Title pic for article muscle building woman

The Best Way to Build Muscle as a Women – Beginner’s Guide

My last article covered the basics of how to get stronger without getting big and bulky. In this article, I’ll go over the basics of building muscle.

No matter if you are skinny, skinny fat, or fat, if you want to improve your body composition, then building muscle should be a non-negotiable for you.

Why? Because having a decent amount of muscle is critical if you want to grow old as a healthy, independent woman.

First of all, having muscles makes everyday life easier. Even though “becoming as strong as possible” is not the primary focus when building muscle, you will gain strength. Imagine carrying home two full bags of groceries, rearranging your furniture whenever you want, or easily picking up your kids or grandkids.

Secondly, building muscle helps prevent osteoporosis and fall-related injuries because building muscle strengthens bones and ligaments.

And lastly, having plenty of muscle gives you that lean, athletic look that you thought cardio would give you but didn’t 😉.

The best way for any woman to gain lean muscle.

Quick question. What is the best way for a woman to gain lean muscle? If you answered strength training, you’re almost right.

Strength training, as described in my article on how to get stronger, focuses on becoming as strong as possible for your size. However, your focus is slightly different if you want to build muscle.

Consequently, your training will be slightly different.

Sure, there are many ways to build muscle. Heck, if you are a complete newbie to working out, even riding a bike or joining a body pump group fitness class for a couple of weeks could be enough to stimulate at least some muscle growth.

However, if you want to build lean muscle in the most efficient and fastest way possible, you need to focus on a specific style of resistance training.

And that is hypertrophy training.

This style of training focuses primarily on building muscle. Other adaptations, like increased strength or muscular endurance, are simply byproducts.

Focus on the fundamental movement patterns.

Building muscle is a pretty straightforward process. It doesn’t require you to waste time on boring exercise machines, doing hundreds of repetitions with pink 1 lb dumbbells or 20 different exercises for each muscle group. Instead, a few basic lifts are all you need, and your workouts shouldn’t take 45-60 minutes maximum. The key is to focus on the 5 basic movement patterns and build your training around those. According to legendary strength coach Dan John, the five primary movement patterns are: 

  1. Push
  2. Pull
  3. Squat
  4. Hinge
  5. Carry

Let’s look at each of those movement patterns quickly.

1. Pushing Movements

A push is everything where you are pushing something away from you. You should include horizontal and vertical pushing movements in your training plan. Horizontal pushing exercises include the push-up, floor press, and bench press. Vertical pushing exercises include the kettlebell military press or the dumbbell shoulder press.

2. Pulling Movements

A pull describes every movement where you pull something to you. The barbell bent-over row is a classic example of a horizontal pull, and the pull-up is a typical example of a vertical pull.

Many strength coaches also put the deadlift into the pull category. Others put it in the hinge category. The deadlift is both a pull and a hinge, so either category is valid.

3. Squat

Squatting is one of the basic human movements that, sadly, many of us members of modern society cannot execute. If you are just starting your strength training journey, ensure you can perform a bodyweight squat with good form. Two great beginner’s squat exercises are the goblet squat and drop squat.

4. Hinge

While most people new to strength training could easily show me what they think a squat is, many gave me blank stares when I asked them to demonstrate a hip hinge.

That’s a bummer, considering the hip hinge is one of the basic movements for everyday lifting and performance. As mentioned, the deadlift is a classical exercise that falls into the hinge category. The kettlebell swing is another.

Learn to hinge, and you can pick up heavy objects safely.

5. Carry

The most critical superpower you can develop is the ability to carry heavy stuff around. The farmer’s walk is one of my favorite exercises for building whole-body strength. You simply grab two heavy weights, one in each hand, and walk a few meters.

It’s incredibly simple and incredibly effective for overall strength.

Choose the right rep-range.

When your focus is building muscle, you have a lot of flexibility when deciding how many repetitions you use. Generally, a muscle grows best when subjected to mechanical tension and metabolic stress. Anything from 4-40 repetitions per set can build muscle quite well.

However, there is a sweet spot.

Generally, the fewer repetitions you do, the more you focus on building strength. The more repetitions you do, the more you focus on muscular endurance.

The key is to pick a weight that is heavy enough to induce the mechanical tension to get you stronger but light enough that you can lift it for a high enough number of reps, thereby causing high metabolic stress.

You can use the simplified guidelines below to choose the right repetition range:

  • Muscle strength: 1–8 reps per set.
  • Muscle hypertrophy: 6–20 reps per set.
  • Muscle endurance: 15–40 reps per set.

As you can see, there is no perfect rep range for only building muscle, and the repetition ranges for different goals overlap.

However, you should stick to the 6-20 repetition range for the best muscle-building results.

If you’re a beginner, that’s all you need to know about rep ranges. And how many sets should you do? Most research points to 3-8 sets per muscle group per workout.

Generally, the more reps you do per set, the fewer sets you will do. Likewise, the fewer reps you do per set, the more sets you do.

Dr. Galpin, Professor at CSU Fullerton and Director of the Center for Sports Performance, suggests that 10 working sets per muscle group per week is the minimum for hypertrophy. He also recommends keeping repetitions in a 5-30 range.

Start where you're at but continue to challenge yourself.

How often do you need to work out to gain muscle? For most beginners, a full-body workout 3 times per week is a good starting point.

You must start where you’re at, be willing to work, and put in the time and effort to learn the correct movement patterns.

Once you lift with good form, continually increase the load. That could mean increasing the weight you use for the exercise or doing one more rep or one more set the next time.

You need to progressively overload your muscles to keep growing stronger and bigger muscles. If you continue to use the same weight for the same number of reps and sets, your progress will stall.

Choose the exercises you can execute with good form and progress to the more advanced lifts. You don’t need a barbell back squat to grow your legs. And there is no lift “you absolutely need to do if you want to see results.”

There are no mandatory lifts unless you’re a powerlifter, cross-fitter, or Olympic powerlifter.

If an exercise aggravates any pain you have, pick another one.

Choose those lifts that suit you best.

Let's Keep In Touch!

I never spam! Read my privacy policy for more info.

Scroll to Top