Most women desire the same type of body.
They want to be lean but not too skinny. They want to have some muscle definition, particularly in their arms, stomach, and legs, and they want to have a bubbly butt that fills their jeans. And, amen! I’m all for that.
But what’s the best way to achieve this type of physique?
Conventional “wisdom” has women basically starving themselves while grinding away on the treadmill every day and working out with three-pound dumbbells (anything heavier and they might get bulky!).
And anyone that has given this approach a serious go can attest to the fact that it does not give the promised results, it is not sustainable over the long haul, and it can actually harm your health.
So, what’s the real “secret” of female fitness? What does it really take to have a strong, lean, athletic body that you can easily maintain year in, year out?
You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that much of the mainstream diet and training advice for women is almost the exact opposite of what they should actually be doing.
What am I referring to exactly? Well, here’s the common recipe for physical disaster:
The end result of such advices is a constant feeling of overtraining, and the dreaded “skinny-fat” look.
Because heavy calorie restriction and excessive amounts of cardio burn away large amounts of muscle along with fat, and muscle is what powers your metabolism and gives your body shape and definition.
You see, 15% body fat on a woman with little-to-no muscle to speak of looks VERY different than 15% on a woman with well-developed muscles. The former is likely to look skinny-fat (thin but with no muscle definition or curves, and with everything soft and squishy to the touch), whereas the latter can look like a fitness cover model.
To really drive this home, look at the following picture:
And now look at this:
Realize that both of these women are at approximately the same body fat percentage! The major difference is muscle. The first woman has very little, and the second has a lot.
And even if you think the second woman is “too bulky,” realize that it’s muscle that gives you curves, shape, and definition when you’re lean. The question isn’t IF you should have muscle, it’s just HOW MUCH. That is, how curvy and “ripped” do you want to be?
What I’m talking about here is known as changing your “body composition.” That is, decreasing the amount of fat in your body and increasing the amount of muscle. When done correctly, the transformation can be shocking.
Want an example? Consider the following:
Here’s the shocker: she weighs the same in each of these pictures. That’s the power of losing fat and adding muscle, not just “losing weight.”
Another point you should realize is that you must be lean to have that athletic shape and definition. If your body fat percentage is too high (above ~22%), your stomach will always look flabby, your legs will never look tight, and your arms will forever lack definition.
So, if the common diet and workout advice isn’t the way to go, what is the best way for women to achieve their ideal physiques?
The “magic formula” for stunning female physiques is low body fat percentage (under 20%), with enough muscle to have a round, perky butt; a tight, flat stomach; lean, sculpted legs; and toned, defined arms.
What many women don’t realize is how lean they have to be, and how much muscle they have to add to actually achieve that look. For most, it will mean losing about 10 pounds of fat and replacing it with muscle (yup, gaining weight but looking better!). And while losing 10 pounds of fat can be accomplished in a few months, it can take upwards of a year of proper weightlifting to add 10 pounds of muscle!
How to Use Diet to Lose Fat Easily, Without Also Losing Muscle
Now, reducing body fat percentage is mainly just a function of diet. If you consume less energy–calories–than you burn every day, you will lose fat. There are right and wrong ways to go about this though.
As you know, eating far fewer calories (energy) than you burn every day causes too much muscle loss and leaves you feeling miserable. The key to proper fat loss is eating enough to feel good and fuel your workouts, while ensuring that you’re in enough of a “caloric deficit” (eating less than you burn) to allow for about 1 pound of fat loss per week.
So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you start with about 180 grams of protein per day, 150 grams of carbs per day, and 30 grams of fat per day (0r about 1,600 calories). You then adjust this up or down if necessary, as explained in the book.
Let’s now move on to building muscle. What’s the best way to do it?
How to Lift Weights Properly to Build a Lean, Toned Physique
Lifting weights is the most effective way to build muscle. But there’s more: lifting heavy weights is the most effective way.
I can already hear you disagreeing. Women shouldn’t lift heavy weights because they don’t want to get bulky, right? Wrong. It’s incredibly difficult for a woman to ever reach the point of looking bulky, regardless of how hard or often she trains.
Because the hormone that most directly regulates muscle growth is testosterone, and an average woman’s testosterone levels are a mere 5–10% of an average man’s. If you’re a woman, I PROMISE you that you will never wake up one day disgusted with your bulky physique if you lift heavy weights and stay lean. Getting to the point of having large, protruding muscles is a very gradual, grueling process that you would have to consciously work at every day, and it would take years.
The circumstance in which weightlifting, or any form of resistance training really, does not help how you look is if your body fat percentage is too high. If you’re 25% body fat and start lifting weights, you’re going to build muscle, which is going to simply make you look a little bit bigger. This is the big mistake that women make with weightlifting.
In terms of achieving your ideal physique, getting your body fat percentage under 20% is just as important as building the muscle that will give you the shape and muscle definition that you desire.
The benefits of weightlifting and building muscle go way beyond looks, though. According to a study conducted by the University of Texas, here’s what happens to your body when you lift weights regularly:
Maintaining a strong, well-muscled body helps you age better. Research has shown that greater muscle mass percentage in older women is associated with better mobility, lower body weight, and lower body fat levels.
Now, earlier I recommend heavy weightlifting for women. What does this mean?
Well, I recommend that women train with weights that allow for at least 8 repetitions, but no more than 10. Once you can do 10 repetitions with any given weight, you increase it by 5-10 lbs, which will drop you to around 6-8 repetitions. You then work with that weight over the next couple of weeks until you can do 10 repetitions, move up in weight, and so forth.
This “progressive overload” of the muscles is crucial to improving your physique. This is what makes muscles grow.
And in terms of exercises, you can’t beat an intense workout of “boy exercises” such as barbell squats, Romanian deadlifts, and barbell lunges for your legs and butt; deadlifts and barbell rows for your arms and back; and dumbbell and barbell curls and bench press for your arms.
How to Use Cardio to Speed Up Your Fat Loss
Last but not least, let’s address cardio. While cardio doesn’t become necessary for weight loss until you’re lean and want to get super-lean, it does help speed the process up.
The best form of cardio for weight loss is known as “high-intensity interval training.” This is a form of cardio that has you do short, all-out sprints, followed by 1-2 minute low-intensity “recovery periods.” You simply alternate between these high- and low-intensity bouts.
To learn more about how to do this and why it’s best, check out my article on why high-intensity interval training is best for fat loss.
Want an exact program to follow that will make building muscle and losing fat easy and enjoyable?
If you’re like me, you probably want an exact, step-by-step method to follow to build the body of your dreams. Unfortunately, most people make many different mistakes that leave them stuck in a rut.
The truth is if you know how to train, eat, and rest properly, then you can build muscle and lose fat every week…and actually see the changes in the mirror.
And that’s why I wrote Thinner Leaner Stronger for women: it lays out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively…
I’m Mike Matthews and I’ve been training for nearly a decade now. I believe that every person can achieve the body of his or her dreams, and I work hard to give everyone that chance by providing workable, proven advice grounded in science, not a desire to sell phony magazines, workout products, or supplements. More about me.