Muscles do not grow. What should I do?

Those girls who train hard ‘as grown-ups’ know what words like gaining, shredding and other real pumper’s words mean. Of course, we all wish to have a Brazilian butt, a nice shape, a sharpened form and a six-pack, and that’s why we are ready for everything to achieve those goals. Not only men should work hard in the gym! And this desire is not bad for sure. We all know that hard work pays off. And there is no gain without pain. But not all ways of male bodybuilding are suitable for women entirely, though the main principles would still remain the same. Below I would like to describe my own experience along with observations of other girls training. The article describes natural bodybuilding principles only. And we shall talk about the urgently needed mass gaining. I guess if I did not become an obsessed hardgainer not having the proper genetics for muscle growth, I would hardly have anything to tell you about it. But years spent on working at my shape which resulted in a lady-like curvy body (started from a skinny girl) gave me some experience, understanding and definite knowledge.


Every girl wishes to look ready for the beach 24/7. But rules of nature say you need to gain first and then to shred in order to have something as a result. Pushing themselves beyond their limits, girls start gaining. Why pushing? Because they mainly have to cover their nice sharpened bodies and abs with the fat layer. They can hardly look at themselves in the mirror and often consider the mass-gaining period as a serious challenge for their mentality. To finish it up, they proceed to low-carb dieting and burn everything (including muscles which were supposed to have grown). ‘Yes, it is exactly what happens,’ – the reader says. But I would like to speak about something little different, to shift priorities. As a person acting in favor of a healthy lifestyle, I am scared to death when I hear the stories about girls gaining and losing 8-10 kg (17-22 lbs) within 6 months… It’s not good or healthy – at all! That is why I am appealing to your sanity –take a look at yourself in a long shot.


‘But what should I do?’ – Beautiful ladies would ask me. – ‘Is it even possible to gain and to shred at the same time?’ In pure form – no, it’s not! Small or not, but the fat gain would take place, along with muscles. The question is how critical it may be.

My opinion here is as follows: If you wish to look great all year round and you work for a long shot (i.e. for a lifetime), then male-style mass-gaining is absolutely not for you. You can keep looking lady-like and beautiful even during this period. The main thing is to find the right approach.


It’s good enough that women already know that heavy lifting is not scary anymore. Considerable differences from men in hormonal aspect, as well as in body analysis (muscle and fat tissue ratio, locomotor system, etc) do not let women gain big muscles. It also influences the process of fat gaining and losing. In any case it is much easier for men rather than for women. That is why I would like to quote my friend: ‘You cannot over gain, you can only under gain.’ Therefore, women cannot follow aggressive men’s dieting blindly.


Let me now be more specific. I shall define the main principles of successful mass-gaining process. They are similar for both men and women:


  1. Nutrition.

  2. Training.

  3. Rest and recovery.

  4. Sport supplements.


Let’s have a closer look at each one.




One must eat in order to grow. It is true even for fat-burning and exceptionally essential for mass-gaining. I have once come across one magnificent phrase: ‘Half of ectomorphs are under-eating mesomorphs.’ And I can’t help, but agree with it. Most skinny girls complain about genetics and say that they will never gain properly. And then they go to the gym and diligently squat with a bodybar, they come home after a workout and eat a couple of apples and a yogurt per day. It is very ‘strange’ that they do not gain, isn’t it? Of course, I’m exaggerating. But basically anyone can grow bigger no matter how hard their genetics is. For example, I have long limbs and muscles and fast metabolism. All components of a hardgainer. But I still managed to gain 7 kg (15 lbs) of muscle mass and add 8 cm (3.5 inches) in such an important body part for a girl like hips, and this includes two competition shredding processes. And I keep growing gradually without any extreme measures.


It was a lyrical introduction. We shall now proceed to a specific part. So what shall we begin with? Of course, we should start counting our daily nutrition needs and macros for gaining. You can choose different ways here.

First. Count how many calories and macros you consume a day at the moment. The best diet for gaining is a zone diet (40% carbohydrates, 30% proteins and 30% fat). You can even have more carbohydrates, but you should always remember that we are women. It is always easier for us to gain fat tissue than for men. Now when we have the initial numbers counted, add 200 calories to that number next week. And wait until you have your first results.

Second variant. Count your daily needs in calories. You can use this calculator: And again, the numbers you will get may not be the only truth. It is just a reference point. I would still advise to increase calories gradually until you reach a needed number. Why gradually? First, not to shock your body and let it adapt. Second, to avoid gaining extra fat. Third, the amount of food might seem way too large for you to eat it all. And it can actually be true. But you will be able to eat all portions at some point.


Very important advice! The number you see on the scale does not reflect your progress. You should also measure your body fold layer. Choose a spot on your body to focus on. For girls the lower stomach is optimal for measuring. It is a favorite place for fat gaining which appears earlier than on other parts and which refuses to shred until the end.

If the thickness of the body fold grows along with your body weight, it is high time to think carefully what you are gaining and how you are doing it. I would here advise you to take a closer look at your nutrition. I had a sad experience when I thought I was gaining well. But after I got shredded I realized I had been gaining fat mostly. We shall talk about this nutrition mistake a little later.


