Bulk Up This Winter

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By Amy Needham

Bulk Up This Winter
How to build some serious lean muscle over winter as a woman without feeling ‘masculine’’.

Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room… weight training WON’T make you bulky ladies!

Why women don’t/can’t get ‘bulky’:

Women don’t possess the hormonal profile or the muscle fibre types that men have (even close to it) in order to develop a ‘masculine’ physique.  The accumulation of intramuscular triglycerides between our tissues from overconsuming calories or “overfeeding” can make us feel ‘bulky’.

It’s important to understand muscle fibres themselves are actually quite lean and taut. These take up less space than the spongy and undefined structure of the fat molecule. Without ‘performance enhancing’ stimulants women do not possess adequate growth hormone or testosterone balance to generate a physique similar to that of a Male.

Why women may feel ‘bulky’:

This indicates that the over-consumption of calories is the main thing responsible for that ‘bulk’ or feeling of bulkiness. Having said that, it’s better working closely with a coach to know that you are executing the rep ranges for hypertrophy and strength gains perfectly.

We have an array of fibre types within our body – some thicker than others. Each fibre type will respond to a different TUT (time under tension), Rep range, Volume and Intensity (load).  Additionally, your nutrition needs to work hand in hand with your training for body composition changes. Your food intake is crucial to your performance and your aesthetic result in this phase.

Why strength training is ideal for women:

Women thrive in strength training, we have a greater diversity of muscle fibre types, so we can work through a variety of rep ranges and recover quicker than our male counterparts. As we generally lift lighter loads than a male it also takes less time for us to warm up to our working weight. Much more time efficient.

For example, a leg session may put a male out of the gym for 48 hours or 36 depending on who they are, but women generally can train more frequently. This is why I program in lower body training for my females 3-4 times per week and do the opposite for males. Typically, women desire rounder, perkier and bigger glutes whereas men generally prefer a larger chest and arms (gun show).

How do you know when to ‘bulk’ & ‘cut’?:

Generally, if you are 5kgs away from your goal body weight or have a body fat percentage greater than 20% I would suggest you drop body fat first. This combined with Umbilical, Suprailiac and Subscapularis skinfold pinches at or below 10 will elicit the best results. Studies suggest this will create better insulin sensitivity and nutrient partitioning for muscle protein synthesis (hypertrophy/growth).

4 tips for building shape & increasing muscle mass over winter (whilst staying lean):

  1. Follow a structured program, you want to apply progressive overload and change your program regularly to avoid adaptation.
  2. Eat well – I like a 90/10 Rule of nutrient dense to fun food ratio. New guidelines for the recommended intake of sugar to help control unhealthy weight gain and dental caries and prevent secondary diseases were published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 5th March 2015. It stated that no more than 50g sugar per day (5-10 teaspoons or 10% of your daily calories) should be consumed to decrease the risk of lifestyle-related disease. This is based on the evaluation of several scientific studies on the consumption of sugar by adults and children and the risk of unhealthy weight gain and dental caries. In addition, WHO believes a further reduction in free sugar intake to less than 5% of energy (i.e. no more than 5 teaspoons sugar for adults per day) would be sensible. However, this is still a provisory recommendation and the implementation of this as a health policy must be discussed. Think of building a better house and wanting the best raw materials to do so. It’s not a free pass to eat like an unsupervised child at a birthday party. You want to feel good when you lift & have the micronutrients to put your body in the best possible position to get jacked.
  3. Keep moving – have a step target of 10,000 steps per day. When we move more we create better blood flow and better insulin sensitivity which will put us in the best position to create growth.
  4. Adequate sleep of 7-9hrs will create the best growth hormone amount for muscle building.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach in hypertrophy programming:

Things that may influence hypertrophy programming are: 

  • Neurotransmitter type
  • Somatotype or ability to build muscle or retain fat
  • Training age and history 
  • Recovery required along with the time you can/are willing to commit to the program. 

This is where having the correct coach comes in handy. Check-ins should be frequent and detailed. Fat doesn’t lift weight so building unnecessary triglycerides will create more inflammation, detoxification demands and aromatase for your body to deal with. The days of dirty bulking and gained 10kgs are over, plus well and truly outdated. We train & program smarter.

Ladies, weight lifting will not make you bulky.  However, the overconsumption of calories, training sub-optimally, or not allowing progressive overload or muscle protein synthesis to occur – can. No one wants to be ‘skinny fat’ and no one wants to feel ‘bulky’. I would suggest working with a coach in making sure your training program and your nutrition protocols are aligned to achieve the physique that you want.

Personally, I feel strength training over winter is an awesome goal to stay on track with your training! You don’t need to get fat to build muscle, actually quite the opposite for building lean tissue. The advantage of a Lean Mass Gain/Bulk phase is that we tend to wear more layers when it is freezing allowing us to put that 6 pack in storage for a short time whilst we develop our ‘humps’ and strength. The correct Training protocol paired with delicious, hearty homemade meals is a serious recipe for gains!

If you want to learn more about building lean muscle and how to best approach your bulk, you need Christian Thibaudeau’s Guide to Hypertrophy! Build your physique in 12 weeks and master hypertrophy with our newest guidebook, HERE!

Yours in health,

Amy Needham

Clean Health Fitness Institute Master Coach

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