Minimum BF%?

My question is: do you typically have to have a minimum weight and/or body fat % before you can start putting on muscle?

I ask because I've been having difficulties in putting on muscle- my weight has ranged from 98-103 pounds (1st thing in the morning) and 17.5-19% BF (approximately). It seems that when I try and gain weight as muscle I just feel fatter, and when I try and get leaner, I just feel skinny-fatter. What gives? Btw, I'm 29, female, 5'4". Been lifting regularly for the past 9 months. Currently doing 5 days of lifting and 4 days of cardio per week.
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Replies

  • DopeItUp
    DopeItUp Posts: 18,772 Member
    Not really, no.

    As a woman it's a very slow process to gain muscle. So we're talking, very small surplus, proper macros and proper progressive lifting program. Plus lots of time. LOTS of time.

    How long have your bulks lasted? A common obstacle is feeling fat and cancelling the bulk way too early. Half the topics in this forum revolve around that. I would shoot for 3 month bulk periods, minimum. Bare minimum. 4 days of cardio has the potential to to really hurt your gains as well. Most people seek to minimize/eliminate cardio during bulks.
  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 40,887 Member
    Not really, no.

    As a woman it's a very slow process to gain muscle. So we're talking, very small surplus, proper macros and proper progressive lifting program. Plus lots of time. LOTS of time.

    How long have your bulks lasted? A common obstacle is feeling fat and cancelling the bulk way too early. Half the topics in this forum revolve around that. I would shoot for 3 month bulk periods, minimum. Bare minimum. 4 days of cardio has the potential to to really hurt your gains as well. Most people seek to minimize/eliminate cardio during bulks.

    QFT...
  • BusyRaeNOTBusty
    BusyRaeNOTBusty Posts: 7,165 Member
    How long have your bulks lasted? A common obstacle is feeling fat and cancelling the bulk way too early. Half the topics in this forum revolve around that. I would shoot for 3 month bulk periods, minimum. Bare minimum.

    Yup. You are going to 'feel fatter" during a bulk. You've just got to push past that if you really want to gain muscle. It's pretty hard mentally.
  • geebusuk
    geebusuk Posts: 3,347 Member
    What sort of routine are you doing?
    Are you getting enough rest?
    What macros are you aiming for?

    I wonder if the cardio is pushing it a bit too much?

    At a pretty low body fat, it's likely you'll notice 'water weight' and so on more.
  • It sounds that you may look over your diet.

    As DopeItUp said, the macros are important.

    You will need a good amount of protein, good carbs and healthy fats.

    By using nutrition timing, and eating your carbs around your workouts, you will use the carbs better (using your insulin effect, your most anabolic hormone, when you need it the most). That may result in that you feel less "fatter".

    Are you drinking enough? That's really important! If you don't, your body will try to save water between your skin and your muscles which may give you an illusion of being fatter.
  • SilentDrapeRunners
    SilentDrapeRunners Posts: 199 Member
    Yeah I'm guessing my bulks haven't lasted long enough....basically I've tried bulking and it resulted in me feeling fat and then doing a cut. So now, since January, I'm just continuing on with the bulk and trying to wrap my mind around getting a little fatter (I don't like it...but I'll do it). It is hard mentally, especially for women. I don't usually think like mainstream society, but this thinking is on a subconscious level (women aren't supposed to get bigger and definitely shouldn't be eating that much). But I do ultimately want to gain muscle so I'm just now realizing I have to do it. And eating more does give me more energy for my workouts, so that should be good for gaining.

    I think my routine and macros are good (135-150 g carbs, 45-50 g fats, 130-140 g protein). And I usually eat about 30% of my carbs after my workout. I try to drink a good amount of water, but I could always drink more.
  • SilentDrapeRunners
    SilentDrapeRunners Posts: 199 Member
    Not really, no.

    As a woman it's a very slow process to gain muscle. So we're talking, very small surplus, proper macros and proper progressive lifting program. Plus lots of time. LOTS of time.

