Muscle building for women – The complete guide with a training plan

Muscle building for women – The complete guide with a training plan

It is now common knowledge that even as a woman, you have to train very intensively over some time to make progress in terms of muscle building.

But what do you have to consider when building muscle as a woman?

Should you train like a man, or are there particular recommendations that only apply to women? And do you have to work out in the gym, or does it all work from home?

We will look at these and a few other things together in this article. You will also find many helpful tips and effective training plans for building muscle here.


Your training plan – the basis for building muscle as a woman

In the following few paragraphs, we’ll look at some basics together. These are the main factors that affect strength training and are therefore of great importance for a woman who wants to build muscle.

These things have to do with the training plan or the training itself. We’ll talk more about proper nutrition later.

If you want to see what a proper muscle-building plan might look like right now, check out our training plans.


A well-designed training plan should take into account the following things:


Volume is one of the most critical parameters in strength training because it is directly related to the hypertrophy (muscle building) it triggers. This term means nothing more than the amount of work you do during a strength training session.

Volume is usually calculated by multiplying the weight used times the number of reps completed and the number of sets. But since that’s a bit cumbersome, we’ll just use the total number of agents for a muscle group in a workout when it comes to training volume.

To illustrate, here’s a simple example: leg training involves doing 3 sets of squats of 10 reps each and then doing 3 sets of deadlifts of 8 reps each. In total, this makes 54 repetitions for the legs. So our training volume would simply be 54 in this case.


Science-Based Advice: When meeting the frequency and intensity specifications below, aA volume of 40 to 70 reps can be completed for each major muscle group.

However, small muscle groups, such as the arms or shoulders, can do with less. A good guideline is 30 to 40 repetitions. This is because these muscles are also engaged in other compound exercises. For example, the triceps are heavily used when doing bench presses and the biceps when pulling-ups or other back exercises.

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In strength training, intensity is the percentage of weight you can lift for a single repetition. This factor should also be considered in a woman’s training plan. We now know that you can build muscle mass with very light and heavyweights, but there are still recommendations for this.


After the initial explanation was perhaps a bit complicated, here is a simple answer again:

Anna has been training for a long time and can do precisely one clean squat with a 100kg barbell. In her case, a 75 percent intensity would mean that she has to use 75 percent of 100 kg. That would be 75kg.


Science-Based Recommendation: For muscle building, most training should be done at an intensity of 60-85%. So you’re using 60 to 85% of the weight you can do one rep with. That means training in the rep range of roughly 5 to 15 agents. I recommend that you train in the higher intensity range at the beginning of the movement and then do a few more sets at a lower intensity. For example, you could do the first exercise at 80% intensity and the second at 65%.


training frequency

Training frequency is the following important parameter that a woman needs to consider in her training plan. This means nothing more than the frequency with which you train a particular muscle group per week.


According to the available scientific data, it is not optimal to train a muscle only once a week. This is simply because muscle building does not last very long after a workout. In most cases, 48 ​​hours after intensive training, the increased protein synthesis and thus muscle building are over.


Science-Based Recommendation: Train each muscle group 2 to 3 times a week with appropriate volume and intensity.


Choosing the right exercises for the training plan

In the gym, you can usually do at least 100 different activities. It doesn’t matter whether it’s machines or exercises with free weights. But not every exercise is beneficial, and therefore you should think twice about which ones to integrate into your training plan.

Overall, make sure that you concentrate on so-called basic exercises and that these make up the majority of your training plan. These exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups, and barbell rows. Feel accessible to variations on bench presses and rows, such as incline dumbbell presses or seated cable rows. The lat pull-down is fine, too, as long as you pay attention to the execution if you can’t do pull-ups yet.

In addition to the basic exercises, you can add a few isolation exercises to your training plan. These targets a single muscle that is particularly important to you, for example, or that is weaker than others. Isolation exercises include calf raises, lateral raises, and bicep curls. Hip thrusts with the barbell are also very popular with many women because they specifically address the buttocks.

