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the female guide on how to get lean and not bulky

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 TO GET LEAN AND NOT BULKY – THE BEST EXRECISES TO GET TONED 

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

EXERCISES TO AVOID 

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

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 :)

HOW TO STAY LEAN 

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

COMMON QUESTIONS

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

CYCLING

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

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

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 :)

3 STEPS TO LEAN LEGS PROGRAM

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

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

  • Terra says:

    Hi Rachel,
    What’s your thoughts on using the Elliptical trainer? I want to keep my thighs as slim as possible (thigh gap and all). I have it on low resistance but my legs get exhausted very quickly and my muscles burn. Would it be a bad choice for maintaining slim legs?

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      I don’t think using this machine will cause bulkiness, but it won’t slim down your legs like running and walking will.
      The pushing down motion means you engage your quads more so it will build more muscle here, but it’s not the style of workout that will necessarily cause bulkiness. If you can’t walk or run for some reason, the elliptical trainer is the next best thing! xx

      Love,
      Diana

  • Harjit says:

    Hey Rachael,
    Its been my 6 weeks in gym. And my trainer says girls can not be bulky.
    My body type is straight i.e 35 27.5 35. But he ask me to do shoulder shrugs, leg press, leg extension, squats; all with weights. And i m sick of saying i do not want to gain my thigh muscles.
    But i have seen so many fitness models out there who lift quite heavy weights but are not bulky or muscline looking.
    What should i do? I am confused on this now.
    Thanks

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      The majority of fitness models are either ectomorph body type or between ectomorph and mesomorph. They are naturally thin and find it hard to gain muscle, therefore they can do more HIIT and weightlifting without getting bulky.
      Unlike them, mesomorph, endomorph and women who are between these two types can gain weight easily and develop a lot of muscle on the same workout routine.

      We would love to help you as much as we can :) So that’s why we have created the Lean Legs Program!
      The program has been designed to include the perfect type of resistance training and cardio to give you a lean and toned look, without making you bulky.

      It’s an 8 week workout and nutrition plan that will help you slim down your legs, but will also help you slim and tone your upper body and core too (the workouts are full body).

      It’s completely tailored to your body type and it also includes a full meal plan, a separate recipe ebook and demonstration videos.

      If this is what you’re looking for I would definitely recommend giving our program a go. :) You can find out more about it here:

      Lean Legs Program

      Love,
      Diana
      xx

  • Andre says:

    Thank you very much for this article.
    I started cross fit 2 months ago. I lost 14 pounds so far and look a little more toned and lean. My husband went yesterday to my gym and saw lots of women there with bulky look and told me to get out of there because that’s how I’m going to lose if I stay there. Now, I am not a very gym incline person. Cross fit gives me motivation, it’s fun. I can’t work out on my own, it gets boring and I quit. I have naturally thin thighs and arms. My area problem is my abdomen. How can I avoid getting bulky doing cross fit or is defenitely a NO NO?

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      You’re very welcome lovely!
      Perhaps you could workout with your husband or find a workout buddy? I recommend avoiding cross fit and heavy weight lifting. You could do some HIIT and lightweight resistance training with higher reps.

      We have designed the Lean Legs Program to include the perfect type of resistance training and cardio to give you a lean and toned look, without making you bulky.
      It will help you slim down your legs, but will also help you slim and tone your upper body and core too (the workouts are full body).
      If this is something you’re looking for, then I would definitely recommend giving our program a go :)

      You can find out more about the program here:

      Lean Legs Program

      Love,
      Diana
      xx

    • Sheena says:

      Hi! So my legs get muscular very easily and they are big. The exercises I love to do are actually all the ones you mentioned has being prone to increasing size. So that said, is there a way to decrease muscle size in my legs without losing fat? I have struggled with hormone issues from being too lean and losing weight all over is not an option. I took your body type quiz and it said mesomorph. I resignated with the description except for one thing because for me, gaining weight is really hard. Losing weight is easy. Gaining is hard.

      • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

        Hi lovely,
        Once you start working out, it’s impossible to spot reduce. If you start getting leaner, you would probably lose fat all over, not only from your legs. You can make your legs leaner and more toned by doing light cardio and resistance workouts. If you’d like to maintain your weight, you should eat about as many calories as you burn. xx

        Love,
        Diana

  • Maria says:

    THANKYOU!!! I’m personally so tired of reading/hearing that ‘women can’t get bulky’. I spent a year working really hard at weight and HIIT classes only to end up with a body I was very unhappy with it. Some of my jeans wouldn’t go over my thighs and tops didn’t fit over my upper arms. In my opinion I looked chubby and bulky and in no way toned. Thanks so much for the great advice here!

    • Donna says:

      I get tire of hearing women can’t bulk up either. I have had the same issues, I have been exercising and all the sudden my clothes are too tight and my weight is the highest it’s ever been. I was only exercising a few times a week and using weights just on my arms. I was mostly doing aerobics and dance cardio but I think the squats made my legs bigger. I love exercising but feel I need to stop until the muscle goes down. Can I just walk and still lose the muscle in my legs?

      • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

        Hi lovely,
        I would definitely stop doing the squats and lunges if you’re unhappy with your legs getting bigger. Instead you could continue power walking and running to slim down.
        We would love to help you as much as we can :) So that’s why we have created the Lean Legs Program.

        The program has been designed to include the perfect type of resistance training and cardio to give you a lean and toned look, without making you bulky.
        It’s an 8 week workout and nutrition plan designed to help you slim down your legs, but will also help you slim and tone your upper body and core too (the workouts are full body).
        It also includes a full meal plan, a separate recipe eBook and demonstration videos.

        You can find out more about the Lean Legs Program here:

        Lean Legs Program

        For more helpful info please have a read of this blog post:

        https://www.rachaelattard.com/slim-muscular-thighs-skinny-legs/

        Love,
        Diana
        xx

    • Kristine says:

      Thank god someone gets it!! I too am so tired of hearing women don’t bulk .. ridiculous .. we can and I did .. my legs in back are bulging it is gross !! I love working out however I did time it down .. how dare people keep saying women don’t bulk !!!

  • Helene says:

    Hi. Thank you for the article. I have been working out consistently for more than a year now. I used to be very thin and as a dancer my coaches reccomended I build some muscle. This was years ago-Now I have become bulky & muscular, but im not happy with how I look. ( my arms, legs & chest seem much too large to what I would prefer) Id rather look lean with some muscle ( arms & abs) Like the other ballerinas in my dance school. I dont use heavy weights only light ones and resistance bands. I excersise daily with running, tennis and mostly ballet and contemporary dance.
    Do you have any tips as to how I can work the muscle down? And How long will it take?
    Thanks again.

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      You’re doing a great job using light weights and resistance bands! It may take around 6 months to slim down the muscle you’ve gained.
      We would love to help you as much as we can :) So that’s why we have created the Lean Legs Program!

      The Program is an 8 week workout and nutrition plan designed to help you get lean and toned without bulking.
      It will help you slim down your legs, but will also help you slim and tone your upper body and core too (the workouts are full body).

      It also includes a full meal plan, a separate recipe eBook and demonstration videos.
      You can find out more about the Lean Legs Program here:

      Lean Legs Program

      For more helpful info please have a read of these blog posts:

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/slim-muscular-thighs-skinny-legs/

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/slim-muscular-upper-body/

      Love,
      Diana
      xx

  • Sophie says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the post. What/ how would you suggest eating while trying to get more slim/toned? I’m having a hard time figuring it out because you would think you want a calorie defficit when trying to get slimmer but you need extra calories to build muscle? Thanks!!

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      If you wish to get slimmer and more toned you can be in a caloric deficit. You only need to be in a caloric surplus if you want to build muscle.