    How long have your bulks lasted? A common obstacle is feeling fat and cancelling the bulk way too early. Half the topics in this forum revolve around that. I would shoot for 3 month bulk periods, minimum. Bare minimum. 4 days of cardio has the potential to to really hurt your gains as well. Most people seek to minimize/eliminate cardio during bulks.

    QFT...


    About how much time (approximately) does it take to get that ripped, chiseled, no fat look? I'm not in a rush nor am I looking to take shortcuts, I just want to make sure I'm on the right track so I don't wind up wasting years. As it is I'll be turning 30 this year, and I believe that's the year when muscle loss begins, eek.

    I'm glad I came on here though and asked for advice, otherwise I can see the potential of getting caught in a never-ending bulk/cut cycle. So, thank you!
  • Le_Joy
    Le_Joy Posts: 593 Member
    I'd guess that to really put on more muscle you will likely weigh more and possibly feel "fat". Your BMI (which I realize is a flawed system) is 17.7, anything under 18.5 is considered under weight. While female athletes do often have very low BMI and are muscular it's pretty difficult to do (they have trainers and doctors helping them) and when you are underweight it can cause a variety of challenges with hormone levels (which is why women sometimes don't have a period if they are enough under weight) and altered hormones levels can mess with being able to put on muscle.
  • SilentDrapeRunners
    SilentDrapeRunners Posts: 199 Member
    I'd guess that to really put on more muscle you will likely weigh more and possibly feel "fat". Your BMI (which I realize is a flawed system) is 17.7, anything under 18.5 is considered under weight. While female athletes do often have very low BMI and are muscular it's pretty difficult to do (they have trainers and doctors helping them) and when you are underweight it can cause a variety of challenges with hormone levels (which is why women sometimes don't have a period if they are enough under weight) and altered hormones levels can mess with being able to put on muscle.

    Good point. My periods are normal (probably because I've been at this weight for a long time now, so it's become my 'normal'). But I think it is possible it could be having an effect on my hormones & other metabolic processes.
  • DopeItUp
    DopeItUp Posts: 18,772 Member
    Not really, no.

    As a woman it's a very slow process to gain muscle. So we're talking, very small surplus, proper macros and proper progressive lifting program. Plus lots of time. LOTS of time.

    How long have your bulks lasted? A common obstacle is feeling fat and cancelling the bulk way too early. Half the topics in this forum revolve around that. I would shoot for 3 month bulk periods, minimum. Bare minimum. 4 days of cardio has the potential to to really hurt your gains as well. Most people seek to minimize/eliminate cardio during bulks.

    QFT...


    About how much time (approximately) does it take to get that ripped, chiseled, no fat look? I'm not in a rush nor am I looking to take shortcuts, I just want to make sure I'm on the right track so I don't wind up wasting years. As it is I'll be turning 30 this year, and I believe that's the year when muscle loss begins, eek.

    Somewhere between a year and... never. It all depends on genetics, programming, consistency in workout and diet, dedication, blah blah blah.

    I've been lifting for 2 years and am barely just starting to see things I like. Someone super dedicated like Sara looked like a goddess after only a year. Some people train for a decade and are no better off for it due to ineffective diet, inconsistent workouts, etc. *shrug*

    All depends on how bad you want it, with a bit of blind luck thrown in for good measure.
  • mrdexter1
    mrdexter1 Posts: 356 Member
    kick the cardio into touch..

    use a mans lifting program and start to use some real weight a max of 3 to 4 times a week dependant on recovery times..

    get your diet and rest right.


    you have to push and grunt like the rest of us and have a determination that's rarely seen in women attending a normal gym !!


    consistency and commitment to a lifestyle is whats needed or you could just waste your gym attendance like the majority of women and stick with the elliptical, running machine and a few silly stretchy things and look the same years down the line !
  • terizius
    terizius Posts: 425 Member
    I've referenced this article in other posts, but its a great one to come back to - talking about the genetic potential for muscle growth by Lyle McDonald:

    http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/whats-my-genetic-muscular-potential.html

    Basically, it says that with proper training and nutrition, women can expect a maximum muscle gain of 10-12lbs a year (and thats as a beginner).

