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The Female Guide On How To Get Lean And Not Bulky

how to get lean not bulky

Last Updated on November 13, 2019 11:05 AM

Since this topic seems to be taboo in the fitness world, I decided to give you my guide on how to get lean and not bulky.

So, if you are wondering how to get lean legs without gaining muscle, or how to tone your arms without making them bigger and bulkier, read this blog post.

WHY AM I BULKING UP INSTEAD OF SLIMMING DOWN?

OK, so I get this question a LOT. I was in the same situation a couple of years ago, so I can speak from my own personal experience.

When I started going to the gym, my goal was simple – reduce body fat and get toned.

So, in the beginning, I was mainly focusing on cardio, and I skipped resistance training. Cardio helped me slim down and reduce body fat but it didn’t help me get toned.

And when I asked for advice, I was told I should forget about cardio and try weights. I saw a lot of girls doing it, and everybody kept telling me it’s the right way to go, so I kind of went for it.

And at first, I was really happy and excited about my progress! I was getting stronger and toned, and I even had proper abs. But after a certain point, my back became too broad, and I felt like my thighs were HUGE. I just started feeling like I was too bulky.

I was constantly asking myself, why am I getting bigger instead of slimming down? I talked to different personal trainers at my gym, and they all told me the same thing – women cannot bulk up, they don’t have enough testosterone.

But that’s simply not true!

WOMEN CAN, IN FACT, GET BULKY (FOR THEIR OWN LIKING)

women can get bulky

To be honest, I’m so tired of hearing that women can’t get bulky. If a woman thinks that she has too much muscle and looks bulky, then who is anyone to tell her that she is wrong?

It may be nothing compared to the 6-pack bodybuilder next to you in the gym, but it can be too much for your own liking.

This is completely up to you. For myself, I prefer a lean look with some muscle but still a slim frame. And I don’t like much muscle on my legs. This is my own personal preference.

So, when I realized that my body had changed in a way that I didn’t like, I decided to do something about it. I did a lot of research; I tried different styles of training and finally figured out what was causing me to get bigger:

I was doing the WRONG type of resistance training. So, if you are also bulking up, instead of slimming down, you’re probably making the same mistake. But I’m going to tell you what are the best exercises to do – and which ones you should avoid – to get lean without getting bulk.

HOW TO GET LEAN AND NOT BULKY IN 4 STEPS 

how to get lean in 4 steps

There are 4 simple steps you should follow if you want to get toned without getting too muscular. This is what I have learned over the years in terms of the type of exercises to do and which ones to avoid to achieve this look.

1. DON’T SKIP RESISTANCE TRAINING

How you look toned is actually by gaining muscle, which might sound contradictory, but you need muscle to look toned. I know some of you may be tempted to just skip resistance training in fear of getting muscular (been there, done that), but I promise you, there’s a way to do it without bulking up.

Let me explain :)

This is what I looked like before I started doing any resistance training, compared to what I looked like after a few months.

get lean not bulky transformation photo

As you can see, I was not toned, and I had more body fat – gaining muscle will help you lose body fat quicker.

Muscles are more metabolically active than fat, which means they burn more calories through out the day. So, if you have more muscle, you’ll burn more calories than someone who has a high percentage of body fat.

Also, you cannot look toned if you don’t have muscle. So, even if you do tons of cardio and manage to slim down, you won’t get nice muscle definition if you skip resistance training.

THE BEST EXERCISES TO GET TONED WITHOUT GAINING TOO MUCH MUSCLE

how to get lean without getting bulky

There are some exercises that build muscle in a way that makes you look more muscular and others which don’t. The type of exercises that will get you toned without looking overly muscular include:

  • Pilates style workouts – This includes things like regular pilates, reformer and megaformer pilates and slower and lighter resistance type of workouts (including barre – but don’t overdo it)
  • Boxing – Amazing for toning up your arms without increasing their size, and also a great cardio workout
  • Swimming – Also great for toning up your arms. I know professional swimmers have very broad shoulders, but they train ridiculously hard (i.e. 6 hours per day) and this is why they look like this. Swimming a couple of times per week will not have this effect
  • Resistance training – You can do resistance training without getting bulky. You just need to do certain types of exercises and use lighter weights and high reps These are the types of exercises in my 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program and in my Lean Legs Video Course.

I posted 3 free resistance-training sessions on my blog, so have a look at these to get an idea of the type of exercises I’m talking about:

RELATED POST: WHY WOMEN SHOULD NOT TRAIN LIKE MEN

2. AVOID CERTAIN TYPES OF EXERCISES IF YOU WANT TO GET LEAN AND NOT BULKY

In my experience, these are the types of exercises that contribute to the bulky look. Don’t get me wrong – they are great exercises for your body. But if you want a leaner look, avoid them.

avoid exercises that make you bulky
  • Heavy weight lifting – For me, chin-ups made my back very broad, and squats and deadlifts made my legs too muscular. I would avoid these and any really heavy lifting
  • HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) – Overdoing it on the lower body can make your legs too muscular (depending on your body type), and lots of women have complained to me about this happening to them. I have some HIIT workouts on my blog that won’t make you bulky. Have a look at these for some ways to incorporate HIIT into your workouts:
  • CrossFit – While I actually love CrossFit (especially the AMRAP parts), I just ended up looking too muscular. If you are an ectomorph (the naturally thin body type), you can most likely do CrossFit, and any of these exercises, without getting too bulky, but the other body types might not
  • Step machine – This will build muscle in your quads at the front of your legs, which most women don’t like
  • Hill sprints – Sprinting is great but avoid doing it uphill as this will contribute to bulky legs. This is how I like to do my sprinting to avoid bulking up

