Weight training is beginning to be recognized as an activity that can and should be performed by anyone and everyone. It helps retain lean muscle tissue and bone density, and improves functional strength, active flexibility, balance, coordination, and body awareness. It has lots of applications to daily life and other sports. It’s easy to see why folks who enjoy weight training would want to continue doing it.

But what if you’re an MTF who wants to weight train, but are worried about gaining size? This is in some ways similar to the fears expressed by bio women about “getting too big” from weight training. In other ways it is unique to MTFs, who may already feel as if they are too muscular, or have much invested in maintaining a physique which is visibly feminine.

The answer to the question of MTF weight training depends in part on your starting point.

  1. Existing muscle mass. If you have a great deal of existing muscle mass that you wish to lose, see my article on Dieting for MTFs. If, on the other hand, you’re already a skinny Minnie, then you don’t need to worry too much.
  2. Source of endogeneous androgens. Do you still have body parts whose job it is to make testosterone? Or have you had surgery to remove them? If you have had an orchidectomy, or full genital surgery, then you no longer have a significant source of testosterone in your body. Your hormonal status means that you now have much less ability to gain muscle mass, just like bio women.
  3. Hormonal supplementation. Supplemental estrogen as well as anti-androgens will make a difference in your ability to gain mass, as well as the deposition pattern of your bodyfat. If you are supplementing these, you may also find it difficult to retain any existing muscle mass, particularly if you have reduced your caloric intake. MTFs who have not had surgery, and are not supplementing should consider watching their eating carefully. Mass gain can’t happen in a vacuum, and if you don’t give your body the resources to make more stuff, it can’t make any. If you want to weight train but prevent mass gain, eat at maintenance or slightly under, approx. 13-15 x bodyweight (lbs.) in calories daily.

Your training protocol as an MTF also depends on what your intended outcome is. If you don’t give a rat’s arse about your muscularity or achieving a particular kind of feminine physique, then you can train as you like. This training routine assumes that you are an MTF with a minimal to moderate degree of existing mass, and that you would like to continue weight training without gaining more mass.

This routine is based on two things. First, the use of compound exercises. As always, I prefer to use them for their efficiency, greater applicability to daily life, and demands to capacities like balance and stability. There are a few bodyweight-only exercises here. Second, the conventional “3 sets of 10 reps” protocol is abandoned in favour of low intensities, often shorter sets, and a focus on speed and/or endurance. This type of training is preferred by athletes who want to get stronger without adding additional body mass, so that they can compete in a particular weight class.

This routine is meant to be done three days weekly. Warm up beforehand with 3-5 min of light cardio. Save most of the static stretching for afterward. If you like, you can also add other activities, such as lower intensity cardio, yoga, etc. on days you don’t do weights.

Day 1

Bodyweight-only or lightly weighted squat, 10 x 3 speed reps with 20-30 sec rest in between
Stiff-legged deadlift, 3 x 15
One-legged hops, 2 x 10-15 each side
Conditioning cardio: interval training, 10 min

Day 2

Push press, 10 x 3 speed reps with 20-30 sec rest
Pushups, 3 x 15-20
Ab exercise of choice, 3 x 20
Conditioning cardio: interval training, 10 min

Day 3

Dumbbell swings, 3 x 15-20
One-arm dumbbell row, 3 x 15
Squat jumps, 3 x 15
Conditioning cardio: interval training, 10 min

Notes:

To perform speed reps, do the negative under control, pause for a moment, then explode into the positive part of the rep. For example, to do a speed squat, descend under control, pause for a moment, then explode upwards.

Conditioning cardio is intended to be some form of interval training. Interval training combines short periods (20-60 sec) of very high intensity work (like sprinting or running up stairs) with periods of low intensity work (e.g. walking). What you do is your choice, but good options include sprint-walks, hill or stair runs, jumping rope alternated with marching slowly in place, hitting a heavy bag, or adapting this concept to the exercise machine of your choice.

For instructions on performing a push press, see here.

For instructions on performing the dumbbell swing, see here. (Ignore the manly-man rhetoric; I have a 50-year-old female client who loves these).