Young Female Beginner w/ No Muscle

Hey everyone,

Been a fan of T-Nation for a while and after reading the many articles and advice I have finally seen the light and decided that resistance training is the best way for me to acquire muscle.

I am female, 21, 5’7" and weigh 120lb with 21% bf.

Please can someone give me a basic starting weight (I understand I should be using high weights with low reps) and possible the best diet to go with this.

As you can see I am pretty tiny but with a fair bit of fat, the whole skinny-fat look with most of my body fat on my ass and thighs (like most women). My aims are, increase muscle mass over all but focus on back of thighs, ass, stomach and arms. Not the tops of my legs so as to reduce that ‘chunky’ look.

Any help would be appreciated for this very humble beginner :slight_smile:

First off, Welcome to T-Nation/MWA! MWA is our sister site FYI, the link under the banner will take you there. It’s full of wonderful, intelligent, supportive ladies who truly walk the walk. If you haven’t been over there that’s the first thing you should do.

I really don’t see 21% BF in your litle black dress pic. I see a great shape with great potential.

As far as starting weight goes, if you’re untrained, form and full range of motion (ROM) are more important at this point. The weight that you use in any particular lift will end up being defined by how many reps you want to achieve and will change with your goals and experience. In general start with an empty bar to warm-up and lock your form in and then add weight until you’re near failure at the end of your set (5-10 reps/set is good starting guidline).

Diet-wise most of us like the anabolic diet or its variations. Lean proteins, healthy fats, occasional complex carbs and lots of vegetables are the staples. Again, there are more diet plans here than you can shake a stick of beef jerky at.

There are great traing/diet programs all over both sites. Do some searching and reading and then get back to us with any specific questions.

BTW, cool screen name! I would have picked “Lil Black Dress” for you but that’s just me. 8^)

Thank you kindly for your support and compliments!

I have read a few articles on MWA and have found it to be VERY helpful. The only problem is that I am reading many conflicting arguments.

Some say that just weight training is important, something like 3 times a week lifting as much as you can to a point of failure. Others saying that with that an hour or two a week jogging would help. Others say no jogging but maybe an hour a week swimming to improve overall tone and relax joints.

What should I do really to start? I have seen this plan in one of the articles and found it pretty useful…

Workout 1: Monday
Chest and Lats Primary �?? Back Thickness, Shoulders, and Arms Secondary
Warm-up: Push-ups, Band External Rotations
A1. Incline Bench Press 4 x 6
A2. Wide Grip Pulldown/Up 4 x 8
B1. Flye or Cable Crossover Variation 2 x 15
B2. Single Arm Side Incline Lateral Raise 2 x 10
B3. Lying Triceps Extensions 3 x 8-10
C1. Barbell Curl 3 x 10
C2. Resistance Abs 3 x 10

Workout 2: Wednesday
Quads Primary �?? Glutes and Hamstrings Secondary
A1. Squat 4 x 6-10
A2. Leg Curl 4 x 6
B1. Leg Press 1 x 20-30
B2. Stiff-Legged Deadlift 1 x 12-15
C1. Calf Raise Drop Set 2 x 10-10-10 (triple drop)

Workout 3: Friday
Delts and Back Thickness �?? Lats, Chest, and Arms Secondary
Warm-up: Push-ups, Band External Rotations
A1. Seated Military Press 4 x 6-8
A2. Chest Supported Row or Barbell Row 4 x 8-10
B1. Low Cable Chest Presses 2 x 12-15
B2. Supinated Grip Pulldown 2 x 12-15
C1. Incline Dumbbell Curl 3 x 6-8
C2. Triceps Pushdowns 3 x 8-10
D1. Hanging Leg Raises 2 x 15-20

Anyone agree or disagree? With this how many calories should I be consuming a day? I’m currently on a max of 1500 p/d.

Even though I only have about 10 months of serious weightlifting experience, I would suggest you stick to the basics : getting accustomed to your gym, learning the movements and generally fixing your diet (not going overboard with the calories counting).

