Toning vs Bulking Myths: Building Lean Muscles for Females

In the fitness world, there are some questions that keep coming up over and over again, and at Studio SWEAT and Studio SWEAT onDemand, we love to give you the real answers. Today, Cat Kom is joined by Sidekick Bethany to address some myths on one of our top topics – bulking up with weight training.

One of our SWEATers hit us with this question – “Working out with 10-12 pound weights, my shoulders are just too broad for my liking. I even hear ‘Wow, you’re really jacked’ frequently at the gym. How do I get definition without adding bulk?”

Let’s just say this – Guys, girls really don’t want to hear they’re “jacked, Diesel or buff.” But gals, before you bust out the “I’m rubber you’re glue…” defense, let’s bust the buff myth up a bit and talk about…

Toning vs Bulking Up

There have been lots of write-ups on this topic, but we love the myths from a Spark People article, so let’s check those out!

Myth #1:

Lifting light weights will tone your body, while lifting heavy weights will bulk you up.

You’d need to spend hour after hour in the gym AND have a diet supporting muscle mass building to really “bulk up.” But while there’s nothing you can do to offset a “broader” bone structure, heavier weights also won’t necessarily bulk you up. In simplistic terms, heavier weights with lower reps vs. lighter weights with higher reps will yield similar results. The key for either is that you want the last few reps to be tough at whichever weight you choose.

Myth #2:

Building muscle and bulking up are one and the same.

No matter the weight, your goal should be to get to muscle fatigue/failure. If you’ve got low weight (say 8#), you’ll need high reps – up to 40-50 for some moves. If you’re using heavy weights (20#), you’ll get lower reps – maybe only 10-15 to failure. At fatigue, muscles get tiny micro tears, and when they “heal” they’ll be stronger (not thicker). This becomes an efficiency issue – when you’ve got all day to hang out and do curls, by all means go lighter with higher reps. But if you’re juggling a crowded to-do list and have to get workout, shower, and lunch in before re-punching the clock, heavy weights are your friends. Bonus: heavier weights will also get your heart rate up, so you’ll burn more fat and look leaner. 

Myth #3:

Lifting light will not help you get stronger.

This is a myth that originates with heavy lifters criticizing those using lighter weights. No story here, it’s just not true. So if that’s you, stop being so mean, haha!

Myth #4:

Men and women should lift differently.

Nah. Bethany and her husband have been workout partners and did the same moves. Both looked and felt awesome. There may be different goals, but for healthy men and women, the lifting can all be done the same way.

Myth #5:

Certain forms of exercise build long lean muscles.

Nuh Uh. You can’t make muscles longer. You CAN get more flexible, and you can get a longer “look” with workouts like Pilates and Barre, but you can’t actually lengthen muscles. Your height is your height. 

Bottom line: Can you balance broad shoulders by lifting a little lighter for upper body and heavier for lower? Sure. But at the end of the day, your bones are going to play a pretty large role in your look. So before anything else, embrace the body you were given!

And for those body-sculpting, fat-torching workouts including exercises to help you get the long lean LOOK, check out Studio SWEAT and Studio SWEAT onDemand!