Fitness Articles

Toning vs. Bulking Up: The Real Facts

5 Myths and Truths about Strength Training

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By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor         
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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

  • Will lifting too much weight keep me from losing weight? I heard you can't lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, and I don't lift excessively, but I do enjoy strength training. When I go to the gym, I usually do 30+ minutes of cardio and then 30+ minutes of strength training. I mostly do bodyweight/dumbel
    l routines, but if too many people are by the free weights I do the machine. My boyfriend sometimes gives me a hard time that I can lift more than him, but I also weigh more than him so I think that's why. I can only bench about 150, but I can squat 250 somewhat easy (in the 8-12 reps range). Should I back off on the strength training and focus more on cardio? Also, when I do any kind of ab work, my tummy puffs up (but gets very hard). Is there a way to avoid this? - 2/3/2016 9:59:14 PM
  • Since I've been working out I'm a 1/2 inch taller based on visits to the Dr....before working out I had a vitamin D deficiency problem which also has resided so there is so truth in lengthening your body through strengthening & stretching - 6/8/2015 9:57:51 PM
  • PERSILDENEIGE
    I had the concern of bulking up when I work out, but the content of the article is pretty spot on. Last summer I was 30 pounds overweight and now I am in the best shape of my life (I'm 51). I owe a lot of it the weight training that I get in various classes like boot camp, and through individual weights and the machines. I am getting compliments galore, I have never experienced this before. In the gym, the ladies are asking me how I did it and I see them doing strength training now. Another thing I do is eat really well - I particularly make sure I eat protein after a workout. I am not skimping on either food or rest. One piece of advice for weight training: do the movement properly - don't practice mistakes. The instructors should be telling you how to lift properly, if you are unsure, ask. Control the movement and you'll get results. Trust me, if I can do this, anyone can - just under a year ago I was in bed with a bag of chocolate almonds crying my eyes out because my father passed away. After a while I decided he would not have been very happy with my state and got moving. My best to everyone. - 6/8/2015 7:47:38 AM
  • MAXWELLSMITH
    I am using a herbal formula testosterone booster containing ashwagandha, mucuna pruriens, gokshura, Chlorophytum borivilianum. I find fascinating the idea of herbs working together in synergy, my mood is better and I have great stamina and energy to get my work done - 12/29/2014 8:43:42 PM
  • I have been doing strength training now 8 months, and have NOT bulked up, but I am so much stronger, and KNOW IT! At 70, I now have muscle to spare. Thank you Eric and Mel at Quality Strength in Tucson , Arizona! We live STRONG!!! - 12/1/2014 9:00:28 PM
  • very good article..I do want to bulk up. I am training to build serious muscles. - 10/13/2014 12:10:39 AM
  • FREENINJA
    The key point, for me personally, is 'with a calorie-controlle
    d diet' it is good to lift heavy weights. When I do not restrict calories and lift heavy (even eating 'clean', as recommended), I get huge for a woman (and yes, I have been jokingly referred to as the Incredible Hulk). I am a short mesomorph, so any additional weight is noticeable, and especially muscle weight. I love lifting heavy weights, and am extremely competitive (also prior military), but I honestly find that a restricted calorie diet combined with HIIT, body-weight exercises and pilates/yoga is the best for achieving the type of body I want (lean, strong, but considered 'thin' and no longer 'huge'). I think this article has some good points, but tends to be confusing to the ones like me. - 9/22/2014 12:35:55 PM
  • 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

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