and back are huge, complex muscle groups that should be trained on their own days, while small groups like biceps and triceps can be combined into an arm day."
Never Neglect Rest
While getting into the gym and training hard is important, resting hard is essential too. "All of the magic and growth happens after you have broken down your muscle in the gym during your workouts," Jessie says. "Give yourself rest days and try and get as much relaxation in as possible." A well-structured workout routine should have at least two days off per week from the weights, possibly more depending on your recovery ability.
Track Your Macros
What you do in the gym is essential, but so is what you do in the kitchen. Mealtime is no time to slack; knowledge is powerful, and when it comes to carving out a killer physique, nutrition is often what separates the good from the great. If you aren't eating right, you simply won't be providing your body with the resources it needs to build new lean mass. "Track your macros," Jessie recommends. "This way, you'll know what is going on and why." If you can't use a scale, follow these simple rules: A serving of protein should be about the size of a deck of cards, a serving of fat should be about the size of a tube of lipstick, and a serving of carbs should fit in your palm.
Once you have your macros figured out, Jessie recommends you eat most of your carbohydrates before and after weight training to properly fuel your muscles during exercise and promote faster recovery. But carbs aren't the only thing you have to pay attention to. "Avoid fats before and after you lift," Jessie says." They'll slow down digestion and the delivery of the important carbs and protein to muscle cells."
Be Mindful Of Micronutrients
While macronutrients tend to get all of the attention, micronutrients are important as well. "Micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals," Jessie says. "They help your body use the nutrients from the foods you're eating." Be sure to eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of variety— especially from produce—to get these in. If you're falling short in any particular micronutrient, consider supplementation to meet your nutritional needs.
"Drink plenty of water!" Jessie exclaims. It's simple, yet often overlooked as a part of getting lean and growing muscle. "Your muscles are approximately 80 percent water, and even slight dehydration can reduce performance and recovery," Jessie adds. If you are at all dehydrated, your performance in the gym may suffer, ultimately affecting your ability to grow muscle.4
Jessie also recommends using key supplements to help get an edge with results. "Protein needs to be high, so supplementing with NLA for Her Her Whey throughout the day—or pre- and post-workout is great," she says. In addition to protein, you'll also get an added punch with glutamine, which is perfect for post-workout recovery.
Jessie recommends NLA for Her Her Aminos to help prevent your muscles from breaking down during workouts and assist with recovery once your training is done. Need a bit of energy before stepping into the gym? Try a pre-workout. Not only will you have more drive in the gym, that added power could also lead to more gains "A pre-workout product can also help not only boost energy, but also increase the intensity of your session, giving you more strength and power," she adds.
Don't Leave Home Without Your Training Journal
Always be sure you're tracking what you're doing in the gym each and every workout. "You won't be able to remember all of your weights used, numbers of sets and reps, or how long your rest periods were unless you write it down," Jessie explains. Take as much of the situation into account as possible. Record your start and stop time, to make sure you're not resting (or chatting) too often between sets; write down the time of day you're training, to make sure those early morning workouts are still effective for you; and monitor how you're feeling during your workout, so that you know whether or not you should make any changes.
Keep Your Workouts Short But Intense
"Don't think that training longer means more results," Jessie advises. Instead of spending countless hours lifting and trudging away on the treadmill, keep your workouts short and sweet. Try to keep them to under an hour, but make sure that you're putting all 60 minutes to good use. "You can get plenty done in an hour as long as the intensity is there," she adds.
Don't Try To Out-Train A Bad Diet
Some people have the notion that if they work hard enough in the gym, what they eat is irrelevant. Unfortunately, that's not the case. "Your food choices and timing are one of the most important aspects of building muscle," Jessie says. Not only do you need to get your macros right, but making smart food choices and timing your meals will help you achieve your fitness goals.4 This means sticking to whole, natural foods as often as possible and spending most of your time at the supermarket shopping the perimeter.
Your Week-Long Muscle-Building Plan
So now that you know Jessie's top tips, here's a sample week-long workout she uses in her Jessie's Girls Muscle Building program.
Note that all of the exercises this week are performed as 4 sets of 12 reps. Make sure to build in progressive overload each week, and don't forget to change up your sets and rep ranges to hit all of your muscle fibers as the weeks progress on.
Stretch and foam roll
Stretch and foam roll
- Johnstone, A. M., Murison, S. D., Duncan, J. S., Rance, K. A., & Speakman, J. R. (2005). Factors influencing variation in basal metabolic rate include fat-free mass, fat mass, age, and circulating thyroxine but not sex, circulating leptin, or triiodothyronine. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82(5), 941-948.
- Weiss, L. W., Cureton, K. J., & Thompson, F. N. (1983). Comparison of serum testosterone and androstenedione responses to weight lifting in men and women. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 50(3), 413-419.
- Kraemer, W. J., & Ratamess, N. A. (2004). Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(4), 674-688.
- Maughan, R. J. (2003). Impact of mild dehydration on wellness and on exercise performance. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57, S19-S23.
- Stark, M., Lukaszuk, J., Prawitz, A., & Salacinski, A. (2012). Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 54.