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For powerlifters, the low-bar squat rules. It uses a smaller range of motion, it has great leverage, and our back strength won’t ever hold us back. If our goal is to squat as much weight as possible, low-bar squats are best.
For athletes, high-bar squats are popular. The range of motion is a little larger, it still allows for fairly heavy loading, and it does a great job of bulking up our lower bodies. For sprinters, footballers, and rugby players, it’s a great squat variation.
For men, front squats are usually best. They’re harder on the upper back muscles, which helps to build thicker torsos and better posture.
But what if you’re a skinny gal who’s trying to get bigger, stronger, healthier, and better looking?
So, first of all, you may have heard that the squat works over two-hundred muscles. There’s some truth to that. Most of the muscles in our bodies will need to work together to stabilize the weight, whether that’s our spinal erectors keeping our backs straight, our calves keeping us from falling over, or our lats keeping the barbell pulled in nice and tight.
However, just because a muscle is active doesn’t mean that a muscle is being challenged. If we consider our calves, sure, they’ll be putting in work. And as beginners, they might even be putting in enough work to grow. But as soon as our calves are strong enough to keep us from tipping over, they’ll stop limiting us on the squat, and so they’ll stop getting a growth stimulus.
So although squats work most of the muscles in our bodies, the limiting factors are our quads, glutes, adductors, and possibly our spinal erectors. Those are the muscles that will grow.
Now, that isn’t to minimize the benefits of the squat. Our quads are the largest muscles in our bodies, with our glutes coming in second. And not by a small margin, either. Our quads are four times as big as our shoulders, our glutes are twelve times as big as our biceps (source). These are huge muscles with tremendous potential for growth.
(Note that we aren’t mentioning hamstrings. They’re active during squats, but they aren’t a limiting factor, and so they rarely see much growth from squatting. It’s the deadlift that takes care of our hamstrings.)
So it’s not that squats work a large number of muscles, but rather that the squats work our very biggest muscles very hard. We’re only training 3–4 groups of muscles, but the muscles are so incredibly big that we’re working about half of the muscle mass in our bodies.
As you can imagine, this makes squats amazing for bulking up, and the benefits go beyond the obvious:
Overall, this makes squats the best bulking lift. This is especially true if you’re keen on bulking up your glutes and quads.
Most of us can benefit from having a bigger butt. Not only does it look great, but it also helps to protect the back from injury and reduces the incidence of lower back pain.
What’s interesting is that because squats work the glutes through such a large range of motion with such a heavy load, they stimulate even more glute growth than glute isolation exercises like the hip thrust, and certainly more glute growth than donkey kicks and clamshells and all of the lighter isolation exercises.
If we look at a 2020 study by Barbalho et al that compared the barbell back squat against the hip thrust, we see that the squat produced twice as much glute growth as the hip thrust did.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also be doing hip thrusts. They both have different strength curves, with squats being hardest while your glutes are stretched, whereas hip thrusts are hardest when your glutes are clenched. Both will train your glutes in slightly different ways, and so we’d expect a routine that includes both to be ideal.
But this does mean that the heavy compound lifts that work your glutes through a large range of motion—squats and deadlifts—should be your main glute exercises. After that, we could pop in some moderate-rep isolation work, such as hip thrusts, glute bridges, lunges, and so on.
The goblet squat has us holding the weight in front of us, in our hands. It’s the best variation for beginners, and there are a few reasons for that:
However, it’s not only good for beginners. Until we can do fifteen or more repetitions with our heaviest dumbbell, it’s an absolutely amazing squat variation.
The only downside to goblet squats is that our legs may grow stronger than our arms, at which point our arms will get a greater growth stimulus than our legs. A beginner’s legs will grow with even a modest stimulus, so this isn’t a problem at first, but as we move into the intermediate phase, we want to make sure that we’re bringing our glutes and quads close enough to failure to stimulate reliable muscle growth. That’s where the barbell squats come in.
The front squat has us holding the weight up against our necks, in the crook between our shoulders and our collarbones. It’s a great all-around squat and a true full-body lift.
On the plus side, the weight is held in front of us, which allows—or rather forces—us to squat with a more upright torso. The more upright our torso is, the less likely our hips are to jam up against our thighs, and so the deeper we’ll be able to squat:
Furthermore, supporting the weight in front of us means that our upper back muscles will need to fight to keep us from caving forwards:
What we’re seeing here is that the moment arm is much bigger in the area of our thoracic spines, meaning that our spinal erectors will need to work much harder to maintain good posture while front squatting (as opposed to back squatting). Working those postural muscles under such a heavy load will make them much stronger over time.
As you can imagine, those are the very same muscles that help us stand taller and straighter, and so front squats are known for being one of the best lifts for improving posture:
In addition to helping us improve our posture, being able to hold heavy things in front of us also has massive carryover to our real-world strength. For example, my wife prefers the front squat because it gives her the back strength that she needs to carry around our son.
On the negative side, there’s a chance that your back strength will be your limiting factor. If you’re ending your sets because your back is starting to round forward, then that may mean that you haven’t brought your glutes and quads close enough to failure yet.
It’s also a bit of a tricky lift to learn. Some people feel like they’re being strangled by a rough steel barbell. Other people find it painful on the tendons in their fingers and forearms. These problems go away after a couple of weeks—you’ll get more comfortable with the barbell against your neck, and you’ll develop more flexibility in your upper body—but in the meantime, it can be torture.
Takeaway: the front squat is an amazing squat variation, it’s our personal favourite, and it may even be the best all-around full-body bulking lift. However, depending on your goals, there’s a case to be made for the back squat as well (and most of us should master both).
The back squat is the most popular squat variation, and it has us resting the barbell on our backs. We could subdivide back squats into low-bar and high-bar squats, based on how high you place the barbell on your back, but both of those variations have more in common than not (and unless you’re a powerlifter, you should probably be placing the barbell higher anyway—on top of your traps).
The back squat forces us to lean forward as we squat, creating a deeper hip angle, and lengthening the moment arm for our glutes. We can further emphasize this effect by “sitting back” into the squat instead of “sitting down” into the squat, further lengthening the moment arm for our hips.
What we’re seeing here is that the back squat is slightly more challenging for our hips, a little bit less challenging for our quads, and much less challenging for our upper backs.
Because our quads tend to be our limiting factor while squatting, and because back squats are easier on our quads, most of us can back squat 25–35% more weight than we can front squat. However, even with all of that extra weight, most of us will still be limited by our quad strength. As a result, back squats are about the same for our quad development, but because we’re lifting more weight and have a longer moment arm for our hips, we might get some extra glute growth.
The next thing to consider is our hip and knee angle when squatting:
What we’re seeing here is that back squats have us bending less at the knees, more at the hips. That means that with back squats, we’re working our hips through a larger range of motion, which is great for glute growth.
However, despite these advantages for glute growth, keep in mind that deadlifts also have a deep hip angle and a large moment arm on the hips. If our program includes both front squats and deadlifts, we’re getting the benefits of both worlds anyway. There’s no need to turn our squats into deadlifts by driving our hips back like that.
A potential downside to back squats is that they can sometimes cause hip pain and they aren’t always easy on our shoulders. These are issues you could deal with as they present themselves, though. For example, if back squatting ever started to hurt your shoulders or hips, you could always switch to safety-bar squats, which have all the benefits of back squats but without the wear and tear. The only downside is that you’d need to get a safety bar.
The main downside to back squats is that they aren’t anywhere near as good for improving our upper back strength or posture as front squats are. They’re less of a full-body lift, more of a lower-body lift. And that’s fine.
Takeaway: back squats might be better for bulking up our glutes, they’re equally good for bulking up our thighs, but we lose the benefit to our backs, and they can, in some instances, put more wear and tear on our lower backs, shoulders, and hips.
Goblet squats are the best beginner variation, and they remain a great choice until we can lift the heaviest dumbbell for at least fifteen repetitions. The only downside to goblet squats is that our upper-body strength can be a limiting factor, which could hold back our lower-body growth.
Front squats work our quads through the largest range of motion, they’re the safest, they’re the best for our posture, and they stimulate the most overall muscle growth throughout our bodies. The one downside is that our glutes are worked through a smaller range of motion, but we have the deadlift for that anyway.
Back squats, especially if we “sit back” into them, are likely the best squat variation for building up our hips and butts. However, keep in mind that we also have deadlift variations that work our glutes through that exact same range of motion.
By default, we generally use the front squat as our main squat variation, and the back squat as a secondary variation, but there are no hard-and-fast rules, and we all have slightly different biomechanics. You can experiment and see which squat variations suit you best.
If you liked this article, and if you want a weight gain program with all of these principles built into it, you’ll love our Bony to Bombshell Program.
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The even bigger problem is that you’re a woman who wants to gain weight.
“Are you crazy!?”
Sob. No. We aren’t crazy. Just naturally skinny.
So here’s an article about how to buy supplements with our unique goal in mind. We’ll explain the pros and cons of each, and then, if you decide to take them, we’ll teach you how.
Finally, if you hear about a weight gain supplement that’s not mentioned here, it’s likely because we don’t feel that there’s enough evidence to support it yet. But feel free to ask us about any supplements you’re curious about in the comments.
This supplement guide has just one type of person in mind: the naturally skinny woman who’s looking to build muscle and gain weight as quickly and healthfully as possible. I’m hoping that’s you.
We’ve done our best to find brands with a good reputation for being honest and reasonably priced. If you like our content and you want to support this website, you can purchase the supplements using the links, earning us a 4% commission. No extra cost to you (and these supplements didn’t pay us to write this article or anything, we’re just using Amazon.) If you don’t want to support us, you can just get them without using the links.
Oh, and, of course, consult your doctor before beginning any weird supplement protocol that you find on the internet 😉
Without further ado, let’s begin.
In this study, men who added whey protein and maltodextrin into their diet gained 7.5 pounds of muscle more than the control group over the course of 8 weeks while simultaneously losing fat. Fantastic results, but will it work equally well on women?
Yes and no.
Maltodextrin is a source of carbohydrates. More specifically, it’s a powdered starch, like flour. However, unlike flour, it can be mixed with water and consumed raw. This makes it arguably the most convenient source of calories on the planet.
Why on earth would someone want to drink a carb shake?
Well, most people wouldn’t. Overweight people don’t benefit from adding extra calories to their diets. That would just make them gain even more weight. And sedentary people don’t benefit from adding more carbs into their diets. Since they aren’t active, they don’t need extra fuel.
But for women trying to get bigger and stronger, maltodextrin can be a godsend.
We store starch in our muscles (as glycogen), and then use it as fuel while working out. This improves our workout performance.
After working out, we need to get into a calorie surplus in order to build muscle. However, we don’t just want to get into any old sort of calorie surplus, we want most of those surplus calories to come from carbs and protein.
The carbs re-inflate our muscles with glycogen, the protein allows us to construct new muscle tissue.
Fat, on the other hand, is very easily stored as fat. After all, fat is already fat. Our body can just dump it into fat storage without even needing to convert it into a different form of energy.
Not so with carbs. In order for our bodies to store carbs as fat, it would first need to convert them into fat. During that process, most of the calories would be burned off as heat.
This means that having extra carbs and protein after a workout will make you bigger and hotter, whereas having extra fat would make you bigger and fatter.
Now, here is the issue. The research is very clear that having carbs and protein after working out is great for people who are trying to gain weight and build muscle. As a result, weight-gainer supplements are extremely common.
However, most of the people trying to gain weight are men. As a result, most of the weight-gainer supplements on the market are designed for them, not you.
This is a problem because women have more estrogen than men. Estrogen reduces the amount of glycogen you can store in your muscles and causes you to get more energy from your fat stores while training. This is good because it means you burn more fat while in the gym, but it’s bad because it changes the ratio of carbs and protein you need after working out.
So while weight gainers work quite well in men, they might not help you that much. You need a weight gainer that’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, but that’s also still mercilessly going after weight gain as the primary goal.
That supplement doesn’t exist. So we make it ourselves.
You can do this by buying maltodextrin (maltodextrin) and whey protein separately. That allows you to lower the amount of carbs while keeping the protein content high. It’s not that carbs are bad. In fact, carbs are great for bulking up. It’s just that having more control over our macros is a plus.
50 grams of maltodextrin + 40 grams of whey protein makes for an ideal women’s weight gainer shake that you can drink after lifting weights.
This has the added benefit of letting you control the ingredients you’re using. For example, you get to pick whether you use artificial flavours and sweeteners or not. Personally, I mix unflavoured whey protein and maltodextrin with a scoop of Athlete Vitamin or spirulina. Or you could even flavour it by mixing it with your favourite flavour of tea.
Okay, now let’s move on to the second half of this shake.
Our muscles are made out of the protein we eat, so not eating enough protein puts a firm limit on the amount of muscle we can build.
Eating roughly 1 gram of protein per pound body weight per day has been proven to be ideal for muscle growth. Most people don’t eat quite that much, so if you’re like most people, eating more protein should allow you to build more muscle more quickly (study, study).
Whether you choose to eat more chicken, greek yogurt, whey protein, plant-based protein powder, or pumpkin seeds is up to you, though. All will work.
Having whey protein after working out has been proven to stimulate extra muscle growth. You’ve got up to 2 hours after training to have the protein (study, study), but I’d recommend having it right away just to get into the habit of working out + protein. It will also allow you to get back to eating your regular meals more quickly.
As for how much to take, a scoop of protein powder usually contains 24–27 grams of protein, which is ideal for many people. However, when you train your entire body each workout, as we recommend, we’re stimulating an unusually large number of muscles all at once, so we benefit from a slightly higher protein intake after training.
More muscles stimulated at once = quicker muscle growth = higher protein needs.
So we recommend having 40 grams of whey protein powder after working out. This has the added benefit of giving you extra calories as well, and as with maltodextrin, it’s very difficult for your body to store these extra calories as fat. This should help you make leaner gains.
Of all the protein powders, whey protein isolate is the best default option. Whey protein is a byproduct formed during the creation of milk. Farmers used to throw it away, now they sell it to weightlifters.
The processing of whey is fairly minimal, allowing it to retain many vitamins and minerals. Many nutritionists consider it a whole food, similar to cheese and yogurt.
Click here to check out the whey protein brand we recommend
If you don’t handle whey protein well (allergies) or you’re avoiding it for moral reasons (e.g. you’re a vegan) then you can go with plant-based protein powder. Here’s our article on plant-based protein options.
Creatine is an extremely popular bulking supplement for men, but not so popular with women yet. I suspect that will soon change, given how healthy and effective it’s proving to be.
It has no major side-effects even after several decades of research (study, study, study), it’s so healthy for your brain that it’s being investigated as a way to prevent depression and Alzheimer’s, and most studies show that creatine is by far the most effective muscle-building supplement (study, study, study, study, study).
Some studies show as much as a 50% improvement in how much muscle you can build. But if we look at the overall body of research, especially the studies focusing on women between the ages of 18–40, I think it would be more reasonable to expect a 25% improvement. This still puts it way ahead of the other similar muscle-building supplements on the market (such as beta-alanine).
Creatine is generally considered the muscle-building supplement. It’s so good that most expensive supplement concoctions will tuck away a few grams of creatine into every serving. You could think of most supplements like mix drinks. There are a lot of cool colours, flavours and ingredients, but the whole point of them is alcohol. Creatine is the alcohol.
So why do some women avoid creatine? Creatine will cause your muscles to swell, and the more muscle mass you have, the more swelling you’ll experience. In an overweight person with plenty of muscle, plenty of fat, and poor muscle definition, this can make them look more bloated and bulky. Because most women are overweight, this describes the typical experience women have with creatine.
Of course, the same would be true if they built muscle the regular way. It’s not that they’re not enjoying the effects of creatine, it’s that they’re not enjoying the experience of having more muscle mass underneath their fat.
However, as someone who’s thinner, it will make you look fitter and stronger. After all, it’s your muscles that swell up. Besides, the bigger your muscles are, the more they’ll swell. This means that it’s your largest muscles—your thighs and butt—that will swell the most. Not something that every woman wants but definitely something that most naturally thin women want.
Anyway, the swelling of your muscles isn’t even the purpose of creatine, just a cool bonus. The main benefit of creatine is that it increases how many reps you can do when lifting weights (by replenishing your ATP), allowing you to better stimulate growth in your muscles. It also improves your body’s ability to construct new muscle mass.
You’ll also gain less fat. Creatine improves insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells, and more insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells means that more of the calories you eat are used for muscle growth instead of fat storage.
Another nice thing about creatine is that it’s cheap. It’s been around for so long that the price has plummeted. You can buy the best quality stuff for cents per serving. On that note, keep in mind that we’re looking for the highest quality creatine, not the most expensive.
The best manufacturer, CreaPure, makes a high-quality creatine monohydrate that has decades of research proving its effectiveness. CreaPure then sells their creatine to many of the best supplement brands, such as AllMax.
Click here to check out the creatine brand we recommend
As for when, how, and how much to take, we’ll cover all of that at the end of the article.
*Creatine is synthesized in a lab so it’s safe for vegetarians and vegans too.
**If you’re bulking on a vegan diet, you’ll be more likely to have a deficiency in creatine, making supplementation even more beneficial (study).
The problem with a basic multivitamin is that it’s made for an average person with average goals. That goal is usually: to be a little bit healthier while sitting at a desk all day.
These general multivitamins contain a whole bunch of different vitamins and minerals in doses that won’t help us build muscle at all. Or at least in such a minor way that studies can’t even detect the benefits.
However, some vitamins and minerals in certain doses can indeed help us to build muscle more quickly and healthfully, so let’s go over a couple vitamins and minerals that you’ll want to pay attention to as a lifter.
Vitamin D is the “sunlight vitamin,” and we synthesize it naturally when we get enough sun exposure. While we’re ‘supposed’ to get it from the sun, we can also get small amounts from eggs, fish and dairy. The problem is that what we get from food usually isn’t enough to make up for the fact that most of us behave like vampires. The vast majority of people in North America (79%) and Europe have a vitamin D deficiency (study, study). If you fix your vitamin D deficiency, it will help balance out hormone irregularities, improve your insulin sensitivity, improve your cardiovascular health, increase your bone density, improve your mood, and help prevent cancer (study, study, study, study).
Vitamin K is the dark green vegetable vitamin, and it helps your bones, your heart, and it slightly improves your insulin sensitivity. It also works synergistically with vitamin D: if you take both, the effects of each are enhanced.
Then we have a few minerals that lifters often benefit from: zinc, magnesium and calcium. Zinc is lost when we sweat, making it a good supplement for lifters and athletes, especially if they sweat profusely while training. Magnesium deficiencies are common in Western countries, so a magnesium supplement can often be helpful. And calcium is great for bone health, although it’s quite easy to get enough from your diet if your diet includes dairy.
Fortunately, there are a couple of evidence-based vitamins designed for people trying to build muscle, and this can save you the trouble of having to get each one individually.
Click here to check out the vitamin supplement we recommend
A good pre-workout supplement won’t directly build more muscle, but it will allow you to train harder in the gym, and training harder in the gym will directly build more muscle. So for most people, they wind up helping.
Most pre-workout supplements combine a bunch of different ingredients of varying effectiveness instead of using just a single effective ingredient. With muscle-building supplements, the key ingredient is always creatine. With pre-workout supplements, the key ingredient is always caffeine. Caffeine allows you to squeeze out more reps and do more sets before becoming fatigued, increasing your lifting volume, and thus allowing you to build more muscle more quickly.
Don’t click here because you can just have a strong coffee or tea before going to the gym
There’s a plus side to the addictive nature of caffeine, too. If you build a ritual out of your pre-workout caffeine, you can become addicted to your gym habit. You’ll crave the coffee, the coffee will make you think of going to the gym, and your healthy exercise habit will be that much easier to stick to.
If you aren’t a coffee or tea fan, Citadel Nutrition’s Tier One supplement is a good choice. It has 5 grams of creatine from CreaPure, 3.2 grams of beta-alanine from Carnosyn (which is similar to but less effective than creatine), and 150-200mg of caffeine (which is quite a lot!). Every ingredient is effective, the quality is very high, and it saves you from having to take your creatine in the morning on your workout days.
Here are the supplements you should get. None are mandatory to get great results, but if you’re looking to accelerate your results, I recommend buying one of each to start.
Once you have those supplements in your hands, here’s how to take them:
Creatine + vitamins every morning: Take 5 grams of creatine every day. You don’t need to be all that particular about how you take it: you can sprinkle it on your cereal like fairy dust, or stir it into your morning coffee (which is how they usually do it in studies). Mixing it with water is fine also. (Some people think that taking 5-gram doses of creatine several times per day during your first week will yield quicker results. That hasn’t been proven yet. As it stands, it’s perfectly fine to have just 5 grams per day so that your creatine levels rise slowly over the course of a month. This should also keep you from becoming dehydrated while your muscles begin storing more liquid.)
Also make sure you aren’t deficient in vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, or calcium. How much you should take of each depends on how deficient you are and what country you live in, but for people trying to build muscle in general, this athlete’s vitamin should be a good default choice. (Another option would be to eat tons of veggies, legumes and dairy and then take a tablespoon of Nutrasea + D every morning alongside your creatine.)
Caffeine or pre-workout supplement before working out: You can have a strong coffee or tea 30 minutes before going to the gym, or you could drink a pre-workout supplement like Tier One.
Muscle-building shake after working out: 40 grams of whey protein isolate (or plant-based alternative) mixed with water after you finish your workout. If you have trouble gaining weight, add 50 grams of carbohydrate powder (maltodextrin) to the shake.
