Ask Jenny: How Can I Avoid Getting Bulky When Lifting Weights?

“When I have worked with a personal trainer in the past weight training has left me looking heavy and bulky, rather than achieving the lean and toned physique I was aiming for. I know you are passionate about strength training for women, but I want to know how I avoid getting bulky again?” – Lauren, Boston

Scientific evidence shows that lifting weights will make you stronger, leaner, improve your posture, increase bone density, reduce cortisol levels, increase your metabolism, increase your insulin sensitivity, and boost your confidence. My 8 Week Lean and Clean Weight Loss Program includes specifically designed strength workouts for all levels as we know combining these with a low carb and protein rich diet is the key to building lean muscle, burning fat and boosting metabolism.

However, if fat loss is your goal, and you feel as if your strength training program is not giving you the lean and toned look you are aiming for there may be some factors that need to be addressed:

1) You are consuming more calories than you expend.

My number one nutrition rule is always ‘quality over quantity’, but it is unwise to think that calories do not matter. If improving body composition is one of your goals then you do want to be in a slight calorie deficit. A common error is here following your workout with a calorie dense because ‘you earned it’. A smart nutrition plan should match your daily calorie expenditure with the correct balance of protein, carbs and fats to match that day’s activities and keep you feeling energized and satisfied all day. Specifically, by keeping protein higher and carbs lower we can build lean muscle and boost metabolism whilst still burning stored body fat and creating a lean and toned physique.

2) Training does not spot reduce body fat.

I have heard a number of times that training a specific muscle will help to burn the fat around it (for example, training quads will reduce fat around the thighs). I have never seen any scientific evidence to support this. Increasing muscle mass throughout the body will raise metabolism and therefore support overall fat loss. However, smart nutrition and balancing hormones can help reduce the amount of fat help in specific areas, and this is something I address with my clients (e.g. higher blood glucose and insulin levels can lead to storing belly fat.

3) Your old training program has caused an imbalanced body.

My Head of Programming and Performance (Tim) and I both have a background and education in strength training for females, so we understand how to sculpt lean, strong, feminine physiques. Too many times we see other trainers and instructors focus on the anterior (front) body, with a focus on quads and chest. This tends to build bulk where it is not needed, and many people who workout regularly are ‘quad dominant’ anyway, as they typically will run or take Peloton classes at least a couple of times a week.

Our proprietary training formula (as featured in our Lean and Clean workouts) balances front and back body with a focus on exercises that work hamstrings, glutes, abs and triceps. These exercises also help reduce lower back pain and improve posture, creating a longer, leaner shape. We also look to create shape throughout the body, for example, creating definition in the shoulders and upper arms can balance out wider hips and create a narrower looking waist.