This is a question I received from several readers that required a complete article to explain. I’m sharing the answer with everyone as many of you may benefit from it too.
QUESTION: I’m a 24 year old female who wants to gain muscle and get toned, but I’m afraid of building too much muscle and looking “bulky”.
My goal is to achieve that leaner, “model” physique and NOT look like a bodybuilder. What approach would you recommend to build this type of body?
SOLUTION: I’ve honestly lost count of the people who’ve asked that question or something similar. It always cracks me up for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.
I mostly get this type of question from women looking to “get toned” but want to avoid getting “too big” and “manly” in the process. This is a topic I’ve briefly discussed in Weight Training For Women: The Ultimate Guide.
But surprisingly, I also hear this question from a handful of men who’d rather achieve a lean, toned physique rather than look like a bodybuilder. Some people will even go as far to show me the specific model or celebrity whose body they’re trying to imitate.
But hey, who am I to judge? Every one of us has our own goals and aspirations.
But before we can learn how to build muscle without getting “too bulky”, we first need to clarify a few things.
Avoid the ‘Roids
The majority of men and women asking this question are attempting to avoid building as much muscle as someone who has achieved their physique with “pharmaceutical assistance” (AKA steroids).
Without juicing, it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE to achieve that size, meaning you’re scared of something that could never occur naturally.
This is my first point of contention to women who claim they’re afraid of getting too bulky similar to certain performance enhanced female bodybuilders.
Here’s the truth: Muscle growth is largely dependent on testosterone production. And men produce WAY more testosterone than women, even under the best possible circumstances. Men on average produce 15-20 times more testosterone than women.
So rest assured, as long as you avoid the ‘roids, it’s damn near impossible to become as muscular and bulky as a professional bodybuilder.
But What If Getting “Too Big” Is a Natural Possibility For You?
For the sake of fairness, let’s play devil’s advocate and assume that getting “too bulky” is a legitimate possibility for you naturally. Think of it as an outcome your body IS capable of attaining, but it’s “bigger” than the lean, toned (or whatever) physique you desire.
Got it? Great. This leads to my next point.
Muscle is Muscle
Many people believe we have different “types” of muscle.
To recap from Truth About Muscle Tone, you can’t make a muscle more “lean”, “toned”, “bulky” or “ripped”.
Muscle is muscle. You either build muscle or lose muscle. End of story.
Being more “toned” translates to decreasing the amount of body fat covering your muscle tissue.
This means getting “too big” isn’t based on the “type” of muscle you’re building. It means one (or both) of the following.
- Your body has more muscle on it than you’d like (less likely).
- Your body has a higher body fat percentage, thus preventing you from achieving your preferred level of leanness (more likely).
Muscle Growth is Hella Slow
Do you know how long it actually takes to build muscle?
Here’s the truth: It’s hella slow. Something like 0.25 lb of muscle per week for the average man and half of that for the average woman under optimal conditions.
Many people believe they’ll somehow wake up one day and accidentally be “too big”.
The potential to unintentionally build too much muscle is nearly impossible. Trust me when I say you’ll spot it coming a mile away.
Most people fail to build their ideal amount of muscle and thus never come remotely close to getting “big”.
If you think about it, there are people who work out with the sole purpose of getting as big and muscular as possible, but aren’t getting results.
And the ones who are succeeding (naturally) took a long time to get there.
Will Lifting Weights Make Me Bulky? How to Build The “Ideal” Amount of Muscle
With those 3 points out of the way, we can now address the original question.
And that’s, how do you build the “ideal” amount of muscle and avoid getting “bulky”? Or as my reader put it, how do you achieve that leaner, “model” physique?
Aim to Build As Much Muscle As Possible
What?! Why should I aim to build as much muscle as possible if I’m trying to avoid getting “too big”?
By trying to prevent yourself from getting “too bulky” and building muscle WITHOUT 100% commitment will only delay you from getting the results you want.
Let’s put it this way… To build muscle, you have 3 options.
- What kinda works.
- What doesn’t work.
- And what works best.
No matter how much muscle you’re trying to build, you should always aim for option 3… if you want to see results as fast as possible.
People who’re reluctant to get “too big” often choose option 1 or 2. Option 1 may take a decade longer to get the results you want and option 2 will essentially get you nowhere.
In other words, there should be no difference in training and nutrition between someone aiming to build a lean, toned physique and someone aiming to build massive amounts of muscle.
Once you’re satisfied with the amount of muscle you’ve built (to achieve your ideal physique), STOP building additional muscle and instead focus on maintaining muscle. And if you ARE looking to get bigger, then by all means, keep building muscle!
And yes, this applies to both men AND women.
Now for the rest of the story. Leanness.
Getting lean is the difference between looking “toned” and looking “untoned”.
As you know by now, getting more “toned” simply refers to decreasing the amount of body fat covering your muscle tissue.
Use an Intelligently Designed Workout Routine
In order for you to get the best results as fast and effectively as possible, you must ensure your workout routine is designed specifically for YOU.
You know, things like your gender, age, genetics, experience level, schedule, training preferences, available equipment, and personal goals.
As you can see, designing a proper workout routine can be quite complex. And the abundance of misleading, confusing and terrible advice out there doesn’t make it any easier.
Seriously. Just spending a few minutes searching the internet for workout routines and training programs with hundreds of different schedules, exercises, splits, and methods is enough to make your head explode. I’ve been there before, so I know exactly how frustrating it is.
Luckily, I’ve already done the hard work for you.
My new KFX: Muscle Growth Experience program combines all the essential aspects of nutrition and weight training to ultimately give you the best results your body is capable of achieving.
If your goal is to build muscle WITHOUT gaining excess body fat, I highly recommend you check it out.
Now Stop Worrying About Getting “Too Bulky”
Do you know anyone who has accidentally built more muscle than they intended to? Someone who walks around saying “Damn, I’m much bulkier and muscular than I want to be… How on earth did this happen?!”
My guess? No one.
On the contrary, do you know anyone who wishes they were bigger and more muscular? Someone who walks around saying “Damn, I’m much skinnier and less muscular than I want to be… Why can’t I put on more muscle?”
My guess? Millions.
Shut up, stop worrying and focus on building muscle as fast and effectively as possible rather than hindering your progress by preventing yourself from becoming “too bulky”.