I have another blog post in my “how to get skinny legs series” and it’s on how to do weights without getting bulky. Have a look at that if you want some extra info :)

RELATED POST: HOW TO SLIM MUSCULAR THIGHS

3. LEARN YOUR BODY TYPE 

get lean without getting bulky body type matters
Jennifer Lopez (endomorph), Jessica Biel (mesomorph), Karlie Kloss (ectomorph)

I mentioned body type twice in the previous sections, and I talk about body types a lot on my blog. Knowing your body type is VERY important when you’re deciding on your fitness goals. And it’s even more important when you’re planning how to achieve your goals.

There are three main body types, and two of those can become bulky very easily! They all lose weight and build muscle differently, so it’s super important to know how to train for your body type.

ECTOMORPHS

If you are an ectomorph body type, like Karlie Kloss, you are most likely naturally very slim, and you don’t build muscle very easily. So, workouts – like squats and HIIT – are not very likely to bulk you up.

You should do cardio to stay lean and incorporate resistance training in order to get toned and avoid the skinny fat look.

MESOMORPHS

Mesomorphs, like Jessica Biel, are usually of average size, and they lose and gain weight quite quickly. Also, they are athletic by nature, which means they can build muscle easily.

So, if you are a mesomorph, and you want to get toned without becoming too muscular, you should do cardio to reduce body fat and skip certain types of resistance training. I’m also a mesomorph body type, and as I mentioned, I tend to bulk up when I do CrossFit and heavy lifting.

ENDOMORPHS

Endomorphs, like Jennifer Lopez, have a naturally bigger frame, and they can bulk up easily if they do the wrong type of resistance training.

For example, most endomorphs should do plenty of cardio and avoid HIIT and weights if they want to get a leaner look.

4. DON’T FORGET ABOUT CARDIO

do more cardio to get lean

To keep a smaller frame, you should be incorporating cardio into your workout program. I love running and walking and am always slimmer when I do cardio.

Plus, they’re both great for leaning out your legs and losing weight. I would try to do cardio around 3 times per week.

RELATED POST: HOW TO GET SKINNY LEGS – WHY YOU NEED CARDIO FOR FAT LOSS

FAQ: HOW TO GET LEAN LEGS?

A lot of women have asked me how to get skinny legs without getting gaining muscle and whether certain types of workouts cause bulkiness. So, I will answer these here :)

how to get lean legs without bulking up

WILL MY LEGS GET BIGGER FROM CYCLING?

With cycling, it depends on your body type and how often you do it. If you’re not sure about your body type, you can take my free body type survey and find out quickly.

Ectomorphs and mesomorphs are probably fine with cycling, but endomorphs might try to avoid it. I am a mesomorph and used to do a spin class a couple of times per week, and I was fine (but I did a lot of running, also).

I would just make sure you don’t overdo it on the cycling and monitor it to see how you go. If you notice your legs starting to bulk up, I would stop and focus on the walking/running.

WILL PUMP CLASSES BULK UP MY THIGHS?

Pump classes are also fine, and I don’t think you will bulk up doing pump class as it is VERY high rep and usually pretty light-weight.

But again, I wouldn’t overdo it. I used to do Pump and was fine. I just prefer to do other exercises now, as I find them more effective and also don’t take as much time.

IS DANCING GOING TO HELP ME GET LEAN LEGS?

Dancing is quite variable, so it depends on the type of dancing you’re doing.

I think most dancing should be fine. But again, I would just monitor it and see how your body responds. I love dancing, and if you love it, I would definitely do it!

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask in the comments section! :)

3 STEPS TO LEAN LEGS PROGRAM

If you need help with getting lean because you bulk up from weights, or you don’t know where to start with resistance training, then my 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program is perfect for you!

My program includes a full workout and nutrition program which will help you get a lean and toned body without adding unwanted muscles. And because all of us are different, I have created separate programs for each of the 3 main body types. This way, you can be sure you are going to get the best possible results!

And from now on, the resistance training part of my program will also have FULL-LENGTH VIDEOS you can follow from warm-up to cool down.

Love,

Rachael xx

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

129 comments on “The Female Guide On How To Get Lean And Not Bulky”

    lena says:

    I have been looking to slim down my thighs as well as tone my whole body overall.
    I am a mesomorph (I think) & my goal is to have that toned but slim supermodel body.
    Will the Lean Legs Program transform my whole body ?
    Or do I need to add other exercises to tone core and upper body ?
    I want my whole body to be toned & thin.
    Thanks!

      Tijana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      Thank you for reaching out! :)

      Rachael’s program is actually a full-body program and will help you slim down your legs and upper body, lose belly fat and tone your whole body without adding any unwanted bulkiness.

      It lasts for 8 weeks and it includes:
      • Cardio plan
      • Resistance training with short demonstration videos
      • 2 meal plans with recipe ebooks (vegan and regular one).

      All the workouts can be done from home so you don’t need gym access :)
      With the program, you can use ankle weights and gliding discs. However, you can do the exercises without the ankle weights and you can use paper plates or towels instead of the gliding discs.

      If you need more info, you can also write to [email protected]. xx

      Love,
      Tina

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