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Now, muscle-building nutrition can be overwhelming at first, especially for beginners. How much should you eat? Which foods are healthy? Why are ketogenic and vegetarian women both healthier than average despite having seemingly contradictory dietary restrictions? Will intermittent fasting help you build muscle more leanly?
Luckily, nutrition can also be pretty simple if you focus on the fundamentals. There are just two factors that make the difference between gaining nothing or gaining half a pound of muscle over the course of the next week. But there are hundreds of things that make the oh-so-small difference between gaining 0.50 or 0.55 pounds of muscle.
This article is designed to help you go from gaining nothing each week to gaining half a pound each week. Keep in mind that building muscle becomes harder and harder as you become more and more advanced, so we recommend learning everything eventually. But there’s plenty of time for that later, once you’re already building muscle.
Right now, though, you just need to worry about the two most important factors: calories and protein.
To gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus. When you consume fewer calories than your body needs, your body is forced to burn stored energy (fat and muscle) to get the energy it needs. This causes weight loss. However, when you consume more calories than your body needs, your body has a surplus of energy, and that energy can be stored.
So “being in a caloric surplus” simply means “eating enough to gain weight.” This makes weight gain simple. Not easy, but simple: if you’re not gaining weight as quickly as you’d like, you need to increase your calorie intake.
We’re interested in gaining muscle, not just gaining weight, so our goal is to store that extra energy as muscle mass. But before we can do that, we need to ensure that there’s extra energy available to be stored. Without that extra energy, you won’t be able to store anything at all.
When gaining weight under normal conditions, women generally gain around 60–70% of that weight as fat. So if you gain twenty pounds while eating a regular diet and doing regular exercise (e.g. cardio), then you’ll gain something like 7 pounds of muscle and 13 pounds of fat. That will help you become stronger and more muscular, and it explains why overweight women have such strong lower bodies, but that’s not our goal. We want to build muscle leanly. We want you to finish your bulk with a smaller waist than when you started.
The good news is that if you’re new to lifting weights, due to a phenomenon called newbie gains, you may even be able to lose fat while you build muscle. Here’s how much muscle and strength women can expect to gain during their first year of lifting.
Now, to be clear you won’t be able to lose fat while building muscle forever, and you may not even be able to do it now. Here are some examples of women’s weight-gain transformations after a few months of lifting weights. As you can see, some people gain more fat than others. However, regardless of your genetics and circumstances, the vast majority of your gains can probably be lean.
So how do we do this?
First, to prime your body for muscle growth you need to be lifting heavy weights. If you don’t want to sign up at a gym you can lift at home with some adjustable dumbbells. Or you could build a simple barbell home gym. You don’t need fancy equipment, but you do need to lift. No other type of exercise even comes close to weightlifting when it comes to building muscle.
We have a beginner’s lifting guide for women here.
Once you’re lifting weights, the next thing we need to consider is how quickly you should be gaining weight. By adjusting how many extra calories you eat, we can control how quickly you gain weight. After lifting weights, the rate that you gain weight is the biggest determinant of how lean your muscle gains will be.
The idea is to give your body enough extra nutrients to build muscle, but not so much that the extra extra nutrients are stored as body fat.
The ideal rate of weight gain is going to depend on your genetics, your experience level, and how good your lifting program is. However, for the average naturally skinny woman who’s just starting to lift weights, we recommend gaining about 0.25–0.75 pounds per week. If you gain less weight than that, increase your calorie intake. If you gain more weight than that, reduce your calorie intake.
Now, it takes around 3,500 to gain a pound of body weight, so to gain 0.5 pounds per week, you’ll need to eat around 250 extra calories every day. However, you’ll also be burning calories by lifting weights, and your metabolism will likely get a bit higher as you ease into this bulking routine, so you’ll probably need to eat more extra calories than that. The trick is just to adjust your calorie intake every week depending on how much weight you gain (or don’t gain).
The first week can be a bit of a toss-up. You’re adding in exercise but you’re also adding more food into your digestive system. Sometimes your weight won’t respond in a predictable manner. Don’t read too much into it. And besides, lifting weights will be such a novel stimulus that you’ll probably lose a bit of fat and gain a bit of muscle regardless of your diet.
After the first week, we normally recommend adjusting your calories in 200-calorie increments. So if after your second week of lifting weights, you gain 0 pounds, then add an extra 200 calories. On the other hand, if you gain two pounds, consider removing 200 calories from your diet. Keep adjusting your diet like that as you go along.
This can be a finicky process, but you don’t need to be perfect at it. So long as you’re in the right ballpark, things will go just fine. Your weight gain won’t be steady, but we want to see a steady trend upwards. (You should also notice that you’re getting stronger each week.)
Okay, now, let’s talk about how to determine your calorie needs. There are two ways to calculate how many calories you need:
Let’s go over the pros and cons of both methods.
With this method, we assume that you’re eating enough calories to maintain your bodyweight, and we add in extra calories on top. As we covered above, gaining half a pound of muscle per week requires roughly 1,750 extra calories per week. So if you’re aiming to gain half a pound per week, just add 200–300 calories per day.
After a week, step on the scale, see how you did, and adjust your calorie intake as needed. Again, adjust in 200-calorie increments every week.
This option is simple and effective, but it only works if you already have a very consistent diet. If you wake up in the morning and have breakfast, bring a packed lunch to work, and then come home and eat dinner with your family, for example. In this case, since you know exactly what you normally do, it’s very easy to strategically add in extra calories without changing your regular routine.
The whole method relies on the fact that you eat consistent meals and serving sizes, though. If you add in a snack between breakfast and lunch, but then that causes you to serve yourself a smaller dinner, this method won’t work. You need to be able to keep your diet consistent, adding in calories on top of that.
The ways that your body maintains your weight can be quite sneaky, too. Let’s say you make a sugary Starbuck’s run twice a week to satisfy some cravings. Or maybe you order takeout once a week. Whatever. Now that you’re adding calories into your diet, those cravings may disappear. But by removing those calorie infusions, you’ll fail to get into a calorie surplus.
Since your appetite will naturally cue you to eat enough to maintain your weight, these subconsciously caloric adjustments are very common.
Now, the diet is self-correcting. If every week you’re adding in another 200 calories, then eventually you’ll start consistently gaining weight. So long as your diet has some structure to it, this method will eventually start to work.
If your diet is too sporadic, though, option number two is better.
This option is best if you want to build a bulking diet from scratch. The goal here is still to develop a fairly consistent routine, though, so that you can eventually switch back to option #1. Counting calories every day isn’t a sustainable practice for most of us. That’s more something that people do when fitness is their day job.
Furthermore, your digestive system has a rhythm to it. If you eat meals at the same time every day, your digestive system will prepare for them. On the other hand, if you eat sporadically, then you may be dumping food into a digestive system that isn’t ready for it. That’s not the end of the world for most people, but naturally skinny women have notoriously fussy digestive systems, and eating a bulking diet is already hard enough on it. We want to do everything we can do make this diet easy to digest.
Anyway, calorie algorithms can get complicated because so many factors need to be considered. Fortunately, we write to a particular niche of women who share the same specific goal: building muscle and gaining weight.
For the average naturally thin woman eating a balanced diet with a moderate protein intake and doing around three hours of weight training per week, this calorie intake should get you very close to your maintenance calorie needs:
Then adjust a little based on your lifestyle:
This should roughly reflect what you’re already eating. It won’t be perfect, but it’s a good educated guess. If the number seems way off, feel free to adjust it up or down a further 10%. Metabolisms vary from person to person, and chances are that you already know whether yours is larger or smaller than average. My metabolism is Hellish furnace, so I need to eat a little more than most people. As a naturally skinny woman, you may be in that same bony boat.
Now we just need to add in the calorie surplus. Just like with option #1, this means adding 200–300 calories per day on top of your maintenance needs.
The most important thing about your bulking diet is to adjust it based on whether you’re gaining weight or not. Either method will give you a rough starting point, but everyone is a little different.
To absolutely guarantee that you’re consistently building muscle, you’ll need to track your results and adjust as you go. This will also correct for calorie tracking errors or incorrect calorie estimates. It makes the system self-correcting. This is what’s going to allow you to gain weight consistently, even if your body tends to naturally resistant weight gain.
Weigh yourself each week and see how much your weight has changed. We recommend waking up on Sunday morning, peeing, and then stepping on the scale. This will keep your stomach contents and hydration as consistent as possible for each weigh-in. Then, if you aren’t seeing the weight-gain results that you want, simply add 200 calories to your daily target. Or, if you’re gaining weight too fast, remove 200 calories.
As we mentioned above, the ideal rate of weight gain while bulking for a naturally skinny female beginner is around 0.25–0.75 pounds per week, so you’d adjust your calories up or down to get closer to that pace. 0.25 pounds per week is good if you’re more afraid of gaining fat. 0.75 pounds per week is good if you’re more eager to gain muscle. If you want to take a middling approach, aim for 0.5 pounds.
This is how you absolutely guarantee progress. If something isn’t working, you simply keep adjusting things it until it does. When it comes to gaining weight, your calorie intake is the variable that you want to adjust.
If you finish up a few weeks of weightlifting, you still weigh the same amount, and you’re thinking, “Damn, where’s all my muscle at?” Well you’re just looking for the problem in the wrong place. The recipe is fine, you just need more ingredients—more calories.
Speaking of which, it’s common for naturally skinny women to have trouble eating enough calories to gain weight. Here’s our guide for eating more calories.
Weight training will get your body trying to build muscle, getting into a calorie surplus will give you enough energy to gain weight, and consuming enough protein will give your body the building blocks that it needs to construct new muscle tissue. (Muscle is made out of protein.) This is the trifecta of muscle growth: lift enough weight, eat enough calories, and eat enough protein.
There are some experimental new studies showing a potential muscle-building benefit to consuming as much as 1.5 grams per pound bodyweight (3.3 grams per kilo), but most research shows that muscle is built optimally with around 0.8–1 gram per pound bodyweight (2.2 grams per kilo). That’s probably more than you eat right now, but it’s actually a pretty modest protein intake compared to what most fitness models eat.
Keep in mind that this is how much protein it takes to build muscle. You don’t need to eat this much protein forever. Muscle doesn’t take much protein to maintain, and in addition to that, over time we become better at digesting and using protein. This is why you’ll sometimes see very muscular people eating far less protein than this. This means that in the future you can reduce your protein intake by quite a bit as well.
However, right now you’re going to be building muscle at a rapid pace while also being rather inefficient at turning that protein into muscle mass. So I would try to stay above that gram per pound.
There are lots of great protein sources: chicken, fish, milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, eggs, beans, peas, red meat, grains, soy, pea protein powder, and so on This makes eating enough protein pretty easy if your diet has no restrictions. If your diet does have restrictions though, or eating enough protein is still a struggle, we’d recommend getting some protein powder.
Whey protein is cheaper than chicken, fantastic for building muscle, and quite nutritious. However, there are many great types of protein powders. For example, pea + rice protein powder is great for people who have problems with dairy or prefer avoiding animal products.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, here’s our guide for building muscle on a vegan diet, and here are some good plant-based protein sources.
Yes, most research shows that diets higher in protein are just as safe as diets that are lower in protein. The only difference is that a diet higher in protein supports a more athletic physique, whereas a diet higher in fruits, grains, veggies and healthy fats supports a more sedentary physique. Even vegan athletes and lifters eat plenty of protein.
Hitting your overall daily protein goal is the most important thing, but splitting up your protein intake somewhat evenly over the course of the day can help, too.
In an ideal world, you’ve have at least 20 grams of protein in every meal, and you’ve have at least three meals per day. (Intermittent fasting is okay for building muscle, but it’s probably not ideal, especially for naturally skinny women.)
For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, then that could be:
That would give you 130 grams of protein with a perfect protein distribution for building muscle. That’s a fairly classic way of structuring a bulking diet, too. However, it might mean that some meals where you don’t typically have much protein (such as breakfast) might need to have some protein added in. For example, my wife started mixing protein powder or yoghurt into her morning smoothies.
This is the muscle-building variant to the KISS acronym that I’ve just now invented. When you’re trying to eat more calories, don’t make things complicated. Your bulking diet doesn’t need to be simple, necessarily. Feel free to eat a fun and varied diet. But your diet does need to be achievable.
If you can avoid restricting things, great. Don’t restrict carbs (or adopt the ketogenic diet) unless you absolutely need to. You don’t even need to cut out sugar (so long as your diet isn’t very high in it).
I know these approaches to nutrition provide simple rules—eat everything except for sugar, or everything except for gluten, or everything that a caveman would eat. That makes things simple, and when faced with the overwhelming task of creating a bulking diet, simple can be alluring.
Also keep in mind that most of these food group avoidance things are designed for overweight people who need to restrict their calories in order to get down to a healthy bodyweight. As someone who is trying to gain weight, you need to do the opposite: keep your diet open, keep your diet indulgent, and keep your diet fun.
We generally tend to recommend eating an “anti-diet,” where you intentionally give yourself more freedom to eat the foods that you enjoy, find easier to digest, can afford, and so on. Yes, you should be trying to get most of your calories from whole foods, have some fruit or veggies with most meals, and have protein with most meals. However, you should also be having dessert when you want to, cooking richly flavoured meals that you love, having a drink here and there, and not feeling restricted to chicken salads at restaurants.
You’re trying to gain weight, you’re trying to build muscle, and you’re trying to get strong. This is not a situation where you need to remove easy, delicious sources of calories. This is a situation where you need to expand what you eat. This is about adding nutritious, delicious things into a routine that’s already easy, not time to overhaul everything and start eating totally clean.
If you normally wake up and have coffee and a muffin at Starbucks for breakfast, consider switching that to having a latte, a muffin, and a fruit at Starbucks for breakfast. Your routine is the same and the switch won’t require a ton of willpower. But the milk in the latte adds protein and calories, the fruit adds calories, fibre, phytonutrients and vitamins. This is how you get started bulking—by keeping the changes easy.
That way you can succeed even when you’re feeling lazy, tired, and grumpy.
If you’re a naturally skinny woman who’s trying to gain weight, here’s how you should structure your bulking diet:
If you want a full diet and exercise program that’s designed to help you build muscle and gain weight, you’ll love the Bony to Bombshell Program. It’s packed full of evidence based appetite hacks, recipes, and sample meal plans that are highly customizable. It also includes all the advanced nutrition techniques that will further accelerate your gains, five months of muscle-building workouts, and a yearlong membership of coaching from us inside the Bombshell community.
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Whether that’s right or wrong, that’s just how we humans work. The research clearly shows that whether or not people say they value physical attractiveness they still base their actions on it. Hell, even the people who truly believe that they don’t care about physical attractiveness still care about it just as much as everyone else when it comes down to who they actually date. (study, study)
These studies show that both men and women place a great deal of importance on physical attractiveness. And we’ve written a companion article on male attractiveness, too. Now, this isn’t to say that physical attractiveness is all that matters. Other attractive traits include warmness and compassion, earning potential, and so on. And yet, surprisingly, these traits are seemingly far less important, at least at first.
Is that the best way to pick a partner? Who knows. Probably not. However this isn’t an article about what we should find attractive, this is an article about what we do find attractive. Some of it might surprise you. Most people guess incorrectly about quite a bit of it. Just in case you disagree though, I’ll cite all my sources so that you can draw your own conclusions.
On that note, this article is long. I’ll understand if you don’t want to read the whole thing, so here’s a quick and simple trick to make yourself instantly sexier: have a drink. It will boost your attractiveness (to yourself) by 50%. This is called the reverse beer goggles effect, aka, Beauty is in the Eye of the Beer Holder. (study) Best of all, you don’t even need to have a real drink – the placebo effect is more than enough – you only have to think you’re having a real drink. (The placebo group also experienced the benefit.)
If you’re looking for a more wholesome and longer-lasting aesthetic improvement, or perhaps an improvement that other people will notice too, don’t worry – that’s what the rest of this article is all about. This is an article about the biology and physiology of gut-level irresistible attraction, and exactly what it looks like.
So let’s look into what’s actually optimally attractive so you can turn even more heads and drop even more jaws than you already do.
At this point, it’s probably a good idea to point out that focusing even more on our physical appearance can lead us down a path to insecurity. Sometimes cultivating a more aesthetically enlightened eye can just make us more critical of ourselves.
Always keep in mind that most guys aren’t looking at women critically. Men tend to love how women look in general. That doesn’t matter much when it comes to our own perfectionism, though. Some of the most gorgeous people out there cry themselves to sleep because they’re so critical of their own physical appearance. That’s not the goal. I would prefer if you had more than your tears to keep you company at night.
What we’re talking about here is coming at this from the other side of things. Hotness, at its roots, is health and virility displayed in a very obvious and nearly impossible to fake way. Even having a big round butt ultimately comes down to being a health indicator. In fact, this is arguably why we even value physical attractiveness in the first place. Sexiness is conspicuous health.
Exercise and nutrition don’t just affect how strong, lean and toned we look. That’s the positive change we see on the outside, yes, but that’s just the very tip of the iceberg. Leading a healthy lifestyle and looking great also affects our longevity, mood, willpower, energy levels and all of our organs – including our brains. This is why we all intuitively assume that the cover of the book gives us clues about what’s inside.
For example, regardless of their race, a healthy person’s skin looks a little more attractive. A higher intake of vitamins and minerals (good nutrition habits), higher levels of oxygenated blood (good exercise habits) and a healthy amount of melanin (exercise, nutrition, and sunlight) will turn your skin redder and yellower, giving you a healthier “glow.” It will probably go a long way to clearing up acne and improving your complexion, too, but even just that ever-so-slightly different colouring can make you look more attractive to others. (study)
So, whether you’re interested in becoming the most undeniably beautiful woman on the block, or you’re looking to become a smarter, healthier, stronger and more vibrant version of yourself on the inside, the methods are the same. After all, this isn’t a makeup tutorial. The kind of physical attraction we’re talking about isn’t skin deep. And, unfortunately, becoming drop-dead gorgeous isn’t quite that simple.
This gets even more confusing when you start adding in all the mainstream media stuff. The mainstream media ideals when it comes to female attractiveness are often dead wrong. Not wrong in the moralistic sense of the word wrong – that’s a whole other debate – I mean factually wrong. They’re incorrect.
I’m not saying that the mainstream media is dumb. They’re not. They’re actually very clever. It’s not that they’re missing the whole point of physical attractiveness, it’s just that they’ve got a different target market. They aren’t marketing female bodies to men, they’re marketing female bodies to women. We’ll talk about that a little bit later, but super health won’t necessarily get you as far with women as it will with men, since women are often competing with each other based on different physical traits that aren’t relevant to physical attractiveness.
Now, on to understanding (and achieving) the most attractive female physique.
The short answer is that there isn’t a most attractive body type. Guys like all female body types equally. What’s going to have the biggest impact on how attractive you are isn’t your body shape, it’s whether you’re in good shape or not.
Most guys do prefer women who are strong, fit, and in good health. However, that has little to do with your bone structure, or how naturally curvy or thin you are. As a result, it usually makes more sense to focus on improving your strength, fitness, and health, regardless of your natural body type.
However, every body type is going to have different struggles as they try to get into better shape. A naturally thin woman is going to benefit from building muscle, and she’ll probably have trouble eating a weight-gain diet. On the other hand, a naturally overweight woman is going to benefit from losing her extra body fat, which can be equally difficult. This means that the path to building a sexy physique can vary quite a bit. One woman might build a sexier body shape by gaining weight, another might become sexier by losing weight.
It’s also true that some women have an easier time building an attractive figure. Some women naturally have wide hips, small waists, and broad shoulders simply due to their bone structure. And some women naturally store their body fat in their breasts and butts, giving them even more of an hourglass physique as they gain weight. This makes it easier for them to look like they’re in great shape, which is going to make them appear more attractive to guys.
Mind you, much of what appears to be genetic could also be due to lifestyle. Most people know that women who exercise more and eat better diets tend to be leaner and more muscular. However, it goes deeper than that. Some research shows that exercise and diet can result in different proportions of visceral fat gain, causing less fat to be stored in a woman’s waist, more in her breasts and butt (study, study). Stress can also play a role in how a woman builds muscle and store fat. However, even with all of these factors accounted for, there’s still a large genetic component to body shape.
So although all female body types are equally attractive to guys, and even though all of them can get into great shape, just keep in mind that it’s more difficult for some women than others.
First, let’s take a look at a few everyday female body types. The vast majority of women fall somewhere on this spectrum:
None of these women look morbidly obese or like they’ve been in a starvation experiment or anything, and these aren’t unhealthy or unattractive body types – far from it. These women all look healthy. However, they don’t necessarily look remarkably healthy.
The funny thing is, they may actually be remarkably healthy. For example, the thin gal may have a slender bone structure, have a naturally small appetite, eat lots of nutritious foods, and really enjoy forms of exercise that make her smaller – jogging, yoga, aerobics, etc. She may be in amazing shape even though she doesn’t look that strong or curvaceous. This is common for naturally thin women.
Similarly, the naturally heavier gal may be a professional rugby player who exercises for several hours each day and eats a ton of nutritious food. She may be in excellent shape and excellent health, just with a higher body-fat percentage.
… Or they may not be. The thin gal might be someone who doesn’t eat well enough to support muscle growth. She might be someone who doesn’t exercise at all. Furthermore, since muscle size is so closely correlated with strength, she surely isn’t as strong as she could be.
And the plumper gal could be someone who doesn’t eat well, she may eat too much, and she may not exercise. And even if that’s not the case, since excess body weight is so closely correlated with heart disease and diabetes, she may not be as healthy as she could be.
