Can You Lift Weights Without the Bulk?

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“I want to look toned, not bulky.”

11 years as a fitness coach, it is the most common thing I hear when I sit down with women to discuss their goals.

And I totally get what they are referring to. In their mind, lifting weights is automatically going to take them down a road of looking like a bodybuilder. Less feminine. What they want is to look LEANER. And to do that, you need some muscle mass along with, and here is the kicker: some overall fat loss.

The bulkiness tends to come when we spend time adding some muscle underneath, but never losing the fat surrounding it, leading us to be bigger and “bulkier”.

Let’s Break It Down

While there are many things in health and fitness that you can argue, one thing we do know is that lifting weights is important for our overall health. Beyond just the benefit to our muscles.

In general, lifting weights will keep you stronger, more resilient to injuries, and build muscle that makes it much harder to gain body fat than someone that does little to no strength training.

So can we lift weights and get strong without getting bulky?

The short answer is YES.

The long answer is that this will be easier for some than others, and there are more factors than just the act of using weights in exercise.

The rate at which we gain muscle mass is largely determined by genetics, frequency and type of training, as well as nutrition. It also requires TIME. It will not happen after a couple weeks.

Clothes fitting tighter?

If you are consistently strength training and notice things are starting to fit a bit tighter, this is very common! First, our muscles hold more fluid when we use them consistently. This temporarily make us feel bigger than we actually are. This feeling can also come from aerobic activities like running and spinning. No skinny jeans after a spin session or leg day!

Another common oversight is our nutrition

This is the big one! If your nutrition aligns with your goals, resistance training can benefit you without leaving you feeling like Arnold Schwarzenegger. When there are excess calories being taken into the body, the body will use them. Either as fat storage or energy usage and repair when exercising. Excess calories equals weight gain. Whether you experience muscle gain or fat gain will be dependent on your physical activity levels.
Take away here: when you are eating more calories, it can be beneficial to have more muscle, or resistance train, because it will require more calories to be used up! So next time you have a celebration dinner planned, hit the weights that day.

Genetics also play a factor

Testosterone will play a factor in muscle production. Resting Metabolic rate will play a factor in if you gain/store fat easier and body structure will affect how muscle looks on your body.

If you are someone with a tall, narrow frame, you are likely going to need to put in a great deal of effort to add enough muscle on your frame to look “bulky”.

On the contrary, if you are someone with a naturally broader and thicker frame, you are more compact to begin with, giving a slightly larger appearance to the muscle.
The naturally broad and thick frame will need to make sure nutrition and activity line up to allow that muscle to shine through leaner and more defined.

To sum it up

There are some instances where someone will be more inclined to appear “bulky.” However, by adhering to a regular strength training routine, some heart healthy cardio and following a supportive nutrition plan to your goals, you can work to be strong, healthy, and resistant to aches and injury without bulking up.

As a gal that has trained WITH INTENT to put on muscle for 10 years consistently, it takes great effort to get “big”. Too many benefits lie in strength training to shy away due to an unfounded fear. Get after it ladies!

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Jen Rhoades is a 33 year old Sylvania resident and has worked in Fitness and Nutrition since 2008. Through her own experiences with disordered eating, extreme dieting for Figure Competitions, and now needing to balance life as a busy gym owner and mother, she has become driven to demonstrate the importance of training smart and eating to fit your lifestyle and goals. There is no “one size fits all”. After the birth of her 2 daughters, Madison and Mia, she saw the need for more specialized attention to moms pre/postnatal in terms of support both in the gym and outside of the gym. Jen holds a Certification in Personal Training, Nutrition and Habit Coaching, is a Certified Pre/Postnatal Coach as well as a Post Natal Training Specialist. Fun Fact: Jen went to College for Sign Language Interpretation, as she comes from a Deaf family. You can follow her on social media at @jlift0923.

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