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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

If you need help with a plan, or you don’t know where to start with resistance training, or you tend to get bulky when you lift weights, 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.

To find out more about my 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program click the link below:

https://www.rachaelattard.com/skinny-legs-ebook/

To find out more about my FULL-LENGTH VIDEOS, follow this link: 

https://www.rachaelattard.com/lean-legs-video-course/

Love Rachael xx

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

  • Rhonda says:

    Dear Rachael,

    You have several videos of Victoria Secret workouts. I am a Mesomorph who seem to build leg muscle pretty quick. I know that most of these models are naturally slim. Should I be doing these particular workouts or not. I’m asking about all of them (legs, abs, butt).

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      If you gain muscle easily I would avoid doing any squats and lunges from these workouts. The rest should be fine for you to do! :) xx

      Love,
      Diana

  • Donna says:

    This programme sounds like it’s just what i‘m looking for. I do a mixture of HIIT and pilates and whilst my legs are not flabby, they are getting bigger and i don’t want to waste all my energy to get bigger! Can you tell me how often are the workouts and for how long?

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      The Lean Legs 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). The workouts are 5-6 days per week and take about 20-40 minutes, plus walking.

      The program 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

  • Ella says:

    Hello! Would the Lean Legs Program be good for me? I am very thin but have no strength or muscle tone to my body (skinny fat lol…). I am interested in getting toned and stronger but I don’t want to bulk up, which has happened to me in the past! I also don’t necessarily want to loose weight or get smaller since I am already thin, I just want to look strong and healthy. Thank you!

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      The Lean Legs 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 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

      Our program is completely tailored to your body type, so it will be suitable for you even if you’re skinny fat.
      You will be able to maintain your weight if you eat as many calories as you burn (a bit more than what the meal plan in the program suggests).
      Another option would be to cut out the running and just do the walking and circuits. That way you won’t lose weight! xx

      Love,
      Diana

  • Taylor says:

    Hello,
    Thank you so much for posting this! I too am tired of hearing that women “can’t get bulky” because well im a women and I was very bulky from CrossFit style workouts. So bulky in fact that I almost weighed more than my boyfriend…not cool! I’m definitely a mesomorph and I have a huge problem with my upper body…it bulks EXTREMELY quickly. I’ve recently gotten into surfing and while I love it, my upper body really doesn’t. Surfing is the only thing I do for my upper body at the moment and I recently got told that my arms are “big for a girl” and that “they’re almost as big as my boyfriend’s.” I’m not a particularly big girl so again this was mortifying for me. I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for how to keep the bulk down on my upper body without giving up surfing? Or just in general what to suggest for maintaining lean arms?

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      I know that reaching your fitness goals can be hard and that you probably have lots of questions on how to get that lean and toned body.
      We would love to help you as much as we can :) So that’s why we have created the Lean Legs Program!

      Our Lean Legs 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 program here:

      Lean Legs Program

      For more helpful info on how to slim down your arms please have a read of these blog posts:

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

      https://www.rachaelattard.com/217-lean-arms-workout/

      Love,
      Diana
      xx

  • kelly says:

    Reading this was so liberating. I’ve thought I was getting too bulky, and my trainers response has been less than helpful. She full-heartedly believes in lifting, and lifting heavy. I’ve been lifting for a year and a half now and just not getting the results I want. My legs keep growing, and I’ve outgrown all my clothes. It is so discouraging. It felt good to read this and feel validated that I am not alone in feeling this way.

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      I know that reaching your fitness goals can be hard. We would love to help you as much as we can :) So that’s why we have created the Lean Legs Program.

      Our Lean Legs 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 entire 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.

      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

      Hopefully you’ll be able to achieve your goals in no time. All the best! :) xx

      Love,
      Diana

  • Kaia says:

    Hi!

    I love working out and can’t seem to stop (I am a mesomorph, by the way). My upper body looks great, but, as a result of all the training, my legs have become very bulky. Over the past few months, I have completely stopped doing leg workouts, but my legs are still bulky so I have come to the conclusion that it must be all the HIIT I’m doing (and the fact that I need to lower my body fat percentage a bit). I love HIIT as it burns fat extremely fast, so I don’t want to stop, but I really need to slim down my legs. Can you help me as to what step to take towards slimming down my legs?

    BTW I love all you’re doing! This website has helped me so much (I got taken in with all the junk that to get lean legs do loads of squats):)

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      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 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

      Here’s an example of a great HIIT workout that won’t make you bulky! xx

      Love,
      Diana

  • Jen says:

    Hi Rachael, when I was younger I was always very athletic, and my main sport was soccer. I stopped playing soccer many years ago, but continued to exercise, mostly running. My legs are still bulkier than my liking from soccer, and I can’t seem to slim them down. Any tips?? Thank you!

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      I know that reaching your fitness goals can be hard, and that you probably have lots of questions about how to adjust your fitness routine to get that lean and toned body.

      We would love to help you as much as we can :) So that’s why we have created the Lean Legs Program!

      The Lean Legs 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 program here:

      Lean Legs Program

      Love,
      Diana
      xx

  • Blair says:

    Hi!
    I just started getting back to the gym and I have been doing spin, anywhere from 20-45 minute classes. I don’t want to get bulky – will riding the bike, whether it be a Soul Cycle Class or a Peloton make me bulky? Also, I don’t want my body to get used to spinning and it no longer become a good workout – is this a possibility?

    • Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      If you are an endomorph, then yes cycling will most likely make your legs bigger so I would avoid it completely.

      If you are a mesomorph, you may or may not be able to get away with cycling. Some mesomorphs are OK with it, while others aren’t. Either way, I would still only do it 1-2 times per week maximum because overdoing it with cycling will most likely make your legs bigger.

      If you don’t know your body type, please take our free body type quiz to find out! :) xx

      Love,
      Diana

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