I’m sick of hearing that women can’t get bulky. If a woman thinks that she has too much muscle and looks bulky, then who are you to tell her that she is wrong?

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

I’ve been there myself – after heavy weight lifting and CrossFit style workouts, and I didn’t like my body when it was overly muscular. I was putting so much hard work into it and did not have the results I wanted.

First, let me clarify that ”bulky” is different for everyone.

Usually, there will come a point where you feel like you have too much muscle. It may be nothing compared to the 6-pack bodybuilder in the gym next to you, but it is too much for your liking.

BUT this is up to the individual to decide. 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.

I have had a lot of questions about how to get lean and not bulky. This is what I have learned over the years in terms of the type of exercises to do and avoid to achieve this look.


How you look “toned” is actually by gaining muscle. Which might sound contradictory, but you need muscle to look toned.

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

how to get lean and not bulky

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

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 just don’t overdo it);
  • Boxing – amazing for toning up your arms without increasing their size, and is 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 a certain type of exercises and use lighter weights and high rep. These are the type of exercises in my Lean Legs eBook.
  • 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:
how to get lean and not bulky


In my experience, these are the type 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, I would 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 – overdoing it on the lower body HIIT 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 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 be able to.
  • 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 done another blog post on my “how to get skinny legs series” on how to do weights without getting bulky. Have a read of that if you want some extra info :)


Knowing your body type is also 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.

I have created a body type quiz that can help you determine your body type in just two minutes! You will learn how to train and eat to get the best possible results. And it’s completely free :)

You can find it below!


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

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

Related post: How To Lift Weights Without Getting Bulky


A lot of women have asked me about cycling, pump class, and dancing, so I will answer these here.


Cycling 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.


Pump classes are also fine and I don’t think you will bulk up doing pump class as it is a 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.


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 personally love dancing and if you love it, I would definitely do it!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask below :)


I should also mention my 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program which is designed to help you get gorgeous lean legs without the bulkiness.

It is an 8-week program that combines cardio and resistance training according to your body type so you can be sure you’re going to get the best possible results.

My program also includes a complete 8-week meal plan which will help you eat healthy.

As you guys know, I always say that the good diet is the key to success :)

Love Rachael xx

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