You can get a good overview of the best exercises here on EXRX. The whole thing is in English, but you can find activities for every muscle, including written explanations and video instructions.

break times

Sixty seconds break between sets or instead 180 seconds? Questionable things are often recommended when choosing the correct break times. That is why we want to talk about this parameter here as well.

Lately, it seems to be emerging that resting too short between sets can negatively affect muscle building. This is simply because you can do less volume with short rest times, and therefore less hypertrophy is generated. This applies at least as long as the number of sets completed remains the same.


For this reason, you should take a more extended break from the basic exercises. A good guideline is 3 minutes. During the isolation exercises, you can pause for much shorter periods. Here, 60 to 120 seconds are usually sufficient.


Most isolation exercises aren’t that strenuous, and you’re almost always working in higher reps. Because of this, you can also use shorter break times. This procedure also generates increased metabolic stress, an important factor in muscle building. Overall, a woman’s workout schedule shouldn’t be overloaded with hundreds of useless exercises. It is much better to rely on a few but at the same time efficient basic exercises and supplement them with a few isolation exercises. The same applies to men, by the way.



In weight training, the term progression means nothing other than achieving progress in the repetitions completed or the weight used. This is extremely important as our body will only build muscle if we subject it to increasing stimulus. Therefore, your training plan must also take this factor into account.

Let’s take the squat exercise as an example. In the first workout, you complete three sets of 10 repetitions, each with a 20 kg barbell. Since you’ve done all three stages, you increase the weight to 50 lbs in the next workout and do three sets of 10 reps. So you’ve increased the weight used, done the same number of agents, and made progression. I recommend that both men and women progress by increasing their weight as much as possible. You increase the weight by the smallest possible unit whenever you have reached your goal, as in the example above. This forces the body to adapt repeatedly and thus build muscle mass permanently.


For muscle building to work as well as possible, the parameters listed here should be approximately correct. Of course, there are also a few other things that impact your progress. This includes, for example, nutrition.


The proper diet for effective muscle building

Anyone who has already dealt with muscle building will undoubtedly know that nutrition plays an important role here. In other sports, what we eat has a significant impact on our performance. But how should a woman eat now if she wants to build muscle mass?


energy balance

Energy balance is the factor that decides whether we gain or lose weight.

The general principle is: If you take in more calories than you use up, you are in a calorie surplus, and body tissue is built up. If you take in fewer calories than you expend, you are in a calorie deficit, and body tissue is broken down.


In addition, it should be said that as a beginner and slightly advanced in a calorie deficit, you can still build muscle very well and lose fat at the same time. Whether you want to lose or gain weight and whether you are a beginner or already very advanced, you should determine your calorie intake. A calorie deficit is recommended if you’re just starting and want to lose some weight.

An accurate fitness bracelet* is the best way to check your calorie consumption because you get far more meaningful values ​​than a calorie calculator or a formula.



The term macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol. These provide different amounts of energy per gram and have other tasks in our body.



It is now well known that protein plays a significant role in building and maintaining muscle. A standard formula, backed by science, is to eat about 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

However, this only applies if your body fat percentage is not extremely high or extremely low. If a woman already had a low body fat percentage, she would probably fare better with a little more protein. On the other hand, if the body fat percentage is still very high, then a little less protein would be sufficient.

A good mix of plant and animal protein sources is recommended for protein intake. A good source of vegetable protein is, for example, red lentils and other legumes. Animal protein can be obtained very well from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products in particular, and therefore such foods should also be included in your diet. Carbohydrates:


Together with the macronutrient fat, Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for our body. Carbohydrates play a role in muscle building in that they are used as the primary source of energy during training.

I don’t recommend low-carb diets for people who do strength training. It is well known that with low carbs, you limit the carbohydrate intake, and therefore you can perform worse in the gym with this diet.

