A good mix of cardio, weights and a clean diet will provide you with the long-term results that you can maintain. It’s important to learn how to accommodate your shape taking into account your body type and genes and discover how weight training is essential for your goals. Your exercise plan shouldn’t be too complicated that you don’t understand it; learning the education behind certain exercises and the correct use of periodised training will provide you with long term results.


Figure 1. Golden girl… Jessica Ennis for Adidas (2014)


Just enough Muscle;


“I don’t want to look like her she’s too muscly.”

Muscle training for athletes is essential for them when maintaining their physique for sport. People often hide away from images of athletes in the media as they tend to be intimidated by the muscle gain of that athlete. What you’ve got to remember is when Jessica Ennis-Hill for example is relaxed and off the track, her muscle definition will be less prominent and she will look very toned. 


Jessica Ennis-Hill incorporates major weight sessions as a fundamental part of her training to achieve the strength and power she needs to compete. It’s important to remember that you won’t achieve the same shape, unless you are training at the same level as a Olympic professional athlete. It’s human error to look at an extreme example like this and think that Ennis is the outcome of any weight training. As an athlete Ennis will be training for strength, not size, as the extra weight would have an effect on her speed in competition. Growing muscle is a conscious decision you make, getting muscly doesn’t happen by accident, so use a similar training style as Ennis to achieve strength.


As your muscles get more defined you see the shape of the muscles better as lifting heavier weights makes you lose fat fast. Larger muscle fibres will improve the appearance of your body, making the muscular shape in some women become more noticeable. When starting a plan, ensure you take detailed measurements; measure your size, take pictures and compare your results so you can record the difference effectively. Any training plan can be altered if you are not achieving your desired shape (for example; growing in size) but it’s more than likely you’ll be pleased with your achieved. 


Be wise – periodise!

Below is an example of a 3-month fat loss periodisation for female weight training. As a rule; a linear progression from lighter weights to heavier weights in 4 week sections is an effective way to periodise for strength gains and fat loss.


  • Phase 1: This is your most common fat loss weights phase.

Train 3+ sets of 8-12 reps at 70-85% of your 1 rep maximum lift, with a 60 seconds rest.

  • Phase 2: Intense muscle building technique.

Train 10 sets for 10 reps of slow negative 4 seconds with a super setting to large body parts, for example push and pull.

  • Phase 3: Strength phase.

85-90% 1RM for 6 reps on extensor chain


In a 2011 study, 10 females were tested over a 24-week period to evaluate their linear progression. The 6x 4 week sections included 4 weeks’ conditioning, 4 weeks’ hypertrophy, 4 weeks’ strength and power and 8 weeks’ general strength training. The study shows that muscle mass increased by 4.5% and bodyfat decreased by 13.9%, with results showing continuous improved strength and power throughout the course. (González-Ravé, 2011)


Complementing your weights with anaerobic exercise will improve fat loss. Aim for 3x 20-30 minute, high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions a week alongside your weight sessions. This involves intense cardio activity alternated with short rests; running, cross trainer, circuits and boxing (whatever you enjoy the most). It has been shown that women demonstrate improved recovery during high intensity exercise compared to men, so it’s recommended to work to a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio; 2-minutes hard work, 1-minute rest for 6-10 sets. (Laurent, 2014)


Try to avoid too much long aerobic exercise as it counteracts your energy muscle building efforts, especially when combined with a calorie restricted diet. Aerobic exercise stimulates Cortisol (the stress hormone) which causes systemic inflammation and stimulates release of your stored muscle energy that you want to keep in your muscles.


Shaping the body

There are certain muscles that add feminine shape to your legs and torso. You should asses where your shape and strength balance lies, perhaps with your personal trainer. In the table below, you can find some of the best exercises to build feminine muscles;



Deadlift, squat, lunge, step ups, single leg deadlift, barbell glute bridge


Bent over row, chin ups, single arm cable pulls, reverse flys, cable rows


Deadlift, squat, lunge, step ups, 


Stiff leg deadlift, swiss ball hamstring curls

Upper arms:

Press ups, chin ups, dips, tricep pull downs


Life Style, by Poliquin, article states; “The goal of lifting weights is to sculpt the body. It’s the muscles that give shape to the body; the only shape fat gives is round.” (Bernardin, 2012) The truth is muscle looks better than fat so you need to work on your muscle to achieve your end-goal shape. Strengthening your hamstrings is a priority as it also benefits your strength balance. Your hamstrings and quads make up your thigh, however hamstrings are one of the most underrated areas for women to develop shape, usually from neglect. A thigh that is all quad and no hamstring does not look balanced and could be the answer to your leg shape troubles - work those hamstrings! (Dornemann, 1997) (Youdas, 2007)


Fuel the muscles and they will burn the fat;

Lastly ensure you refuel post-workout. Protein provides the building blocks for building muscle, so consume a protein shake after every session. Women will have less muscle glycogen depletion than men after exercise because they utilise fat for fuel better during training. A majority of standard post-workout nutrition advice is based on studies of the male metabolism, so keep it low carb, you don’t need the same sugars in your post-workout drink to refuel properly. This will give you fuel for muscle building while keeping your post workout fat burn high. (Tarnopolsky, 2001)


Enjoy your training and results!






  1. Figure 1. Jessica Ennis for Adidas (2014) [Online] At: (Accessed on 18.09.15)
  2. Prestes, J., et al. (2009) ‘Comparison of linear and reverse linear periodization effects on maximal strength and body composition’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength and Conditioning Association, 23(1):266-274.
  3. Kraemer WJ., et al. (2000) ‘Influence of resistance training volume and periodization on physiological and performance adaptations in collegiate women tennis players’, The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(5): 626-633.
  4. González-Ravé., et al. (2011) ‘Seasonal changes in jump performance and body composition in women volleyball players’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength and Conditioning Association, 25(6):1492-1501.
  5. Laurent, C., et al. (2014) ‘Sex-specific responses to self-paced, high-intensity interval training with variable recovery periods’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength and Conditioning Association, 28(4):920-927.
  6. Dornemann, TM., et al. (1997) ‘Effects of high-intensity resistance exercise on bone mineral density and muscle strength of 40-50-year-old women’, The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 37(4):246-251.
  7. Youdas, JW., et al. (2007) ‘Comparison of hamstring and quadriceps femoris electromyographic activity between men and women during a single-limb squat on both a stable and labile surface’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength and Conditioning Association, 21(1):105-111
  8. Tarnopolsky, MA, Saris WH. (2001) ‘Evaluation of gender differences in physiology: an introduction’. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition Metabolic Care. 4(6):489-492.
  9. Bernardin A. (2012) Want To Look More Feminine? Gain More Muscle! Available from;!.aspx (Accessed 14 September 2015) 


James Hardy