Many women strive to achieve a “lean” look! But here’s the catch: simply losing body fat is rarely enough. Attaining that “lean” appearance requires building a substantial amount of muscle! True, reducing body fat storages inevitably makes one look slimmer. However, with very little muscle underneath the fat tissue, the resulting physique may not be as defined and shapely as desired. In turn, building more lean muscle helps strategically create shape anywhere in the body, being that our legs, glutes, arms or core!
In addition, increasing lean muscle mass brings many amazing benefits, such as improved metabolism and increased strength. This is why we believe that every woman can benefit from building muscle, no matter what their ultimate goals are!
Today, we would like to take the time to discuss in more detail how building lean muscle can benefit women, and what it takes to undergo a successful “bulk”, both physically and mentally!
So, whether you’re curious about changing your shape or are contemplating picking the “muscle gain” option for your next Bodies by Rachel Challenge, this is going to be a great read for you!
Benefits of increasing lean muscle mass
True, any kind of physical activity is good for your general health and fitness! However, bringing specific focus to muscle building protocols yields many amazing benefits that cardio just can’t offer. Increasing lean muscle mass through resistance training helps:
- Boost metabolism. According to some estimates, muscle tissue is approximately 4 times more metabolically active compared to fat. In other words, the more muscle mass you have, the more energy you burn at rest, making it easier to maintain leaner physique!
- Achieve a better, more balanced physique. As a consequence of the previous point, not only holding more muscle helps you stay leaner, it also helps create a shapely body with beautiful curves! And unlike fat deposits, the distribution of which you can’t control, you’re the boss when it comes to deciding which muscle groups to grow to achieve the look you desire.
- Improve strength and coordination – and not just for the gym, but also for normal daily activities! It’s much more pleasant staying active and running numerous errands when you have strong muscles to support your movements!
- Reduce the risk of injuries. For a very long time, researchers have known that increasing muscle strength and hypertrophy may aid in the prevention of injuries. By promoting muscle growth, resistance training helps strengthen ligaments and tendons, as well as improve tendon to bone and ligament to bone junction strength. Additionally, strength training benefits joint cartilage and connective tissue sheaths within muscle and helps optimise bone mineral content. As a bonus, strengthening bones and ligaments can also help prevent conditions such as osteoporosis from developing later in life.
Training for muscle gain
Upon deciding to make muscle gain your goal for the next training block, you may face a dilemma of structuring your training appropriately (unless you’re planning on joining one of our programs, in which case the entire split will be laid out for you).
There are several important factors to focus on if your goal is muscle gain:
- Time under tension – meaning performing exercises under a substantial load with a full range of motion, for a certain amount of time, which helps initiate muscle hypertrophy (growth).
- Muscular damage – as muscles are placed under stress during exercise, this causes microscopic tears in muscle tissue. They occur in every fibre that was recruited during exercise. To repair the tears, the body sends nutrients to the damaged muscles - and also ensures that extra tissue is added in case future damage occurs. By adapting to the new stimulus applied through progressive overload, muscle growth is therefore initiated!
Incorporating a variety of training styles into your program ensures that each of the components gets emphasized in different workouts, which means you’re reaping maximum benefits!
And how about cardio? There are different approaches to this, but something you certainly want to avoid is incorporating too much cardio, too quickly. If you do that, it’s going to be very difficult to eventually transition to maintenance or a cutting phase! If you’re someone who really enjoys cardio, reduce the frequency and duration of it – a couple of times a week plus remaining reasonably active throughout the day is generally enough.
For muscle growth, you need to consume more energy than you spend through daily activities and workouts – in other words, you’ll need to be in a calorie surplus.
This can be more challenging than it sounds! For example, if you’re someone who usually struggles with large volumes of food, “getting it all in” may feel unnatural, especially initially. And, even if you’re someone who loves your food, increasing portion sizes through whole foods can still require some getting used to – there is a place for eating high-calorie foods with low nutrient density (looking at you, donuts!). However, we still recommend to predominantly focus on nutrient-dense, wholesome options.
Generally, to achieve a plausible surplus, you need to establish your maintenance point and then slowly start pushing your calories up, mostly through carbs and fats while still consuming plenty of protein. Remember the muscular microtears we discussed above? IIf your protein intake is insufficient, your body doesn’t end up receiving enough amino acids to repair the microtraumas and build more muscle tissue.
