Exactly How To Build Lean Muscle — Without The Bulk
By Allison Winn Scotch Image by Glen Montgomery
More muscle means you’ll burn more fat. Score! But if fear of bulking up is keeping you out of the weights section, here’s what you need to know.
There are loads of benefits to building up strength: You can lift heavy things (furniture, shopping bags, your seven-year-old), you’ll build stronger bones, lowering your risk for osteoporosis later in life, and you’ll burn more fat. Even when you’re just chilling on the couch. Why? Because muscle needs energy to sustain itself. Problem is, many women are still afraid of the other extreme – getting all Hulk smash. If this is you, here are three things you need to know to get the benefits of muscle building without the bulk.
1 Bulking up is hard.
“Testosterone helps men gain bulk,” says strength and conditioning specialist, Suzanne Meth. When men lift weights, the hormone causes their muscle fibres to grow. Since we have 20 to 30 percent less testosterone than guys do, we gain strength without the heft. Your chances of getting scary big? Nearly zilch. Even if you have more T than average, to Hulk up you’d have to quit your job and spend 24/7 eating and working out in a very specific way. Three or four strength sessions a week will not bulk you up, even if you push yourself.
2 You can’t build extra muscles.
How many muscle fibers you have was determined by the time you dumped your middle-school boyfriend. “The number may increase early in life, but it becomes set at puberty,” says sports medicine specialist Dr David Geier. What you can control: how big the fibres get, which determines how tight and strong you look. FYI: The scientific word for muscle growth is hypertrophy. Use it with your trainer – “I’m really pleased with my hypertrophy of late”- and watch his jaw drop.
3 You can choose which muscles you sculpt.
All muscle fibres are not created equal. Slow-twitch fibres are like your mom’s speed-walking club: They’re perfect for endurance but don’t pack a lot of power. Fast-twitch fibres do the opposite: They offer bursts of rapid-fire energy, but only for a short time. Your genes control how much of one type or the other you have. If you’re looking to jack up your endurance for a marathon, hone your slow-twitchers by lifting two to three sets with lighter weights, busting out 12 to 15 reps, suggests exercise physiologist Dr Jason Convise. If you want to improve your five-kay, try cranking out two to three sets of six to eight reps at a heavier weight.
QUICK TIP: Undo Those Knots
Normally, muscle fibres lie flat or in a regular pattern, allowing them to contract and release efficiently. Overuse or injury can cause portions of these fibres to become tangled and/or shortened, compromising circulation and causing tightness. The fix: Swap your strength sessions for yoga, and down water.
Looking for more? Here are four minor tweaks that will give you major workout goals.