Now, these girls may be healthy, but they aren’t conspicuously healthy. Whether our instinctual judgements are fair or not, it’s just too hard to tell.
There’s nothing wrong with looking like a gal of average health who’ll live till she’s 81, but looking like the national average sure won’t get you noticed, especially when there are the rarer and more remarkable physiques of women who look like they’ll surely live to 120:
Now, obviously what size you’ll look and feel your best at varies depending on your body type and bone structure. Girls who are naturally thin are often able to build up enough muscle to look “slim & fit” very quickly (and here are some examples of that), then could gradually work their way up to looking “strong & toned.” However, simply due to their bone structure, it may be nearly impossible for them to rock the “strong & curvy” physique shown on the right.
Similarly, someone who’s naturally voluptuous can usually become “strong & curvy” fairly quickly just by losing a bit of body fat (and here’s an example of that). However, because of their body type, they may never be able to rock the very slim physique shown on the far left.
Your body type isn’t really going to have a huge effect on your attractiveness, though. What matters more is being lean enough, strong enough, and healthy enough. Every body type can accomplish that. It’s going to look a little different on every woman (and every man). Everyone can get there.
Regardless of your body type, when you get into great shape, what men see is someone who only needs to make one trip with all of the grocery bags, someone who will make their best friends a little bit jealous, and someone who can easily muscle open up an old jar of honey with a sticky rim that’s keeping the damn lid glued on. Men are seeing someone who can pick them up and carry us to them to the doctor if they get the flu, someone who will live long enough to keep them company as they grow old, and someone who will surely pass all these impressive traits down to the next generation.
And all of a sudden, men are struggling to get their hearts out of their stomachs. It’s also rare enough that it stands out in a crowd.
According to women, the ideal female body tends to be quite thin. Most women have a preference for thinner body types, less muscular development, and less body fat. With lots of media exposure—a passion for fashion, say—some women have a preference for even thinner body types than we’ve even shown here.
According to men, the ideal female body isn’t quite so specific. Men love the look of fairly strong women since visible strength makes women look even healthier and more capable. Men don’t tend to care as much about a little extra fat, either, so long as it’s within the healthy range. That can be sexy, too. Being slim, lean, and toned is still attractive, certainly, but men aren’t as hyper-focused on it as women are.
Men like healthy women, yet many men want to be extremely strong. Women like healthy men, yet many women want to be extremely slim. Just like some men are taking the “muscle is masculine” thing to extreme levels, some women are taking the “slenderness is feminine” thing to extreme levels.
Now, women do prefer men who are strong, and men do prefer women who are slim… but only if it’s within the healthy range. And that healthy range is fairly wide.
Women who are fashion models (or who are exposed to photos of a lot of fashion models) often want to be fashion-model-thin. Similarly, men who are bodybuilders (or who are exposed to photos of a lot of bodybuilders) often want to be bodybuilder-big.
This is a well known and well-researched phenomenon. In more extreme cases, it can cause body dysmorphia, often leading to steroid abuse in men and eating disorders in women (study).
Is being incredibly thin or super enormously muscular impressive? Hell yes. These are people devoting an incredible amount of time and energy to their hobbies.
Is this the way to become maximally attractive? No. Male bodybuilders mainly appeal to men and women who are into bodybuilding. Female fashion models mainly appear attractive to other models and fashion designers. They don’t suffer for attention from the opposite sex – there are plenty of people who adore these niche physiques – but they aren’t as good at attracting the majority of the opposite sex.
Most guys prefer women with a fairly normal BMI. Now, normal isn’t the same as average. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average woman is overweight and has a BMI of almost 30. Guys tend to prefer women who have a normal healthy BMI of somewhere between 18–23. Not overweight, not overweight, just a regular BMI that’s somewhere in the healthy range.
Just like you probably prefer men who are strong and healthy but not ridiculously musclebound, guys have a similar preference in women. Guys prefer women of average healthy BMI (source). No need to get your freak on, Missy Elliot.
Now if you think that “average” healthy weight sounds a little too good to be true, well, you aren’t wrong. Guys aren’t preferring women with average body composition, they’re preferring women with an average BMI.
Keep in mind that the most women don’t eat well or exercise. Men prefer a woman who has less body fat and more muscle than that. She’ll still weigh a fairly regular amount, but she’ll be significantly fitter and more muscular than average, with a leaner waist, stronger hips, and broader shoulders.
This doesn’t mean that you need to look like a fitness or fashion model in order to look attractive. We aren’t talking about an extreme body shape. We’re just talking about guys preferring women who are really thriving in their bodies. We could say that the sexiest body shape is one that looks “conspicuously healthy.” That body shape still has a normal BMI but is in great shape.
This is because being in better shape communicates a number of positive things about your health:
So by conspicuously healthy, we’re talking about the type of health that makes guys glide their sunglasses down to the bottom of their noses and say “damn … that girl’s heeeeeealthy!” That’s the kind of healthy that we’re talking about.
And that kind of health is pretty hard to achieve in a society where the scent of Cinnabon wafts through the air as we’re hustling from our beds to our cars to our office chairs. Or perhaps like me, it’s hard to build a strong and healthy physique because you find it hard to eat enough to gain weight. Different body types have different struggles.
Now I’m not saying that average bodies aren’t attractive – they are – what I’m saying is that they aren’t necessarily invading our minds with the uncontrollable urges that a fiery hot impressively healthy gal would. They just aren’t the bodies whose scents draw us compulsively in like a freshly baked Cinnabon.
In fact, they might be amazing people, drawing us in like broccoli, because we know that’s where the longterm amazingness is to be had. But you can totally get the best of all worlds and become a delicious fresh wild blueberry – impulsively delicious like a Cinnabon and totally wholesome on the inside.
I’m sorry for the weird food references. The talk of Cinnabons made me kind of hungry.
Anyway, many women are furiously struggling to become underweight. They’re working their asses off, not realizing that it’s usually better to work their asses on. It’s not even that they’re lazy – they’re often trying really damn hard! Like, harder than most men could possibly even imagine.
It’s just that if you’re a woman, well, when you look into exercise and nutrition, all you tend to find is weight-loss information. Even the muscle-building stuff seems to be aimed at people who are trying to lose weight overall.
What does this do? Well perpetually battling to become underweight doesn’t make you stronger. Leaner? Yes, well, sometimes, kind of. More often than not it makes you lighter – smaller.
They’re starting to look into the psychological side-effects of this mainstream desire to become physically smaller, and it’s a little scary. For example, it seems like eating less food is directly linked with submissive body language. Trying to diet down to a smaller body is not just reducing women’s physical strength, it’s possibly also reducing their social confidence (study). It’s also hard to have good energy and focus when you’re constantly underfed and obsessing about your next source of calories.
Moreover, since the average healthy weight is considered optimally attractive, this means that if you’re already of average weight (or below) then getting smaller won’t even make you more attractive. In fact, it might even make you less attractive.
Oftentimes, efforts to lose weight are combined with cardio, aerobics or yoga. All great forms of exercise with loads of benefits. However, combined with a calorie deficit and in the absence of any heavy weightlifting, they’re atrocious when it comes to preserving muscular size, strength, power and speed.
So the underweight warriors often aren’t the toned kind of lean that made every man in the world fall in love with Jessica Biel when she buffed up for her role as a warrior:
That’s because Jessica Biel isn’t underweight. She’s not skinny. She’s not even thin. She’s fit as hell, but she has a totally average body weight. And men aren’t attracted to her body because she has abs. She doesn’t have abs. Her body is attractive because she has confident shoulders, glutes that can crack walnuts, and legs strong enough that she could probably pick up a runway model and squat her for two reps. Maybe even three.
And she looks like she eats, too. She looks like she eats a whole helluva lot. You can’t build muscle like that by just crunching on carrots.
And that’s why our jaws drop: she’s strong, healthy and vibrant.
Now, I’m not trying to point to the specifics of her body. I mean, you don’t need to have guns as big as hers to be optimally attractive. It looks like she did a lot of focused arm and shoulder work to really create that distinctive look. But hey, badass biceps certainly don’t hurt either. There are lots of ideal female bodies.
The point is the idea of her body. It’s a body that goes along with a strong, healthy lifestyle.
And it’s not like being slender is unattractive, either. Of course it isn’t. But many women still underrate the value of visible strength.
So, this is all to say that the average healthy weight isn’t as common as you might think. But it’s actually not that hard to be remarkable either. We’re not talking about needing to train six times per week or live on a broccoli and chicken diet. We’re talking about genuinely living a healthy lifestyle in a way that will make you look like you genuinely live a healthy lifestyle. That takes cleverness, but it doesn’t take that much time, that much obsession, or that many sacrifices. After all, obsession wouldn’t be healthy.
Many people take the other approach, actively trying to ignore the fact that strength, fitness, and eating a good diet is important. They might even tell themselves that looking attractive isn’t important either. They might tell themselves that their lifestyle just doesn’t have room for this stuff, that it doesn’t matter, or that they’ll get to it later. That’s why impressively fit physiques are so rare.
Ironically, the people who procrastinate with this stuff are the ones who often suffer the most for it. Once you develop some good exercise, diet, and sleep habits, it’s actually not that hard to build a great physique. You wind up getting more energy out of it than you put into it, too. And then you never need to worry about how you look again.
But the momentum is hard to overcome. It’s hard to go from one way of living to another.
Oh – and this isn’t the time to be cursing your genetics. Yes, having good genetics makes this easier, but there are many attractive body weights, shapes and sizes (and goals). With that said, the sexiest bodies are nonetheless defined by several common characteristics.
So onward into the specifics.
Fit young boys and girls tend to be built like string beans. They’re just kind of narrow everywhere. But as soon as puberty hits, men and women emerge.
Men are shaped by testosterone. Strong healthy men with high testosterone are shaped like V’s – big broad shoulders, lean stomachs, small hips. Women tend to dig that stereotypically masculine shape because it’s indicative of good strength (broad muscular shoulders), good health (small lean waistline) and you can see it at a glance. It’s the quickest (a fraction of a second) and most accurate (most physical and mental health markers are affected by our muscles, hormones, and fat) way to get an immediate snapshot of a guy’s overall health.
Same deal with women… except not at all. Women are shaped by estrogen, and strong healthy women with lots of estrogen are shaped like hourglasses – strong broad shoulders, lean waists and very strong hips. Just like you can size up a man’s health in a split second based on his body shape, the same is true with women. Strong women are wickedly muscular in the hips and glutes, indicating fearsome strength and bone structure, and lean through the waist, indicating healthy levels of body fat.
Although, interestingly enough, some women are cheating the system, using estrogen to signal to their bodies to store fat in their butts and upper thighs instead of their stomachs. By moving their fat from their tummies to their tushes, they’re enhancing their hotness via their fat stores. Kind of cool, kind of deceptive. You tricksters.
Now, at this point you might be thinking, “but I’m a grown woman and I’m still a bean!” Don’t fret – you may not actually have small hips. Yes, bone structure is probably a factor, but chances are that your hips still have a ton of growth potential.
See, most women these days can’t perform a proper squat or deadlift, resulting in muscles accumulating in their lower back and quads instead of in their butts, hips, and hamstrings. While the bone structure of your hips won’t change, you can certainly build bigger hips and glutes by lifting weights.
Here’s one of our members, Reetta. She has great genetics, and she preferentially stores fat in her butt. You can see what that looks like on the left. Over the course of a couple months she got a lot stronger and lost a bit of fat. You can see what a butt built out of muscle looks like on the right:
This works well for those who aren’t genetically gifted too. Here’s a photo of Aomi. She built her butt from scratch.
Here’s her weight-gain transformation from another angle:
Now, your results may vary. Everybody has a different body. The point isn’t that you’ll look exactly like Reetta or Aomi, the point is just that you have the potential to build hips that are much bigger if you want to.
The waist to hip ratio most correlated with health is 0.7 (study). Not surprisingly, that’s also what’s considered the healthiest ratio by the World Health Organization. Although, to be fair, it varies slightly between cultures. You also don’t need to have exactly the ideal ratio. Being in the ballpark is fine.
Here’s what a 0.9, 0.7, and 0.6 waist-to-hip ratio looks like, so you can see the difference:
To measure your waist-to-hip ratio, take the circumference of your waist at the narrowest point and divide it by the circumference of your hips at their widest point.
You know, that’s a good question. There’s no good answer for it, either. This is where the studies diverge, which is odd because this is the part that gets talked about the most when it comes to the most attractive female physique.
There are two things that are generally agreed upon by most researchers:
So this is a little confusing. Is it better to aim at having a better ratio? Or better just to try and improve your body composition?
After all, it’s possible to have a totally healthy body composition and still not have the “ideal” waist-to-hip ratio. It’s also possible to be overweight or underweight and have a perfect waist to hip ratio.
Some research indicates that wide hips and a slender waist is ideal, because that’s what instinctively looks the healthiest. Other research indicates that having a good body composition is more important, whatever waist-to-hip ratio that happens to result in. It’s unclear.
Either way, there’s nothing stopping you from working your way closer to both by improving your body composition, building your hips up a little bit extra, and maybe strengthening your transverse abdominis, which will help to cinch your waist in. (That’s the ab muscle that’s worked with squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and most other big compound exercises.)
By doing that, you’ll be improving your body composition while also intentionally trying to exaggerate your waist-to-hip ratio a little bit. There’s no harm in having glutes that are extra strong, after all.
With body-fat percentage, it’s not as simple as thinking that leaner is better. In fact, body fat isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially in women. If you can’t see your abs in the mirror you might care, and that’s okay – there’s nothing wrong with wanting abs – but men probably won’t even notice.
Having a certain amount of fat is feminine. If you prefer men who are lean, that’s not because being lean is good, it’s because being lean is masculine. The more testosterone a man has, the more muscle he’ll build and the less fat he’ll store. So if you flip those same standards back on yourself, it doesn’t quite work.
Women hold onto more fat in their faces due to lower levels of testosterone, they hold onto more fat in their hips and breasts due to higher levels of oestrogen, estradiol and progesterone. This means that in order to look stereotypically feminine, you actually don’t need to be that lean. You need to be healthy, but you don’t need to be shredded.
The healthy range varies depending on age (and which expert / study you consult), but most experts and institutions would agree with the following:
For example, according to research done by Abernathy and Black, the healthy range for women is between 20-30% body fat . However, they also add an important caveat:
Although persons with BMIs and percentages of bodyfat above these values have an increased likelihood of being functionally obese [aka unhealthy], not everyone will be. Equally important, many within these ranges will be functionally obese.
What this means is that being strong, active, and eating well may very well matter more than your body-fat percentage as far as your general health goes. But is that going to impact the ideal body-fat percentage for attractiveness? Probably not. Men will still likely prefer the body-fat percentage that is a more reliable indicator of health, which will fall within that healthy range.
A certain amount of body fat is feminine and healthy, and being shaped by it isn’t unattractive to men, especially if those fat deposits are landing in stereotypically womanly places (boobs, butt, thighs, hips, etc). Furthermore, having a leaner waist is strongly correlated with health and mood as well as improved attractiveness.
This means that it might make more sense to stop worrying about your body-fat percentage and worry more about how lean your waist is. If you have more fat in your boobs or butt, that might not matter. (And it may even improve your ratio.)
You don’t, however, need visible abs. We have electric washing machines now, so you don’t need your stomach to double as a washboard.
As for how lean you’d want your waist, just try to move your waist-to-hip ratio closer to 0.7.
Note: You can’t reliably spot-reduce fat, so the only way to consistently lose fat around your waist is to lose fat overall.
Cellulite is dimpling created by body fat pushing up against your fascia. A good way to think of cellulite is to imagine the difference between fishnet stockings and regular stockings. Men usually have fascia more like regular stockings, so it’s very very rare for any dimpling to show through. Women usually have fascia more like fishnet stockings, so you almost always have some dimpling showing through. It’s more common than you might imagine. (Just because it’s photoshopped out of most photos doesn’t mean that most women don’t have cellulite.)
Yes, you can minimize the appearance of cellulite by reducing your body-fat percentage, but you can never totally get rid of body fat. Besides, most women have cellulite in their butts and thighs, which are very feminine places to store fat anyway. These aren’t the areas where having fat is even a problem.
Most women don’t like having it. Most men don’t notice or care. Interestingly, when it comes to what’s considered optimally attractive, cellulite really doesn’t matter. Men don’t consider it unattractive. It’s a feminine trait that’s caused by feminine fascia combined with feminine body-fat storage patterns. Some women care about cellulite, and that’s fine (although I’d argue that they shouldn’t). Most straight men, though, have no issue with cellulite whatsoever. They find feminine traits in women to be sexy.
If you happen to find a guy who does care about cellulite, just cancel his subscription to Cosmo and his problem should eventually go away.
As far as overall musculature goes there’s a big discrepancy in the research as to what men tend to find attractive (strong women) and what women tend to find attractive (thin women). The illustration of the “strong” woman above corresponds with what men find most attractive. The illustration of the “thin” woman corresponds with what women find the most attractive (study).
The male ideal isn’t surprising since, as with the other attractiveness indicators, it corresponds with what looks the healthiest. To be clear, the female ideal can be healthy, too, especially in women with smaller bone structures. However, even then, it often isn’t quite as healthy. After all, having more muscle mass tends to be healthier.
Just to be sure, though, I tried to find conflicting research. It’s true that there are studies showing that slenderness is attractive, but only through the waist. Moreover, they were strictly measuring body fat, not muscle mass. And even then, the stronger girls with bigger hips and glutes were deemed slightly more attractive.
Men do tend to find strong women more attractive.
The short answer is that, yes, broad shoulders are attractive on women. After all, an hourglass figure includes strong, broad shoulders.
The long answer is still yes, but we can add some nuance. So, the reason why most women wonder whether broad shoulders are feminine is because broad shoulders are also a sign of masculinity. The more testosterone a man is exposed to and the more muscle he builds, the broader his shoulders will become.
As a result, it’s primarily men who are trying to build broader shoulders. I’m no exception, either. I added 13 inches to my shoulders while bulking up, and our article about building broader shoulders is one of the most popular articles on our bulking site for skinny guys.
Remember, strength is attractive on women, too. And not in a niche sense, either. The stereotypically attractive female body shape is an hourglass figure, which includes wide hips, a narrow waist, and broad shoulders. If you think about it, if broad shoulders weren’t feminine, we’d call the stereotypical female shape an Erlenmeyer flask figure, not an hourglass figure.
So yes, broad shoulders are attractive on women. That means that doing overhead pressing, push-ups, and lateral raises will all help to make you more attractive.
As a general rule of thumb, developing full-body strength will tend to make you more attractive. That’s why we recommend building your workout routine around all five big compound lifts.
Let’s use cardio as an example. Cardio stands for cardiorespiratory training, where the goal is to elevate our heart rates in order to improve our cardiovascular fitness. It’s a catch-all term for exercise that’s designed to strengthen our hearts and lungs—jogging, rowing, biking, aerobics, and so on. Even yoga might count as cardio, depending on how you do it.
Cardio is certainly an important part of improving our general health. In fact, cardio has become pretty much synonymous with improving our general health. And there’s good reason for that, too. There are many benefits to cardio (study):
However, cardio won’t make you significantly stronger, curvier, or more attractive. You’d be relying strictly on your genetics for your curves and muscles. Cardio also doesn’t do a very good job of preserving muscle mass during weight loss.
So if attractiveness can be simplified to “conspicuous health,” then why is cardio—which is clearly healthy—not the best type of exercise for improving our appearance?
The first thing is that cardio probably will make you look slightly more attractive. Maybe not in a dramatic way, but it will probably result in a little fat loss, a little muscle gain, and improved skin tone. These things are going to have a positive impact on your attractiveness.
However, cardiovascular health is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s a big piece of the puzzle, and it will help people stay in a healthy weight range, but in order to improve our overall health, we need to exercise in a more complete way. That’s why organizations like the World Health Organization recommend doing 150 minutes of cardio and two strength training workouts every week. That’s a more complete way of exercising for health, and it’s going to yield a markedly more attractive physique, too.
There are few reasons why gaining muscle mass and strength improves our health and appearance:
Some of those benefits have obvious visual signals. People can see your curves and your posture. Some of the other benefits are more subtle. People won’t necessarily be able to see that you have lower anxiety levels. However, because of the strong association between muscle mass and these other benefits, simply seeing a woman is more muscular hints at her having developed these other positive traits.
If you had to pick just one type of exercise that would make you more attractive, lifting weights would probably take you further. It will allow you to gain muscle mass and strength, and lifting weights will also raise your heart rate, allowing you to make cardiovascular improvements as well.
However, if you have time to do both types of exercise, the ideal approach would be to follow the World Health Organization’s guidelines, doing at least 150 minutes of cardio and at least two strength training workouts every week.
Now, to be clear, in the fitness industry, “strength training” usually refers to the style of lifting that’s geared at improving powerlifting performance. That’s not what they mean. They simply mean training in a way that will improve your strength. If you aren’t planning on becoming a competitive powerlifter, you’ll want to approach your strength training more like this. Here’s an example of a beginner’s workout for a woman who wants to improve her strength and appearance.
In an objective sense, there isn’t really such a thing as a woman being too muscular. At least not without having outlier genetics or taking performance-enhancing drugs, anyway. If you’re a natural lifter, your body will naturally limit how much muscle mass you can develop.
In a subjective sense, some women don’t want to be overly musclebound. Genetics will generally limit muscle growth, preventing women from becoming bulky. However, even then, we’ve still had a lot of clients over the years who have told us that they aren’t trying to become more muscular in certain areas.