    I'm on my first true, dedicated bulk. I firmly believe in training.. well.. pretty much everything. When you know exactly whats going in and can compare that to results (measurements, BF%, weight and strength gains), you are able to tweak things to suit your goals. At any rate, its a process, but one that I think anyone with the willpower and knowledge can be successful in. Good luck!
  • terizius
    terizius Posts: 425 Member
    Also, you will hear a lot of people saying that you should cut cardio during bulking cycles. From the research I've done, I'm not entirely convinced. I won't tell you to do one or the other, but here's another great article that discusses the issue:

    http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/whats-my-genetic-muscular-potential.html

    Here's the summary:

    So summing up, under most circumstances, I think keeping a reasonable amount of moderate intensity cardio in the training program, even when the goal is explicitly mass gaining can be beneficial for most trainees (the major exception being the extreme hardgainer types).

    Potential pros include improved recovery, improved work capacity, better calorie partitioning, improved appetite (sometimes), perhaps staying leaner and an easier time shifting back into dieting when the mass gaining phase is over. The cons, including hampered recovery and systematic overtraining only really become an issue when too much volume or too high of an intensity is performed.

    A minimum of three sessions per week (up to perhaps a maximum of 5) of reasonable duration (20-30 minutes minimum up to perhaps 40 minutes maximum) at a low to moderate intensity (70% of maximum heart rate or less) should achieve the benefits I talked about above without causing any of the problems that I also discussed.
  • MB2MN
    MB2MN Posts: 334 Member
    Hiya! Took me about 18 months to go from the first two pics to the second two. Started 5'6 142lbs and bf % in the mid 20s now I'm 130 and bf around 18 %. Obviously you're starting from a smaller size but it takes A LONG TIME. I lift 3-5 days a week, cardio too (since I needed to lose fat) and watched my macros. Was I perfect? Heck no but I was committed.

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  • HMVOL7409
    HMVOL7409 Posts: 1,588 Member
    Not really, no.

    As a woman it's a very slow process to gain muscle. So we're talking, very small surplus, proper macros and proper progressive lifting program. Plus lots of time. LOTS of time.

    How long have your bulks lasted? A common obstacle is feeling fat and cancelling the bulk way too early. Half the topics in this forum revolve around that. I would shoot for 3 month bulk periods, minimum. Bare minimum. 4 days of cardio has the potential to to really hurt your gains as well. Most people seek to minimize/eliminate cardio during bulks.

    QFT...


    About how much time (approximately) does it take to get that ripped, chiseled, no fat look? I'm not in a rush nor am I looking to take shortcuts, I just want to make sure I'm on the right track so I don't wind up wasting years. As it is I'll be turning 30 this year, and I believe that's the year when muscle loss begins, eek.

    I'm glad I came on here though and asked for advice, otherwise I can see the potential of getting caught in a never-ending bulk/cut cycle. So, thank you!

    Lol, I am getting ready to turn 34 and have better muscle now then when I competed at 23.

    It doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen in 12 wks. If it's something you're truly committed to you'll work on it as long as it takes. Can someone completely change they way they look in a year? Absolutely but you are going to have work.

    There are many women who are bulking currently around here. It's more common than one assumes. Many also don't know what it means and simply think bulking=lifting weights without realizing there's some eating involved too. I am on my 4th bulk, this one since November and I've had many fat days but you can't quit based on that. Men feel it just the same. It's extremely mental but a roadblock you can certainly conquer,
  • jstout365
    jstout365 Posts: 1,686 Member
    I think my routine and macros are good (135-150 g carbs, 45-50 g fats, 130-140 g protein). And I usually eat about 30% of my carbs after my workout. I try to drink a good amount of water, but I could always drink more.

    Are the upper numbers your limits? If that is the case, chances are you are not eating enough to gain. 150c/50f/140p = ~1610 calories. You didn't indicate actual calorie intake so I'm just guessing on this one.
  • jimmmer
    jimmmer Posts: 3,535 Member
    Not really, no.

