Expert Tips for Building Muscle from a Female Personal Trainer in Manchester

Ray, your female personal trainer in Manchester, doing some pull-ups

Building muscle is a deliberate process, it doesn’t just happen accidentally. Some people decide to build muscle for aesthetic purposes, some for their health. As a female personal trainer in Manchester, I have helped a lot of different people build muscle for different reasons. This blog will outline why and how to accomplish this, as well as answering some muscle building FAQs.

The importance of building muscle

I’m going to split this into two sections – health and aesthetics.

Health:

Regardless of your goals, building muscle essentially makes you stronger. This is good for overall stability and prevention of injury. If the tissues around your joints are stronger, you’re less likely to injure them as the joint has more protection. When moving or carrying something heavy, you’re less likely to injure yourself as you have more control over the object. Life generally becomes easier – you can trust your body without limiting yourself unnecessarily.  Building muscle also raises your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is essentially how much energy (or calories) your body uses each day regardless of your activity. This means you have a lower risk of carrying around unhealthy levels of excess fat which can cause a multitude of health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Aesthetics:

Whether you’re looking to be lean and ‘toned’ or bulk up and get some real definition, building muscle is essential to creating shape. In the past, building muscle is something that only people wanting to bulk or bodybuild would do, however, as mentioned above, muscle is needed to elevate our BMR, which is particularly important as most of us are classed as sedentary (with a lifestyle built around sitting down a lot) and so we generally don’t expend much energy through movement.

Setting realistic muscle building goals 

If you’re biologically female, you can look to gain between 0.25-0.5kg of muscle per month. For biological males, you can do this a bit faster, and gain more like 0.5-1.0kg per month. If you’ve tried putting muscle on before and have been gaining more than this, the likelihood is that you’ve also been gaining stored fat as well. Now it’s almost inevitable that you will be putting on some excess fat as well as muscle during this process, but from both a health and aesthetic perspective, this isn’t ideal. Read on for how to manage your nutrition to avoid this result.

I have a whole blog based around goal setting and tracking if you need more help with this.

Nutrition for muscle building

There are two key things to consider when looking to build muscle. You need to be consuming enough protein and energy, as your body requires both of these elements to synthesize new proteins, which are what our muscles are made up of.  

Macronutrients

You also need to make sure that you’re consuming appropriate quantities of your macronutrients – these are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are the main nutrient the body uses for energy during training sessions and so these are vital to fuel your workouts. Protein, as mentioned above, is essential in actually building the new muscle. And fats are important in hormone production and overall health – both of which are essential for your body to successfully build muscle. For more detail on what a good balance of these looks like, take a peek at my ‘What, When and How Much?‘ blog, when you’re done here!

Micronutrients

On top of this, your micronutrient intake is also important. These are your vitamins and minerals which are found in a whole variety of foods, including whole grain carbohydrates, protein sources, and of course, fruit and vegetables. So as long as you’re consuming your macros, to gain the rest of these, you want to make sure you are eating a rainbow of fruit and veggies. That way, you won’t go too far wrong. If you are interested in an in-depth analysis of your diet to see if there are any nutrients you aren’t currently consuming enough of, get in touch and I can help with that.

So, in short, consume enough protein, calories and a nutritious diet and you’ll be supporting your muscle building goals. Now onto specifics, how much protein and how many calories should I eat?

Protein

1.6g minimum each day per kg of your bodyweight. So if you weigh 65kg for example, you would need to consume 104g of protein per day. You can consume up to 2g per kg of your bodyweight, so your goal would be between 104-130g per day. Above 2g and research shows there really is no benefit there. If you’ve had any problems with your kidneys however, please do consult a healthcare professional before adopting a high protein diet. 

The protein sources you choose should also mean that you consume all 9 of the essential amino acids, as all are needed for synthesizing protein in the body. Animal products are what we call complete proteins – they contain all essential amino acids. If you’re a plant based pal, options are a bit more limited, but it’s still absolutely possible to consume all 9 each day. There are a few sources of complete proteins such as soy products (like tofu and tempeh), quinoa and buckwheat but you can also easily pair up sources that may lack a few amino acids with others that can provide those that are lacking, and vice versa.

For example, pairing lentils and rice in a curry or having beans on toast – both combinations result in the complete set of amino acids being consumed. If you are plant based and need more support in how to manage your diet please do get in touch 🙂

Calories

For biological females, start with 100kcal above your maintenance calories (so a 100 surplus) and for biological males, go for a 200kcal surplus. This should mean that you put on limited fat in the process. Everyone’s body is different however, and calorie calculations are always an estimate (so what you calculate as your ‘maintenance’ may in fact be too low/high) so evaluate after the first month and if you need to increase this level then do so.

