Wherever you are on your fitness journey, I am sure you have a few different reasons for getting up and getting to it daily. Your reason can be totally unique to you, but I am sure that at some point one of those reasons was to look good. Yes, it’s technically a “vain” reason but I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I still work out to look good. I also workout to feel good, be strong and relieve stress…BUT looking good is a big part of it! I like the confidence that working out gives me…abs and a round butt are also a huge plus…right??
But a lot of women who embark on a fitness journey are afraid of one thing and one thing only: getting “bulky”. I get it. No one wants to out of nowhere look like a body builder, but the truth is….that would be pretty difficult to do.
I’ve heard it said by many women: “But I don’t want to get bulky…”
This is a phrase usually used as an excuse to not choose a challenging set of dumbbells, to not turn the resistance up on a cycling class bike, to not try a new challenging workout…you get the picture. Its an excuse to NOT try something that may be a bit challenging. I do get the reasoning behind it, even though it is **wrong.**
Most women don’t want to look bulky or too muscular…right? We can all pretty much agree on that. When we see another woman who does look super muscular, like VERY muscular, we often get scared and will hesitate to pick up a heavyweight.
Here’s an example: you happen to catch a glimpse of the Crossfit Games on ESPN, you see these SUPER buff, super fit women lifting crazy heavy weights and you decide then and there that you will never try Crossfit or even attempt an exercise using a barbell because you don’t want to wind up looking like a giant body builder. I get that and honestly I would probably recommend you don’t do Crossfit because you probably won’t like it. And Crossfit DOES build muscle, there is no way around it. BUT, it’s very difficult to build that type of physique whether you get super into a class like crossfit or not.
Here is the cold hard truth- these girls who are super muscular have been working on building up their bodies for YEARS, they were most likely athletes in high school and college, and they literally breathe fitness and focus on building muscle every. damn. day. They also eat A LOT (like unbelievable amounts!) to maintain said muscle.
So, in short, if you try lifting weights, you won’t look even remotely like these girls. It would take a total lifestyle overhaul and many years to get to that level…and for many women, a body like that just isn’t possible at all. Period.
So, if all of this is true…then why do we sometimes look a little bit “bulky” when we start lifting weights and building muscle?? I know I’ve felt like I looked a little bulkier at times when I was doing a lot of working out….specifically with heavy weights. There is a very clear reason why: body fat.
Strong muscles, from a normal workout routine, don’t make you look bulky- too much extra body fat surrounding that muscle does. If you are building muscle, but not losing fat…you will look bulky…and that is not the fault of the exercise that is strengthening your muscles. It’s usually the fault of your diet.
When you have a layer of fat over your new muscles, you won’t really achieve that sleek look you probably want. And on top of that, it’s pretty impossible to build muscle while simultaneously losing fat. (Bummer, I know). If you are looking to gain muscle you need to eat enough to support that muscle growth. And along with that muscle growth will be some fat gain as well.
When you are looking to lose fat, you will also probably lose some muscle mass. You won’t lose a lot if you are eating at the right times and continuing to do strength training workouts….but some loss is to be expected.
So, in short, when working out you will usually either be in a state of:
Maintaining your muscle mass, body fat and weight.
Building muscle, but also gaining a little bit of fat because that’s just how it goes.
Losing fat, but also losing a little bit of muscle in the process because, again, that’s just how it goes.
The differentiating factor between these states is usually diet. To lose body fat, you have to eat fewer calories, balance your macros and make sure to eat certain macros at specific times during the day. If you are eating fewer calories, your muscles won’t be able to grow at the same rate they would if you eat more food. SO if you think you have a good amount of muscle tone and just want to shed some extra fat, you need to turn to your diet and still lift weights! If you trim down while still strengthening your body, you will make sure you don’t lose much muscle.
Another thing of note: it has been proven time and time again that building muscle will help you burn more calories throughout the day. So the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn every single day with no added effort. That’s a pretty cool thing! Also, to actually change the shape of your body, to achieve the fit look you are after, to get lean sexy abs- you have to lift some weights weights. You don’t need to go crazy and choose super heavy weights though- just something that is challenging for YOU. Same goes for turning up the resistance during an indoor cycling class- it isn’t going to make your legs huge…quite the opposite actually! The harder you work in class, the more calories and fat you’ll burn, and if you are eating right, eventually those thighs will get leaner and more “toned” looking….not bulkier.
I wish it was easier haha, but the truth is it’s not. It all comes down to burning fat to achieve a lean “toned” look. And if you want to lean down and lose fat, you have to be ok with the fact that some muscle is going to go away with it. But I do think it is super important to still strengthen your body, lift weights and be active because that will benefit the strength of your bones, your overall health and the shape of your body.
SO for me- I have a lot of good muscle tone and strength, but I definitely also have a layer of fat that is hanging around. Not a lot, but a little more than I personally want. So I am trying to slim down a little bit at the moment. To do that, I am eating super clean, working out on an empty stomach to burn fat, and eating smaller portions of food. Should I do a post about my new strategy and break it down for you??
Remember: if you build muscle but don’t clean up your diet, you’re body will eventually look bigger. Fat is what makes someone look bulky. So if you start weight lifting but don’t lose body fat, you will start to look thicker, and you wont achieve that strong lean look you are after.
Your best defense against “bulk” is a healthy, clean diet and portion control paired with weight training and regular exercise!