Whether you get more calories from carbohydrates or more calories from fat is entirely down to personal preference. However, it is pretty important not to consume too little fat as a woman, as this affects the hormones even more than in men. Overall, however, I recommend that both sexes consume a balanced mix of the two macronutrients when doing strength training.



As already mentioned, fat and carbohydrates are essential energy sources for our bodies. However, during strength training itself, not much fat is used as an energy source because the intensity is too high for this.

Despite everything, you should consume enough of this macronutrient, as it has essential tasks in our body. Above all, an adequate supply of essential fatty acids must be ensured. The essential fatty acids include the so-called omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Oily sea fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These contain long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, some of which our body can use directly without first converting them, as is the case with the plant-based variant. In our part of the world, omega 6 fatty acids are almost always consumed in sufficient quantities. It is mainly found in plant sources such as nuts or cooking oils. However, some animal foods also contain large amounts of omega 6 fatty acids.


You can also find a detailed guide to recommended sources of fat in my list of high-fat foods.


In addition to the macronutrients, all micronutrients must also be ingested through the diet. The micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Good sources of these essential substances are fruit, vegetables, unprocessed grain products, and animal foods such as eggs. When it comes to fruit, I would particularly like to emphasize berries. For vegetables, foods such as broccoli, spinach, kale, peppers, and other micronutrient-rich varieties are highly recommended. Due to the period, women should also always ensure that they have an adequate supply of iron. Red meat, for example, is an excellent source of this, which also provides a lot of protein.



Dietary fibers have numerous positive effects on our bodies. This includes, for example, the increased formation of saliva during food intake, which helps protect against tooth decay. In addition, many people are now aware of its positive effect on the gastrointestinal tract.

According to the recommendations of the German Society for Nutrition, adults should consume at least 30 grams of fiber per day. In my opinion, however, the request for fiber intake per 1000 kcal is more suitable. The DGE recommends that women consume 16.7 g per 1000 kcal.

Excellent sources of dietary fiber include oatmeal, red lentils, almonds, and various types of fruit and vegetables. Therefore, these foods should be regularly incorporated into the diet.

Less essential factors of nutrition

The following factors revolve around nutrition but are less critical to muscle building than those discussed above. However, that does not mean that they have no effect at all.

Meal frequency/meal timing:

“After strength training, you have to sprint straight to the locker room and have a protein shake as soon as possible !”. This is precisely what many women and men thought for a long time.

However, the truth is that the whole thing makes at most a minimal difference and can therefore be neglected. The above factors related to macronutrients and micronutrients are far more critical to the health and long-term success.

A meal that is eaten about 1 to 2 hours after training is still recommended. At least some protein should be consumed before strength training. Otherwise, as a hobby athlete, you should simply listen to your own body regarding meal frequency. Many female athletes do very well with intermittent fasting as a nutritional strategy. However, if a woman works out multiple times a day, timing carbohydrates and protein intake can make a difference. However, elite athletes will train several times a day, for whom other things also apply in training.

Various products:

There is now a product for every little thing. Unfortunately, many are simply ineffective and therefore unnecessary. On top of that, various additions are just the tip of the iceberg. This means that even if all other factors have already been mastered, they only bring a slight improvement.

Scientifically speaking, creatine*, omega 3 fatty acids*, vitamin D*, and a good protein powder* are the only things you might need. Possibly because, for example, you can also cover your entire protein requirement through diet. The same applies to omega 3 fatty acids.

With creatine, it becomes difficult to cover the required amounts, which leads to an increase in performance through nutrition. Vitamin D can make sense for many people, especially in winter. This is especially true if your mirror is too low and you hardly spend any time in the sun.


All in all, these products are what they are: means that can supplement the standard diet. However, you only need more than those just listed in exceptional cases.

There will undoubtedly be separate blog posts for individual products in the future. While they can be partially helpful, they are not magic bullets for muscle building. Even if the manufacturers often want to convey that to you.

How fast does it work to build muscle as a woman?