First of all, this program is nice, but if you’re unexperienced, you will end-up either half-assing some of the exercises or simply just skip them because you won’t feel confortable doing them. You need to get accomodated to the weightlifting movements. It took me some weeks to try squatting for the first time, then some more to do it correctly. Same for the all the other important movements (benchpress, deadlift, rows, cleans, etc.). Don’t be afraid to ask knowledgable-looking people for advice, they will feel flattered to be asked for their opinion, whether they are right or wrong. It will still give you a second opinion and some confidence to try out the movements.

For the starting weights, you should start pretty low, then ramp up the weight set after set. Then, the next time you do that movement, just try to start with a weight closer to the heavier sets from the time before. After a week or two, you will pretty much know the weight you can do right now. As you get better with the movements and get stronger, you will then be able to do heavier sets.

About the numbers of reps and sets, what I do personally is :

  • Start out with minimal weight to get used to the movement (it can be an empty barbell, low-weight dumbells, etc.) for a set of 10-12
  • Do a low-weight set for about 8 reps
  • Do 3 sets for 6-8 reps and ramp up the weight if necessary

About the diet, I think just removing the junk food goes a long way. There’s a lot of articles on this site that list good food to eat and others to avoid. I don’t think it’s that important to count out the calories that early if you’re just starting out… but maybe that’s just me.

Good luck!

Could you clarify your goals? I understand increase muscle mass all over, but did you mean that you wanted to add muscle specifically to the back of thighs, ass, stomach and arms?

I would suggest starting with something even more basic than what you propose above. Keep in mind, basic does not mean easy.

Pull-ups–with assistance, if you have that machine; or pulldowns
1 leg squats (or 2 legs if need be)
1 leg deadlifts (or 2 legs if need be)

Start with body weight and do what you can. Set goals, 2 reps of each, then 5, then 8 etc. Try 3 circuits to start. Increase sets or reps each workout. The gains should come quickly as you learn the movements and get stronger. Maintain strict form, no cheating. If you can get to more than 25 reps (per set) at body weight, move on to another program or grab some dumbbells.

Try that for a few weeks, 2 to 4 days a week. If you do them as a circuit with limited resting (catch your breath) you should work up quite a sweat.

This is just my opinion (no formal training), there is plenty of great info on this site. Sometimes starting with the basics is best.

As far as calories, I would not make any changes just yet. Eat clean.

Looks like a good program that should net you the results you are looking for.

I wouldn’t try to push your sets to failure though, especially early on in your training. You don’t want to be so burned out and sore that you cringe thinking about your next workout. When your muscle are used to the training (usually takes a few weeks) then push it harder and add more reps or weight and test your limits.

Doing cardio like jogging, swimming, biking, etc can always be beneficial to your goals as long as you don’t over do it. Throw in 10 minutes or so of cardio before each of your work-outs to warm-up and fit in 30 min after the weight training. Personally, I would jog or bike after your upper body days and swim after your lower body day. Jogging after doing squats can be kinda rough!

By the way, congratulations on not being timid about doing squats and deadlifts. The whole program in general is more intense than you’ll see many women partake in because they are afraid of getting “big”. However, getting big is more a function of your genetics than the exercises you choose to do. If you get bored of back squats and stiff legged deadlifts, don’t be afraid to try out Front or Overhead Squats, Romanian Deadlifts or Good Mornings. I’m a big fan of overhead squatting myself since it recruits alot of muscles from your Abs and Lower back to stabilize yourself. Try it and you’ll see!

Finally, even if you restrict yourself to 2 hours of cardio a week, you can still take a walk every day that will yield benefits in the long run.

Looks like quite a solid routine. It’s similar to what I do except I do core/cardio/complexes on Tues & Thurs as well. I also stick to mostly olympic and powerlifting style training primarily with free weights of course. I’m at about 14-15% BF right now with a main goal of reaching the single digits and seeing my abs. Not an easy task at 46 years old. 8^( That’s why I need to add in the extra cardio/complexes. (A complex is simply a series of light exercises performed in sequence with little or no rest. i.e. weight-bearing cardio) The debate on cardio or not is often dependant on your somatype. If you’re an ectomorph (naturally thin, high metabolism), then it’s counter-productive. You sound/look like more of an endo/meso like I am. It’s relatively easy to put on muscle but the fat is very stubborn. We can usually do some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for cardio to help burn fat and raise our metabolic rate without losing too much muscle mass or strength.