For more fitness nutrition tips, check out my Fuel Your Fitness Journey: The Ultimate Nutrition in Fitness Guide for Exercise Enthusiasts blog.

The role of protein in muscle development

So I’ve emphasized the importance of protein more than enough now. Let’s look at why. The proteins we eat are made up of amino acids, as touched on in the nutrition section above. Our bodies break proteins down into these separate amino acids and then build new proteins out of them. There are 20 amino acids that are needed for this process and our bodies can synthesise 11 of them. 9 we must consume from our diet. Our bodies are constantly breaking down and rebuilding, with a constant turnover of cells, from bone to muscle to skin and everything in between. This means that as our proteins (including muscle), are broken down, we need to be consuming more protein than is broken down to be able to tip this balance into a net positive i.e. muscle gain not muscle loss.

For some inspiration from a female personal trainer in Manchester on the best protein sources use to support your goals, check out one of my other blogs: 12 Best Foods to Build Muscle

Effective workout routines for building muscle

For building muscle you’re going to want to focus on resistance-based training. So that’s either using machines at the gym, free weights, or bands – basically anything that adds resistance to a movement. 

For each exercise, go for between 3 and 5 sets of 8-15 reps. Technically, anywhere between 5-40 reps can result in muscle hypertrophy (increasing muscle size), however you don’t want to be going too heavy (meaning low reps) on more isolation exercises like bicep curls, and at the other end, who’s got the time to do 40 reps on each set?! Plus, you need to be making sure you’re choosing the right resistance to reach fatigue – so by the end of the set you start to feel your form performance a little less smooth and you might be tempted to ‘cheat’ to finish the rep – and it’s very difficult to estimate what level of resistance would be needed to reach that point by rep 40! 

Volume

The key element in muscle hypertrophy is volume. An easy way of looking at this is reps x sets. So 4 sets of 8 reps is more training volume than 3 sets of 8 reps. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should do 4 sets of all exercises however, as we can spread out more sets across the week. If you completely destroy yourself doing 4 sets of everything today and this then affects your performance during your next session, or maybe you don’t even end up training when you next planned, this reduces your overall volume for the week. 

This volume consideration can also be brought into why you may or may not choose to train using a split routine. You may have heard of people doing ‘splits’ in that they have a back day, a chest day, an arms day, a legs day etc. Now this can work well, as long as you have enough time to train each week. Generally, you want to be hitting each muscle group a minimum of twice per week. So if you train in the splits as described above, but only once each per week, then this is much less effective than performing three full body sessions each week. Instead of putting your muscles under the stress required for hypertrophy just once per week, you’ve increased that to three. Much more effective for muscle growth.

Its different for everyone

There is no magic formula here, everyone has a different amount of time to train so it’s finding what works for you. Just keep in mind the volume rule when planning your routine.

When choosing your exercises, make sure the bulk of your workout includes compound movements – that’s movements that span more than one joint (basically utilising multiple muscle groups at once). More muscles under stress = more muscles we can be growing! Examples include chest press, bent over row, squats and deadlifts. You can add in isolation exercises (smaller movements focussing on one muscle group) like bicep curls, lateral raises and tricep extensions at the end, but these shouldn’t be the main focus.

Progressive overload and its impact on muscle growth

You may have heard of other gym-goers following a ‘programme’ where they follow a structured routine over a set period. Some people find this a bit boring and need variety. They prefer sticking to exercises they enjoy or going to different classes to keep their fitness routine interesting. However, these sorts of routines aren’t conducive to seriously building muscle. Progressive overload is one of the main drivers in muscle growth and, put simply, it means continuously increasing intensity of training over time. To do this, you place your body under the same stress over a period of time (the same exercises each week as per your programme), yet continuously increase the intensity.

This can be done by increasing volume, as discussed above (so for example adding an extra set or adding an extra session into your week), adjusting the tempo of your reps (for example slowing them down) or adding resistance (increasing the weight you are lifting/moving). You only need to increase the intensity in one area each session, if you’ve only just started training, you don’t want to be adjusting all of these at once!

An example:

Last week you Deadlifted 50kg for 3 sets of 8 reps. This week keep the weight the same, complete 3 reps and aim for 10 reps on one or two of the sets. If you can do 3 sets of 10, do 3 sets of 10! Little increases like this week on week, make all the difference.