While planning the mass-gaining diet we should stick to the same principles as for the fat-burning or the maintaining plan. The only difference is in general amount of calories and macros ratio. The popular mistake is thinking you can eat whatever you want during your mass-gaining period. Next step is shredding anyway. I used to gain like that and I know plenty of girls who gain like that. They eat anything they want hoping to lose all extra gains during shredding. But fat-burning is doubtful pleasure. And if you gain too much, this pleasurable period will last longer. Plus, it is obviously better to look well-shaped during your mass-gaining period as well. Yes, you are bigger than usual. But you don’t look as a shapeless seal – you look as a sporty fit girl. And of course you should never forget about your health. This is rarely an issue for us, although it should be number one on your list. What you eat is important as well. The source of calories should be as natural, healthy, righteous rich and fresh as possible.


Main principles of mass-gaining nutrition plan:


1. Frequent meals during a day (every 1.5-3 hours)

2. Lack of unhealthy products in your menu (mass gaining is not an excuse for a cake)

3. Plenty of complex carbohydrates (whole-grained pasta, wild or brown rice, buckwheat, other cereals) and simple carbohydrates (mainly fruits, not cakes, candies, etc)

4. Balanced planning of your daily nutrition. You should try adding proteins in each meal.

5. Limiting simple carbs in the evening. Of course, it is not about pre- or post-workout meals. But if you do not train, worry about possible fat gain. Prefer complex carbs to simple.

6. Drink enough water (at least 2 liters or 0.5 gallons a day).


Pre- and post-workout nutrition. For good-quality training you should be full of energy and building material. A combination of complex and simple carbohydrates along with light protein would fit these requirements best of all. After a workout you should recover your body resources spent and stimulate the process of anabolism as soon as possible. It is recommended to have a carbohydrate + protein drink (3:1) or a protein shake with some fruit having a high glycemic index. Within the next 1-1.5 hours you should have a meal containing complex carbohydrates, proteins and a small amount of healthy fats. Your body will be in need of large amount of nutrients, and the main task is to give them to it. But make sure you won’t overdo the task. ‘Men-size’ portions will definitely stimulate fat level raise due to some extra calories taken with a meal. My experience speaks for itself: I tried to eat a lot, and I tried to eat as much as needed. I managed to gain mass of good quality being able to show off my shape, and I also had some mistakes made looking like a hamster during the gaining period. Harmony and moderation are the basics of all.




This part of mass-gaining period will hardly have any difference from the male gaining. The basic principles are the same. It may only differ in working weights considering physiology and anatomy. Bear in mind that if you want to keep your waist thin avoid crunching with weights and do not perform side bends for abs. It is being widely discussed now that base exercises like barbell squats, dead lift, etc will enlarge your waist size. And partly it is true. But there will be no results without base elements. I can speak from my own experience – I did gain in waist, but not much to notice.


Below I will describe the main principles of mass-gaining training. Those are not rules set in stone. There are no rules suitable for everyone. Take classics as the basis, then try and analyze the results. Don’t be afraid of experiments. Personally I prefer only base exercises with good weights and repeats from 6 to 10 best of all. But I know some girls whose mass-gaining process gives good results while working in two-sets, three-sets in multi-repeat mode. But they still take weights making them sweat and work for 100 per cent.


Main principles of mass-gaining training plan:


1. At least 48 hours of rest for a trained muscle group.

2. Short workout (1 hour or less).

3. Heavy weights (your muscles should feel the load).

4. Free weights and base exercises (nothing stimulates your muscles grow other than free weights and base exercises).

5. Constant progressing (training complication) and change of a training plan once a month / a month and a half.

6. Work in the mode of 6-10 repeats in 3-5 sets.


Don’t avoid cardio. One is often advised to exclude any cardio sessions during mass gain. But in order to keep a good shape without extra fat gaining and remain functional by training your cardiovascular system cardio sessions are essential. Of course, you should avoid cardio after a weight workout. Your aim is to work hard during an hour and then go home to have a good meal and a good rest. Cardio will only aggravate the process of catabolism. But if you have interval cardio sessions in separate days for a short period of time (15-20 minutes) twice a week, your muscles will not suffer (of course if you follow a gaining diet). Cardio is also needed when you already have some muscles gained and you are interested in keeping it and enlarging it. In case you wish to look as if you are not on your mass-gaining period, you can practice short (30-40 minute long) low-intensity cardio sessions on empty stomach. Don’t forget to take some aminoacids (preferably liquid) before a session though. It will let you burn some fat in the morning, as glycogen resources are emptied and the body will have to use fat as a source of energy. Proper meals during the rest of the day will work for your mass-gaining task. But if cardio does influence your process in a bad manner, you should exclude it for some time.




The main factor for muscle growth is anabolism stimulation. In order to have full recovery you need a good sleep, more rest and less stress. Without high-quality sleep and a nice rest, being surrounded with problems there is no way you can have nice recovery and growth as a result. That’s why you should avoid stress, sleep more (even in the afternoon if you have time) and do not overstrain outside the gym.


Sport supplements


Sport and vitamin supplements can really help you during your muscle growth process. Amateurs can do well without those though. But if you wish and if you can, the process of power gaining, as well as the process of protein recovery and synthesis can be accelerated with sport nutrition.


One of the most safe and well-studied supplements is creatine which can assist in your power gaining process. Protein will help you recover and supply your body before a workout. Aminocids should also be mentioned here, as they necessarily contain BCAA (irreplaceable aminoacids: leucine, valine and isoleucine). Taking glutamine will not hurt as well because it stimulates the recovery process. What girls should be accurate with are gainers. They often contain some simple carbohydrate sources of low quality. Plus, you can easily take more than needed and therefore have more calories than it is required by your nutrition plan and gain extra fat.


What is absolutely required for any training person are multi-vitamins, cartilage protectors (glucosamine and chondroitin), fat acids omega-3.