Then, it becomes a matter of frequently reassessing and adjusting as necessary! Fine-tuning your intake for muscle growth can be a tricky process, but most certainly worth it to achieve your goal.
Mindset tips for muscle building
Who’s better to ask for bulking advice than our very own Rachel and Emma, who have spent many, many months perfecting their physiques and growing muscle for the WBFF Worlds 2019?
Here are some amazing mindset tips from our queens that will help you get through the bulking phase successfully:
When a building phase is structured correctly and the plan is adhered to, most of what you gain is going to be lean muscle. However, your body fat % may also go up slightly - this isn’t completely abnormal. If it’s only a slight increase this isn’t something you need to worry about. Your clothes may fit tighter, and at times you may feel “fluffier” than you’d normally prefer. Trust the process - it’s completely normal to feel this way, but don’t abandon your goal. If you’re finding you’re experiencing rapid weight gain you may need to reassess your energy intake and reduce it slightly to allow your body more time to adjust to the increase in food.
Increasing energy intake and consuming more food during a building phase can be surprisingly challenging at times. As much as we think it’s our ‘ultimate dream’ to eat as much as possible, when you actually have to do it, this perspective can change. In the beginning, you may feel like you’re always full, bloated and are eating non-stop. However, over time you’ll likely notice that your body adjusts to the additional intake, and utilises the extra fuel much more efficiently. As this adjustment occurs you’ll notice your body doesn’t feel as full; you may even start to feel hungrier - this is all normal.
During your muscle-building phase, it’s important that you take full advantage of the additional calories that you’re intaking by maintaining high training intensity. Focus on the task at hand - you’re here to build lean muscle mass which requires consistent hard work in the gym. Aim to apply progressive overload and always challenge yourself with your weight selection as well as always placing emphasis on correct form and technique.
If you’re applying the above-mentioned principles to your training, it’s likely that you're going to get days where you’re tired, fatigued and a little sore. Keep in mind that it’s okay to take rest days - ESPECIALLY when your training is sitting at this intensity. Listen to your body and take rest where needed.
It’s ok if you can’t attain 100% perfection in following your regime! Maybe you’ll skip a session or two or find yourself unable to finish all your meals. This is fine and is all part of the process! At the end of the day, consistency is key - if your consistent most of the time you’re going to see progress! Celebrate achievements, learn from mistakes – and keep pushing forward. All or nothing approach isn’t helpful, so be kind to yourself and keep pushing forward.
Inspiration from BBR girls
Here’s some inspiration from our wonderful BBR ambassadors who have picked muscle gain as their goal and achieved amazing results!
“The left photo is my first check-in from my first BBR challenge at the beginning of 2018, and the second was taken in July this year.
Not every girl’s goal is weight loss! We are all different and we all have different goals. As you can see, in the before photo I had very little shape. My goal when I first started training was to gain muscle and shape and I'm pretty damn proud of how far I've come and how hard I've worked to get where I am!
Little by little, a little becomes a lot! Hard work forever pays off!”
“The photos are before and after one year with BBR. I have done Booty 1.0 & 2, the 4-week Shred, Tighten and Tone, and Bikini 3.0. I also did the 3-week Train Like Me early last year, which is when I absolutely fell in love with BBR!
Recently, I signed up for the 12-week Fitness Sisters Challenge, however got injured in the second week. As a result, I could only do select exercises – however the outcome was still amazing!
I’m strongly hoping I can properly do the upcoming Train Like Me Challenge, as I like to give it my all”.
“I don’t have curves naturally, as you can tell from my photo back in January. This was 1 month into my muscle gain phase. Since then, I went from 1900 calories per day to 2500!
My waist may not be tiny anymore, nor do I have shredded abs, but I feel healthier, happier and so much stronger lifting weights I never imagined I ever would! Growing muscle takes time and it does require sacrifice, but girls - it will be worth it in the end! There were so many times during this process where I thought I wasn’t changing and was just putting on body fat, I wanted to give up and go back to having abs… But I’m so grateful I had this supportive environment to keep me going and committed to my bulk, because it certainly has been worth it.
My main message is to always look back on how far you’ve come, stop focusing so much on where you want to be and start focusing on the present and how much you’ve achieved already. Trust the process and our amazing coaches Rach and Em. I owe all my gains to those gorgeous girls and the amazing BBR team!
So excited for TLM 2.0 to keep growing!”
We love helping women perfect their dream physiques by gaining lean muscle – and hope this blog has inspired you to make it one of your goals in the near future!
Liz, Rach and Emma