Fortunately, weight training leaves plenty of room for personal preference, so that’s perfectly fine. You can still build overall strength without needing to fully develop every muscle on your body.
For most naturally thin women, becoming too muscular isn’t a concern and never will be. Their slender bone structure and naturally slender musculature won’t ever grow so large that it would in any way ever become remotely unappealing.
Here’s an incredibly strong women with a naturally thin bone structure. As you can see, even though she has incredible muscular development, she isn’t bulky or musclebound:
Even for naturally muscular women, more muscle can still be an asset. Keep in mind that even if you build a tremendous amount of muscle, there will be a ton of similarly muscular guys who will think that you look absolutely amazing.
Here’s Jessica Buettner, a famous female powerlifter with remarkable genetics and world-class strength. Her degree of muscularity is far beyond what the average woman can develop, and yet she still doesn’t look musclebound, even for the attractiveness preferences of the average man:
However, this doesn’t mean that you need to fully develop all of your muscles. Reetta, our member with great muscle-building genetics, told us after just a couple months of lifting weights that her back was “finished.” It was as muscular as she ever wanted it to be.
At that point we simply switched to maintaining strength in her back and began focusing more on other areas that she did want to work on. Here’s how she’s looking more recently:
The hips are the hub of a woman’s strength, with the main muscles there being the glutes. Of all the muscles in your body, your it’s your butt that has the most potential for growth. The only muscles that could rival your glutes in terms of sheer size are your quads, which can also make your hips appear wider (although much less so). This means that the stronger you get in the gym, the more your hip measurement is going to climb relative to your other body measurements. This is going to give you more of an hourglass figure.
However, women also tend to store fat in their butts. A lean women will often have a fairly flat stomach and yet still have quite a lot of fat in their hips. This is generally considered a fairly healthy place to store fat, and if anything, it tends to be attractive. So you don’t need to rely on fat to build bigger hips – you can build bigger hips out of muscle – but if you naturally store fat there, then great.
A woman’s butt is arguably her most attractive muscle group. According to the studies I managed to dig up, 60% of men are more attracted to a woman’s butt than her breasts (study). Men are notorious, though, for not having any idea of what they actually want. So instead of asking them, the researchers tracked their eye movements to see where their gaze rested. They found that more often than not, when looking at a woman’s body, a man’s gaze tended to rest on her butt.
One theory is that bigger butts lead to greater balance (lower centre of gravity) and thus improve athleticism. In order to retain agility, reserves of fat should be placed as close to the centre of gravity as possible, which is near to the navel. Men can store fat directly in their navel, causing them to gain more fat in their stomachs. However, a woman’s abdomen is already occupied by a uterus. So the next-best place to store fat is in the hips, upper thighs, and thorax. (Thorax is an unsexy way of saying “the boob area.”)
Storing fat away from the waist also seems to be better for general health. When fat is stored around the organs inside the stomach (visceral fat) has a larger negative impact on our health, whereas fat that’s stored under the skin (subcutaneous fat) seems to be fairly neutral. The fat in your hips, breasts, and thighs isn’t going to have any impact on your organs, so it doesn’t tend to have a negative impact on health. This is one reason why having an hourglass figure is considered so attractive—because it’s so healthy.
Some women get lucky genetically, naturally storing almost all of their fat in their butts, almost none in their waists. Other women need to deliberately get leaner through their waists and stronger through in their hips.
There’s also the fact that strong women invariably have big butts. A man who likes big butts, however subconsciously, may simply have a preference for strong and athletic women. After all, a woman who can squat, deadlift, and hip thrust a lot of weight will naturally have bigger butts. So will women who can run fast. So will women who can jump high.
If you want to know how strong someone is, whether they’re male or female, simply look at their butts. However, when it comes to male strength, there’s more of an emphasis on upper-body strength. We have naturally bigger upper bodies that have far more room for muscle growth. So a man’s butt is often overshadowed by his shoulders, upper back, and chest.
With most women, though, their butt (and thighs) have a much larger potential for growth. Women also have better hip shapes than men. Women have proportionally wider hips that have a better shape for squatting and deadlifting, allowing for more mobility and strength.
This is all to say that having a big, muscular butt shows that a woman is strong and athletic.
There’s no arguing with the fact that having a big, strong butt is going to be considered more attractive by men. It’s also healthy and functional. However, there’s a recent trend for women to develop a disproportionately large butt.
Instead of focusing on developing overall strength, letting their butts grow accordingly with their squat and deadlift strength, women are starting to invest extra effort into isolating their butts. This allows them to develop quite a bit of extra glute size.
They aren’t wrong. By building a disproportionately large butt, women are indeed making themselves more attractive (study). It’s by no means necessary in order to build an attractive physique, but if you’re determined to not only turn heads, but also give men whiplash, building an extra-big butt can certainly help.
To do this, keep the foundation of your training the same. Get your butt incredibly strong by doing the standard exercises for your hips: squats and deadlifts. However, you might want to choose variations of these lifts that prioritize glute development. To get more glute growth out of your squats, you might want to hip-dominant squats with a low-bar position, focusing on “sitting back” into them. To get more glute growth out of your deadlifts, you might want to do Romanian deadlifts, which will emphasis the hip extension portion of the deadlift.
You can then add in extra accessory lifts for your glutes, such as hip thrusts, glute bridges, reverse lunges, donkey kicks, and so on. Just remember that these are accessory lifts. Don’t rely on them for your glute growth, use them to boost your glute growth. Your main emphasis should be getting stronger at the compound lifts (and on gaining weight).
For an example of what it looks like when you develop overall strength, but with extra emphasis on developing bigger hips and glutes, here’s Ioulia’s weight-gain transformation:
Whenever I show these photos, it’s important to remember that your results won’t look quite like anyone else’s. You can see a wider variety of women’s muscle-building transformations here. (Update: Bret Contreras, PhD, the leading glute hypertrophy researcher, has featured our women’s weight-gain transformations on his website.)
Sometimes you can get muffin tops because you’ve got fat building up in your love handles. This is a common area for women to store fat. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing anything wrong. If you want to get rid of them, just focus on either losing fat, which will shrink your love handles, or on building bigger hips, which will make them less visible.
However, if you’re building muscle and gaining weight, remember to get new clothes! With a lot of our members, they’re gaining weight, their hips are getting bigger, and they’ve forgotten to get bigger underwear and pants. If you’re noticing that you’re developing a muffin top, it might not be fat gain, it might simply be that you’re starting to get too big for your breeches.
I would recommend getting bigger pants, and fast. We’ve had members tell us stories of their pants exploding in public because their butts have grown too big.
Have you ever heard about how Brazilian women tend to have genetically bigger butts? Well, apparently one reason why Brazilian women stereotypically have larger butts is because they do more glute-specific exercises in an effort to build bigger butts. It’s a cultural exercise trend, not (just) lucky genetics.
The same is often true of people with great physiques. They seem like they’ve got great genetics, but really it’s just a good lifestyle they’ve developed. Genetics definitely play a role – some girls have such great genetics they don’t even need to lift weights. However, the cleverer and more consistent you are with your exercise and diet, the better your genetics will seem.
Also keep in mind that if you build more muscle by lifting weights, many of those muscle-building adaptations are permanent. If you build a bigger butt with hard work in the gym, you may be able to maintain it with fairly light workouts afterwards.
While going through all of the female attractiveness research, I haven’t come across a single piece of research that suggests that it’s possible to have a butt that’s too big. Now, if your body-fat percentage is outside of the healthy range (over 30%) and that’s causing your butt to become quite large, then that might be a problem. That’s not because your butt is too big, per se, it’s because your body-fat percentage is too high overall.
When it comes to building a stronger butt, it seems impossible to build a butt that’s too big. Even if you build your hips to their full genetic muscular potential, that should only make you more attractive with every added inch. You’ll probably experience the law of diminishing returns, though, where every extra inch is harder to gain and has less overall impact on your attractiveness.
If you want to see butts that are developed to their full muscular potential, one place to look is bikini models. Bikini models are, essentially, women who professional train their glutes. Their have a moderate degree of overall muscularity with disproportionately large glutes. However, keep in mind that having a fully developed butt is also incredibly common in women’s athletics.
If you want another place to see world-class glutes that are developed to their full potential, take a look at the top female sprinters:
Why do sprinters have such large glutes?
The idea of building an attractive physique is to develop a physique that’s strong and healthy overall. You don’t need to build a disproportionately large butt to do that. This is common with women who train using a more unisex approach, where all muscles are given equal emphasis. That’s perfectly fine.
Research shows that men are more than twice as likely to glance at your breasts before looking at your face. Although men find boobs absolutely fascinating, though, boob size isn’t an important attractiveness factor. According to the researchers:
Men may be looking more often at the breasts because they are simply aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the size.
That means that if you’ve got big boobs, men will love them. It also means that if you’ve got small boobs, men will still love them. Basically, if you’ve got boobs at all, then you don’t need to really worry about it.
The most common Google search that men make about boobs is: “I love my girlfriend’s boobs.” Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economist and data analyzer, commented on this peculiar truth with, “It is not clear what men are hoping to find from Google when making this search.”
Here are some more “interesting” facts about male boob preferences (study, study):
The short answer is yes. Any exercise that trains your chest muscles will make your boobs appear larger and perkier. This means that doing push-ups, bench presses, and chest flyes are all effective ways to increase your breast size and even to improve your breast shape.
The long answer is that it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Boobs have muscle tissue underneath them (your pectoralis major muscles). However, boobs don’t have any muscles in them. They’re made out of fat.
This has a few implications:
Furthermore, if you’re building muscle mass in your chest, that’s going to push your breasts out further and raise them up higher, making them appear larger and perkier.
This means that bulking up can, in some cases, increase breast size without noticeably increasing body fat. Here’s a good example of that:
For overweight women, their boobs will tend to get smaller as they lose weight. However, for naturally thin women who gain weight, they’ll often develop bigger boobs as they bulk up.
Quasi Modo was the only hero in Disney history not to get the gal. He was also the only guy in Disney hero history not to rock absolutely perfect posture. Coincidence? I think not. Plus, the girl they were all fighting for – Esmeralda. And Esmeralda, of course, had perfect posture.
An easy way to think of posture is that it shows weakness in your postural muscles. As you build stronger muscles throughout your body, they’ll naturally hold your body in a stronger position.
Of course, in practice, it’s not quite that simple. Improving your posture often means focusing on lifting with good form. It may mean adding in some extra corrective exercises. And in some cases, such as with scoliosis, it can be genetically predetermined.
However, even if you have atrocious posture and a severe case of scoliosis (as is common with naturally thin people), you can still strengthen your postural muscles and radically improve your posture. In most cases, you’ll be able to develop totally attractive posture that radiates confidence and strength.
There are a ton of different postural defects out there, but the most common portfolio of postural problems is this one:
This “upper-lower crossed syndrome,” as it’s sometimes called, is usually rooted in having a weak butt and spending too much time sitting. That’s why it’s so common nowadays. We spend a lot of time sitting.
To make matters worse, bad posture is often asymmetrical, too. One side of our hips tilts a little further forward then the other, causing our shoulders to tilt in the opposite way to counterbalance our lopsided hips. As a result, nearly everyone has one shoulder sitting higher and more internally rotated higher than the other. This will also make one of your boobs look smaller than the other.
Posture communicates even more about us than our facial expressions. Several personality traits are subconsciously inferred from how we stand: aversion, openness, irritation, happiness and self-confidence (study). So the problem with slumpy posture is that communicates a whole slew of bad things:
Fortunately, weak posture can be strengthened. Building up the muscles that hold your body in a stronger position will make you appear more confident, trustworthy, happier, and more assertive (study).
In fact, posture is so closely connected to confidence that it won’t just improve how confident you look, it will also improve how confident you feel (study). Having a more attractive posture also makes it easier to breathe well and to breathe deeply, making you calmer and more relaxed. Proper posture even changes your hormone secretions, further emphasizing all those positive changes to your mood and wellbeing. This may be one of the reasons that lifting weights is so good for improving confidence and reducing anxiety.
There’s an interesting caveat here. Women will sometimes rock the bikini-model pose, intentionally going into anterior pelvic tilt, like so:
That’s okay. There’s a big difference between being stuckin that position because you’ve got a weak glutes as opposed to stylistically striking a pose to show off your strong glutes.
Yes, this is the same kind of anterior pelvic tilt that can cause the postural problems we’ve been discussing. However, this posture isn’t rooted in weakness. Intentionally going into anterior pelvic tilt has nothing to do with lacking hip strength or having weak spinal erectors.
As far as strength and athleticism goes, proper postural alignment allows us to correctly transfer strength from our lower bodies to our upper bodies. For example, when lifting something overhead, having good posture will evenly distribute the load throughout our entire spinal columns, keeping our backs safe.
However, many women with extremely strong glutes, such as sprinters and athletes, spend a lot of time with an anteriorly tilted pelvis because it helps them run faster. Similarly, many women who are trying to build bigger hips will squat with an arched lower back. Again, because their bodies are showcasing strength instead of weakness, their postures look completely different, and these women don’t tend to experience the same downsides.
Improving your posture will also make you appear younger. Over the course of our lives we slouch, slump, and sit. Muscles atrophy, posture degrades, and people gradually crumple. You know what I mean. I’m sure you’ve seen an old person. If you’re seeing an old person in the mirror, though, we can fix that by improving your posture.
The main mistake that women make with their posture is thinking that they can fake it. They try to stand taller, raise their chests up, push their shoulders back. However, weak posture is caused from weakness. You can’t build a stronger posture simply by willing it into existence.
I’m sure you know what I mean. If you’ve ever tried to stand with better posture, just give it a few minutes. It will collapse again as soon as you stop paying attention. You might notice that trying to force better posture makes you tired, too. Your muscles aren’t strong enough to casually hold your body in that position yet.
We need to drill down to the foundation. We need to build stronger bodies. That strength will then radiate from the inside out.
For an example of a how posture can improve as you gain strength, here are two photos of Sara taken ten weeks apart. They show five pounds gained, which is already starting to improve her muscularity. Even more noticeable than her muscle gains, though, is her rapidly improving posture:
For most people, the best way to improve their attractiveness is to improve their body composition. Most people are overweight, so part of that involves losing fat. We specialize in helping naturally skinny people, though, and for us, the best way to improve our appearance is to build muscle.
To build muscle, we need to challenge our muscles in a way that stimulates muscle growth. Then we need to fuel that growth by eating enough protein and eating enough calories. Then we can improve our recovery and keep our hormones healthy by getting enough good sleep. That gives us just four things to focus on:
If you’re a naturally thin woman and you want help bulking up, building bigger and more capable muscles, and improving your attractiveness along the way, check out our Bony to Bombshell Bulking Program.
The most attractive female physique is impressively strong, healthfully lean, and fit. There’s no shortcut, no, but the good news is that we don’t need to rely on our genetics, either. An attractive physique is something that we can build.
It’s basic human nature to care about being attractive. It might feel shallow, but it’s not. After all, the only way to radically improve your attractiveness is to radically improve your health, body composition, and strength. That’s going to ripple into every detail of your body, improving your complexion, your muscle tone, your butt size, the appearance of your breasts, and even your posture.
What’s great about this approach to becoming more attractive is that a “shallow” desire, such as wanting to become more attractive, can help us develop the habits that will make us healthier in the longer term.
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
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That “just eat more” advice would work fine for most people, but the fact that we aren’t most people is precisely why we’re being given that advice in the first place, and also why that advice is rather naive. For most people, eating lots of food and gaining weight is second nature. If you tell the average woman to “just eat more,” she’d be able to. Hell, she’d probably even like it (until she got fat).
What most people don’t realize is that telling us to eat more is as silly as us telling them, “Just eat less—duh.” That’s not going to solve any problems. In fact, if you go around telling people that, you’re probably going to get in a fight. (And if you’re going to go around getting in fights, it might help to build some muscle first. Luckily, that’s what this article is about.)
Anyway, I’m sure you’ve realized there’s a lot more at play here than how much you eat. And you’re right.
So what’s going on here, and what can you do about it?
While most people struggle with fat, we struggle with muscle and strength. When we’re looking to get healthier, we aren’t looking to trim down, we’re looking to power up. This can be frustrating because it’s such an uncommon goal. But why is that?
Part of the reason is that muscle and strength, at least for women, isn’t nearly as popular as skinniness. Even women with totally healthy and attractive body-fat percentages are hopping on the weight-loss bandwagon because they assume that smallness is sexier than strength. Smallness isn’t sexier than strength, but the fact remains that weight loss is the fitness industry default.
This wasn’t always the case. Curves used to be a fashionable accessory. Between the 30s and 70s, mainstream weight gain products and marketing campaigns for skinny women were pretty common:
Then foods started becoming cheaper, higher in calories, and tastier. People started eating more. Nowadays people are consuming around 200 more calories from carbs and 200 more calories from fat than they were in the 70s (study).
…and they’re getting fatter. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 1960, 13% of Americans over the age of twenty were obese. In 2008, that number had risen to 34%.
So it’s understandable that the health and fitness industries now concern themselves exclusively with weight loss. Obesity is a far more widespread problem than skinniness, and most people have no issue whatsoever moving the scale up. However, it means that when we read fitness information, we need to be constantly asking ourselves, “Does this apply to me, or is the article assuming that I’m overweight?”
Even when it’s a curvaceous body being advertised, weight loss is still assumed to be the way to get there. Since most people are overweight, if not obese, the assumption is that the curves are already there, and we just need to whittle away the fat to reveal them. (Not to mention that naturally curvy gals will often be photoshopped thinner.)
This is even true with the “strong is the new skinny” trend. Muscle, health and strength are being advertised—which is awesome—but more often than not even strength is marketed at women who want to finish a muscle-building program weighing less than when they started.
So you could say that the new strength trend is for fat loss (heavy weightlifting and protein + a calorie deficit) instead of weight loss (cardio and veggies + a calorie deficit). The goal is to come out leaner instead of just littler.
However, the goal is still weight loss. This still doesn’t help us.
That’s because our problem isn’t just a pop culture disconnect, it’s that we’re naturally skinny. So why are we skinny people seemingly so different from everyone else?
There are a number of factors that result in a large variety of body types. Our body type is called the “ectomorph” body type. Now, the term ectomorph is technically one of the three male body types. The traits apply to skinny women as well, it’s just that skinny women are normally labelled as having a “banana” body type instead. Around here we usually just naturally skinny.
Whichever term you use, they all describe a combination of traits that make you naturally thinner: a narrow bone structure, a fast and adaptive metabolism, a modest appetite, higher insulin sensitivity, and smaller stomach size. Combine enough of these traits together and it can become incredibly difficult to gain weight.
We’ll discuss these ectomorph traits in more detail over the course of the article.
To start, let’s talk about bone structure.
According to research done at Columbia University, before puberty, both men and women have more or less the same body shape—that of a string bean. When puberty hits, a couple of things usually happen:
This happens to different degrees in different people; however, most men will be shaped far more by testosterone, and most women will be shaped far more by estrogen. This causes most men and women to look quite different from one another. Both may develop the desirable V-shaped upper body, but it’s predominantly women who develop bigger hips, thighs, butts, and breasts.
At this point, you might be thinking, “But I went through puberty and I’m still a string bean!”
Everyone has different degrees of the two hormones, creating a wide variety of body shapes. And besides, there are many factors that shape us besides our hormones. Of the many body shapes that women naturally develop, the narrow “string bean” bone structure is actually the most common. Check it out:
Narrow bone structure (aka banana, rectangle). This is the most common female physique, shaped by average amounts of both estrogen and testosterone. North Carolina State University found that 46% of women had this bone structure. (This doesn’t mean that most women are thin, just that most women have narrower bone structures.)
The pear shape (aka triangle). The pear body type is shaped even more heavily by estrogen. Estrogen causes structurally broader hips. It also causes fat to hang out primarily in the thighs, buns and boobs. It can sometimes be difficult for women with this body type to build muscle in the upper body. This describes about 20% of women.
Athletic physique (aka inverted triangle). This is the body type shaped more heavily by testosterone, although testosterone levels are still just a very small fraction of what men typically have. This body type will often have broader shoulders, smaller breasts and an athletic edge over other women when it comes to sports performance and building muscle. Around 14% of women have this body shape.
The hourglass physique. This physique is shaped more heavily by both testosterone and estrogen. It’s a more hormonal physique overall. The testosterone creates structurally broader shoulders, and will also make it relatively easy to build muscle. The higher estrogen levels mean that the hips are naturally wider, and also that fat is stored primarily in the buttocks and boobs. However, while popular in the media, only around 8% of women have this body type.
These are generalizations of course, and most people have a predisposition towards a couple of the body types above. As a thin gal, you’ll probably find that you have a narrow bone structure with hints of the other body types showing through in varying degrees.
While the amount of fat and muscle on your body is largely within your control, your bone structure and where you tend to store fat is largely due to genetics—more precisely, due to the hormones you were exposed to as your body developed.
Luckily, if you aren’t totally thrilled with your bone structure, you can change your body shape by changing your lifestyle, exercise, and diet habits.
Fat gain creates a pear shape. The more fat you gain, the wider your thighs, butt, and waist will become, giving you more of an endomorphic pear-shaped physique.
Fat loss creates narrower shape. The more fat you lose, the smaller your waist, hips, and thighs will get, causing you to develop more of a narrow physique.
Muscle-building creates an hourglass shape. The more muscle you build, the bigger your butt, back, shoulders, and thighs will get, creating more of an hourglass physique. This means that you can build yourself an hourglass figure simply by building muscle overall, perhaps directing a bit more of that muscle growth towards your hips.
