By Lori Brand, Personal Trainer, Group Fitness and Yoga Instructor

As women, we are constantly bombarded with the message to be smaller. With headlines and ads encouraging us to lose 10 lbs in a week or drop two dress sizes by next month, it’s hard not to set our sights on fitness goals that include getting leaner and shy away from those that feel counterintuitive, like gaining muscle. 

But if you avoid weight training out of fear of adding size to your frame or “bulking up” (a myth that has long been refuted), you could be doing your mind and body a major disservice. Here are just a few of the reasons to make muscle gains a fitness goal this year.

1. Injury Prevention

Gaining muscle doesn’t just make your muscles stronger, it makes your tendons stronger, and your ligaments more flexible. This helps stabilize your joints, and prevents strains and tears. You’ll also beef up your bones! Lifting a little heavier puts stress on your skeleton, which forces your bones to remodel and become stronger. In fact, resistance training has been shown to increase bone mineral density up to three percent, which is key for healthy aging and preventing osteoporosis.

2. Burn More Calories 

This may surprise you, but if shedding a few pounds is something you’re striving for, simply having more muscle will help you reach your goal. Lean muscle mass burns more fat by increasing your metabolic rate. Still not convinced? Consider this: Just 10 weeks of strength training has been shown to increase your resting metabolic rate by up to seven percent. This is incredibly important as you age, as inactive adults lose 3-8 percent of their muscle mass per decade, resulting in reduced resting metabolic rates.

3. Boost Your Confidence

Being strong lets you move confidently through the world knowing that you are fit, healthy, and a force to be reckoned with. And it’s not just big muscles that are empowering, it’s the act of acquiring them. Studies have shown that resistance training increases vigor and self-esteem, improves body image and physical self-perception, and reduces depression. A stronger you equals a happier you.

4. Sculpt Your Body

While it’s true you can’t spot reduce, you can certainly spot add. Want the look of a smaller waist? Build your shoulders and glutes, and presto. Want a firmer, more shapely tush? Incorporate the hip thrust. The addition of muscle, with its corresponding (and inevitable) fat loss, can have a dramatic impact on your shape, as fat takes up 15 percent more space than muscle.

How to Gain More Muscle:

Eat for It

As women, even under the best of circumstances, muscle growth is glacial. While extra calories may not be necessary, where those calories come from is crucial.  The following breakdown is a good place to start:

  • Protein: Aim for one gram of high-quality protein per pound of body weight, spread out over the day. You need protein to repair your muscles from all that heavy lifting.
  • Fat: About 20-30 percent of your daily calories. Fats are needed for optimal hormonal health, as well as for pulling vitamins and minerals into your cells.
  • Carbohydrates: Fill in the remainder of your daily calories with carbohydrates, concentrated around your training, so you can crush it at the gym. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, so you get plenty of micronutrients and fiber to keep your body humming.

Lift for It

Go for big, compound lifts like squats, deadlift, hip thrust, bench press, rowing, overhead press, and pull-ups. Do two or three sets of 8-12 reps each. Hit each muscle group at least twice a week, allowing a minimum of 48 hours rest between. Use isolation exercises, such as biceps curls or triceps kickbacks, to refine and strengthen smaller muscle groups.

Rest for It

First, stop with the excessive cardio. Studies have found that aerobic activity, particularly distance running, may interfere with muscle gain. Therefore, stick to cardio modalities like cycling, elliptical, or stair climber. Aim for 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week. Then, get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Take at least one day off a week.

Manifest It

Embody it. Think big. Be kind. Be magnanimous: Strong women lift each other up.

STRONG Fitness Magazine is a trusted source of cutting-edge fitness and health information for the modern woman who lives to be fit. STRONG’s sophisticated editorial voice combined with raw, powerful imagery and a modern, athletic design reflect the direction fitness has taken in the last decade.