      We would love to help you as much as we can :) So that’s why we have created the Lean Legs Program!
      The Program is an 8 week workout and nutrition plan designed to help you get lean and toned without bulking.
      It will help you slim down your legs, but will also help you slim and tone your upper body and core too (the workouts are full body).
      It also includes a full meal plan, a separate recipe eBook and demonstration videos.
      You can find out more about the Lean Legs Program here:
      Lean Legs Program

      Love,
      Diana
      xx

  • Kaitlin says:

    I’m following your Slim Legs E-Book and have a plan to go boxing with a friend this week. Would you say boxing in the evening is a good substitute for the days you have scheduled to run in the afternoon or do HIIT?

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      Yes, that sounds great :)

      Wishing you all the best hun! xx

      Love,
      Diana

  • Whit says:

    Hi Rachael, I recently got into heavy weights lifting. I’ve only been doing this for a week but I know from experience that nothing that I’ve tried has made my thighs thinner. I am trying to lean out my thighs (which are both fatty/muscular.) I was wondering, I’m a mesomorph; do i have to eat a low carb diet to lean out my legs and prevent them from getting bulky again? One more thing, I have heard many of my friends who lift and some experts say that weight lifting is the perfect solution because although you get even bulkier at first, you eventually lean out and lose the fat and lean muscle takes its place . This is one of the things that drew me to weight lifting. But then I found your blog and I am starring to rethink weight lifting as part of my weekly workouts. Can you please tell me if this is a myth or true. Thank you so much!!

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      It’s a myth – you don’t need any weights in order to slim down your legs :)

      We’d love to help as much as we can :) that’s why we have created our Lean Legs Program and the Lean Legs Training Club.

      The program in the eBook is an 8 week workout and nutrition plan designed to help you get lean and toned without bulking. It will help you slim down your legs, but will also help you slim and tone your upper body and core too (the workouts are full body). It also includes a full meal plan, a separate recipe eBook and demonstration videos.

      You can find out more about the Lean Legs program here:

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/lean-legs-program/

      For more helpful info please have a read of this blog post, it may answer your question in greater detail.

      Love, Lean Legs Club support xx

  • Sam says:

    Hi Rachel, I recently came across your website. Great info! I have tried many different workouts over the years and just as of last week started doing the megaformer. I have a mesomorph type body and do put on muscle (especially my legs) easily. In the past I was lifting heavy weights for my arms but realize that this may not be the best option for me due to risk of bulking up. Now I am re-organizing my workout routine. I actually find that running on the treatmill (even flat) works my legs pretty hard, which is frustrating because it is an easy cardio to do. What I was wondering is since starting the megaformer, how many times a week do you recommend doing the megaformer? Also what should I do on the other days? How many rest days should I have per week?
    Thank you so much for your help!

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      We know that reaching your fitness goals can be hard and that you probably have a lot of questions about how to get that lean and toned body.
      We’d love to help as much as we can :) that’s why we have created our Lean Legs Program and the Lean Legs Training Club.

      The program in the eBook is an 8 week workout and nutrition plan designed to help you get lean and toned without bulking. It will help you slim down your legs, but will also help you slim and tone your upper body and core too (the workouts are full body). It also includes a full meal plan, a separate recipe eBook and demonstration videos.

      You can find out more about the Lean Legs program here:

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/lean-legs-program/

      If you need any extra support, please join our Lean Legs Training Club where you can ask Rachael any questions you want and how to modify the program to suit your needs. Being a member of the Club while doing the Lean Legs program will ensure that you get the best possible results as you get a more personalized fitness and nutrition advice.
      And you also have access to a community of like-minded and supportive women to help you too!
      Here’s the link to the Club:

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/lean-legs-training-club-up/

      For more helpful tips please have a read of these blog posts:

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/how-to-get-skinny-legs-cardio-for-lean-legs/

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/cardio-qa/

      Love, Lean Legs Club support xx

  • Tasha says:

    Hi Rachael,

    Thank you so much for your blog! You mentioned a few times that walking can help slim down bulky legs that tend to accumulate muscle. I was wondering if leisurely walking also counts or you mean only speed walking? Thank you!!

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      All of your walking counts but power walking gives the fastest results :) xx

      Love, Lean Legs Club support

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