Admittedly, we’re generalizing here. Different body types have different fat storage and androgen receptor patterns, and will store fat and build muscle differently. However, having a healthy amount of body fat and muscle will usually result in an attractive physique.
Even if you’re naturally skinny, your genetic muscular potential is probably quite high, which should allow you to build the body that you want. However, building muscle is much easier said than done. After all, there’s a lot more than just our bone structures making us skinny!
Many naturally skinny women feel like caloric bottomless pits. They feel as if no matter how much food they shovel into their mouths, their weight still refuses to budge on the scale.
That being said, many experts argue that most women burn more or less the same amount of calories each day—that naturally skinny women just underestimate how much they eat (study, study, study). So why does it often seem like you’ve got this furnace-like string bean metabolism making it impossible to gain weight?
Well, that’s because that’s not the entire story.
Those experts are right, of course. You do burn about the same amount of calories as everyone else does while you sleep (BMR), while you’re roaming around and being active (TEA), while you exercise (EPOC), and while you digest food (TEF).
However, many skinny women also have their metabolisms kicking things into overdrive in a far more elusive way.
Where your metabolism may differ from other women is with regards to your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). These are the calories burned through unconscious activity—things like heat production, fidgeting, and postural control (study).
Most people’s bodies are fairly frugal with calories, and try to store as many as possible for rainy days. Not us. We’re caloric high rollers, baby, and we’re all about spending calories like there’s no tomorrow!
For example, I don’t get cold. Ever. I live in Canada and don’t even own a winter coat. My friends joke that I’m a human furnace. I also pace when I talk on the phone, tap my feet and bob my head along to music, and just generally find sitting still difficult.
How much of an effect can this have? A pretty huge one, apparently. A study looking into metabolisms found that most people burned 3% more calories sitting in a chair than they did lying motionless on their backs. Add in some fidgeting though, and people burned 54% more calories just by casually relaxing in a chair. The same is true when we stand. Casually standing burns just 13% more calories than lying on your back, whereas a skinny-gal may burn 94% more calories while standing (study).
This means that while you may be doing the same things as your friends and colleagues, you may be burning far more calories than them. Over the course of a day, that can mean 475 extra calories burned if you spend most of your time sitting, or 750 extra calories burned if you spend most of your time standing.
Even if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, this more than cancels out the extra calories people have begun consuming since the 70’s. No wonder everyone is inadvertently gaining weight except for us.
There more evidence of this phenomenon, too. James Levine, a leading metabolism researcher, recruited ten obese people and ten lean people and measured their postures and movements every half-second for ten days. (He did this by using kinky high-tech undergarments.) The lean people spent two more hours standing than the obese people, burning an estimated 350 more calories each day. This held true even when naturally skinny people gained weight, leading him to believe that this is largely genetically predetermined (study).
And that’s actually only the beginning. Things get really interesting when you start overfeeding us.
Different people respond very differently to overfeeding. In one study, participants were overfed by 1,000 calories per day for eight straight weeks and instructed not to exercise (study). At the end of the eight-week study, some people gained 0.79 pounds of fat and some gained 9.3 pounds of fat. That’s more than a tenfold difference in how much fat was stored.
The group of people who resisted weight gain were called “hardgainers.” That’s us.
This hardgainer phenomenon puzzled researchers for a long time, but now we know that our higher metabolisms are largely explained by extra subconscious movement.
When overfeeding, almost everyone’s metabolism revs up, but it’s usually not nearly enough to offset the effects of overeating. If your friend eats a 200 calorie cookie she may burn an extra 50 calories and store 150 as fat.
We hardgainers respond to overfeeding by turning up our caloric furnaces far higher than the average person, producing more heat, moving more, and fidgeting more. We might eat that 200 calorie cookie and burn all 200 extra calories.
Other studies have found the same skinny-gal phenomenon (study, study).
This all helps to keep us lean, sure, but it also keeps us small.
“Just eat more” is technically correct. But as far as advice goes, it isn’t very helpful (and it’s annoying to hear it over and over again). And besides, it can seem totally hopeless when our already overactive metabolisms eagerly adapt to our attempts to overeat.
To put this into perspective, most people’s calorie requirements fall within the range of their bodyweight multiplied by 13-23, with the naturally plump being on the lower end and the naturally skinny being on the higher end. For a 120-pound woman, that’s the difference between burning 1,560 and 2,760 calories each day.
That’s a huge difference.
You might be able to eat the same amount of food as your best friend, add in an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s, and still not gain weight.
But we aren’t simply trying to gain weight, we’re trying to gain muscle. Luckily, our bodies adapt to heavy weightlifting stimulus by building up extra muscle before sending the surplus calories off to the furnace. Calories that need to be invested in muscle growth aren’t extra calories, after all, so they won’t be discarded.
Furthermore, Eric Helms, PhD, has found that lifting weights tends to calm overactive metabolisms. This means that if you gear into a lifting routine, you may notice that you instinctively start to take things a little easier. You may start burning fewer calories simply because you’ll be a bit calmer during the day. When you sit on the couch, you may notice that you really sit on the couch. If that doesn’t make sense, just give it a try, and you’ll see what I mean.
You know how chubbier women often have to do all kinds of cardio in order to stay slim? Well our adaptive metabolisms keep us lean by default. Doing cardio while gaining weight is still a good idea in terms of maintaining good general health, but not for the purposes of staying slim.
The tricky part is that since we don’t naturally have a lot of muscle, we need to stimulate muscle growth by stressing our muscles. To do that, we can’t rely on cardio, aerobics, yoga, or general fitness routines. We need to do hypertrophy training, aka, a workout routine designed specifically to stimulate muscle growth.
The fact that we’re awesome at building lean muscle while we’re in a hearty caloric surplus is all well and good, but the problem remains: eating a huge caloric surplus is really damn hard. To make matters even more frustrating, nobody else seems to understand this.
Maybe you’ve read about the “Paleo” approach to dieting—about how avoiding grains, beans, peanuts, potatoes, dairy, and junk food can help you become lean and muscular. This restrictive approach to nutrition works by cutting high-calorie foods that people often overeat.
The same is true with most other recent diet trends. Low-carb and ketogenic diets can be effective ways to lose weight, but they don’t tend to be very good for building muscle. (Note that vegan diets are also associated with weight loss, but you can certainly bulk on a vegan diet.)
However, overeating probably isn’t a concern of yours.
You may have wondered why some women hangrily wrestle to control their appetites. One reason is the interplay between leptin, insulin and your appetite (study). For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use just insulin as an example here.
When we eat, our insulin levels go up. As our insulin levels go up, our appetites go down. This leaves a nice pleasant feeling of fullness (meta-analysis). This is how our body tells us that we can put down the fork. Insulin also allows our bodies to store fat and build muscle (study), making it extremely important when trying to change your physique.
Naturally, thin women tend to be rather sensitive to insulin (study). This means that:
Most people nowadays are much less sensitive to insulin, especially chubbier people (study). Since their insulin response is blunted, their process looks more like this: in goes food, in goes a little more food, up goes insulin, up goes a little more insulin, and finally down goes appetite. By the time their insulin gets high enough to trigger a feeling off fullness, they’ve often already eaten three more burritos than they should have.
And this is why they often need to avoid things like burritos. Protein is highly insulinogenic (study), meaning it will do a great job of filling you up. Fibre will help keep you full for longer. The high protein and high fibrous veggie approach that Paleo takes can be pretty effective at managing appetite. This is probably why it’s caught on like wildfire. (However grains, beans, carbs, and all the other things that the diet demonizes aren’t actually unhealthy. As a result I’m guessing that this diet, like the low-fat diets of the 80’s, will just be a fad.)
You don’t need to baby your insulin though, because your insulin sensitivity is already babying you.
Although this might seem like a pain in your too-small ass, being insulin sensitive is actually pretty sweet. Having more insulin sensitivity in our muscle cells and less in our fat cells helps to direct more nutrients toward muscle and less toward fat, making it easier to build muscle leanly. We skinny folk hit the genetic jackpot with this one, and we want to hold onto it at all costs.
Luckily, as long as we approach building muscle cleverly, we can not only hold onto our rad insulin sensitivity, we can also improve upon it. Being lean increases insulin sensitivity (study). Heavy weightlifting increases insulin sensitivity (study). So does building up more muscle mass (study). If you take a skinny girl who already has a genetic advantage, and put her on a hearty muscle-building program, she’ll be an insulin sensitivity powerhouse. This is excellent news as far as your body composition goes.
But while having heightened insulin sensitivity is a tremendous muscle-building and fat prevention asset, it certainly doesn’t help us overcome our appetites. For that we’ve got to do the opposite of what most people do, turning to higher-calorie foods that are easier on our appetites. Here’s a chart listing some foods and how filling they are per calorie:
The study concluded that foods which are rich in fibre, protein, and water are more filling. This is troublesome because fibre, protein, and water are also essential for health and building muscle.
This is where things get controversial.
Focusing on high fibre and low-calorie vegetables is common among women who want to be healthy or lose weight. If you’re trying to build muscle though, this can be a mistake.
If you’re trying to gain weight, following common diet advice can backfire. For the general population, filling + low-calorie = magic health combination. Popular diet foods tend to be things like: celery, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach, chicken, cucumbers, peaches, etc. These can be our worst enemies.
These mainstream “health” foods make it nearly impossible to consume enough calories overall (study). Foods like broccoli, which are essentially just fibre and water, would fill you up miserably without contributing much to your daily calorie consumption. While broccoli is technically a healthy food, this makes it a very poor staple food choice if you struggle to eat enough.
If we try to follow a diet constructed around low-calorie foods we run the risk of consuming so few calories that we run into malnutrition issues. As an already skinny guy, whenever I’d go on my “health food” kicks I’d accidentally lose weight. I’d be doing everything I could to improve my health and build muscle, however my friends and family would grow ever more concerned about my health.
Focusing on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) at the expense of macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) is getting your priorities backwards. You’ll survive way longer eating just sugar than you would eating just celery, since the sugar is at least satisfying your body’s most basic energy needs, while the celery is not. Priority number one should be making sure you get the energy you need to thrive (short and long term health) and priority number two should be getting the micronutrients you need to thrive (long term health).
If you’re trying to consume 2,500 calories per day, 2,200 calories from whole foods and 300 calories of dessert is way better than 2,200 calories from whole foods, skipping dessert, and missing your target by 300 calories. Both have the same amount of micronutrients, however the “clean” diet fails in an even more important way—it doesn’t meet your basic energy requirements.
We don’t need to be using reduced-fat coconut milk, drinking light beers or making cauliflower mashed “potatoes”. We’re better off eating foods that are still minimally processed, still rich in micronutrients, and yet higher in calories. Foods such as sweet potatoes, avocados, bananas, trail mix, muesli, eggs, and dairy… and burritos. (Here’s a bigger list of good bulking foods.)
These are nutritious whole foods that are also calorically badass.
Hell, if you need to eat some “dirty” calories to meet your lofty energy requirements, well, it might be time to get a little dirty. At least nutritionally. And in moderation. Here’s how.
(I really hope calling foods “clean” and “dirty” is also a fad, as studies show that it’s a great way to develop weird food fetishes.)
Anyway, there are a million other ways to manipulate our appetites, and we wrote a couple chapters on it in the Bony to Bombshell Bulking Program, and we have another guide on eating more calories here, but there’s one more trick that we can cover here pretty quickly.
Whole foods in liquid form such as smoothies and milk are also high in calories and easy on your appetite (study). Adding a protein/fruit smoothie into your day is a pretty easy way to add more calories, micronutrients, and protein into your diet without maxing out your appetite. With some cleverness, you can make them taste pretty good, too.
Skinny women tend to have thinner torsos, leaving less room for their stomachs. In a 2001 study conducted at Columbia University, researchers discovered that obese people had markedly larger stomachs than people who weren’t overweight and that binge eaters had larger stomachs still. Stomachs are sort of like balloons, with each balloon coming in a different size and each being able to inflate to different degrees (study).
Perhaps you’ve read about intermittent fasting, where you strategically reduce the number of meals you eat. Since some people have very large stomachs and enjoy eating very large meals, this is a diet designed around eating fewer meals instead of smaller meals when dieting. This helps people consume fewer calories overall (study).
However, intermittent fasting isn’t an effective way to build muscle or gain weight, since eating fewer meals means less protein synthesis. It works quite well for people with naturally large stomachs/appetites, since it helps manage appetite. Appetite manipulation aside, however, it isn’t any more or less effective than a regular meal schedule when it comes to losing fat (study, study, study).
Are we stuck with our stomach sizes? In another study, scientists recruited a group of obese people and split them into two groups: one group ate what they normally eat, and the other was forced to eat itty bitty meals. Four weeks later, the group that ate in their typical manner, not surprisingly, had the same stomach sizes as they did when they started. The itty bitty meal group, however, had reduced their stomach size by 27–36% (study).
More relevantly, the researchers in the first study suspect that binge eating was the cause of the larger stomach sizes. The binge eaters weren’t born with larger stomachs, but rather adapted to their eating habits by growing larger stomachs over time. This suggests that by gradually eating larger and larger meals, we could gradually increase our stomach sizes. Sort of like how stretching out a balloon makes it easier to inflate it.
With that said, skinny people don’t need to increase their stomach sizes. Simply eating more meals (study), adding snacks between meals (study), eating more calorie-dense foods (study), or using any number of other appetite manipulation tricks is plenty. Eating larger meals might help, but you don’t want to create unhealthy binge eating habits, pack so much food into your little stomach that you cause acid reflux, or eat so much that you need a nap after every meal.
Just don’t go intentionally trying to skip breakfast. If anything you’ll want to be adding in some meals or snacks, not taking them out.
There’s of course another reason why people tend to eat a helluva lot of food that has nothing to do with appetite or stomach capacity. Eating food causes the release of dopamine, and that release of dopamine causes feelings of intense pleasure. In fact, that’s how our bodies let us know that we’re doing something pleasurable in the first place. This helps us shape our behaviour around what our bodies feel is important.
Unfortunately, modern junk food, which is high in both sugar and fat, can create an extremely large dopamine response (study). Some people argue that this can create unhealthy “addictive” habits surrounding junk food (study).
Perhaps when people get bummed about their love lives (or lack thereof), tired after a long day of work, or stressed out by life in general, it’s common to turn instinctively to fatty/sugary food because your body knows it can get a hit of dopamine there. They aren’t eating because of physiological hunger insofar as they don’t need more calories; they’re eating simply for the predictable pleasure response. This is your typical rom-com scenario where the heartbroken gal drowns her sorrows in a tub of ice cream.
When enough dopamine is released, it eventually satisfies that insatiable craving or urge. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, thus some people need to eat a ton of food in order to stimulate a large enough dopamine response to satisfy their cravings. Bony hearts, however, can often be mended with relatively small portions of ice cream.
But turning to ice cream in tough times isn’t even something that naturally skinny people tend to do in the first place.
Eating for that pleasurable hormonal response is more of a naturally chubby person thing (study, study). As skinny people, our stress response is often far more affected by other factors—factors that turn our appetites off. When we get stressed, bummed, or tired, we often lose our appetites entirely, or entirely forget to eat. In tough times we tend to find ourselves losing weight, not gaining it.
So if you get in a fight with your lover, they might storm off and raid the fridge; meanwhile… you’re busy forgetting to have dinner.
Health, fitness and weight loss are often bundled up together, so it can be really hard to figure out how to exercise in order to gain weight.
Jogging, pilates, spin, light weightlifting circuits, yoga, CrossFit, Insanity, boot camps, Body Pump, and p90x all make it harder to eat enough to even maintain your weight (study, study). This more true for some people than others, however, as naturally skinny people, both low and high-intensity aerobic exercise tends to cause us to burn more calories than we consume (study, study). These types of programs also don’t do much to promote muscle growth (study, study, study, study, study). These are great programs for general fitness and losing weight (both muscle and fat)—which is what they’re all designed for—but they’re awful for gaining weight, building muscle, and preserving muscle while losing weight.
Since mainstream exercise promotes weight loss, and since we aren’t trying to lose weight, oftentimes we just skip out on exercise altogether. That’s a problem for several reasons. First, it isn’t healthy for our bodies. Second, it isn’t healthy for our brains. Third, ectomorph or not, a sedentary life will ever so slowly lead to the dreaded “skinny-fat” physique. It might take decades of inactivity to get there, but it’ll usually catch up with us.
That’s where things get really tricky though. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. We can do everyday fitness routines, get no visible rewards, and struggle even harder to eat enough to maintain our weight… or we can skip out on exercise and slowly let our health degrade.
And it’s a little stressful too. I mean, if we combine some sort of general fitness program with a “bulking” diet we run the risk of getting fatter. We may be thin, but Hell, at least we’re good at it! The last thing we want to do is lose our natural advantage by becoming chubbier.
Check this out:
Can general fitness routines help you build muscle? If you’re eating a surplus of calories and gaining weight, you can build muscle at first if and only if your workouts are relatively heavy for you. As a result, in beginners, many different types of exercise can stimulate a little bit of muscle growth at first (study). Beyond that very early stage though, it doesn’t matter how gruelling the workouts are, how fearsomely your muscles burn with a hellish fire, or how much you want to pass out on the floor… if the stimulus isn’t heavy enough, it won’t cause adaptations that will make your muscles bigger and stronger (study, study, study, study, study). If you keep eating in a calorie surplus, at a certain point you will begin to gain fat instead of muscle.
The good news is that if you follow a proper weightlifting program, your muscle cells will soak up the extra calories and you’ll be able to build exclusively muscle:
Frankly, even if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll probably want to go with the “strong is the new sexy” approach to weight loss and do a type of exercise that will help to build and maintain muscle mass so that you’re only losing fat. We skinny people don’t have much muscle to spare!
Can general fitness routines help you burn fat? A twelve-week study looking at body composition while losing weight found that all participants lost 21 pounds on average, regardless of whether they were doing no exercise, light workouts, or heavy workouts. However, the type of exercise participants performed had a huge impact on the type of weight they lost. The ones who weren’t exercising lost an average of 14 pounds of fat and 7 pounds of muscle; the ones who were doing light weightlifting lost an average of 16 pounds of fat and 5 pounds of muscle; and the ones doing heavy weightlifting lost an average of 21 pounds of fat and 0 pounds of muscle (study).
The findings of another study looking into fat loss and exercise are even more extreme. It found that the lighter weightlifting group lost an average of 13 pounds—7 pounds of fat and 6 pounds of muscle. The heavier weightlifting group lost 18 pounds, losing 22 pounds of fat and gaining 4 pounds of muscle (study). You can read more about what happens if you lose weight without exercising here.
Long story short, while in a calorie deficit, general fitness exercise makes you smaller, whereas heavy weightlifting will make you leaner (and perhaps ever so slightly more muscular).
Why does this happen? Lighter exercise causes our bodies to make endurance adaptations. We improve blood flow so that we can fuel our muscles for longer periods of time. Conversely, heavy weightlifting stimulates muscle growth by making our muscle cells more sensitive to insulin. Our muscles will hog more of the calories we eat and use them to become bigger and stronger. This is also why when losing weight it’s important to lift, as that’s what preserves muscle mass.
So if you don’t already have extra muscle
hanging flexing around, you’ll want to start doing a hypertrophy training program (like this one). That isn’t the only option, but it’s the best option. Hypertrophy training is hands down the most effective way to gain weight, build muscle, and improve your appearance:
People come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Each body type is a little different and often responds best to a slightly different approach; however, in general, being healthy, fit, and strong will result in an aesthetically pleasing physique, regardless of genetics.
That has little to do with why we’re skinny, though. The reason we struggle to gain weight is that we have a number of ectomorph/hardgainer traits that make it difficult to get into a caloric surplus—such as a raging metabolism, an adaptive metabolism, a small stomach capacity, amazing insulin sensitivity, and greater dopamine sensitivity.
It’s often frustrating, but these can be great things. We never need to be hungry or hangry, we don’t need to restrict the foods that we love, and, perhaps best of all, we don’t need to deal with the weird negative psychological effects of perpetually trying to become smaller (study).
The problem is that nowadays weight gain is a rare goal, especially in the women’s health and fitness industry.
The skinny-gal approach to nutrition. Since most people eat too much, the emphasis in most diets is on what to remove. There’s also a lot of fear surrounding foods that are higher in calories, like those containing sugar, carbs, gluten, and fat. Since we’re actively trying to eat more, the first thing we should be doing to our diets is cleverly adding things in. We don’t really need to be restricting anything.
So put some milk and sugar in your coffee. Blend up a fruit smoothie to drink alongside it. Ask for an extra egg when you’re out for brunch. Put some olives in your martini. And at dinner, maybe have a fruit salad instead of a salad salad.
The skinny-gal approach to fitness. Similarly, since most fitness advice is about moving more and improving our general fitness, we need to take a bit of a different approach. If your goal is to gain weight, doing a proper lifting program is a far better way to get strong and build muscle. Once you become good at it you’ll probably realize that building muscle isn’t as out of reach as you once thought.
Now I’m not saying it’ll be easy. To say that this was a huge challenge for me is an understatement. I tried and failed more times than I can remember before finally wising up and having success. You, too, will need to be clever, and you’ll need to develop good habits. I’m hoping this article helps with that!
The good news is that once you’ve successfully packed on some pounds, maintaining muscle is actually pretty easy. A pound of muscle only burns around 6 calories per day (study, study, study). If you were to gain a whopping twenty pounds of muscle you’d only need to consume an extra 120 calories to maintain it. That’s a small glass of milk. (And milk is pretty good for bulking, by the way.)