As a beginner you will find that you can (and WILL) increase your muscle mass and lose body fat at the same time. This becomes more difficult as you progress and your body adapts so please enjoy this time and make the most of it.

1500 cals sounds a bit low for your work load but it depends on your food choices of course. 1500 cals of broiled chicken breast, brown rice and steamed veggies has a very different effect on body composition than a super-sized Big Mac Meal (Duh!). Post your average daily diet. Most important, don’t neglect pre/peri/post workout nutrition. A big hit of simple sugars, fast absorbing protein and BCAAs during/after your workout time will replenish glycogen stores and aid recovery rather than being stored as fat. That’s a good thing so don’t neglect it.

It sounds like you’re serious about making some positive physical changes. If you haven’t already, post this info at MWA. I bet Olesya or Jen will swoop down and take you under their wings. With the help of those amazing ladies you’ll be flying towards your goals on your own in no time. I’m not about to stop advising you though… I sense a fitness competitor in the making!

Study all you can here, and stay consistent with your diet and training (don’t forget we’re watching you now!). If you need motivation or advice, we’re here for you.


Wow - quite a routine certainly. I think as Tex said you need to define some specific goals though.

You’ve got a great curvy look at the moment but you obviously want to change that to some degree. If you are at 21% bf at the moment you really don’t have much to lose (remember girls store more fat on average than guys anyway) and you say most of the fat is on your bum and thighs - so if you get plenty of squats and deads in your workout you’ll develop a good muscle tone in those areas that will help disguise any fat deposits you have there.

Squats & deads also help burn off lots of pounds of fat!

If you want to aquire muscle, how about starting with a beginners 3x5 routine with some HIIT on the off days? Moving on to a 5x5 after say 8 weeks.

Combined with healthy eating you’ll shift some fat no problem and gain a lot of strength too.

From your photo I’d say you already know how to eat but may need to put some minor adjustments in your diet to maximise what you want to achieve. Let’s face it, to start with, you know what’s good for you to eat and what’s not so cut out the stuff thats not and eat more of what is good.

Try to eat your carbs earlier in the day and taper off towards the evening where you should just be eating protein and healthy fats.

Another piece of advice that will stand you in very good stead - stick around here and post and read. You’ll learn so much and get some great advice.

Finally welcome to T-Nation. Nice to see an English T-Vixen on the forums!

Oh I should have added - get some fish oil down you.

Well thanks guys for all the help!

I promise to keep you updated on how I do and what I do in the future. Although I am in no way an expert, I have read enough articles on here to have a good idea of what I’m doing or what I need to do.

I will be heading down to my gym tomorrow and chatting to someone there to get a face-to-face idea of what I should be doing and will put it on here.

As for diet, you’re right I have a good idea what to eat, I make sure I get my five+ a day, ONLY eat brown bread/rice/pasta, and get a good bit of protein (mainly through fish as I don’t like eating mass produced meat, as it were).

Will let you know how I get on tomorrow then!

Thank you all!

It looks like you have some good advice from the guys.

In my opinion start slowly (I think 10-12 reps on the barbell might be too much) and concentrate on how you perform each exercise. This will ensure a full range of motion (important when you add weight) and reduce the injury risks.

Read up on HIIT, it may be just what your looking for. If you’re goals are to lose weight and gain some lean muscle.

check your bf again, it’s hard to believe from that pic. It also looks like you’re modelling your little black number in a shop, just trying it out?.

Why yes i was! was the only pic I have that shows my figure without actually being naked.

I have a little body fat monitor, nothing fancy so it may not be completely accurate…

Read this article: Seven Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs

If you have access to a proper gym, you should do a routine like Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength.

