We’ve given you a fair bit of information about why building muscle is so great, and also about why it can be so hard for naturally skinny women. At this point you might be thinking, okay, yeah, this sounds great—I want more curves, more muscle, and more strength—but how do I actually get started?
In this post we’re going to explain exactly how you can get started lifting, either at home or at a gym, and then give you a routine to follow for your first few weeks. If your diet is on point, you should also be able to gain 2–3 pounds of muscle while doing it!
If you’re new to lifting, doing a couple exercises just 2–3 times per week is often enough to maximize your rate of muscle growth. When it comes to choosing those lifts, it’s no secret that a few lifts rise to the top. These lifts are: the squat, the deadlift, and the push-up (or bench press).* They work a ton of different muscle groups at once, they allow for very heavy loading, and they’re natural movement patterns that translate well to sports and day-to-day activities. To pick up a kid you squat down and pick ’em up. If you want to carry a couch you deadlift it. If you want to push someone, you’ll be doing the bench press.
You can make a good case for the chin-up, row and carry as well, but we’ll get to those later.
The problem is that these are very technically advanced lifts that require a ton of practice, a fair bit of equipment and oftentimes an in-person coach. Fortunately, since you’re a beginner, you can get just as much growth with easier variations of those lifts.
To get all the benefits without all the downsides, we recommend starting with the goblet squat, the dumbbell sumo deadlift, and the push-up. The goblet squat will work your biceps, shoulders, quads, obliques, abs, calves, lower back and butt. The dumbbell sumo deadlift will work all the muscles in your thighs, your grip (forearms), all the muscles in your back, and it’s one of the best lifts in the world for building your butt. The push-up will work your triceps, shoulders, chest, and abs. With just three lifts you have a very effective full body muscle-building routine.
You can use these even as an advanced lifter (the strongest women in the world will usually still find goblet squatting a 100 pound dumbbell challenging), but once you master the technique of these lifts I would recommend adding in some new lifts and also beginning a more sophisticated program.
As you grow much stronger you’ll need more advanced programming to stimulate consistent growth, and you’ll also need heavier and heavier weights in order to force your body to continue growing stronger. Eventually you’ll be doing the barbell front squat (or back squat), the barbell deadlift and the barbell bench press with hundreds of pounds on the bar (if you so choose). You’ll also be doing rows, glute bridges, chin-ups, hip thrusts, lunges, ab exercises, etc.
For now though, you can begin with just three lifts. Let’s go over each of them in detail:
The Goblet Squat
Here’s Marco and Simone teaching the goblet squat. This lift is great for developing the quads (front of thighs), glutes (butt), shoulders, upper arms, lower back, abs, etc. (This lift works over 200 muscles, so we’ll stop the list there.) Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a little while to learn to bend in the hips as well as Simone and Marco. They’ve been practicing for a very long time.
As you watch these lifts, notice that they’re lifting the weight explosively and powerfully, with no artificial slowing of the lift. Then, the weight is lowered slowly, resisting gravity, keeping it under control. But again, it’s not excessively slow, just enough to keep good control of the weight. This moderate lifting tempo, lifting explosively and then lowering under control, is best for gaining both muscle size and strength.
The Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift
Here’s Marco and Marielle teaching the dumbbell sumo deadlift. This lift is great for developing the hamstrings (back of thighs), glutes (in a slightly different way from the squat), upper and lower back, forearms and, again, hundreds of other muscles. This is one of the best lifts for improving your posture too.
Here’s the push-up. This lift is great for the chest, the shoulders, your core stability, and your posture. Combined with the squat and deadlift this creates a pretty balanced routine for your entire body.
Putting The Routine Together
So that’s how you do the lifts. Now we’re going to teach you how they come together to form a full muscle-building routine. Here’s Reetta from Finland, a Bombshell member turned Bombshell coach, with a video to demonstrate the routine:
For all of these lifts you want to choose a weight that you can’t do more than 15 repetitions with. That will guarantee that your body is making strength adaptations, not endurance adaptations. 8–12 reps is the golden zone, but anywhere between 4–15 reps is fine. Your strengths and the weights you have available will vary, so some flexibility will go a long way.
Don’t actually lift until you fail! You just need to get close to failing. When you just begin lifting you want to be practicing lifting well. Lifting to failure is not lifting well. That final rep where you’re contorting your body in your best effort to do something you really shouldn’t be doing… that’s no good. That’s practicing poor technique. It’s also not very safe. It also isn’t necessary, since going within a rep or two of failure will build muscle just as well. When you’re very advanced you’ll be able to lift to failure with better technique. For now, avoid it.
The more sets the merrier, but start modestly. We recommend doing two sets of each exercise the first week. Practice your form, find the right weights, take your time. Next week add a set to each exercise. Add another set the next week. Maybe even add another set in the week after that. You can repeat this cycle once more, going back to two sets and working your way back up to five (but with significantly heavier weights or significantly more reps). After your second cycle you should be ready for a more advanced routine.
Three workouts per week. You stimulate your muscles with the workout one day, then you recover and grow the next day. Your week will look like this:
Day One: Lift
Day Two: Rest, grow
Day Three: Lift
Day Four: Rest, grow
Day Five: Lift
Day Six: Rest, grow
Day Seven: Rest
Rest plenty between sets. This isn’t a cardio workout, so it doesn’t matter how out of breath you get. Rest a good minute between sets—more if needed. (You can perform the lifts in a circuit or not—both approaches will build muscle similarly well.)
Use this as a foundation, add lifts that help you accomplish your goals. Want bigger glutes? Add in a couple sets of one-legged hip thrusts. Want bigger biceps? Add in a couple sets of bicep curls at the end of your workout. Once you have completed a few sets of these main exercises you can do more exercise if you choose to.
Pair it with muscle-building nutrition. In order to gain weight you’ll need to work on your nutrition as well. Combining this workout with enough calories and enough protein is key in order to gain weight and build muscle. We’re going to cover some basic nutrition principles in our next article!
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What next? The Bony to Bombshell Program includes a fully optimized nutrition and workout program customized to perfectly suit you and your goals, coaching from us throughout your transformation, and a membership in the community where we can track your progress and you can hang out with other gals with similar goals 🙂
Or stay tuned for our next free article on nutrition!