Female Muscle Hypertrophy and the « Too Massive » Myth
Smart training is en vogue right now, and females are no longer afraid of getting strong.
But the fear of getting too massive is still holding back a lot of women who would like to train hard.
Women are still afraid that bulking up is a product of just doing a few extra sets. Obviously, resistance training is going to build muscle in women, but they need to understand that it’s much harder for them to gain mass as it is for men.
Be aware that if the hard-training guys in the gym don’t look like Ronnie Coleman yet, neither will you! This is due in part with the hormonal milieu of women; they have 20 to 40 times less androgens circulating in their system than their male counterparts. This severely limits the amount of muscle a trainee can build.
Another severe limit to the amount of hypertrophy a women build is the number of muscle fiber nuclei they have. Typically, females have 40% less of those nuclei. Recent advances in our comprehension of muscle physiology highlighted the importance of nucleus from satellite cells in the mechanisms underlying muscle hypertrophy.
So, a woman who strength trains will definitely gain muscle. But she won’t gain as much muscle as a typical male trainee. Her gains in muscle mass will also stop a lot sooner. As a rule of thumb, most of the hypertrophy a woman will develop comes within the first sixteen weeks. After that, muscle mass gains tend to plateau and further gains in strength are made through neural adaptations. This will impact the aspect of the muscle as well, since more neural drive will make the muscle look more “tone”, thus giving a hardened look, but hardly a “manly” one.
An example of this happened to the female skiers I trained. Typical gains were 8 pounds of muscle during the first eleven weeks of training, while losing 12 pounds of body fat on average. This affected their looks dramatically, but the weight on the scale changed by a mere 4 pounds during a 3 months cycle. Beware of being driven only by the scale changes.
So should women fear train hard with progressive overload? No!
Should they fear becoming excessively massive? No again!
Hard training is highly rewarding in many aspects that extend beyond sheer muscle mass, such as improved lipid profiles and prevention of osteopenia.
Enjoy the journey,
Coach Charles R. Poliquin