Ideally, you should buy the book, but if that is not possible, here is a great summary of his routine and the lifts involved:

And for cardio, it is best do do some form of HIIT, on non-lifting days:

[quote]laura-lightning wrote:
Why yes i was! was the only pic I have that shows my figure without actually being naked.

I have a little body fat monitor, nothing fancy so it may not be completely accurate…[/quote]

This may be difficult for you to believe, but most of the T-Men around here don’t have a problem with women being actually naked. 8^} “Quite Really!”

If your bodyfat monitor is one of those bio-impedance types then you’ll find it gives very different readings depending on your hydration levels. If you use it at the same time every day it will work reasonably well to track your progress. However, they are notoriously inaccurate at absolute readings.

Let the mirror and the fit of your clothes be your guide for the most part. (Men slipping in their own drool whenever you’re around is also a good indicator that you’re doing something right.)

well i have a few male friends who read this forum and posting a naked pic would cause much grief!

Ok, first off I just want to say I love your attitude, and your figure :). You’ve definitely got potential. And secondly, I want to say that your posts show a lot more thought and previous reading that most beginners’ threads start with.

I want to personally thank you for that because it makes it easier on us! We still need a particular goal for you–what’s your ideal physique? Do you want to compete in figure, etc? Stuff like that.

Good advice from most people here.
A few thoughts of my own:

A) Get used to conflicting opinions. They never stop in a field like this. The important thing is to concentrate on what all these different opinions have in COMMON, not where they differ. Focus on doing what all of them share in common, and experiment with each of the differences on your own to find what works for you.

Yes, it gets confusing with information overload, but the easiest way to deal with that is by simplifying what you know down to central common concepts. The greatest strength coaches and most successful trainees all agree on 90% of the info–but it’s the last 10% that gets most of the publicity.

B) As a beginner to weight training, the single most important thing for a beginner is form, form, Form! As a beginner, you don’t need a complex, wave-loading, cybernetically periodized blah-blah-blah. You need to practice getting things right. You will make progress on just about any program, high/low weight, high/low reps, whole body/split, doesn’t matter. So focus on form and not on weight.

C) One more time for emphasis–You’ll make great progress on any program as long as you work hard and are consistent w/diet!

D) As a corollary to the above points, I highly suggest you start with higher reps. This is because 1) you need to work on form to avoid getting bad habits in your most formative lifting stage, 2) because your body does not have the proper preparation to lift things below 6-8 reps–tendons, CNS, coordination are all not used to any heavy strain, you must condition them first, and it may introduce bad habits. I learned the hard way and 3) There’s no use in rushing to do too much too soon.

My personal suggestions are 12-15 reps most times, and no lower than 8 reps for the first 8 weeks. Trust me, a hard set of 12-15 is very beneficial to you, especially for conditioning. By hard I mean very close to failure when doing the last rep. If you’re not there, add weight for the next set. After 2 months of consistent hard work, you can drop to using the 6-12 rep range as you see fit.

E) Be careful of personal trainers at most gyms. They want to coddle you because you’re a woman, and won’t advise you toward serious lifting because most of them are idiots in the first place. However, there are good ones hiding everywhere, they just take more time to find.

F) RE: your exercise program–I like the program for the most part…but not for you. My feeling is that it doesn’t look like much to you now, but it will be much more than you bargained for when you try it. Especially if you haven’t had any serious physical activity for a while. Even if you have general activity, lifting weights is very different from most types of “soreness”.

Where did you get this program? Could you link us to it? Just type in the address and it will automatically link in your post.

It looks somewhat advanced for a beginner. You don’t need triple supersets right now. At all. I would at the very very least add 4 reps to each exercise, drop 1 set from each exercise that currently has 3 or 4 sets, and not superset. I’d really really advise against 7 exercises in a training session. You don’t need more than 5 right now (not counting abs).

G) RE: Cardio–if you have a background of running a lot, then check out high intensity interval training (HIIT) 1-2x a week. If you don’t, start with low intensity “regular” cardio. HIIT is kinda like another weight workout, very strenuous. So, put 2 days of ‘regular’ cardio in somewhere for the first 4-6 weeks. Then go to 3 days cardio. Then evaluate whether you want to try HIIT or not.

