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Every woman worries about bulking up when they work out.

If you workout the wrong way, you have a good chance of gaining size where you don’t want it.

The real shame is that you haven’t been taught how to workout to tone muscles and how to workout to gain size!

If you want to gain muscle size, then you should workout like a bodybuilder. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t. Unfortunately this isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Chances are you don’t want to be the next WWE female wrestler, but chances are also good that nobody has been able to tell you how to create different changes other than to say ‘workout at a lower intensity’.

Are you working out like a bodybuilder? Do you know the difference?

Here’s what to look for – Bodybuilders usually work out in the following manner:

Isolated muscle groups (using machines that work just one muscle at a time – e.g. leg extension for the quadriceps muscle at the front of the upper leg or the bicep curl for just the bicep).

Split Routines (workouts that specialize the workouts to upper or lower body – e.g. chest and triceps, back and biceps).

High Intensity workouts such that they have trouble walking/opening doors/feeding themselves the next day

Either of the first two look familiar to your regular workouts?

If you are interested in gaining muscle, then you would be best served to avoid all of the above. However, that leaves you with a dilemma.

Isolated muscle groups are used in almost every exercise in your average gym workout or aerobics class!

If you do a dumbbell bicep curl with ‘proper form’, you have effectively isolated the bicep and have therefore given it the signal to grow. You are essentially sending the signal to your body to give you bigger arms. If you do it with improper form then you have an increased risk of injury! Surely there must be a solution that gets us where we want to be without turning us into the next Chyna along the way!

Notice how two of the above pictures are doing the same exercise? Wouldn’t it make sense to add extra muscle groups such as in the squat with bicep curl example on the left?

If you were looking for completely different (in fact OPPOSITE) results, wouldn’t it make sense to do a completely different exercise?

If you do side shoulder raises then you are asking your body to build you some natural shoulder pads.

If you split your program up by body parts then you are again stepping into the bodybuilding world.

Is there a solution that allows women to get the toned athletic body they are after?

The solution can be found through ‘functional exercises’. These are exercises that are based on using muscles together to help you with your daily functional activities. The good news is that functional exercises also burn more fat than traditional isolating exercises.

How to tone muscles without expanding them:

Rule #1: Always combine muscles together.

Do a bicep curl with a squat. Do a tricep press into a lunge. Discover exercises such as the woodchop, the bent leg dumbbell deadlift, the standing chest fly and these three exercises:

The following video shows three exercises for runners, but they are also my three favorite that I have every client do that walks into my studio. Just these three exercises work almost every muscle in the body


Rule #2: Mix up the combos, not the body parts.

If you do a new exercise then you are working the muscle in a different way. If you want to workout 5 times a week then compile a list of 30 functional full body exercises and do 6 exercises each day. If you want to hire a trainer at your local gym for a session then do that and ask them for a list and have them show you how to do it.

if you don’t know where to start or what to do then you could set up an in-home session – click here to understand how an innovative personal training company can help you workout from home on your own schedule

Rule #3: A little soreness and a little grit is good.

Some soreness the next day is good – the intensity of your workout doesn’t have to be such that you crack a filling, but does have to be enough that you give a slight grimace at the end of the set (think ‘tight jeans’ grimace but not ‘compressive evil high heels’ grimace) .

Because we are no longer isolating muscle groups your capacity to grow muscle is significantly reduced. Because we are also working multiple muscles every time, the toning of these multiple muscle groups also becomes the primary focus of your body. So once you feel confident with the technique, fire up the Gloria Gaynor on your ipod and get into the workout.

Rule #4: Remember that you are working more muscles, which means burning more calories

If you do a isolating bicep curl, you burn one muscle group. If you do a ‘squat with a bicep curl to overhead press’ then you just worked about 15 more muscles in the same time period. Which one worked more muscles? Which one burned more calories? Which workout style is going to get your body leaner and meaner in a shorter period of time?

Do I ever use these muscle-isolating machines? No, I don’t.

Do I ever have any of my clients use there machines? No, I don’t.

Every workout I ever do has a functional training focus to it. But I dont do it because I want to stay lean. Nor do I work in a functional movement system to have toned muscles.

I do functional workouts because they are fun.

At the end of the workout I have a sweat on my brow and a smile on my face – what more could I ask for than that?

Yours in health,

Jamie Atlas

PSĀ  If you would like to know more about functional personal training for max toning and fat-burning or have a burning fitness question that needs answering , please email me. You can find my email contact details here

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  • Answer Fitness Jul 23, 2008 Reply

    Jamie, good article overall.

    Like you, I’m personally a big fan of compound, multi-joint exercises, regardless of your experience level. I think splits are generally overused, even by experienced bodybuilders and resistance trainees. They certainly have their place, and can be a nice break from a full-body workout — especially if you already have a good foundation and want to bring up a certain muscle group — but most people don’t even have their core development in place when they dive into splits.

    That said, I also feel like “functional” training is also a bit overused. Obviously, that depends on your definition of “functional” (I would argue barbell squats are highly functional), but watching other trainers who put a lot of emphasis on functional training, it often seems like they are failing to build a good strength base in their clients. A lot of their “functional” training seems to focus on balance and coordination movements (tons of stuff on stability/bosu balls) and their clients seem to add very little lean mass and strength. The result is that their clients get frustrated because they still have “jiggle” and don’t really see their body composition change — which is ultimately the goal of most people when they hire a trainer.