How quickly you build muscle as a woman depends primarily on how well you have the factors of nutrition, training, and regeneration under control. The more optimally you design these things, the faster you will build muscle mass. But do women build muscle mass much more slowly than men? It should be said that women produce about 15 times less testosterone than men. In return, your body produces significantly more estrogen. The female sex hormone has an anti-catabolic effect, i.e., it protects against muscle breakdown. In addition to this, estrogen also has an anabolic effect, i.e., it builds tissue and thus muscle.


When women and men are compared to building muscle, there doesn’t seem to be any real difference. This has also been proven in studies.

For example, in one scientific study, men and women did strength training for their biceps for 20 weeks. At the end of the study period, it could be shown that the women built up the same amount of muscle mass on average as the men. In addition to this, however, the women even gained significantly more strength!

A similar finding was found in another study. There the participants trained the entire body for 6 months. But again, the scientists concluded that gender did not influence adaptations to train.


Overall, a woman seems to be able to build muscle at the same rate as a man. However, there is a noticeable difference at the starting point. Because men naturally have significantly more muscle mass. You don’t have to be afraid of “masculinizing” yourself through strength training as a woman. It takes a long time for a woman to have as much muscle as a man. To be more precise, in most cases, this requires years of strength training at the highest level.


Building muscle from home

Of course, you don’t have to sign up for a gym right away. You can also train effectively at home. Depending on whether you already have experience in strength training, you may or may not need additional equipment.

While a woman who is just starting to train at home can still do various practical exercises, it becomes much more difficult for a woman who can already do squats with a 60kg barbell.

The parameters discussed above for the training plan also apply to your own four walls. Good exercises at home include squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, and reverse rows. With just these 5 moves, a beginner could make good progress in the first few months.

Then, as you get more advanced, you can buy additional equipment such as a set of adjustable dumbbells. Of course, setting up a small home gym is an option and can be implemented even with little money.


Helpful tips for building muscle as a woman

Now that we’ve covered training and nutrition, let’s look at some muscle-building tips in this women’s guide. 1.) Stick to the critical points, and don’t get confused! It has long been proven how muscle building works. Nevertheless, new methods keep coming out, some of which is very disadvantageous. So stick to the points listed here and don’t get carried away by every new trend that’s exaggerated in a magazine. 2.) Don’t change your exercises too often!

The first exercise in your training plan should stay the same for quite a long time. Because whenever you change your first exercise, you need a certain amount of time before learning the new movement sequence. During this time, however, nothing happens in terms of muscle building since the nervous system, in particular, adapts. That’s why changing your first exercise frequently is a mistake you shouldn’t make.



3.) Do the cardio after strength training!

This is probably one of the essential tips. You see a lot of women doing cardio in the gym before the actual weight training. But that’s a mistake! This is because you waste your energy and are likely to make slower progress in terms of muscle building. Therefore, the following applies: Always do cardio after strength training! Of course, a few minutes of easy warm-up is fine, although I’m more of a fan of specific introductions.

4.) Pay attention to sufficient regeneration! In addition to the proper training and a corresponding diet, regeneration is also an important point that contributes to your success. Therefore, you should make sure that you recover sufficiently between the sessions. Otherwise, you will not only make slower progress, but in the worst case, you risk overtraining.

5.) Note your progress

To check if you have made progress, it is beneficial to write down your training weights and the repetitions you have done. This way, you always know whether something is going on in training or not. My tip to you: Simply use your smartphone to note down the weight, the repetitions, and the number of sets performed after each exercise.


Many women have found strength training attractive in recent years and want to build muscle. In my opinion, this is a very positive development.

Because weight training makes you look better and is also extremely healthy. This increases bone density and insulin sensitivity and lays the foundation for healthy aging because it prevents muscle breakdown.

Do you already do strength training, or are you just starting? Or maybe you have any muscle-building tips that you’re dying to share with others? Then feel free to leave a comment and talk to me and others about the topic.

Until then, I’ll say goodbye for the time being, and I hope, as always, that this guide has helped you in the best possible way. See you soon, your Nazmul.

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