If there’s one thing I have an insatiable appetite for (other than cake, of course), it’s muscles. Getting bigger, on purpose, has become one of my greatest passions. The training is fun, the results are tangible, and pursuing maximum muscle gains has been a truly life-changing endeavor.
It’s an undertaking that’s not without effort, and that requires an open mind and a whole lot of learning. And what I have learned, above all, is that training for maximum muscle is often more mindset and art than science or tactic.
There are many things to think about on the journey to maximum muscle gain, but starting out with these five important tips in mind will not only give you direction but help you gather the elements you need on your journey.
Before hitting the weights, I recommend that you start with some reflection. While you may already have an idea about your why — as in the reasons behind your physical goals and training — you should also consider the what. As in, what does desirable maximum muscle look like to you?
At its most basic level, gaining maximum muscle is going to mean strength training — using hypertrophy methods — and eating in a way to support this. But at the real-world level, gaining maximum muscle means something different to every woman.
One person’s huge could be another person’s tiny. Thus, it’s important to define and understand what this means for you. Having a clear picture of just how much muscle you want to gain, and where, will help you craft a plan for how to accomplish that.
It also gives you something to return to throughout the challenges of the muscle-building process — and many challenges there will be.
Sometimes, adding muscle onto your body might not go exactly as planned: it can take more time, it might not show up exactly where you thought it would, or it may even appear more quickly, or in a greater amount, than you thought it would.
Training hypertrophy, especially as a woman, can play tricks on your mind. Being able to check back into your highly personalized vision and goal for maximum muscle will keep you grounded, motivated, and feeling good — mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Strength training in general is phenomenal: it’s powerful, and empowering. And training specifically to increase strength can also be reasonably effective at increasing some level of muscle mass. But for maximum muscle? Hypertrophy is the only way to go.
Generally, hypertrophy training (sometimes more commonly known as bodybuilding) is going to be focused in a moderate rep range (six to 12 repetitions), using anywhere from three to six sets per exercise, and three or more exercises per body part. It will also be on the higher side as far as volume goes, and will lean toward increased frequency, intensity, and isolation in training.
Read: You’re going to be doing a lot of biceps curls.
This may differ from what you’re doing now, or it may not. But it will most certainly differ from a traditional strength training program (and especially from those one-offs you pull from Instagram or magazines). Instead of focusing on increasing your lifting loads, you’ll be plugging into how your muscles feel, and chasing that pump.
Hypertrophy is a style of training that’s unique, and uniquely fun. What else connects you this fully with your body and your muscles, facilitates a killer mind-muscle connection, and straddles the line between pleasure and pain so well? There’s a reason people have been bodybuilding since the 1800s: it works.
Hypertrophy is all about consistency, moderate reps, higher volume, and that feel. It’s not a place for ego, but it is a place for results. Many things can work, and you’ll likely end up experimenting with different methods as you explore hypertrophy. And that brings us to our next point.
Your path to maximum muscle starts with a plan. Of course, it’s absolutely imperative to have a hypertrophy training plan, but you should start several steps before that.
Starting with the question we addressed in the first point — what does maximum muscle look like for you? — take the time to answer these follow-up questions:
Your answers to those questions will be the starting point for choosing the coach, or building the plan that’s going to get you max gains.
When you’re clear on your objectives, you can delve into the practical side of things — moving from the what to the how. For instance, you can choose a plan based on split workouts, focusing on a certain body part, or group of body parts, each day throughout the week. Or, you can choose a plan that prescribes total body workouts.
You can choose the frequency and duration of workouts — maybe it’s shorter workouts five days per week, maybe they’re a little longer four days per week. You can decide to specialize for a period of time, to “bring up” a particular muscle or muscle group, or you can take a more generalized “I just want to get big all over!” approach.
And of course, you’ll have to factor in your lifting experience. If you’re newer to lifting in general, or to hypertrophy in particular, you may want a plan that’s on the lower end of the volume spectrum, and progress as you get more familiar. But if you’ve been doing it for a while and you’re after some serious size? It’s likely that you’ll have to incorporate more volume, or more advanced intensity techniques such as supersets, giant sets, drop sets, negative reps, partial reps, etc.
When it comes to building maximum muscle for women, the methodology is going to be much the same as it is for men.
Keep in mind, that women do tend to be able to handle a bit more volume and frequency than men, as long as rest and recovery are in line, so don’t be shy about it.
It’s not enough to just grab a strength training plan and go. Know that strength training alone will only get you so far, and that you’ll need something a little more specialized to reach your max and continue to make gains.
Seriously, settle in for the long haul.
Especially among women, there is a misconception that strength training or lifting weights will pretty much automatically make you put on muscle immediately — possibly even get “bulky.” I’m here to tell you, based on science and experience, that it’s not the case. And setting expectations for the process is going to be very important.
When it comes down to it, the average natural (read: no assistance from drugs of any kind) female has the potential to add half a pound to a pound of muscle per month. However, this takes a carefully crafted hypertrophy plan, completed with consistency and dedication, for an extended period of time, not to mention optimal nutrition, sleep, stress management and more. This does not happen overnight, or without effort.
Case study of one? I’ve been training exclusively in this way for almost four years. While I have put on a significant amount of muscle, I have worked hard for it, and I am nowhere near my limit for what I consider maximum. I have also changed coaches and programs several times, and experimented frequently with adjustments and different training methods. It takes time to find what works and what doesn’t, and to continue to adjust to continue to gain. And that work goes on.
Building maximum muscle can take many months, or many years; it will take patience and persistence. But, if you stick with it, you will reap the flexy rewards.
And that’s a crucial point in all this — it’s a process.
Hypertrophy training is most certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work. You’ll need to be diligent about scheduling and completing your workouts consistently. You’ll need to be on top of the nutrition to support muscle repair, growth, and recovery. You’ll have to get used to making sacrifices for this goal — sometimes short-term, sometimes forever. You’ll need to be ready to address all the bumps, twists, and turns along the way — because they will happen. How you approach that journey will ultimately determine what you get out of this process.
The sooner you can get in the right frame of mind for this process, the sooner you’ll see results — your maximum muscle results.
It’s never about finding the magic technique or the perfect plan. It’s about dedication, consistency, and curiosity — staying focused, but being willing to shift that focus when you need to, when your body asks you to.
It’s about exploring the possibilities, but trusting the process.
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