If you want help gaining weight and building muscle as a naturally skinny woman, we think you’ll absolutely love the Bony to Bombshell Program. It’s designed to help you gain weight and build muscle even if you have a modest appetite, a small stomach, a raging metabolism and muscles that absolutely refuse to grow.
You’ll look a whole lot better, of course, but we’ll also help you improve your strength, your posture, and your general health. And we’ll teach you how to build muscle exactly where you want it, finally putting you in control of your curves.
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These are questions we get a lot. So inside this article, we’ll be talking about why so many women want to have wide hips with a small waist, what we can’t change, what we can change, and some action steps you can take today to quickly start adding inches to your hip measurement to immediately start improving your waist-to-hip ratio.
First, we need to get on the same page. When we say “big hips,” what do we mean? Big compared to what? We’re not talking about how big your hips are in objective measurement. And we aren’t even talking about how big or wide your hips are compared to other women.
When people talk about “big hips,” they’re usually intuitively talking about having wide hips compared to their waist.
Along with having strong shoulders, this contrast between waist and hip size creates the coveted “hourglass” body shape that women like Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson, Brigitte Bardot, and Beyoncé are famous for. But as you can see, Brigitte Bardot actually has fairly slender structure overall, including fairly small hips, it’s just that they’re large compared to her even smaller waist.
By this standard, a woman with a waist-to-hip ratio less or equal to 0.7 has wide hips. To figure out your own waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), start by measuring your waist circumference at its narrowest point and your hip circumference at its widest point, like so:
Then divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference, giving you your waist-to-hip ratio.
For example, let’s say we have a woman with a 26-inch waist and 31-inch hips. She would divide her waist measurement by her hip measurement (26/31) to get a ratio of 0.838, which is in the healthy range but won’t give her the appearance of having remarkably wide hips. However, she can further improve her health and appearance further by building up wider hips or by losing fat around her waist—or by doing both.
Most women who exercise are looking to build bigger hips. So much so that it’s one of the most common questions we get, and it’s almost always listed as a main goal when people join our muscle-building programs. But why do so many women want big hips?
One hypothesis was that it was a cultural trend to want wider hips. There is some evidence that culture can shift our body-shape preferences, but these shifts are actually quite small. In fact, our natural instincts might be towards even more extreme proportions (study). This means that our current culture, with more people overweight, is subtly making us to prefer hips that are less wide because it looks more normal. So if anything, wide hips being desirable is biological, and our culture tends to downplay it.
A hypothesis with more research behind it is that wide hips are so attractive because they’re so healthy. Having big hips with a small waist is a great sign of health. The better the ratio, the healthier the person looks. This isn’t unique to women. In fact, it’s directly comparable to how women prefer more muscular men (up to a point) and how various male proportions indicate different health markers, such as a man appearing more healthy when he builds broader shoulders.
Long story short, a woman’s waist-to-hip ratio gives a snapshot of a woman’s overall health.
You probably know this intuitively, giving you an instinctive desire to develop a better waist-to-hip ratio, either to improve your health, to become more attractive, or some combination of the two.
A woman’s waist-to-hip ratio is signalling how much muscle she has; it’s signalling her genetics; it’s hinting at whether she spends her days exercising or sitting; and it’s even signalling fertility (study) and youthfulness (study).
After all, as women get older, they tend to become less physically active, and so their hips tend to become less muscular while their waistlines expand. This is preventable (and reversible), but the correlation is still strong.
Because of these massive health implications, even the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on waist-to-hip ratio. Their researchers think that a waist-to-hip ratio above 1.0 can accurately indicate predict a woman’s cardiovascular health, whether they have diabetes, and even if they’re at risk of getting certain cancers (report).
Side note: Interestingly, the WHO report also touches on ethnic differences in the waist-to-hip ratio. They reference three different studies finding that women of Asian descent naturally store more fat around the vital organs in their waist (visceral fat), and so they benefit from having even smaller waists (in terms of health) when compared against women of European, African, and Middle-Eastern descent. This ensures that any unhealthy visceral fat is minimized. So if you’re of Asian descent, you should definitely aim to have lean waist, and thus a lower ratio than most averages.
This is why so many people find big hips and small waists in women so desirable, both in themselves and in others. They’re naturally drawn to these signals of health, youth, and athleticism.
Of course, this also has a huge impact on attractiveness. Research has been pounding a loud drum saying that sexiness is simply conspicuous health. The more obvious it is that you’re healthy, the sexier you’ll look. (We’ve written about this extensively in our article about the most attractive female body.) Of course, this all happens on a subconscious, intuitive level, and most people don’t realize they’re instinctively being attracted to health markers.
This intuition is staggeringly universal. Devendra Singh, a researcher and former professor of psychology from the University of Texas, said that these judgments of health and attractiveness are found in both men and women, from a diverse age range of 18–85, and span across the many different ethnic backgrounds studied (Afro-American, Mexican American, Euroamerican) (study). It spans across different periods of history as well. Researchers have studied sculptures made in ancient India, Africa, Egypt, and Greece that reflect the understanding that women had a much lower waist-to-hip ratio than men .
Some research has even found similar findings by looking back and studying the Miss Pageant competition from 1921 and onwards, as well as the issues of Playboy. Putting my own opinions about the Pageantry and Playboy aside, there’s some lessons we can learn from this research. For example, the lowest waist-hip-ratio found in Playboy was 0.529, the highest was 0.844 and the mean is 0.677 (study). This lines up perfectly with what the WHO considers healthy.
This shows us that men are finding the women with the healthiest waist-to-hip ratio to be the sexiest. So if you build a healthier ratio, you’ll also be building a sexier ratio, and vice versa.
In another study, researchers discovered that women “sucked in” their stomachs when trying to appear more attractive (study). This hints that women instinctively understand that their waist-hip-ratio affects how attractive they look.
Having wide hips alongside a small waist is so desirable because it’s so healthy. Yes, you can try to game the system by focusing on surface-level solutions, such as getting butt implants. And according to one online poll, over half of the women surveyed edited their photos before posting to social media like Instagram (link & link).
But don’t do it! Something will often look “off” if you try to fix it at a surface level instead of on a deeper level. Both men and women have great intuition when it comes to these indicators of health. There’s also something called the uncanny valley, where if something looks almost but not quite natural, then it gives us a strange feeling.
There’s much more to a woman’s body shape than just her waist-to-hip ratio (study). If you build up your hips naturally by squatting, for example, then you’ll also be building up bigger adductors and quads, as well as strengthening your transverse abdominis muscles. If you build bigger hips with deadlifts and hip thrusts, then your hamstrings will grow along with your hips. Again, there are many factors that go along with building bigger hips.
The same is true with a narrow waist. There’s a difference between being underweight versus being lean but athletic.
We’ve been looking at bodies our entire lives. We intuitively understand what looks healthy, athletic, and attractive. As a result, the best way to improve our appearance is to improve ourselves from the inside out.
It’s best to build bigger hips and a smaller waist the genuine way—by focusing on becoming stronger, becoming fitter, eating a good muscle-building diet, improving our lifestyles, and improving our sleep habits.
The short answer is that a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 is ideal. First, there’s evidence that a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 is what looks the most healthy and attractive to both men and women (study). Second, that’s also the ratio that’s generally considered to indicate the best overall health (study). Finally, a study published in 2010 shows that a ratio of 0.7 is what best activates the neural reward centres in men’s brains (study).
The long answer is that it isn’t quite that simple. A 0.7 ratio isn’t the final be-all answer. As we mentioned above, there are several different factors that contribute to how healthy and attractive a woman appears.
But first, two things are more or less agreed upon:
Here’s where things get complicated: not all women have the same bone structure. Some women have a broader bone structure, others have a thinner bone structure. Some women develop an hourglass figure during puberty due to their bone structure or body fat storage patterns… but many don’t. Hourglass figures look stereotypically feminine, but they’re actually one of the rarer body types. Most women with hourglass figures had to deliberately develop those curves with exercise and diet.
This means that it’s possible to be totally healthy, with a good balance of muscle mass and body fat, but to haver a bone structure that makes it way harder to get the ideal WHR. For example, here’s a woman who’s lean, strong and healthy yet has a structurally wider waist:
It’s also possible to have the ideal ratio while being medically underweight or overweight. For example, here’s a woman who’s underweight, with a very small amount of muscle mass and strength, but she still has the ideal waist-to-hip ratio:
So if this is really all about health, are the genuinely healthy people the most attractive? Or is it the people who just have genetically curvier body proportions?
Some studies show that proportions matter most, whether or not that person is healthy (study). Other studies show that it’s more attractive to have a healthy weight and a relatively lean waist regardless of what waist-to-hip ratio that happens to result in. (study).
Based on the evidence, we would argue that you should aim to get the best of both worlds. If you have naturally smaller hips, build extra muscle to round them out and get curvier proportions. You’ll get the added benefit of that muscle too, and muscle is one of the most underrated health markers right now (study). Having a butt that’s “too” strong or “too” athletic or “too” round isn’t a real thing. A strong butt is great for your health, it reduces lower back pain, reduces your risk of injury, increases your athleticism, and it will be great for your appearance.
Yes, building wider hips is going to be harder for naturally skinny women, or women who have naturally thinner hips. However, even women who struggle to gain muscle have a fairly high genetic muscular potential. Furthermore, most of their muscle gains will come within their first couple years of lifting weights (due to a phenomenon called newbie gains).
But how do you do build bigger hips and a narrower waist?
If you haven’t guessed yet, we can’t change our bone structure. Bone structure is almost entirely determined by your genetics. Once your hips are finished growing, that’s it. Because your potential is in your genetics, the female pelvic shapes are already starting to widen compared to males as early as 26 weeks in gestation (study)!
Interestingly, it does seem like the shape of your hips can modestly adapt to the activity and stress you put on them as a kid. According to this study, women who are more active growing up are more likely to develop the heart-shaped hip structure that’s more common men. 24% of the women had that heart-shaped hip, while the majority of women had a more rounded hip shape (study).
Some rare women are blessed with remarkable genetics, with naturally broad hip bones and a tinier waist. Women with genetics like these won’t need to build up as much muscle in their hips in order to boost their attractiveness.
An example of this is the vegan model Renee Somerfield, who was part of a recent ad campaign that was criticized for body shaming because those critics considered her natural body shape too “unrealistic.” Despite the irony of body-shaming someone they claim is body-shaming others, she has a healthy body weight in terms of BMI and she said she exercises 4–5 times a week.
The good news is that every woman can improve their proportions by building up the muscles around their hips while keeping a lean waist.
Check out Aomi, who’s graciously allowed us to share her before and after photos of getting bigger hips. She gained 3″ on her hips while doing our Bony to Bombshell program, which put her ratio even better than the 0.7 target.
Many women with great genetics and who eat well store their fat in their hips. They might also be more naturally muscular. But on our site, we’re committed to helping naturally skinny “ectomorph/banana” women build muscle. So if that’s you, the chances are that you’ll need to focus on building more muscle, not just trimming off extra belly fat.
Scientific research has revealed a lot about building muscle. We know that to build muscle you need to encourage your muscles to grow stronger by stressing them (lifting weights is the most effective approach), you need to eat enough protein (about 1 gram per pound bodyweight per day is ideal), and in order to gain weight, and you need to eat enough calories above and beyond what you normally eat (about 250 extra calories per day will yield about 0.5 pounds of weight gain each week). You also need enough quality sleep to allow your body to recover and grow.
Building bigger hips is all about balancing those four muscle-building principles. You could be doing the world’s best butt workout, but if you aren’t eating enough protein and calories, your body won’t have the extra building blocks it needs to grow.
And vice versa. If you eat the best muscle-building diet, but you’re not sufficiently stressing your muscles, you’ll just gain fat. Or if you’re stressing your muscles enough but not in the right places, you’ll wind up only growing those specific areas.
No amount of cardio will help you build bigger hips. This is because cardio is designed to help you develop better cardiovascular fitness, not to build muscle in your hips.
The best way to get better at a specific thing is to train at that specific thing. This is called training specificity, and it’s something beginners don’t often consider. If you want to run faster, all the bench pressing in the world won’t help, you’ll make better progress if you practice running. Similarly, if you want to build a killer butt, all the yoga in the world won’t help with that—yoga’s best adaptation is better diaphragmatic control.
Anyways, when it comes to building bigger hips, we’re talking about building bigger muscles. You should be doing a bodybuilding program, i.e., a program specifically designed to help you build up a bigger, stronger body. And that bodybuilding program should be one that puts extra emphasis on your hips, since that’s where you most want to grow.
Most exercise programs don’t have that goal in mind. Even though building big hips is so universally appealing, many women in today’s society are coming at this from the other angle: they have naturally big hips and they already have enough muscle… but need to work hard at shrinking their waists.
Even most weight training programs focus on either strength training (such as StrongLifts 5×5, Starting Strength, and Girls Gone Strong). However, these programs are designed to make you stronger for your size. Strength training programs aren’t designed to make your muscles bigger. The main adaptation from strength training is something called “neural gains,” which is when learn to contract more of your muscle fibres simultaneously. You’ll certainly build bigger hips, but it’s not the most efficient way to do it.
The other common approach is to focus on general fitness (such as CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, Sweat, Spin, and Body Pump) rather than on becoming stronger. Again, these programs aren’t designed to help you build bigger hips. While you might get some glute gains, especially if you’re a total beginner, you’ll be leaving so much opportunity on the table.
If you’ve been struggling to build bigger hips, we recommend going straight to a bonafide hip bulking program—a program that’s specifically designed to increase the size of the muscles in your hips (such as your glutes).
For the best overall muscle size development, you’ll want a program that focuses more on muscle hypertrophy. You could also call these “bodybuilding” programs, depending on how you define bodybuilding. The more accurate term for exercise that’s designed to stimulate muscle growth is hypertrophy training, though.
You also want a program that is designed specifically for women. That will ensure that it has the right exercises, has higher rep ranges, more overall volume, shorter rest times, and relies less on upper-body strength. For example, a classic barbell deadlift will generally help a man build up much bigger glutes, whereas with women their grip strength and spinal erector strength will often be their limiting factor, which means their upper body will get most of the growth stimulus.
Finally, you may want a women’s program that puts special emphasis on your hips, which is in all likelihood—since you’re reading this article—the area that you’re most keen on developing. Our Bony to Bombshell Bulking Program is an example of a hypertrophy training program designed for women who are trying to build bigger muscles.
For example, here’s what Ioulia was able to accomplish with a few months of training. Your results may vary, of course, and this is just one example, but you can see other women’s weight gain transformations here.
To get the roundest, fullest, and most aesthetic butt, there are no shortcuts. You will need to build genuinely strong and athletic hips.
Strong hips aren’t just for show, and your training needs to reflect that. Aside from being more attractive, strong hips are also versatile. For optimal shape, size and roundness, you need to work your hip muscles through a large range of motion and using a wide variety of exercises that hit all the various muscles, and all the various fibres in those muscles.
This means squatting, deadlifting, and doing accessory exercises for your hips (such as hip thrusts or glute bridges). You might not need all three of those movement patterns to build bigger hips, but that’s what will give you the quickest and most reliable glute growth. You’ll also develop a versatile strength that way.
The glute maximus is the largest and strongest of the glute muscles and it has the most potential to grow. Its main job is to thrust the hips forward. These are the glute muscles that would get most worked when doing squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts, all of which require you to thrust your hips forward. The glute maximus can also help to rotate the thigh and move the leg away from the body.
Because the maximus is to large, for the best shape it’s best to try and use a variety of exercises to hit both the upper and lower fibres of it. As you can probably guess, that means doing a variety of squat, deadlift, and hip isolation exercises. And because this is by far the largest glute muscle, this is the best way to increase the size of your hips.
However, we can take this further.
These two glute muscles mainly help to move your legs away from your body, but they can also help rotate your legs. Fortunately, these will get stimulated during your compound lifts, so as long as they’re activating properly, you likely won’t need to target them directly (although you certainly can!).
All three glute muscles together contribute to these four fundamental motions:
It looks like: Swinging your leg back behind you
Exercise Example: Bird Dog
It looks like: Rotating your hips outwards
Exercise Example: Clamshell
It looks like: Lifting your leg away from your body
Exercise Example: Side Leg Raise
It looks like: Your tailbone comes down as your hips move forward like a thrust motion
Example Exercise: Hip Thrust
Now you can see the problem with only doing squats or deadlifts for a big butt. Those exercises don’t incorporate and build strength in every motion the butt is capable of.
Let’s say you’re a beginner and want to try doing the hip thrust. You watch a Youtube video and their hips dip pretty low at the bottom of the movement. So you try and do that too. But to get that extra range of motion, you let your pelvis disconnect from your ribs to get it lower.
On the surface, it looks like a big range of motion, but the movement didn’t come only from your hips, but also from your back. That means that your hips weren’t stimulated as much as they could have been, so the butt you’re building won’t look as full or gain as much strength.
A good solution for this would be to keep solid form throughout, even if it means you don’t go as low at first. Then add in some warm-up and mobility drills that help you gradually improve the range of motion in your hips. Week after week, as your butt grows, you’ll gain more range of motion in your hips, which will not only improve the size of your butt, but also the shape of your butt.
This is because the larger the range of motion you use, the greater the variety of muscle fibres that will be recruited, and so more overall muscle fibres will grow. That’s going to help you build a fuller and rounder butt. This is also going to help you fill in the sides of your butt, giving you wider and rounder hips overall.
However, most people forget one of the most important aspects of using a larger range of motion: the deeper we sink into a lift, the more we can challenge our muscles in a more stretched position, allowing us to build muscle much more quickly. We’ll go over how that works as we discuss the best glute exercises.
Okay, so what exercises should you do to hit all three glute muscles properly? You’ll want to include a variety of movements:
Now let’s go over each type of movement in more detail along with some examples.
The squat can be done a dumbbell or barbell, and the goal should be to sink as deep as you can without needing to round your lower back. The deeper you can go, the more of a stretch you’ll get on your muscles, and the more muscle you’ll be able to build. (We’ve got a full squat guide here.)
What’s interesting is that because squats work the glutes through such a deep range of motion with such a heavy load, they stimulate even more glute growth than glute isolation exercises like the hip thrust.
If we look at a 2020 study by Barbalho et al that compared the barbell back squat against the hip thrust, we see that the squat produced twice as much glute growth as the hip thrust did. Now, this isn’t the be-all-end-all study, but there’s a good reason why we’d expect squats to be better for building bigger glutes: they challenge our glutes in a more stretched position.
With the squat (and deadlift), the hardest part of the lift is near the bottom, when our glutes are stretched. This is tremendous for muscle growth—nearly three times better. With other lifts, such as the hip thrust, the hardest part is at the top of the lift, when our glutes are contracted. That’s not nearly as good for building muscle. This may explain why squats are so much better for building the glutes than hip thrusts are, even though hip thrusts have higher muscle activation readings (EMG) in the contracted position.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also be doing hip thrusts. They both have different strength curves, with squats being hardest while your glutes are stretched, whereas hip thrusts are hardest when your glutes are clenched. Both will train your glutes in slightly different ways, and so we’d expect a routine that includes both to be ideal.
But this does mean that the heavy compound lifts that work your glutes through a large range of motion—squats and deadlifts—should be your main glute exercises. After that, we could pop in some high-rep isolation work, such as hip thrusts, glute bridges, lunges, and so on.
The deadlift is the main compound hip exercise. The squat gets more of the movement from the knees (which works the quads), whereas the deadlift gets more of the movement from the hips (which works the hips and hamstrings). This allows for an even deeper stretch on your glutes and results in even more muscle growth.
As with the squat, the goal should be to gradually work towards a larger range of motion and heavier weights. Fight for a little bit of progress every workout. As you get stronger at it, your hips will grow bigger.
There are a number of different deadlift variations, but the one you might be most interested in is the Romanian deadlift, given that it puts less emphasis on the upper back and more emphasis on the hips. (It’s also one of the easiest variations to learn.)
The Romanian deadlift, done with either dumbbells or a barbell, is perhaps the single greatest glute exercise. It allows us to use heavy weights, it works our glutes (and hamstrings) through a large range of motion, and it maximally challenges our glutes in a stretched position.
The glute bridge has a fairly small range of motion and it doesn’t challenge our glutes in a stretched position, but it does allow for fairly heavy loading, and it can be a great exercise for building up a pump in the glutes. When done in combination with squats and deadlifts, they can do a great job of speeding up glute growth.
The hip thrust extends the range of motion of the glute bridge, which is great, but the beginning of the range of motion is still quite easy, so it still isn’t as ideal for building muscle as the squat or deadlift. Furthermore, heavy barbell hip thrusts can require specialized equipment and can get a bit finicky.
A good variation for people training at home or at a regular gym is to do them with your body weight, doing as many reps as you can until you hit failure. Then, when you can do more than thirty reps, switch to the single-leg variation:
As with glute bridges, the idea is to do these after your squats and deadlifts, to use them to develop a good mind-muscle connection, feel a burn in your glutes, and get a nice muscle pump.
Step-ups are another example of an exercise that challenges the glutes in a stretched position, making them great for building bigger hips. Start with a lower step and, as that becomes comfortable, you can work your way to ever higher step-ups.
The more of a stretch you can get at the bottom of the lift, the better it will be for building muscle. But the catch is that you need to feel sturdy while doing them, otherwise your balance and coordination will be challenged more than your muscles.
