Women – You Can Build Muscle and Lose Weight

It sounds like a self-help title or something, but it’s actually intended to be taken more literally than that. Maybe I should say, ‘Be Strong and Lose Weight.’… nah! – that sounds the same.

Women - You Can Build Muscle and Lose Weight
Woman building muscle

Building Muscle and Losing Weight for Women

The point is for women to take the message as a cue to begin exercising with a slightly different outlook.

I’m mainly talking to women who workout with the main objective of losing weight.

Perhaps instead of thinking of fat loss as the sole target of your workouts, you could incorporate the idea of Strong & Defined.

There’s a culture in the weight loss community (if it can even be called that), mainly amongst females – though there is a growing number of men too – which relies on endless hours of time spent with cardio machines, and then staying hungry for the majority of the remainder in order to keep the fat away.

There’s so many problems with this mentality – ranging from health risks, to motivational issues (leading usually to quitting), and even treating your body like that can set it up for failure.

Exercise is a good thing, but when I see a scarily thin bag of bones step off the treadmill that they just lived the last hour of their life on, I feel like even good things like exercise can be warped into something wrong.

That leads me to highlight another growing trend in the fitness community – again, specifically among females – and that is ‘Strong is the new Skinny.’

Now that’s a bandwagon I will jump on. And here’s why:

Strength versus Skinny

Strength versus Skinny

There are many reasons why exercising to increase strength as well as cardio vascular health is better than exercising to burn calories alone, but some hit home harder than others.

  1. Food – instead of starving yourself, you can actually feed the muscle you are strengthening, thereby feeling replete and happier, but also taking on the macro nutrients required to stay generally healthy. Don’t worry though, you can still lose fat by doing this. Fat loss is not voodoo; it is a case of energy in versus energy out.
  2. Utility – think of the things you can do with stronger muscles that skin and bones can’t. Many more activities, daily tasks and oh yeah – feeling awesome!
  3. Body Composition – let’s face it, most people want to lose weight because of the outward appearance of being overweight, or societal pressure to look thin, or desire to look more attractive for the opposite/same sex. Whatever it is, it’s about the aesthetics of it. Strength builds defined muscle, which is along with fat reduction reveals a sexy, carved physique.

The amount of people who complain that they’ve lost X amount of weight only to be left with a saggy backside and a flat shape to their legs and torso. Muscles people, it’s what brings the shape.

If you haven’t searched the term ‘girls who squat’ on the internet, then do so. Trust me, no more saggy backside!

But, I Don’t Want Big Muscles!!
Big biceps

But, I Don’t Want Big Muscles!!

If your biggest concern with building strength is building huge butch muscles that are permanently pumped, then you can discard the worry immediately.

Muscle and strength, do not pile on overnight – God knows, I wish it did – and it takes work to start seeing the difference, just like weight loss does.

Even then, the type of muscle you build depends greatly on the workout routine you employ and the diet you consume. Big muscle generally comes from hypertrophy weight-sets alongside an anabolic-friendly diet.

There are times when hypertrophic growth is what you want, to provide a base mass of muscle to work with, however, you are more likely to build strong defined muscles and also keep the fat off when you exercise with low intensity strength sessions interspersed with high intensity interval training/cardio.

So, What Should I Do?

If you’re new to strength training or you have been on a big cardio drive for a long time, your skeletal muscle is not going to have much fast-twitch muscle strength.

Diving in to weights and resistance training head first might (a) injure you, and (b) put you off.

So, my advice is to start with a mostly bodyweight-only circuit, and add weights over time, and make sure you can stick the movements well.

Over the following weeks, you can play with reps and sets, and increase weight and range of motion, because you will dramatically increase your strength, particularly if you are going from scratch.

An hour is good enough in the gym for the average person. I would take the last twenty minutes to use the cardio machines. However, instead of always doing the same thing, try and mix it up with mini-intervals on that, for example:


In twenty minutes on a treadmill, you can get all the fat burning CV you need for the day.

Alternating between sprints and jogging or hills and flats, or all of that combined, is a good way to keep the body changing its fuel-burning ratios (carbs/fats) and coaching it into dealing with change.

The shock of going from mellow jog to fast sprinting engages different muscle fibres and so stimulates a wider growth axis.

Bike and Cross Trainer
Woman on an exercise bike

Bike and Cross Trainer

The same as the treadmill though you can play with another element on these machines and that is resistance.

Sometimes the twenty minute session on these machines can be another strength workout if the resistance is high enough for small intervals.

Try 20 seconds of high resistance-high speed power intervals to every 2 minutes of regular resistance and speed. You can get inventive and make up your own intervals.

If you are a novice, make your highly intense bursts short and your recovery ’tick-over’ period longer. As you get a lot fitter, your recovery time will drop and you will notice you can slot more high-intensity in.

Active Recovery

There are days when you are just not going to get through a tough session on the cardio, especially after the first 40 minutes of other training.

Those are the days you set the machine to an easy setting and just workout to a mild intensity, breathing nicely and letting yourself recover.

It’s still better than literally stopping after the previous exercises as you will prevent soreness and stiffness later on.

Keeping the blood pumping with this light cardio will help the nutrients and oxygen to circulate and will also flush lactic acid from the muscles.

Philosophy and Action

Hopefully this article will help you to adopt the philosophy, but you might still be wondering what exercises to do. I will cover that in another post Strength Training for Women – Important Points, but in the meantime it would serve you well to ask the gym for one or two strength sessions with an instructor.

Usually a membership includes one or more of these sessions, so make sure you use them to your advantage.

About Eloise Bel

Eloise Bel (Certified Holistic Nutritionist & B.A. in Communications) Eloise is an experienced journalist with a strong grounding in holistic nutrition. She has an in-depth knowledge of the supplement industry and has been specializing in the weight loss sector since 2008. LinkedIn

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