Rest and recovery for muscle building

I cannot stress this enough: Rest is incredibly important. You should be taking at least one full rest day per week. You might be thinking, yes but Ray, you were just banging on about how important voluuuume is, so shouldn’t I spend all my waking moments at the gym? The answer is no, there is a limit (just to add another thing for you to consider!) Here’s why:

Prevent injury

If you don’t give your body enough time to recover and heal from your training sessions, you risk injuring yourself and you can set your progress back weeks or even months. Which is not worth it for one extra session.

Muscles need to repair and recover in order to grow

When you resistance-train, your muscles under-go microscopic damage which is then repaired and stimulates new growth. If you don’t allow time for your muscles to do this, you can’t expect to build muscle. Additionally, your muscles need time to restore and replenish stores like glycogen which is used for energy during your training sessions – if you’re running on empty, again you risk injury, but also your performance will decline, meaning your progress also slows.

Your sleep could suffer

Studies have shown that individuals that train without adequate rest often have issues sleeping. Given that sleeping is when the majority of your healing (and therefore muscle growth) occurs, you need to be making sure your sleep quality is a priority. 

One more thing:

It’s important to note that rest doesn’t just mean physically not going to the gym. Rest encompasses the physical of course, but also the psychological and mental. Stress can greatly impact a plethora of functions within the body and disrupt many processes. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself to decrease stress, whether that is through meditation, breathwork, walking, or other mindfulness practices you enjoy. A happy body and mind is a muscle building one!

Supplementing for muscle development

Check out my Nutrition Guide for more information about the most common supplements that are often hyped and whether they’re worth it! Generally though, my top two supplements are protein powders/bars and creatine.

Protein supplements:

As long as you’re consuming real food protein sources during the day, you will also be gaining the micronutrients needed from these. So there’s absolutely no harm in supplementing with protein powder and snacks, in fact. I highly recommend it. Protein powder in particular can give you a 20g hit of protein and doesn’t add too many calories (around 100kcal per shake!) which means you have more calories left to enjoy more actual food! If you’re struggling to hit your calorie goal on the other hand, you can get shakes that help with that too and add more calories alongside the juicy hit of protein.

So no matter where you’re at with your calorie target, there’s options for you. I’d recommend whey or casein based powders (if you get both, whey is best straight after a workout and casein is best at any other time of day or in the evening) or a vegan alternative that offers all nine essential amino acids.

Creatine:

Creatine works by increasing fast- release energy to your muscles when training. This can mean improved performance in the gym which can translate to increased muscle. What’s not to love? You can add it to your protein shakes as well, so you can supplement with both at once.

Frequently asked questions about building muscle

Answered by Ray, female personal trainer in Manchester

How do I build muscle faster?

You can’t! Unfortunately you can’t make the body do something that it isn’t capable of doing. Building muscle is a pretty slow process that requires commitment and consistency.

Free weights or machines?

Both of these options can be great for building muscle. For beginners, I would say machines are the way to go to build up some strength and also confidence in the movements. After 6 weeks or so I would move onto free weights, as these work on your stabilising muscles as well, which are really beneficial in terms of preventing injury, increasing your performance and building overall strength too. 

I’ve been trying to build muscle and it’s not working – what should I do?

My first question here would be how long have you been working on this? If it’s been all of a few weeks, keep going and trust the process, you won’t be seeing insane results by this point. If it has been a few months and you’re still not seeing progress, have you been adhering to everything mentioned above? Are you consuming enough protein? Enough calories? Are you sleeping enough? Are you taking enough rest during the week? If yes, feel free to pop me a message and I can see if I can work out what’s going on!

Can I turn body fat to muscle?

Nope! They’re completely different tissues in the body and cells can’t magically convert from a fat cell into a muscle cell. If you’re carrying a lot of excess fat, I would suggest going for a fat loss approach first and then start to build muscle when you are carrying a healthy level of body fat that you’re happy with.

How long should my training sessions be?

Around one hour is a good amount of time including warm up and mobility work at the start and a cool down and stretches at the end. So 40-45 minutes actually training. More isn’t always more! It would be more effective to do three sessions lasting one hour instead of one or two sessions of 90 minutes.

Start your journey with a female personal trainer in Manchester

So that’s everything you need to get started in your muscle building journey! Hopefully it’s been helpful and if you have any questions, of course feel free to reach out via instagram or, if you’d like more support, let me know if you are interested in working with a female personal trainer in Manchester.

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Picture of Ray Hickford

Ray Hickford

Hi, I’m Ray, a health and wellbeing professional in Manchester working with clients through training and nutrition programmes to help them feel more confident, strong and happy both in and outside of the gym.
As a Qualified Personal Trainer and Level 4 RSPH Nutrition Advisor, I am constantly learning myself - from my clients, from other industry experts and sometimes myself! And sometimes I write some of this down for ya.

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