    I’m also a little perplexed (actually frustrated) over the attention given to crafting workouts for women that “don’t bulk you up.” I wish we could banish the term “bulk up” when when we talk about female weight training, because I think it reinforces in women’s minds the already pervasive myth that lifting weights or performing weight training will make you look like a female version of “Conan The Barbarian.”

    Adding muscle SHOULD be a primary goal for any women who wants to look leaner, be stronger and get the maximum health benefits of resistance training. Muscle takes up less space than fat, has all kinds of metabolic advantages that can help with fat loss and having more lean mass helps you stave off age-related fat gain as you get older.

    You will almost always LOOK leaner when you add more muscle mass, so I’m not sure why certain trainers allow themselves to be sucked into the myth of avoiding “muscle size” with their clients. In almost all cases, they should be encouraging it.

    The bottom line is unless you are genetically-predisposed to gaining a lot of muscle quickly or on anabolic steroids, women in general will rarely get big, bulging muscles even if they train heavy and like a male bodybuilder. Women just don’t have the hormonal environment to put on that kind of mass naturally.

    Ironically, it seems that whenever you ask a woman her fitness goals, one of them will be to get “more toned.” But what does that mean? It means they want to lose jiggle, body fat and have more muscle definition. But that takes adding muscle. Period. We should start dropping the term “tone” from our vocabulary along with “bulky”, since it’s technically incorrect, and start talking about adding lean muscle, definition and curves. Until we do that, women will continue to be freaked out that they are going to look like an Amazon if they lift weights and lift heavy.

    Case in point: I just did an interview on Answer Fitness with actress and fitness model Amanda Carrier. Amanda weighs between 125-130 lbs at 5′ 5″ with 13-15% body fat. Amanda is carrying A LOT of muscle on her frame but doesn’t look “bulky” at all. In fact, I’d argue she has that fit, “beach body” that a lot of women desire. Guess what, she lifts heavy. And she’s very curvy to boot.

    If more women trained like her, they would probably be more satisfied with their results. Unfortunately, I think a lot of women are still stuck on the idea that high-reps and low-resistance are going to give them that bikini body, and many trainers continue to reinforce this because they don’t want to deal with the “bulk-up” objection head-on and provide the facts.

    I understand that each person responds differently to weight training, but let’s strive to point that out, rather than continue to create workouts that have the explicit goal of avoiding muscle size.

    I’m really interested in your thoughts on this …


  • Corey Nov 25, 2008 Reply

    What role does nutrition play in bulking up?

  • chrissy Jun 10, 2009 Reply

    thanks for the truth!
    i cant stand people
    who continue to say “women won’t bulk up like me”
    everyones different! and some do bulk up more like men than they should (relative to other women) so f those who try to say otherwise.


    • Marie Aug 19, 2009 Reply

      It is true, women can bulk.

      After just a few weeks of resistance training my legs get huge. My legs are very very strong, I have been a runner and a triathlete. I love the gym but can’t seem to find anyone who can give me a clear answer to how to train without bulking. I don;t have the same problem with my upper body.

  • You got this right. Perfect! Most of my clients are women. And I give them all of this stuff. I sprinkle in some Pilates and boxing for variety.

  • Holly Nov 30, 2011 Reply

    I enjoyed ready this. I know I should be glad I have muscle rather than fat, but I wish I stayed off the weight machines.

  • Jessica Feb 1, 2012 Reply

    I can see this is an old article but I still wanted to say something about this, in case someone else finds it.

    Matt: there is a plethora of articles and exercises for people who _do_ want to bulk up. There just is no end to them. This article was really hard to find because somehow the internet is full of people telling each other how to get as huge as possible and every time women and bulking is mentioned it is somehow always an article about how it is impossible for women to bulk like that, so lift away ladies!

    I’m a 5’2″ woman. I bulk like crazy on virtually nothing. (Freakishly low base metabolic rate) I swear it feels like my body uses whatever fat I have to build muscle when I work out. Doesn’t matter how low my intake is, there is never an actual deficit as long as I have body fat and I sometimes dispair that I will keep bulking until the day I reach a 0% body fat, which would not be healthy in itself. (@ 19.5% now, which is supposed to be healthy)

    The alternative is to not exercise and starve. For some reason that doesn’t sound so appealing to me. I like exercising and I hate starving. I have starved because of poverty before in my life and I have starved because of vanity as well. Starving blows. Exercise rules. I STILL would appreciate it if I didn’t grow calfs like Ahnold’s just because I like a run.

    So pardon me if I am happy to have finally found an article whose author believes I exist and has tips for my workouts for this very problem.

    Because if I hear one more person derailing a discussion about the worry about bulking too much with “Oh, women can’t bulk that much anyway – let’s talk about how to build muscle instead because you really ought to work on that.” I. Will. Effing. Scream.

    Stop telling me I don’t exist! It really gets on my nerves.

  • jacey Jun 19, 2012 Reply

    my question is not to lift heavy weights when toning. what if you don’t feel the weight you lifting that. is lite.move. up too heavy. weight and do how many. Reps

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