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The Female Guide On How To Get Lean And Not Bulky

By Rachael Attard, Updated May 6, 2022
how to get lean not bulky

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.

Let’s start!


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.

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!

heavy lifting can cause bulk


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 get lean and not bulky

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.


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 exercises to get toned and not 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 tone muscle without bulking up include:

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:



exercises to avoid not to get 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 (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

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 :)



three main body types
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.


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.


power walking to get lean not bulky

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.



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 :)

exercises to get toned not bulky


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.


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.


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! :)


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!

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!

And because all of us are different, I have created separate programs for each of the 3 main body types with the exact exercises for a lean body that each body type needs.

This way, you can be sure you are going to get the best possible results!


lean legs program before after

”I trained with a personal trainer 3 times a week and while traveling, I used to do Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT program.

However, my thighs continued to be a problem despite exercising like a machine (in fact, I started measuring them and the more SWEAT I was doing, the bigger they became).

With [Rachael’s] program, I started seeing the results almost immediately. I measured my thighs, butt and muffin top and I lost inches after first week!

Read Jeanne-Mare’s Full Review Of The Program Here

lean legs program transformation

Here’s my 6-month transformation <3 I never thought I’d be able to lean out my muscles!! I have never felt happier & more confident with my body! Eternally grateful to you and your program!

lean legs program results

This is only my 5-week progress, I was too eager to share the results with you. After years of trying other programs and even when I entered fitness competitions, I have never seen my legs this lean! I can’t wait to see my progress at the end of the 8weeks and again at the end of 16weeks after Round 2! Thank you and your lovely team. I am beyond grateful!

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.


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.

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

    Crystal says:

    Hi ! About how long do you think it will take to see muscle size decrease ?

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely! Everyone gets results at different rates. Some may see changes just after a few week while others may need more time or even months. It really depends on how your body reacts to workouts and the type of exercises and diet that you follow. :)

    Kate says:

    thank you for this!!! i have been getting discouraged lately but also felt like I was going crazy…
    I am wearing a strapless dress for my wedding and did NOT like how my back looked when I tried it on this weekend. I have been doing more weight training but it seems to be having the opposite effect I wanted eventhough yes I have toned.
    I am going to give pilates a try again and see if that achieves the results im looking for!
    I literally hated the way I looked from the back (front I like) and was questioning my dress altogether all of a sudden :( the good news is I have almost 4 months so I can hopefully reduce some of the ‘bulk’ before then.
    Anything specific you would recommend for trying to target back and shoulder for a strapless dress?

    thanks again!!!

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely! Feel free to incorporate Rachael’s upper body workouts into your routine. You can check them out here. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at info@rachaelattard.com:)

    Anonymous says:

    Hi! According to Rachael’s test, I’m a cross between a mesomorph and an ectomorph, although I’m very short (5’3″ feet). My legs seem to tend more towards mesomorph, though, so I was wondering, how would martial arts affect my legs? My goal is to have slim legs. Hopefully this is enough information!

    Laura says:

    Hi!! Thanks for such a great article. I noticed you said to avoid heavy lifting like deadlifting and squats. Would doing lower weight, higher rep deadlifts and squats still be a no no?

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely! It really depends on your fitness goals. If your goal is to slim down your legs, I would avoid the squats and stick to bodyweight workouts. :)

    Christina says:

    Hi!!! What are your thought on how much protein should be taken in order to be leaned and toned?
    How much do you recommend?

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely! Your ideal macros ratio should be based on different factors like your fitness level, age, height and weight. If you want, you can calculate that through this link. :)

    Kelly Coward says:

    Thank you for your article. I have been working out for over a year with a trainer and have started feeling bulky. He won’t listen to me when I tell him I’m concerned. Every week we go up in weights. I’m frustrated. How would you approach him if he was your trainer? What can I do?

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely! We can help you find the perfect plan that will help you achieve your fitness goals. Feel free to reach out to us at info@rachaelattard.com :)

    Anonymous says:

    Does the Lean Legs Video Course have daily instructions? I wanted a day-by-day plan, and was just wondering if the Video Course has that, even if I’m only walking on some days. Thanks!

    Emily says:

    I just stumbled upon this article and it is incredibly validating! I was a college athlete for four years and required to do HEAVY, Olympic style lifting. I was technically in good shape, but was never more unhappy with my body (there’s nothing wrong with building a lot of muscle, and for my sport it was beneficial, but it’s not the look that I personally wanted). All I kept seeing and hearing was that women physically couldn’t bulk up from lifting heavy, but that was not my experience at all. After college, I started doing more cardio-intensive and body weight workouts meant for toning, and I very quickly saw a difference. Not everyone will bulk by lifting heavy, but people seriously need to understand that there are different body types!

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely! Glad to know that you were able to learn a lot from Rachael’s article! If you need any help or tips, feel free to reach out to us at info@rachaelattard.com. I wish you all the best on your fitness journey! :)

    Peiwen says:

    I like to do stairs climbing at my apartment especially when it is raining. Is it alright to do stair climbing if I just walk (not run) up the stairs.

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely! If your goal is to slim down your legs, it’s really the type of exercise that could help you achieve this. It would be best to replace it with more power walking. Try to invest in a treadmill or find another spacious area. Make sure that you always power walk on a flat surface. :) If you need more fitness tips, you may reach out to us at info@rachaelattard.com

    Rhiannon says:

    This article is so refreshing. Thank you for writing it. My worst nightmare just happened and my shoulders and chest look so manly! I finally got brave enough to go to the gym and signed up with the personal trainer and shared about what I desired and my fears around getting bulky. He said the same thing, women can’t get bulky without testosterone. It’s such a lie!! My body is not balanced and beautiful like I was going for. Can I make the bulk go away? Is it stuck like this forever? I just wanna be curvy and toned and beautiful in my feminine body. I don’t want to look like a man :(

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      Hi lovely,

      Thanks for reaching out! I completely understand how you feel and I’ll do my best to help! :)

      If your goal is to slim down your muscular upper body, I have a detailed blog post that’s going to help you. You’ll find out which exercises to avoid and which to focus on more! If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us at info@rachaelattard.com