Fitness Articles

Toning vs. Bulking Up: The Real Facts

5 Myths and Truths about Strength Training

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Obviously gender differences exist and everyone has different goals (like we discussed in the beginning). But if you really want to lose weight and get lean—no matter if you call that toning or bulking—people of both genders should have a strength-training plan in place that works every major muscle in the body at least 8 to 12 times, using a weight that is heavy enough that the last two repetitions are darn hard to lift. Only then is the body challenged enough to change, grow and adapt, making you stronger and leaner no matter if you're male or female. Lifting this way is also a great way to lose weight. Myth #5: Certain forms of exercise build long, lean muscles.
The Truth: Many forms of exercise claim to lengthen the muscles or develop "lean" muscles, not bulky ones. But here's a truth that may be shocking to some: To put it another way, no form of exercise makes muscles "longer" because your muscles do not—and will not—respond to exercise by getting longer. It's just not how they work. Muscles are a certain length because they attach to your bones. A wide variety of movements and exercises can help you strengthen your muscles without necessarily making them bigger. In fact, you can develop a lot of muscular strength without your muscles ever increasing in size (girth).

That said, exercises such as yoga, Pilates, dance and barre classes can help to increase your flexibility (improving your range of motion at certain joints) and your posture, which can give you the illusion of feeling and looking longer or taller. But lengthening? Not possible. Claims like these are just trying to appeal to people who fear bulking up.


If you're ready to get strong, be sure to check out some of SparkPeople's amazing free resources and workout plans that will help you do just that!

Everything You Need to Know about Strength Training
How to Fall in Love with Strength Training
A Get-Lean Strength Workout Plan
Get More Results in Less Time with High-Intensity Strength Training
The Perfect Strength Workout for Beginners
The Muscle Building Quiz

Sources
PLoS ONE. Burd NA, West DWD, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, et al. "Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men," Accessed August 2011. www.plosone.com.
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • This was a wonderful article, thank you. I've been reading about muscle building a lot lately; although this isn't exactly what I was looking for, it was at least the most clear & concise information I've seen on the subject so far. - 7/21/2014 2:18:31 PM
  • RMTROLLINGER
    I was hoping someone could help me out...I have a LOT of muscle and I want to be lean. I used to be 5'4" at 107 lbs. Now I'm at 112, and there's way to much vascularity all over my body. I used to run and do yoga and weights a few days a week. And then my IT band started throbbing. So I joined a gym. I was using the elliptical and the recumbent bike and the rowing machine, and I started lifting often (heavy weights) and the veins started coming to the surface, legs and arms. I put on around 5 lbs. with "good" fats, avocados, full-fat yogurt , almonds, olive oil, etc. and the veins are still there. I think it was all muscle. I've cut my workouts in half and I don't do any more weights. I just don't know how to decrease the muscle. I want a lean body, not an athletes body.
    Thanks,
    R - 7/10/2014 9:10:10 PM
  • good information - Thanks - 6/18/2014 6:27:55 AM
  • Thank you very much! The usage of ALL Of these terms makes me batty! Lift a weight that is challenging. If you don't have a lot of time, lift more weight for fewer reps. If you have more time, lift a little lighter for more reps. You will benefit, regardless. - 6/13/2014 11:42:33 AM
  • Very timely as I just posted a blog yesterday that is hinting at a similar idea. - 6/13/2014 6:27:21 AM
  • SCEK500
    I agree with a lot of this article's content and I think it is great that women are into lifting weights. I do, however, disagree on the comment that men are not that much stronger than women. Men on average have 40 to 60 percent more upper body strength and 25 percent more lower body strength. I do not know if the personal trainer is basing this opinion on her clients or everyday observation.
    She may be referring to untrained men and women of nearly the same height and weight. In this case, the man is only 3 to 7 percent stronger. Women will no doubt put me under heavy fire for posting this, but the difference is significant when both sexes strength train. I am an average man who eats what he wants and strength trains. My bench, squat, and deadlift are over 300 pounds. Most men who strength train can reach numbers in the mid to upper 200s. That is 2 to 2.5 times the weight that women do after 5 years of training. Women are closer to men in strength with dumbbells because they target smaller muscles and works on stabilization. Men are stronger when using barbells because more muscle is activated and women have two thirds the muscle mass of men. Men also have a greater range of motion and apply more force to an exercise.
    Most women will ignore me or try to tear me down since this paragraph is written by a man. This should not dissuade women from lifting. I just think our differences are uncanny. - 5/18/2014 10:56:53 PM
  • CLIPPERCLOP
    if you look at the physiques of say Tom Cruise, Robert.D Junior (Sherlock Holmes), Brad Pitt that's an ideal physique to me. Lean, bit of muscle but not bulky....I hate the body builder look. So, how is that achieved? - 4/12/2014 12:17:02 PM
  • CLIPPERCLOP
    but as soon as I start lifting weights I bulk up especially on biceps,chest and shoulders. So how do i get lean without bulking up? - 4/12/2014 12:14:27 PM
  • Thank you so much for this article. I now understand it. :) - 8/15/2013 2:37:45 PM
  • This article needs to be featured pretty much every day on every fitness site aimed at women. Strength training is so incredibly important for good bone health plus other benefits. Also, if you are like me and enjoy doing cardio (in my case, kickboxing and running) then strength training is even more important - cardio can burn just as much fat as muscle, so that muscle needs to be rebuilt.
    I used to be worried / scared of lifting weights. Once I actually started learning about lifting, I realized I LOVE having muscles.
    I have always been a weakling. It gives me great joy to be able to feel my biceps now. They're still buried under arm fat and loose skin, but I can feel them, darnit!
    I'm a big believer in circuit training, so I can make my time more efficient. I don't need to do separate cardio and strength that way, so it cuts my workout time in half.
    Also, do not be ashamed of your 3 lb free weights. That's what I started out with. Once you are not longer fatigued by them, you can go up to the 5 lb, and repeat on and on. - 8/15/2013 9:47:47 AM
  • I totally agree with the article.
    I have been lifting weight (barbell) for a half year now, and I have muscles that were never there (back and abdomen) but I'm the same size - just more muscular.

    But "toning" with small dumbbells is useful too, especially at the start. Using 4-pound dumbbells and doing crunches made a huge difference compared to being inactive.
    Both physically and mentally. - 8/15/2013 4:12:19 AM
  • I was afraid to look like a body builder. Thanks for the Article. - 5/14/2013 10:37:32 AM
  • Lift the heaviest weights you can safely handle, women! Don't waste time at the gym! - 4/6/2013 11:01:57 AM
  • Thank you for a great article! Great description of how to work properly with weights to fatigue muscles; when I look at people who do light weights at the gym I feel like they are wasting their time (unless, of course, it's rehab after an injury). Another great point made is how bodybuilders get bodies they have. It takes huge amount of time and effort, strict diet and often times drugs. For an average person like me bulking up will never happen. Besides, look at coach Nichole - she works out a lot but doesn't look like a body builder. She just looks awesome. This is a great reminder to work our bodies in different ways - both cardio and strength training are important! - 3/13/2013 10:40:00 AM
  • Ton's of great info here!! Thanks so much for sharing and investing your knowledge and time to help us.
    Very well written!! : ) G - 2/17/2013 4:54:32 PM
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