One of the biggest arguments women have against lifting weights is the fear of becoming too “bulky” or just simply getting too big.
As a woman, building excessive amounts of muscle is certainly possible, even without the use of steroid substances. If training is adequate and your nutrition is on par, it’s quite possible for women to build a meaningful amount of muscle.
Even though doing so would take a tremendous amount of time and effort, it’s still a possibility. Regardless, there are important things you need to keep in mind if you’re hoping to lift weights to build a better physique, yet don’t want to become large and bulky.
In this article, I’ll discuss 4 ways to build strong and defined muscles, without the extra bulk.
Put Most Important Exercises First
When working out, it’s always a good idea to place your most important exercises first. Essentially, you want to execute the hardest and most demanding exercises first, before you work on other movements, which are less important.
For example, if your leg day is built around back squats, you’ll want to place squats earlier in the workout. Since this movement is best for stimulating large amounts of muscle at one time, it’s likely they are most demanding, yet most beneficial.
In fact, multiple studies have indicated that placing first those exercises which are most important will allow for better growth of the muscle groups that the exercise targets (1, 2).
Keep Workouts Short & Focused
One of the key drivers of muscle growth is training volume. Training volume is essentially the total amount of weight you’ve lifted, by calculating weight times reps times sets. Theoretically, the higher your training volume, the greater the likelihood of increasing muscle mass (3).
Certainly, regardless of your goal, increasing training volume is essential. Basically, in order to constantly progress, you need to do more than you had previously. However, too high a training volume could in fact lead to excess muscle growth.
I suggest keeping sets around 3-5, with rest periods around 1-2 minutes. By maintaining this amount of sets, you’ll ensure that you progress, but not so much that you’re building tons of muscle. Further, the short rest periods keep metabolic demands high, allowing you to remain slim and potentially, even slimmer than before.
Eat A Normal Amount Of Calories
An unfortunate truth for all of us is that we sometimes take measures too far. Adjusting calorie intake is no exception to this rule.
When attempting to adjust body composition, energy balance is of the utmost importance. In terms of increasing lean body mass, this often leads most of us to create a positive energy balance, or be a state where calories consumed are greater than calories expended (4).
However, what most don’t know is that building muscle doesn’t necessarily require a large positive energy balance. Essentially, you don’t need as many calories as you think.
If your goals were to increase muscle to their absolute limits, then eating an excess amount of calories would be essential but, for the intent of just improving body composition and muscle definition, a large increase in calories simply isn’t needed.
Not to mention, consuming a high amount of excess calories will not only lead to increases in muscle mass, but also in body fat.
Rather than increasing calories drastically for growth, I suggest staying around your maintenance calorie intake (the amount of calories you can consume to maintain your current weight). By doing so, you’ll provide adequate calories for growth but not so many that they result in excess bulk and fat gain.
From here, you can monitor your weight and muscle growth progress and increase or decrease calorie intake on an “as needed”-basis. If you’re hoping to improve definition without the bulk, eat close to normal amounts of calories and don’t overdo it just because you’ve heard you need more calories.
Have A Healthy Combination Of Compound & Isolation Movements
Surely, compound movements should be incorporated into every training routine due to their ability to recruit large amounts of muscle all at once, which may lead to improved muscle growth.
However, excess use of compound movements can create growth primarily in specific muscle groups, rather than providing a more defined, well-rounded package.
By using isolation movements in addition to compound exercises, you’ll be able to build definition for specific muscle groups, to the extent that you want them to grow. With compound movements, you’re simply recruiting most muscle groups, rather than specifically focusing on a few.
Using isolation movements regularly will allow you to have greater control over which muscle groups grow and the extent to which they grow. I suggest starting every workout with a compound movement and then transitioning to isolation movements for target muscle groups.
4 Expert Tips To Build Muscle Definition Without The Bulk
Even though you may be wary of beginning weight lifting due to fear of becoming bulky, the truth is that bulking up too much is rarely achieved by anyone. Regardless, women are equally able to build muscle without fear of becoming bigger than their goal.
Using these tips will allow you to get in the gym and work out for more muscle definition, while limiting the chance that you’ll become excessively bulky.
- Simão, R., Spineti, J., de Salles, B. F., Oliveira, L. F., Matta, T., Miranda, F., … & Costa, P. B. (2010). Influence of exercise order on maximum strength and muscle thickness in untrained men. Journal of sports science & medicine, 9(1), 1.
- Dias, I., de Salles, B. F., Novaes, J., Costa, P. B., & Simão, R. (2010). Influence of exercise order on maximum strength in untrained young men. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 13(1), 65-69.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.
- Spiegelman, B. M., & Flier, J. S. (2001). Obesity and the regulation of energy balance. Cell, 104(4), 531-543.