    As a woman it's a very slow process to gain muscle. So we're talking, very small surplus, proper macros and proper progressive lifting program. Plus lots of time. LOTS of time.

    How long have your bulks lasted? A common obstacle is feeling fat and cancelling the bulk way too early. Half the topics in this forum revolve around that. I would shoot for 3 month bulk periods, minimum. Bare minimum. 4 days of cardio has the potential to to really hurt your gains as well. Most people seek to minimize/eliminate cardio during bulks.

    QFT...


    About how much time (approximately) does it take to get that ripped, chiseled, no fat look? I'm not in a rush nor am I looking to take shortcuts, I just want to make sure I'm on the right track so I don't wind up wasting years. As it is I'll be turning 30 this year, and I believe that's the year when muscle loss begins, eek.

    I'm glad I came on here though and asked for advice, otherwise I can see the potential of getting caught in a never-ending bulk/cut cycle. So, thank you!

    Lol, I am getting ready to turn 34 and have better muscle now then when I competed at 23.

    It doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen in 12 wks. If it's something you're truly committed to you'll work on it as long as it takes. Can someone completely change they way they look in a year? Absolutely but you are going to have work.

    There are many women who are bulking currently around here. It's more common than one assumes. Many also don't know what it means and simply think bulking=lifting weights without realizing there's some eating involved too. I am on my 4th bulk, this one since November and I've had many fat days but you can't quit based on that. Men feel it just the same. It's extremely mental but a roadblock you can certainly conquer,

    Bolded for emphasis. And agreement.

    OP, there's a group on here called "Women who bulk" that will be a great boon for info and support going forward - you should check it out.
  • hedwardsb
    hedwardsb Posts: 201 Member
    I'm 5'5", so I'm familiar with healthy weights for you height, and if you're dipping below 105, you're underweight. The reason you feel fat when you gain a couple of pounds is because you're accustomed to being underweight. You're not going to gain muscle underweight.
  • SilentDrapeRunners
    SilentDrapeRunners Posts: 199 Member
    Thanks for the tips everyone! I think my main problem is not eating enough. I'm going to see if 1900 calories is sufficient, and if not I'll increase. I also think tweaking the cardio may be necessary (currently doing 20 min HIIT workouts 4 times a week). So maybe 2-3 times a week would be better. Is it better to increase calories greatly and increase cardio (so as to avoid fat gain)? Or just try and keep calories at a good level while minimizing cardio? There's probably not a clear cut answer.

    I think my lifting routine is pretty solid and I'm dedicated (I've been lifting 5 days a week for the past 9 months). And I lift heavy weights, and I try and increase either the weight or reps every week.
  • HMVOL7409
    HMVOL7409 Posts: 1,588 Member
    Thanks for the tips everyone! I think my main problem is not eating enough. I'm going to see if 1900 calories is sufficient, and if not I'll increase. I also think tweaking the cardio may be necessary (currently doing 20 min HIIT workouts 4 times a week). So maybe 2-3 times a week would be better. Is it better to increase calories greatly and increase cardio (so as to avoid fat gain)? Or just try and keep calories at a good level while minimizing cardio? There's probably not a clear cut answer.

    I think my lifting routine is pretty solid and I'm dedicated (I've been lifting 5 days a week for the past 9 months). And I lift heavy weights, and I try and increase either the weight or reps every week.

    You will gain fat. Period.

    I will be honest and say I see many women try to avoid this as much as possible when trying to bulk and unfortunately they fail to gain at all or their gains are so minimal they feel they wasted their time. Increase your calories at a moderate level, 100 calories per week is what many do and see how the scale fluctuates. If you are having issues eating enough now, increasing your cardio will not help you in the least bit. All it's going to do is raise your deficit you need to exceed in a surplus, meaning eating even more food. Especially if you're doing true HIIT. How long do you plan to bulk for? I'm a fan of no cardio bc it works best for me and I know it does for many others. However there are those that bulk for an extended period of time and keep cardio and it works for them. However, your lifting and eating should be where the focus is and cardio just a small supplement.