Most of your muscle growth will come from the heavier lifts you’re doing, but there’s also a role for smaller glute exercises if they help you develop more of a mind-muscle connection with your glutes, if they help you lift with a deeper range of motion, or if they help you lift with better posture.
There are two glute activation exercises that are particularly handy, and you can slip them into your warm-up routine before doing your squats and deadlifts.
There are plenty of other exercises that are great for building bigger hip and glute muscles. Here are a few great exercises for building bigger hips:
Your hips will grow well with anywhere between 4–40 reps, but they’ll grow best with 6–12 reps per set. Our muscles respond well to both heavy (five or fewer reps before your muscles give out) and lighter weights (twenty or more reps before your muscles give out). Your glutes are no exception. You should use a blend of heavy compound lifts, lighter compound lifts, and extra isolation work to help grow your butt optimally.
However, the most efficient way to build bigger muscles is to focus most of your effort on moderate rep ranges. Anywhere from 6–20 reps is ideal for gaining muscle size, avoiding injury, keeping your joints strong, and avoiding fatigue. That doesn’t mean that you should only lift in that rep range, just to put more emphasis on it.
We recommend training your glutes three times per week, ideally with a day of rest between workouts. You can also train all of your other muscles during those same workouts. No need to only do glute exercises.
Squats can be a good exercise for your hips, but they aren’t always reliable. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be squatting. You absolutely should be. Squats are great for developing your overall strength and athleticism, and they will help you build wider hips, especially as you get stronger at them. However, you shouldn’t rely on them as your only—or even main—glute exercise.
However, one tip you can use to make your squats hit your butt a bit more is to stand a bit wider with your toes pointing outward, always making sure your knees don’t collapse inwards and that they stay over your second toe as you drop into the squat.
Speaking of “dropping into” the squat, you might want to think about “sitting back into” the squat instead. That’s going to subtly change your squatting technique, causing you to bend more at the hips, less at the knees. That’s going to put more emphasis on your hips, less emphasis on your quads. More on that in our squat article.
However, there’s another great exercise that’s naturally going to do a better job of helping you build bigger hips.
Deadlifts and other standing hip-hinge variations (such as good mornings) are generally the best exercises for building bigger glutes. Deadlifts are centred around bending at the hips, whereas squats are centred around bending at the knees. This means that with a deadlift, you’ll be doing a deeper and fuller hip movement. And along with stimulating your hips, the deadlift will also work the rest of your posterior chain: spinal erectors, upper back, hamstrings, and grip.
However, this doesn’t mean that you’re forced to do a conventional barbell deadlift from the floor. There are plenty of different deadlift variations that will better match your experience level, preferences, and goals. For example, one good deadlift variation for building up your hips is the Romanian deadlift. This allows you to work your hips through their full range of motion while keeping constant tension on them, and it takes some of the strain off your quads, spinal erectors, and upper back.
(I would also technically include glute bridges and hip thrusts as variations of the deadlift, given that they’re hip extension lifts. So after doing your deadlifts, these would make great follow-up lifts.)
The takeaway message here is that your program should include both squats and deadlifts. That will ensure that your hips are worked in a variety of ways and that all of the various muscles in your hips will grow.
We can take this one step further, too, including isolation lifts that focus on building up a bigger butt and wider hips.
When it comes to isolation lifts for building wider hips, the glute bridge and hip thrust will be your go-to exercises. According to most EMG research (which should be taken with a grain of salt), hip thrusts activate our glutes better than glute bridges do. So, someone might ask, “why would you ever do a glute bridge if it’s inferior at stimulating the glutes?” They might also add, “Plus, you just talked about using a large range of motion, and the glute bridge has less range of motion than the hip thrust.”
Still, we include the glute bridge in our own program for a few reasons. Why?
The first reason is progression. Many women don’t have the core control to do the hip thrust without disconnecting their ribs from their pelvis. That means they’ll probably feel a lot of pain in their back instead of a burn in their glutes. This increases the risk of pain and won’t stimulate the glutes properly.
So we teach a simpler progression first: the glute bridge. This allows someone to roll the weight over their hips, get into position, and just push. Simple. And over time their form will get more locked in, allowing them to progress to the hip thrust.
The second reason that glute bridges can be helpful is that because the exercise uses a smaller range of motion, you can load them up with a much heavier weight. This means that you can glute bridge far more weight than you can hip thrust. This can be an excellent way to add some safe ultra-heavy lifting to your training. Powerlifters use this trick all the time by doing partial squats, rack pulls, etc.
The third reason is that even compared to hip thrusts, glute bridges are far better at taking the thighs (quads and hamstrings) out of the picture. So even though it might activate less of the glutes objectively per rep compared to hip thrusts, it also isolates the glutes better. Since building wider hips is all about proportions, it helps to have an exercise that grows the hips and only the hips, allowing you to boost that aspect of your proportions.
Finally, as we’ve mentioned above, the best way to build rounder and fuller hips is to get strong at a variety of different glute exercises. This is going to ensure that you’re growing all of the muscle fibres that run through your hips, including all of the fibres in your glutes, but also in the myriad of other muscles in your hips.
The takeaway here is that there’s a place for both glute bridges and hip thrusts in your training program. This remains true whether you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter (or somewhere in between).
Here’s the recap of the main points of the article.
Whew! We know for sure that you’ve got more than enough information on what it takes to build bigger hips. If you ever want a proven system to start putting this into action, check out our Bony to Bombshell Bulking Program for Women.
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Most women are trying to get toned, lose some fat, you know the deal. They don’t want to get too bulky. That might suit their goals just fine, but it’s going to make it almost impossible for them to gain much muscle and strength.
…But what if you’re willing to gain weight? What if you want “bulky” hips? What if you want to become strong? That changes things. We can do better. Much better. In fact, I have a feeling you’re going to be pretty amazed about what you can do even in just your first year of lifting.
So, to figure out how much muscle and strength you can expect to gain, let’s break the question down into two parts:
1. How much muscle can a naturally thin woman expect to gain?
2. How much strength can she expect to gain?
Let’s dig into the science.
Before we can talk about how much muscle a naturally thin woman can build in a year, we need to talk about what sets her apart from the average woman. The main difference is that by the time the average woman reaches adulthood, she’s naturally accumulated a fair amount of muscle mass on her frame, partly due to her genetics and partly due to the fact that she’s overweight.
According to the CDC, the average woman weighs around 170 pounds by the time she reaches adulthood, which represents a BMI of about 30. According to Steven Heymsfield, author of Human Body Composition, around 30% of the average woman’s bodyweight is muscle mass. This means that the average woman starts off with roughly fifty pounds of muscle.
The next thing we need to consider is her genetic potential—how much muscle mass can her frame hold? It seems like the average woman’s frame can hold around seventy pounds of muscle, meaning that over the course of her lifetime, she can “only” gain another twenty pounds of muscle. (Twenty pounds of muscle is quite a lot, but it probably pales in comparison to the amount of muscle that you can build.)
However, this growth isn’t linear, it’s logarithmic. During her first year of lifting, the average woman is able to get about halfway to her genetic potential, gaining around ten pounds of muscle. In her second year, that rate of muscle growth will be cut in half, and then cut in half again the next year. Like so:
This initial explosion of growth happens because when she starts lifting weights, her muscles are still extremely sensitive to this new stimulus and still have incredible growth potential. This period of rapid muscle growth is called newbie gains, and it allows the average woman to gain around a pound of muscle per month. She might even be able to lose some fat while doing it.
This rapid growth is possible because her muscle fibres are still small, making it easy for her nuclei to manage them. In fact, her nuclei are already capable of handling significantly larger areas, so her muscle fibres can simply expand, like so:
After a few months, she’ll quickly reach the point where her myonuclear domains are maximized, at which point building muscle starts to get harder. It starts becoming difficult to gain muscle without gaining weight overall, making simultaneous muscle growth and fat loss almost impossible.
Now she needs to bring new nuclei into her muscle fibres before they can grow any bigger. Sort of like needing to hire more managers as your company grows. It looks like this:
Admittedly, this example is oversimplified, and there are other known factors that contribute to the slowing rate of muscle growth (such as the repeated bout effect), but the main takeaway here is that our muscles grow quickly at first, and then as we get closer to our genetic potential, our rate of muscle growth slows.
So all things considered, most experts agree that the average woman can expect to gain around around ten pounds of muscle during her first year. And to be clear, ten pounds is a lot of muscle. That’s enough to add a few inches around her hips and shoulders, dramatically transforming her physique.
Then in the years that follow, she gets closer to her genetic potential, and it gets harder to gain more muscle and strength, which sounds like a total bummer, but keep in mind that by then she already has a totally killer physique, so there isn’t as much of a rush to keep improving:
Once you’ve spent a year or two fighting to gain muscle and strength, you don’t need rapid progress anymore, you can enjoy the benefits of having a strong, healthy, and athletic physique.
This rate of muscle growth raises a couple questions, though:
The first question is easy to answer. This rate of muscle growth assumes that you’re following a good bulking program. In order to build muscle quickly and consistently, you have to:
Because of how deliberate you need to be about building muscle, and because of how uncommon it is for women to intentionally gain weight, most women aren’t going to exercise in a way that will help them build a significant amount of muscle. And that’s fair. The average woman is overweight. Weight gain probably isn’t her goal in the first place.
If you’re someone who’s deliberately trying to gain weight, though, you can absolutely hit this target.
In fact, like we mentioned above, if you’re starting off thinner than the average woman, you should be able to gain your first ten pounds within just a few months. And we’re not talking about getting fat or bulky or anything, we’re talking about building up a strong, badass physique:
Okay, on that note, now that we’ve covered how much muscle the average woman can gain, let’s talk about how much muscle a skinny, thin, or generally underweight woman can expect to gain in her first year of lifting weights.
So the average woman weighs 170 pounds, has 50 pounds of muscle on her frame, and can add another 20 pounds over the course of her lifetime, 10 of which she can gain in just the first year.
Now let’s imagine a naturally thin woman. Let’s say that she’s the same height but only weighs 100 pounds. She’ll likely have slightly thinner bones, a narrower frame, and a smaller stomach, which accounts for some of the weight difference, but most of the weight difference will be due to the fact that she’s carrying far less muscle and fat. For the sake of this example, let’s say that only 25% of her weight is muscle mass. This gives her just 25 pounds of muscle mass on her frame. Half as much muscle as the average woman. She’s starting behind the starting line, like so:
As you can see, given that we see diminishing returns the closer we get to our genetic muscular potential, if she’s further away from her potential, then she’ll be able to build muscle more quickly.
So to flesh out this theory, the next thing we need to do is determine this naturally thin woman’s genetic muscular potential. After all, it doesn’t matter how far away she is from the average genetic potential, it matters how far away she is from her genetic potential.
The best researcher looking into this question is Casey Butts, PhD, who found that the genetic potential of a hardgainer is about 5–10% lower than average (due to having thinner bones and smaller frames). So if the average woman can hold around 70 pounds of muscle, a naturally skinny woman can expect to hold about 63–67 pounds of muscle. That’s a disadvantage, sure, but not a significant one. In fact, given how few women get anywhere even close to reaching their potential, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming far curvier and stronger than almost every other woman you come across:
Alright, going back to our example, we have a 100-pound woman with 25 pounds of muscle on her frame, with the genetic potential to hold up to 67 pounds of muscle. That puts her a whopping 42 pounds of muscle away from her genetic potential!
Given that she’s starting so far away from her genetic potential, she’s starting at the best possible point on the muscle growth curve: right at the very beginning:
This is going to allow for a period of even more rapid growth when she first starts lifting weights, allowing her to quickly catch up to the average woman, at which point she can expect to start gaining muscle at a more typical pace.
But don’t skinny women have worse muscle-building genetics? When I first started trying to build muscle, I assumed that being skinny meant that I wouldn’t be able to build muscle very quickly. That was confirmed by the fact that I was trying everything I could to gain weight and still couldn’t get the damn scale to budge.
Furthermore, the term “hardgainer” is sometimes used to describe someone who struggles to build muscle. The way we use the term, though, a hardgainer is someone who struggles to gain weight.
I know that sounds like a weird distinction to make, given that you need to gain weight in order to gain an appreciable amount of muscle, but our struggle to gain weight has little to do with our muscle-building genetics and more to with having higher metabolisms and smaller appetites/stomachs. In my case, at least, I wasn’t failing to build muscle because I was having a poor response to lifting weights, I was failing to build muscle because I couldn’t get into a calorie surplus—I was failing to gain weight. It was a diet issue.
Once you learn how to eat enough calories, I suspect that you’re going to respond incredibly well to lifting weights. With a proper lifting program, you should be able to greatly exceed all the expected rates of muscle growth:
What if you have naturally small hips? We’ve been talking about overall muscle mass, but one question we get is how big you can specifically build up your hips. After all, many of our members don’t want to bring their biceps to their full genetic potential, but they do want to see how big they can build up their glutes.
Even if you have poor genetics, I think you should be able to build up your glutes to about 90–95% of the size of the average woman who reaches her full potential. And keep in mind that most women aren’t going to get anywhere even close to their full potential, even if they lift weights their entire lives. If you take this seriously, you should expect to be able to build remarkably powerful hips.
Lifting weights gives you quite a bit of control over the type of physique you can build. We generally recommend aiming for overall strength with some extra emphasis on building up your hips, given how strong your hips can become, and how much potential they have for growth, but the cool thing is that you can build the physique that you want.
How is it possible to build muscle that quickly? The research shows that on average women who are new to lifting weights seriously can gain about a pound of muscle per month. There are studies showing far greater rates of muscle growth than that, but, at least on average, most experts agree that a woman following a good muscle-building program can realistically expect to gain about a pound of muscle per month. However, the research also shows that rates of muscle growth vary highly from person to person. While gaining two pounds of muscle per month may be the average, some women are able to gain muscle up to three times as quickly (study).
Isn’t gaining weight that quickly going to cause fat gain? If you gain weight more quickly than you can build muscle, you’ll gain fat. That’s why it’s important to gain weight at the right pace. Also, keep in mind that if you want to maintain, say, a 20% body-fat percentage as you bulk up, that means that 20% of the weight that you gain can be fat without even raising your body-fat percentage.
Furthermore, the more muscle you gain, the better your insulin sensitivity will become, and the easier it will be to maintain a lower body-fat percentage in the future (study). This is one of the great advantages of building muscle.
Finally, Bret Conteras, PhD, known for being the top glute growth researcher in the world, has used our Bony to Bombshell transformations as examples of women being able to build a ton of muscle without gaining any noticeable fat.
So, yes, when gaining weight you can certainly gain fat, especially when doing it quickly. But is that going to actually make you fat? No. It’s not something you really need to worry about.
Is gaining that much muscle going to make you look blocky / bulky / increase your waist size? We have a lot of members trying to gain serious amounts of weight, but they aren’t necessarily trying to just get big, they’re trying to build an hourglass figure.
The muscles in your waist are small, the muscles in your shoulders are a little bit bigger, and the muscles in your hips are absolutely enormous—they’re the largest muscles in your body and have the most potential for growth. This means that as you build muscle, your waist should stay quite small, your shoulders will grow a little bigger, and your hips will explode in size.
Here’s how Ioulia’s proportions changed while following an overall strength program with only a slight emphasis on increasing her hip size and strength:
However, if you want to further emphasize building an hourglass figure, there are a few things you can do:
Unless you’re intentionally doing a ton of core exercises to bulk up your waist, or unless you’re gaining a ton of fat as you bulk up, you should be able to build powerful hips and strong shoulders without seeing a noticeable increase in your waist measurements. Some of our members have even been able to shrink their waist measurements as they gain muscle overall.
Also keep in mind that lifting weights won’t change your bone structure. If you have thinner bones and longer limbs, building muscle isn’t going to change that. Your hips, shoulders, and thighs will grow a great deal, but that’s not going to make your ankles, wrists, neck, or waist any bigger. You’re not going to morph into a different body type. You’ll still be a naturally thin woman, just with a strong physique and powerful curves.
Besides, if you’ve read our article about attractiveness, you know that our approach to building a body that looks better is to build a body that’s stronger, healthier and fitter—a body that’s conspicuously healthy.
After her first year of lifting, the average woman should be able to bench press 125lbs (55kg), squat 200lbs (90kg), and deadlift 250lbs (115kg). Those numbers might seem high to you, and truth be told, they might be.
Most naturally skinny women are able to laugh at muscle-growth standards, shooting way past them—sometimes gaining muscle 2–3 times more quickly than the average woman—but then inversely, these strength standards can seem cruelly out of reach.
So, first of all, where do these strength standards come from? The most credible source I’ve found is Greg Nuckols, BS, from Stronger by Science (an incredible strength training blog). He took a survey of his readers, all of whom are serious about both powerlifting and science, but who ranged from beginners all the way up to advanced lifters. He found that within a year of serious lifting, the average woman was able to squat 200 pounds. Furthermore, Greg mentions that with proper workout programming and coaching, you should be able to do even better than that.
However, we also need to consider how much these women were able to squat when they started lifting. In this case, the average women started off squatting around 145 pounds. So within their first year of lifting, they only added 55 pounds to the bar.
The average women were adding less than five pounds to the bar each month.
This is an “aha” moment for a lot of us.
Wherever you’re starting, just like them, you can gain strength five pounds at a time.
In our experience coaching naturally thinner women, we hardly ever see someone who’s even able to do back squats to depth with proper technique, let alone someone who can do it with 145 pounds on their back. We usually start our members off with simpler progressions, such as dumbbell goblet squats. This simpler squat variation allows them to build just as much muscle while learning how to squat with great technique. (It’s great for improving hip mobility, core stability, and posture.)
Over the course of a month or so, we’ll often see our members move from a 30-pound goblet squat up to a 50-pound goblet squat, showing 5 pounds of strength added per week, which is incredibly rapid progress. However, since we’re starting behind the starting line, it can still take us a few extra months to catch up.
How long will it take a skinny woman to become strong? When it comes to developing strength, the most important to keep in mind is the relationship between muscle size and muscle strength. The bigger your muscles are, the more force they’re able to produce. This means that if you’re a thin woman who wants to become stronger, then priority number one should be increasing your muscle size. As your muscle mass increases, you’ll see proportional increases in strength.
It also works the other way. If you want to increase your muscle size, you need to be fighting to gain more strength. Getting your heart rate up and feeling the burn won’t do much to increase muscle. You have to build a foundation of strength and then fight to lift heavier weights every workout.
So, how long should it take a skinny woman to work up to a 200-pound squat? That depends on how skinny she’s starting, but since we’ve already covered rates of muscle growth, we can mock up a hypothetical example.
The average woman starts off with fifty pounds of muscle and is able to gain ten pounds of muscle during her first year, bringing that up to sixty pounds of muscle overall. This brings her 145-pound squat up to 200 pounds.
Going back to our example of the skinny woman who’s starting off with 25 pounds of muscle, we see that she’s able to gain more like twenty pounds of muscle during her first year, bringing her muscle mass up to about average (albeit with less body fat). At this point, given that muscle mass and muscle strength are almost perfectly correlated (study, study), we’d expect her to be able to squat 135–145 pounds.
Over the course of the following year, we’d expect her to be able to gain muscle mass and strength on par with the average woman during her first year, bringing her squat up to around 200 pounds. Then, with continued training, she should eventually be able to squat over 245 pounds, bench over 145, and deadlift over 300.
If we want to get strong, we have to get big; if we want to get big, we have to get strong. And for skinny women trying to become both big and strong, that’s absolutely perfect. In fact, being willing to gain weight on the scale will put you in a better position to gain strength than most other women.
Anyway, all things considered, as naturally thinner people, it takes a little longer to build a big and strong physique. Not that much longer, mind you—maybe an extra 6–12 months, depending on how skinny you are to begin with.
You will catch up. These strength standards aren’t insane. You’ll be squatting over 200 pounds soon.
We also have a genetic advantage: our leanness. Even skinny-fat women aren’t dealing with the same propensity for obesity that the average woman is—not even close. And the more muscle you gain, the easier it becomes to stay lean (study). If a skinny-fat woman gains 20–30 pounds of muscle, gets in the habit of lifting, starts eating a better diet… staying lean is probably going to become second nature for her.
Going back to our example of the 100-pound woman who gains twenty pounds of muscle, that only puts her at 120 pounds. Even if she gains some fat while doing it, that might only bump her up to 125 pounds. At this point, she has as much muscle mass as the average woman, but she’s still weighing 45 pounds less. This is because she’s still significantly leaner than average. You might start meeting even the more advanced strength standards while still being quite light overall.
That’s the edge us naturally thinner hardgainers have. We can build muscle very quickly, and if we do it properly, we’ll be able to maintain a lean and strong physique year-round. Even if we’re only able to get 90–95% as big as other serious lifetime lifters… that’s probably bigger and stronger than we thought we could be anyway.
But wait a second… If you train at a standard gym, you may have noticed that the vast majority of women stay weak forever. Most women, even with a decade of lifting experience, aren’t squatting anywhere even close to 245 pounds.
In fact, if you do a set of squats with a couple plates on the bar in a commercial gym, you’re going to draw stares.
The good news is that it has nothing to do with genetic variation. Even if you have poor genetics for building muscle, you can almost certainly still get your squat over 225 pounds, your bench over 135, and your deadlift over 300. The trick is that you need to build a bunch of muscle in order to do it (which is probably your goal right now anyway, so that’s great).
