Seeking info on nutrition/exercise routine for a Woman who wants to see more definition (and has so far failed at her attempts)
October 16, 2012 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Please help a woman gain some muscle.

I apologize if this has been posed before, but I'm looking for a really targeted answer - I'm a 5'6 150 pound 37 yr old woman who is looking to shed 15 pounds of fat and add muscle and definition to my frame, core and arms. I've used free weights mostly to tone but have seen little definition. Please recommend an eating and supplement regime to see definition fast. My boyfriend can go into the gym and lift like three times and you can feel and see a change in his core - why doesn't my body respond to lifting weights as quick? He takes the supplements - Animal Pack which after reading all the warnings I"m a little nervous about taking. Are there supplements or specific exercises you recommend for a woman to lose fat/gain muscle definition? Do you have a favorite website that has helped you? I'm not just looking for weight loss, rather I am looking for tips on how to build muscle and become more lean.
posted by BlueMartini7 to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The advice is always the same, no matter who you are. To gain muscle (and maybe shed some fat):

1. Eat more lean protein.
2. Lift heavy, preferably compound lifts.
3. Get lots of rest.

Everyone will try to give you quick solutions, but this will always be true.
posted by xingcat at 12:23 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would try lifting heavier weights before I'd worry about supplements.
posted by jaguar at 12:24 PM on October 16, 2012

You are most likely not lifting heavy enough. I lift to failure--meaning as heavy as I can stand for 1 set. If I can breeze through 24 reps, I'm not lifting heavy enough. I also like compound moves--deadlifts, squats, etc.. And you need to eat enough protein to build muscle. JC Deen is pretty good for advice, as is Lyle MacDonald. I eat below 30 grams of carbs a day, and try for a 1 gram of protein per body lb.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:27 PM on October 16, 2012

Toning vs. Bulking Up: The Real Facts
posted by jaguar at 12:27 PM on October 16, 2012

Stumptuous has good advice on women and weight lifting.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:41 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

why doesn't my body respond to lifting weights as quick?

Some people are mutants. Also, testosterone.

A lot of gain in definition is just lowering your body fat so the muscle that's already there shows. So, adjusting your diet.
posted by zippy at 12:41 PM on October 16, 2012

("mutants" referring to your bf putting on muscle more easily)
posted by zippy at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2012

Yup. Eat more protein (bodyweight or bodyweight and a half in grams every day). Lift heavier things. It won't happen fast, but it will happen. The average woman can only hope to gain about 2 pounds of lean muscle per month (or something close to that). So you won't see immediate results. If you have lots of muscle already and it's under some fat, then you might have better luck having that happen quickly, but even that's dangerous and pretty difficult (like if you were doing a figure competition).

Check out: then join the Facebook page for Fierce. Fit. Fearless. Those ladies know what they are talking about.

Good luck!
posted by mrfuga0 at 12:45 PM on October 16, 2012

Best answer: Heavy barbell lifts. That's how men get strong, and it's how women get strong too. Forget about the supplements for now.

My boyfriend can go into the gym and lift like three times and you can feel and see a change in his core - why doesn't my body respond to lifting weights as quick?

Testosterone. But, assuming you don't want to go messing with your hormones, there isn't much you can do to alter the rate at which you gain muscle. You will still be able to gain strength and mass, but it will take more time and effort for you than it will for a man. If you're taking any kind of estrogen/progesterone medication like BCPs, that will slow you down more.

Supplements aren't going to help you too much compared to the value of lifting heavier and eating more protein. Provided you have no injuries or disabilities, a woman of your height and weight could eventually squat twice your body weight or deadlift over 300 pounds, without steroids or other garbage.

Find a trainer and tell them that your main goal is gaining strength. It might take a while because most trainers assume women only want to lose weight, even if they say they don't. Find a trainer who will teach you the barbell lifts, and don't let them shove you onto a Nautilus machine.

Stumptuous is probably the best female-oriented weightlifting site around, but even that is rather skimpy compared to the Women's Weightlifting (behind paywall) group on the Something Awful Forums. That is an amazingly supportive community of women of many ages, sizes and goals. Tons of beginner help, encouragement, and guidance. It's worth the $10 registration fee just for that. Without it I never would have started lifting or continued to pursue it for the last 2 years.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:46 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Skwigg is another blogger whose goals seem to coincide with yours.
posted by Egg Shen at 12:56 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just want to endorse advice around protein - 1 g per pound of current weight. Track your calories using one of the free sites like fitday or myfitnesspal (I'm sure there are others people like, those are two off the top of my head). Careful tracking of nutrition - every spoon and sip; looking at cals & macros - is very important when you're happy at your weight & the goal is 'recomposition'.

You want a slight deficit from maintenance calories, around 10-15%, for steady fat loss. 'Fast' loss is kind of unsustainable, imo, and while I'm not sure how influential rate of loss is on skin adaptation, I see no reason to push it.

Lifting: 2nd The New Rules of Lifting for Women is an oft-recommend intro book. Starting Strength is a classic.

This well-known article by Alwyn Cosgrove summarizes how someone after fat loss should prioritize activity. (But, as you're over 35, I'd be careful with the HIIT to start, especially anything high-impact. You can just do 30 minutes of easy recovery on days you don't lift, to avoid recovery issues.

I found Lyle McDonald's advice on your overall program/split helpful in terms of fitting it all together. (His whole blog is great, really.)

Finally, if glutes matter to you, Bret Contreras is your best resource.

Oh, one more thing, in terms of programming (covered in many of the links provided by me & others) - as you know, lifting 'heavy' (the most you can lift in ~4-6 repetitions) is great
for many reasons, but imo, people over 30 - especially beginners - should work up to that, and stay within 8-15 reps for the first few months to allow connective tissues to adapt, & let you learn form. And then, once you're all adapted, would mix up repetition ranges - one heavy day, one medium, and one light, to get at a range of muscle fibres and maximize recovery. I mention this only because I've paid for beginner's enthusiasm.

(Sorry for rambling! Easiest, most comprehensive presentation of above if you just want to get to it is the New Rules book, I think.)
posted by nelljie at 1:12 PM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

One more thing: muscle definition is almost always a result of leanness. You can build muscle all day but you won't see it in crisp relief if there's fat covering it. For some people, that won't change dramatically until you get under 10% body fat for men, and under 20% body fat for women.

The problem is that for some women, going under 20% body fat is either impossible or unhealthy, and can cause you to stop menstruating and other side effects. So depending on your particular physiology, you might have to give up on the idea of having "six-pack abs."
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:17 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Deadlifts (I prefer trap bar deadlifts personally), squats, maybe some shoulder press. Heavy lifting, as everyone else has recommended.

Can you go to your BF's gym and get a one-time personal training consultation? Many gyms offer the first one for free. Explain what you want to accomplish and they will give you a good starting circuit.
posted by elizardbits at 1:19 PM on October 16, 2012

Cliche, but p90x is pretty much all bodyweight work and is excellent for gaining strength and muscle mass.
posted by zug at 3:06 PM on October 16, 2012

Response by poster: I want to thank you all for your excellent advice and links to resources, really really appreciate it!
posted by BlueMartini7 at 5:21 PM on October 16, 2012

If it interests you at all, rock climbing/bouldering is super fun and also makes you stronger like whoa--I started bouldering a few times a week several months ago, and it's kind of silly what it's done to my core/shoulders/arms (i.e., I need to buy shirts a size larger now to get them to fit at the shoulder).
posted by Vibrissa at 12:22 PM on October 17, 2012

« Older Any Zotero experts in the house?   |   Help me not hate my new Aeron chair Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.