You want to know how to get lean, not bulky?
You want to exercise and push your limits, but you have a fear of getting too bulky in the process?
The truth is, you can get the lean body you want without putting on too much unwanted muscle size…if you focus on the right type of exercise for a lean body.
Before we get into more details, let me just say that there is nothing wrong with women who are muscular and strong- if that is their preference!
This blog post is for the girls (like myself) who ended up with a bulky body when their goal was to get lean and slim down. For the girls whose arms are getting bigger but not toned. For girls who experience the same but just with their lower body.
For the girls that were consistently told that they can not get too muscular and their fears are irrational, even when they couldn’t fit in their tops and jeans anymore.
Since this topic seems to be taboo in the fitness world (mostly consisting of ”girls can’t get too big” members), I decided to share with you my guide on how to get lean for women (not bulky!).
So, if you are wondering how to slim down your legs without bulking up muscle, or how to tone your arms without making them bigger, you’re in the right place.
”WHY AM I BULKING UP INSTEAD OF SLIMMING DOWN?”
OK, so I get this question a LOT.
And, I can relate. I was in the same situation a couple of years ago, so I can speak from my own 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. I actually ended up looking skinny fat.
And when I asked for advice, I was told I should forget about cardio and try heavy weights. I saw a lot of girls doing it, and everybody kept telling me it was 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 my body was too bulky.
I was constantly asking myself, why am I getting bigger instead of slimming down?
And why some girls seemed to be getting smaller from lifting heavy and I was just getting bigger?
The more I lifted the bigger I got.
But that’s simply not true!
WOMEN CAN, IN FACT, GET TOO BULKY (FOR THEIR OWN LIKING)
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 has a bulky body, then who is anyone to tell her that she is wrong?
The perception of a ”bulky body” is much different for men and women.
It may be nothing compared to the 6-pack bodybuilder next to you in the gym, but it can be too much for a girl’s liking.
The point is, this should be completely up to you and your fitness goals.
And as much I support girls wanting to get stronger and put on decent muscle, 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. And that should be OK!
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 a bulky body:
I was doing the WRONG type of resistance training.
So, if you are also getting bigger but not toned, you’re probably making the same mistake.
I’m going to share with you what are the best exercises to do – and which ones you should avoid – to get lean without getting bulky.
HOW TO TONE MUSCLE WITHOUT BULKING UP 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
Not all resistance training will make you bulky.
How you end up looking lean 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 too 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.
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 throughout 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 a nice muscle definition if you skip resistance training completely.
You will just end up looking skinny fat.
THE BEST WORKOUT FOR A LEAN BODY
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 tone muscle without bulking up 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). 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 Lean Legs Program 1, Lean Legs Program 2 and in my Glutes, Abs, Legs Program.
In addition, I also posted 3 free resistance-training sessions on my blog, so have a look at these to get a further idea of the type of exercises I’m talking about:
2. AVOID CERTAIN TYPES OF EXERCISES IF YOU WANT TO GET LEAN MUSCLE
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 (especially in your legs), avoid them.
- 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
3. LEARN YOUR BODY TYPE SO YOU CAN ADJUST YOUR WORKOUTS & DIET ACCORDINGLY
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.
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, 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, 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.
WANT TO KNOW YOUR BODY TYPE?
- You’ll Get 3 Workout & 3 Nutrition Tips For YOUR Body Type
4. DON’T FORGET ABOUT 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.
FAQ: HOW TO AVOID BULKY LEGS WHEN WORKING OUT
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 :)
WILL MY LEGS GET BIGGER FROM CYCLING?
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 comment section!
Love, Rachael xx