Final note–I’m telling you all this because you’re about to make a major life change. If you concentrate on trying to do too many things at once, you risk burnout. Be consistent, first and foremost. The rest will take care of itself in time. Build your foundation slowly and carefully, because if you rush things, you’ll only collapse in the end.

Hope this helps.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed response. I REALLY apprieciate it.

The set I found came from here
(bout halfway down the page)

I realised when reading it that it looked pretty tough but as a beginner I didn’t know if that was the norm or not.

My VERY basic problem/aim is that my body seems to be made up of bone, skin and fat placed on, luckily (according to you guys) where it looks good.

I do want to keep my shape, but turn what was once just fat into muscle too.

Hope this helps lay out the foundations. I’m trying to find a pic of me so you can see what my body actually looks like so you can understand how little muscle I have, so bare with me.

Oh, and just to give you a vague idea about my diet, typical (today)

Breakfast: 2 Oatabix/wheetabix, sugar, milk
Orange, apple

Early lunch: Bowl veg soup, 1 roll

Early Dinner: Wholewheat pasta with Chopped tuna, chopped tomatoes, red kidney beans and mushrooms

Supper: Egg and bacon toasted sarnie.

Okay, found a pic of my stomach. Now, I luckily don’t store any fat here so there is nothing really to shift. Problem is there is no definition and when i sit down I do get rolls of skin/fat/whatever. Point is it’s not toned. Of course I am not looking for over definition either.

I won’t be posting anymore pics as, like I said, will get ripped by my friends who read this.

Damn. After you get training seriously you’re going to be (even more of) a knockout with that frame. Don’t sweat the friends. It’s been my experience most of them won’t understand the drive it takes to do this anyway. You gotta do what needs to be done.

Well, your diet is a problem, mostly because it’s got so little protein. I am a big believer that you should stick to carbs if carbs work, and stick to low carbs if that works. Everyone’s different. Case in point–you. You seem to have almost no protein, with moderate/high carbs, and although you have no muscle, you are not overweight at all and have a good form. So if carbs are well tolerated (as they seem to be with you), there’s not too much sense in going all crazy with an ultra-low carb approach. Just good carbs

There are four rules:

A) Eat breakfast every day w/o fail.

B) eat protein with every meal/snack

C) eat fruit or veggies every meal/snack

D) eat frequently, whether you’re hungry or not. This prevents you from getting super hungry and having one large meal in the evening. Spread it out. In order to build muscle or burn fat, you must make your body realize that it’s got plenty of nutrients coming its way on a regular schedule so it doesn’t have to worry about storing any for later. Only way to do that is to eat by a time schedule and not “when you’re hungry”.

check out Dr. Berardi’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Plans” (or something liek that) on here. 7 habits, 7 rules, no crazy math.

The nice thing about building muscle is that you don’t have to sweat calories as much–you need some excess to grow muscle anyway. You just have to make sure you’re getting the right kinds of foods in you and not allowing yourself to rationalize crappy foods or snacks you know won’t do anything good for you. Seems to me that won’t be a problem in general for you.

RE: the training program. Thanks for the link. As I said, it’s a good one, but maybe not for you right now. I’d say you should try it if you want too, but be prepared. Who knows, you might love it and thrive on it right away. Otherwise keep it for a couple months from now, after you’ve gotten used to training regularly, you’ll be able to handle something like that for sure. Jen really knows her stuff.

3 days a week with some cardio after weights on 2 of the days would be a good place to start. If after a month you think you’d be better off doing cardio on a different day from weights, change it up. I would keep 2 days of total rest in your week minimum though, even if you add extra cardio or whatever.

^^ Thanks again. My mates are already going to think i’m fishing for compliments by posting this pic.

Was actually one of my friends who introduced me to this site and this way of working out, so they aren’t all bad! :slight_smile:

Heading to the gym soon to check out the facilities and get an idea as to what I should be doing. Will let you know how I get on…

Well, because of all the stupid January starters I have to wait a week before I can even have an induction at my local gym. Will be swimming until then to try to get a overall ‘warm up’.