And just because you’re starting with a thinner frame or bone structure, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming incredibly strong. Some of the best lifters in the world have fairly small frames. Jen Thompson is a great example. So is Marisa Inda. And so is Jessica Buettner:
Not that you need to take your lifting to an elite level like them, but certainly don’t place artificial limitations on yourself just because you happen to be thin right now. Chances are that if you want to build an incredibly powerful body, you have every opportunity to do so.
The real reason that most women fail to become strong is because:
If you have big goals and you approach them with a passion, you’re going to be able to accomplish incredible things, blowing past the average lifter in no time. But if you aren’t building muscle properly, you’re not going to gain enough muscle mass to get anywhere even close to these muscle growth or strength targets.
The other thing to keep in mind is that progress requires getting a few things right all at once. If people don’t approach bulking properly, it’s not that they’ll progress more slowly, it’s that they won’t progress at all—ever. Zero gains per week adds up to zero gains per year.
In fact, it’s possible to spend decades lifting weights without ever gaining more than 5–10 pounds of muscle and without ever even matching the strength of someone who followed a good program for a single year. If you never do this properly, you might go your entire life without ever knowing what it’s like to be have a strong, healthy body.
This is great news in the sense that we have every opportunity to become far better than average. But it’s bad news if you were hoping that this would be a walk in the park.
There’s also the issue of people underestimating their potential, which is why I wanted to write this article in the first place. A recent study published in Nature split the participants into two random groups. They told half the participants that they were genetically gifted, and they told the other half that they were at a genetic disadvantage. Those who thought they were genetically gifted performed markedly better. (Greg Nuckols wrote up a good breakdown of the study here.)
You have to expect a lot of yourself and then truly fight for it in order to reach your full potential. If you keep thinking that being naturally skinny is holding you back, it will.
If you want a structured lifting and nutrition program that will help you become stronger and curvier, guaranteed, then you’ll love our Bony to Bombshell Weight Gain Program for Women. And if you hit a plateau along the way, we’ll guide you through it in our coaching community, ensuring that you’re able to march steadily closer towards your goals.
Alright, that’s it for now.
I’ll leave you with our member-turned-coach, Reetta, doing infinite chin-ups:
The post How Much Muscle Can Women Build? And How Fast? appeared first on Bony to Bombshell.]]>
The post Musclenog—The All-Natural Weight-Gainer Recipe appeared first on Bony to Bombshell.]]>
Will you need to undo a button?
If you’re worried that the answer may be “yes,” you may have stumbled upon the wrong blog.
No, it’s not your stomach. This is Bony to Bombshell. Something else is making your jeans feel tight. Something… good.
You flee from the room, knowing what’s about to happen. After all, you’d been warned. You see, I’m warning you right now, giving you plenty of time to prepare.
No, it’s not your stomach growing. It’s the rest of you. It’s everything but your stomach. And with every sip of your holiday musclenog, you can feel your clothing growing tighter. So you run, knowing that your jeans were never meant for a body this powerful. You also know that it will probably be the backside of your jeans that bursts first. That’s always the first place to burst.
You make it to your room just as your jeans are tearing open. You open your purse. You’ve got a new, larger, stretchier pair of pants ready for just this occasion. You slip them on, thanking Santa for getting you exactly what you wanted this year.
As you walk back down the stairs, a hush falls. You know what they’re thinking. You see the wonder and suspicion on their faces. How can a naturally thin woman grow so quickly? She can’t be real. Steroids? Implants?!
They flock to you, full of questions, desperate for their piece of this yuletide miracle.
“How did you do it?!”
“What’s your secret?!”
“Well,” you tell them, “It all started with this musclenog recipe I found on the Bony to Bombshell Blog.”
And yes, it’s true. In this article we’re going to give you an all-natural weight-gainer recipe that tastes like eggnog, rompope, pure power—whatever you want to call it. Not only will it allow you to build muscle at an alarming rate, it will also make it far easier to eat enough calories to gain weight. And it’s even seasonal!
Now speaking more scientifically about muscle growth…
A new study just came out showing that whole eggs stimulate more muscle growth than egg whites per calorie. That’s a peculiar finding, as egg whites contain so much more protein per calorie than whole eggs. Moreover, the researchers don’t even know why. They make some guesses, but they fully admit to not knowing the answer yet.
What’s funny about this is that bodybuilders, fitness models and health aficionados popularized removing the yolks from eggs. It became so popular that we can now buy cartons of egg-whites at the grocery store.
From a health perspective, the idea was that dietary cholesterol intake must be positively correlated with our cholesterol levels, so keeping our cholesterol intake low would improve our heart health. Over the past couple of decades, that idea has come under question (being largely proven false). And so egg-white omelettes have become less and less popular.
This article is about is the body composition aspect, though. After all, the egg-white omelette was the favourite breakfast of bodybuilders and fitness models. Scrambled egg whites even made an appearance a few years ago in Tim Ferriss’ New York Times best-selling book, The 4-Hour Body.
(And no fault to him for not knowing about the value of yolks. This research came out after his book.)
Anyway, now researchers are discovering that if you leave the yolks in the eggs, you’ll improve your body’s ability to build muscle.
First point being: whole eggs are amazing for building muscle.
It gets weirder, though.
A study from a couple years ago found that the same thing is true with milk.
Even though whole milk has less protein per calorie compared to skim milk, for some reason it builds noticeably more muscle. And again, the researchers have no idea why this is. There are guesses, but again, nothing conclusive.
It’s a mystery.
Second point being: whole milk is amazing for building muscle.
There’s one obvious conclusion to draw. It’s the fat, right? But that’s not it. If anything, protein and carbs are better for muscle growth overall. This is fairly well established at this point. So what gives? Why are whole milk and whole eggs allowing people to build far more muscle?
Well, I don’t have an answer for you.
We’ll need to wait and see.
But while we wait, let’s sip on musclenog so that come Christmas time, you’re putting on those larger jeans.
Here’s why it works so well:
Now, be mindful that this is a shake designed to go alongside weightlifting. It’s going to allow you to gain weight and build muscle, but you still need your training program to direct all these amazing nutrients towards your muscles.
Otherwise you’re just going to wind up undoing a button instead of taking that new, larger pair of jeans out of your purse.
Calories: 730 (!!!)
Protein: 41 grams
Carbs: 57 grams
Fats: 39 grams
Just looking at the massive calorie count and high protein, you’re probably already starting to see why this shake is so effective.
2 cups whole milk
3 large whole eggs
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
That will give you all of the calories and protein listed above.
Note that the recipe is made up entirely of whole foods, making it lightyears ahead of most commercial weight-gainers.
And remember that whole milk and whole eggs both build muscle even better than their nutrition breakdown would predict.
Feel free to creative with it, too. For example:
For the wild:
2 ounces rum (optional)
For extra probiotics and protein:
1/4 cup Greek yoghurt (optional)
But wait, you might be thinking… these eggs are raw!
Yes. And so drinking this muscle-building concoction is something that you’ll ultimately have to do at your own risk. There’s a long-standing tradition of using raw eggs in various recipes, including cocktails, but also in day-to-day stuff, such as when you have your eggs cooked over easy (where part of the egg is still raw). Some rebellious children even dare to eat raw brownie batter.
Still, that doesn’t guarantee that it’s safe.
How safe are raw eggs? In the 1990’s The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that about 1 in 20,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella. Over the past 20 years, food safety standards have improved a great deal. (Mind you, this depends on where you live.)
You could go a lifetime of having raw eggs every day and still have a good chance of never getting salmonella. But if you’re sick or elderly, and you fear that a little salmonella might mean more than an afternoon of having an iffy stomach, you might want to take extra precautions.
Most importantly of all, we’re great at building muscle, not at playing doctors or risk analysts on the internet. As with everything you see on this blog: enjoy at your own risk.
If the holiday season gets busy and you’re struggling to get all of your calories or protein in, have a glass of musclenog.
If you wish your husband could have helped you carry the Christmas tree inside, but you had to do it all by yourself, give him a glass of musclenog.
If you want to carry the Christmas tree inside all by yourself, with one hand, have two glasses of musclenog.
Or you’ve never even heard of eggnog or rompope, and/or you celebrate a different holiday, but you’ve always been curious about how Santa could possible gain so much weight while doing a literally physically impossible amount of exercise each year, try a glass of musclenog.
But remember that you need to lift weights. Otherwise the musclenog will make you look like Santa, not Aomi:
The post Musclenog—The All-Natural Weight-Gainer Recipe appeared first on Bony to Bombshell.]]>
The post Warm Up With Purpose appeared first on Bony to Bombshell.]]>
But the reality is that everyone who starts this program is setting sail from a different port. You will have your own unique strengths and weaknesses. You might be great at one of those lifts, but totally unable to do another. If you “train your weaknesses and compete with your strengths,” you can build substantial muscle while also shoring up your weaknesses.
That’s where warming up comes in. Warming up is good for helping you decrease your risk of injury and enhancing your performance through various mechanisms. It usually involves some sort of general aerobic component followed by some static stretching. While this warm-up can still be effective, this article will discuss how to make your warm-up way, way better.
While warming up is useful for getting your juices flowing, increasing body temperature, and getting your body ready for more intense work, the main purpose of warming up is to address your weaknesses and improve your lifting technique. That way you’ll soon be doing all your lifts with excellent technique. Once you can do that, whichever port you started at, the world will be your oyster.
Imagine your workout as a good story. It needs a humble beginning, a climax, and some sort of grand resolution. One aspect that sets apart good stories and bad stories are how invested we become in the characters. The more we can relate with characters and understand their motives, the more enjoyable the climax will be. This relationship is developed in the beginning of the story. This is where we learn the back-story, the setting, the events leading up to the present moment.
The climax of your workout depends on your warm-up. If you struggle to do a squat with proper technique, it’s important to dedicate some of your warm-up time to addressing that issue. That will allow you to squat more weight through a larger range of motion during your workout, and that will yield more muscle growth by the end of your workout. Or, if you’ve had a previous injury, the warm-up allows you to strengthen that area so you’re not worried about it while you workout, leading to a more enjoyable training session.
This is why it’s called a warm-up! The increase in heat, blood flow and synovial fluid (joint lubrication) helps your joints move with less resistance, makes your muscles more pliable and gets the brain excited and ready to lift.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” Many weaknesses stem from a lack of mobility and stability that can be resultant from limited movement patterns. Using exercises to balance out the pelvis and ribs, you can allow your body to move more effectively in each plane thereby evening out the load placed on your muscles and joints.
Doing repetitions of the skill you’re about to do with light weights helps to make the movement automatic so you can enter a state of flow. Over-thinking can lead to a stiffening of movement. Practice your technique in the warm-up, go with instinct during your main sets.
Completing these objectives helps to decrease the chance of injury, improve your capacity to move better, lead to a more balanced body and will help you workout at a higher intensity. This allows you to build muscle and reach your goals.
One of the most common forms of warming up is static stretching. Stretching is not bad for you, however, there have been many studies showing that it decreases your ability to contract your muscles forcefully. So if you really love static stretching, avoid the long holds and make it more dynamic. Before you stretch though, it’s important to see what the position of your pelvis and ribs are as this can have a significant impact on your mobility and flexibility.
A forward pelvis and flared rib cage can actually lead to a tightness in the hamstrings, lower back and shoulders. So just by doing a few repositioning drills, you can affect the tension in those areas. This provide increased range of motion, as well as more stability without putting any muscles to sleep!
Here is a sample structure for a warm-up, with it’s associated objective:
Here are the principles to keep in mind when warming up:
Here’s the breakdown of what we covered in the video.
Using this template you can begin to tweak the warm-up to suit your own strengths and weaknesses.
As your movement skills increase, you can shorten the amount of time it takes to work at a high level. Shane routinely walks into the gym, does a few warm-up sets and gets right into his workout. This is because his body works well and his technique is quite solid. It wasn’t always this way though. In his earlier stages he spent a lot of time warming up and practicing his form before his lifts.
A good warm-up should diversify your capabilities as a lifter and mover over time. For example, let’s say that when you start training you have minimal core stability and have a really arched back and hyperextended knees. This will make exercises like the hip thrust, that involve hip extension, difficult to do and you’ll be less likely to activate the glutes and hamstrings. If you warm up properly, after some time, you should be able to unlock the ability to do a hip thrust with the right muscles and therefore expand their potential to gain muscle.
Do you have any questions or thoughts to add? Let me know down below in the comments.
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The post How to Do Push-Ups appeared first on Bony to Bombshell.]]>
The idea for this article came up one day when I was heading to the bathroom during a break in my university class. I heard music coming from one of the dance studios down the hall. It sounded like intense workout music, so there was a one hundred percent chance I was going to explore. Looking through the door, I was exposed to a group of people doing push-ups.
Since it was a musical theatre class, it was mostly made up of women. Everyone in this class was doing their best to execute the push up properly. However, they were struggling.
It makes sense that they were struggling. Hardly anyone is capable of doing a classic push-up properly on their first try, so if you’ve never been shown proper progressions, it is almost guaranteed that you will ingrain bad habits, and then even with plenty of practice, be doing them improperly for a long time to come.
I believe the push-up is essential because if you can do it correctly off the ground, it shows you have a great connectedness in your body. The push-up requires solid upper body strength, but more importantly, it’ll only look good if you can hold your entire body in a strong position.
That is not easy, but I will show you how to do it.
The push-up is one of the very best exercises for gaining upper-body strength and muscle size. It’s famous for developing the chest, but it also trains the fronts of the shoulders (front deltoids), the back of the arms ( triceps), our six-pack abs (rectus abdominus), and a number of smaller muscles, such as our serratus anterior. As a result, push-ups increase our upper-body strength, can help to fix our posture, improve the appearance of our arms, and, by developing the chest, can even make breasts look fuller and firmer.
Of all the exercises we do, only the squat, deadlift, and chin-up can rival the push-up for its ability to build overall muscle mass and general strength. This earns it a spot as one of the foundational exercises that everyone should be doing, but most especially skinny women who are trying to gain muscle size and strength.
Men genetically have more upper body muscle than women. We also love developing big arms, chests and shoulder muscles. It is no surprise that we always hear about people like Mike Tyson and Mohammed Ali doing hundreds of push-ups a day. It is not just them: most men have gone through a phase in their life when they were doing many push-ups (however secretly) on their bedroom floor.
In talking with women, they just don’t have the same relationship with push-ups. Mainstream media pumps images into your brain that a nice ass and a flat stomach are the only things you need. And while those things can be healthy, and help you develop the body you are after, being able to do a proper push-up from the ground is just as important. While squats are more famous, push-ups will do as much for your physique, as well as improving your squat. Let me explain: learning how to do a proper push-up involves learning how to hold your hips in the best position to develop your glutes, and it develops your upper body to be able to hold more weight when squatting. Push-ups also decrease your chances of getting injured, and they improve your day-to-day abilities.
Also, if any of you watched the Oscars this year, you might have noticed the timeless Jennifer Aniston’s deltoids popping out. I’m guessing she did a few push-ups backstage before announcing the award.
Being able to do 5–10 clean push-ups off the ground means you have a base level of core and shoulder stability, and wrist and shoulder mobility. It won’t make you huge, but you will notice that your upper body looks quite a lot better.
That strength will then seep into your other lifts, improving the results that you get out of all your lifting.
Push-ups are great if you learned how to do them properly from a young age. They require great core strength, shoulder strength, shoulder and rib mobility. You know the old saying: “if you don’t use it, you lose it”? Well, that happens. Bodies adapt differently to what an individual does. So the longer you’ve gone without doing a push-up, the harder it gets.
The problem is that most people who teach push-ups have been doing them from a young age. (You remember how I confessed that many men do push-ups secretly in their bedroom?) So when you see someone doing them effortlessly, they can seem easy. They are not.
Because of the steep learning curve, most women have been taught “girl” push-ups at some point in their lives. While I am actually a big fan of the exercise, it all depends on how you use it. Making someone do girl push-ups without first showing them how to do a classic push-up will extinguish further learning.
Girl or not, you will do better by learning classic push-ups. And make no mistake, you will soon be strong enough (if you are not already).
The best way to learn push-ups are to start by doing them on an incline, gradually working your way down to the floor. Here’s a tutorial video where Marco teaches how to do and progress the push-up:
Since the push-up is an upper body exercise, it makes sense that you need a solid upper body to execute it properly. Well, the foundation of your upper body starts with your rib cage, then your shoulder blades, then your arms. If your rib cage is in the wrong position, it can mess up the rest of the sequence. This is why starting with a more advanced variation can lead to so much struggle—everything collapses.
Try this exercise for me: put your hands on your ribs, breathe in, see how it feels. Then take a long, slow breath out. See how that feels. When you are inhaling, you are elevating and externally rotating your ribs—opening the blinds. When you are exhaling, you are depressing and internally rotating your ribs—closing the blinds.
If you notice that when you exhale there is not much movement, it means that your ribs are biased to a more elevated, “open” position. And guess what muscles make you exhale? The obliques! Your ability to exhale—to depress and internally rotate your ribs—is essential to internally rotating your arm bone. That is also precisely what you need to do a full range of motion push-up. Not to mention the more “open” your ribs, the less air pressure you will be putting under your shoulder blades.
You can see how doing a push-up can be difficult, but also that learning how to do them properly can have a huge positive impact on your body.
To do a push-up you need to be able to get air pressure under your shoulder blades to stabilize, and you need the ribs to be able to move so you can rotate the shoulders properly to get low in a push-up.
This is why in the video below, I go over the “All Four Reach” exercise. It should help you improve the internal rotation of your ribs (shoulder) and improve your ability to get air into your upper back.
The other exercise I go over is the “90/90 Hip Lift.” It uses the hamstrings to put your pelvis in a better position, which directly impacts how you put air into your upper body, and how your ab musculature works. Hamstrings are incredibly important in keeping your body connected to the ground.
Doing these exercises consistently along with the right version of the push-up for your level will help you take control of your body (while also making it look way better). Done over time, it will bring you to the point where you can rep out perfect push-ups with your feet elevated impressively behind you.
While there are a few different styles of push-ups out there, what is right for you may be different from what is right for another. I usually recommend a semblance of a straight line from your head to your toes, with the main movement coming from your shoulders and elbows. Keep in mind that everyone will have different postures based on how they’ve grown up. There is no need to try to be perfect, only to start with the right progression and to make sure it feels good while you do it. If your technique looks like that of the women in the video, then you’re okay in my books.
Check out the video below to get a feel for the rib and pelvic drills as well as how I teach the push-up. Take note that each person has a slightly different way of doing it. They are all new to lifting.
In this video the girls share their struggles with the push-ups:
In the video I demonstrate how to do the rib and pelvic drills as well as technique and a few progressions of the exercise. I will now go into the steps on how to progress.
The right level is one that allows you to do perfect technique for 90% of your reps. If you find you’re moving in places other than the shoulders elbows and ribs, you’ll want to make it easier. An example of this would be the second person. After a few reps you can see her struggling a bit and start to move in other spots. So I would start her at an easier level until she could do 20 reps, then try a new height.
Like I said in the video, it’s easiest to use a Smith Machine or the side of a power rack. The small progressions in height make it easier to progress. However, if you don’t have access to those machines, I think it’s more beneficial to do most of your work at levels that allow for great technique. Just do more reps.
If you start at the right level, the first couple sets should be easier so that you can get a feel for the technique and develop confidence with the exercise. That will help ingrain good, natural technique. Once you’ve achieved that feeling, it’s time to give yourself a challenge that you suspect you can overcome. So if your first two sets feel great, lower the bar and do as many reps as you can, stopping before you revert to bad habits.
Push-ups are a big compound exercise, and so they usually do well as one of the first exercises in our workouts. A workout might begin by alternating between squats and push-ups, for example.
Here are two examples, one if you are doing push-ups in your workout and one if you’re trying to rapidly improve your ability to do push-ups.
In this scenario, Kate trains twice a week and is using the push-up as her main upper body “push” exercise to improve core and upper body strength and size. She is a new lifter with a pelvic and rib position of someone who has a more fatigued posture. She is doing a simple workout plan that covers the basics.
Warm Up – All Four Reach, 90/90 hip lift.
A1. Goblet Squat 3 x 10
A2. Push Ups 3 x 10,10, As many reps as possible, stopping before her form becomes forced.
B1. Romanian Deadlift 3 x 10
B2. Seated Row 3 x 10
C1. Farmer Walks 2 x 100 yards
C2. Push Up Plank 2 x 3 full breath cycles
I like to progress the height of the push-up when someone can do 20 push-ups in a row at a certain height. That way when we lower the height, they’re more likely to be able to at least do at least 5-8 reps.
Here is an example for someone doing a big jump in height:
Achieved 30 reps at table height. Next step is to do them off a workout bench. Start with 4 sets of 3 reps and progress to 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Faith really wants to improve her push-ups fast because she’s passionate about feeling good. Here is her plan:
All Four Reach, 90/90 Hip Lift then 3 sets of push-ups done throughout the workweek (Monday-Friday)
Set 1 – Easier warm up set done for 20 reps – choose a height you could get 30 reps at and take your time through these reps, breathe through them, take pauses at different heights, make your technique great.
Set 2 – A challenging set of 15 reps – Choose a height you can only do 20 reps at
Set 3 – A challenging set of 5-12 reps – this should be quite challenging, yet keep your technique perfect – leave 2-3 reps in the tank since you will be doing these every day.
Push-ups are a great exercise to link the upper and lower body as well as make you a more useful and safe human. It will also dramatically improve the appearance of your entire upper body: arms, shoulders, chest, and posture.
While I use more volume when learning the push-up, once you can do 10 from the ground, you can program them however you feel like. Get your ribs moving, get your pelvis moving, start at the right place and challenge yourself!
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