No, this is not an article about body building. We here at The Pretty Guinea Pig do not encourage women to look like this:
If it’s your thing, more power to you. But that takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and time a lot of us ladies just don’t have. But there is benefit to building your lean muscle up:
- increased metabolism (especially as we age)
- increased bone strength
- reduced muscle pain
- reduced possibility of injury
- an a@# you can bounce a quarter off
Creating lean muscle won’t make you look bulky. That only happens with LOTS of working out, supplementation, dieting, and boosted testosterone for women. But it may give you some definition as long as there isn’t too much fat over the muscle. And even if you do have a soft layer disguising your 6 pack (like me!), making your muscles strong will just make your body feel better.
Creating Lean Muscle
So, how does one create lean muscle? Pretty much how you think, through strength training. Cardio might tone up some muscles, depending on the cardio you do, but you need to actually break your muscles down to build them, and this comes from lifting weights, or using your own body weight to build (think pushups or squats).
The key to really creating muscle in your body is to push your muscles to failure (that point where it’s physically impossible to do one more rep). You can lift light weights for A LOT of reps until you fail, but you’ll really see results if you push yourself to use heavier weights than you normally do. During a recent training session, the class I am in was doing concentration bicep curls at a station. There was a 20 lb. weight at the station for the guys to use. Us girls decided to give it a try. I couldn’t even get the weight up. Then a girl that normally lifts pretty light (10 lbs) decided to give it a try, and she was able to use it for the entire minute at the station! That day she definitely opened her biceps up to creating new muscle, and discovered that she’s a lot stronger than she was giving herself credit for.
If you do decide to push yourself with heavier weights, really listen to your body to determine that it’s not too much. And be sure that you know how to do the exercise properly. Bad form can cause injury in an instant, especially when heavier weight is involved. Body builders aren’t lifting in front of a mirror just for vanity’s sake.
Maintaining Lean Muscle
When you push your muscle to failure you create micro-tears in your muscle fibers. Your body then goes to work filling those tears in, thus creating new muscle. This means that prior to and after a strength training session you need to provide your body with the right nutrients to help the healing process begin. If you don’t provide your body these nutrients, your body will just use what it already has, using current muscle to provide fuel for the new muscle creation. This is fine, you’ll just maintain your current muscle mass.
But if you want to keep the muscle you have, and add a bit more for lean definition and strength, you can take advantage of the “window of opportunity” and eat fairly soon after your workout ends. Working out from home, this should be pretty easy. If you’re at the gym though, you’ll need to make sure you have a high quality protein shake, some nuts and fruit, or even a PB&J available to eat as you’re cooling down. You can also eat these foods 90 minutes or so before your workout too, so you have nutrients in your gut that your body can tap as you’re exercising.
Rest is really important for muscle growth. That’s why it’s recommended to give muscle groups at least a 48 hour break between workouts. If you work your arms one day, you can work your legs or core the next day, but you shouldn’t work your arms out 2 days in a row. This can lead to injury, and it doesn’t give your body enough time to heal. Take advantage of the fact that you need days off!
If you haven’t incorporated strength training into your normal exercise routine, I strongly encourage you to do so. You’ll reap benefits from it for years to come.