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MTF Weight Training: Get Strong, Not Big

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It’s no secret that weight training is one of the most effective techniques for burning stubborn body fat, boosting metabolism, developing lagging body parts, and retaining bone density. In addition, resistance training can improve your functional strength (i.e., the ability to perform day-to-day activities), balance, coordination, and flexibility. This is true whether you’re male, female, or MTF. In fact, MTF weight training can really help shape the lean, toned, sexy physique you’ve always wanted.

If you’re MTF and reading this article, you may be thinking, “But wait. I’m genetically predisposed to gain muscle. Won’t lifting weights exacerbate the problem?” The answer, in part, depends on a few key factors:

  • Amount of Existing Muscle Mass

If you’re already relatively lean, you don’t have much to worry about in the mass-gaining department. If, however, you’re already fairly muscular, you should consider dieting down to help reduce and/or prevent build-up of additional lean muscle. In neither case do you need to completely avoid weight training.

  • Source of Testosterone

One of the most important contributors to lean muscle development is testosterone.  If you have undergone an orchidectomy (i.e., surgical removal of the testicles), your body has lost a significant means of generating this hormonal compound. Just like with biological women, this will substantially inhibit your ability to gain large amounts of muscle.

  • Hormone Supplementation

By supplementing with estrogen and anti-androgens, you can alter your body’s ability to put on mass as well as where your body fat tends to deposit. (For the majority of men fat collects in the belly area, while women tend to accumulate fat in the hips and thighs.) If you’re both supplementing with estrogen and eating a reduced-calorie diet, this will go a long way toward keeping your muscle gains in check and likely will reduce existing muscle.

The corollary of Point 3 is that MTFs who aren’t doing hormonal supplementation should carefully watch their eating patterns. Mass gain can’t occur if you aren’t in a caloric surplus, since your body won’t be able to produce lean muscle without the resources. Eating maintenance calories – or a little bit less – will allow you to weight train without putting on additional mass. Although every body is different, the number of calories needed to maintain is somewhere in the realm of 13-15 x your bodyweight in pounds per day.

The Ideal MTF Weight Training Regimen

What constitutes a solid MTF weight training routine again depends on your intended goal. Some MTFs don’t mind appearing rather muscular and aren’t looking to achieve a typical feminine physique. If that describes you, feel free to train as long and as hard as you like! If, on the other hand, you’re an MTF with a low to moderate degree of muscle mass and aren’t looking to gain any more, the below regimen could be a great starting place.

The idea behind this MTF weight training routine is twofold: First, it makes use of compound exercises (i.e., moves that recruit more than one muscle group). Compound movements allow you to be more efficient with your workout, tend to have a greater applicability to your day-to-day life, and help build skills like balance and coordination.

Second, this MTF weight training workout disposes with the traditional “3 sets x 10 reps” structure. Instead, you’ll be performing a routine with lower intensity and shorter sets that concentrates on building speed and endurance. This is the type of workout that athletes who want to increase strength without bulking up tend to favor.

The below routine should be performed three days per week. Ideally, leave at least one rest day in between each training day. You should warm up pre-lifting with a few minutes of light cardio (think walking on the treadmill or cycling on the elliptical). If you’d like you can also do some low-intensity activities such as yoga or bike riding on the days you don’t strength train.

With regard to speed reps, these should be performed with the negative portion of the rep under control, followed by a pause, then an explosive positive portion of the rep. For example, if you’re doing a speed squat, descend as normal, pause for one count, then explode upwards.

Conditioning cardio is designed to include some form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT involves alternating between short bursts of high intensity activity (20-30 seconds) and longer periods of low to moderate intensity activity (40-60 seconds). Sprint-walks, cycling on the stationary bike, and jumping rope are all excellent HIIT choices.

Day 1


Day 2


Day 3