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Week 14: The Myth about Bulking Up

Won’t Lifting Weights Make Me Bigger and Bulkier?

It’s a common occurrence at the gym: women start their workouts with some warm-up exercises, followed by a few sets on some strength machines, then it’s on to the cardio machines for the remainder of their session. Many women use only the lightest weights on the strength machines, and avoid the free weights (e.g., dumbbells, kettle bells) altogether for fear that lifting those heavier weights will turn them into the Incredible Hulk.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

So How Do Big Bulky Muscles Happen?

It’s actually more difficult than one would think; most of us, men included, would be hard pressed to add big and bulky muscles even if we tried. Sure, for an offensive lineman, who eats huge amounts of calories and trains with extremely heavy weights sometimes twice a day, bulk will happen. But for most people, that type of muscle gain takes a combination of numerous hours in the gym and numerous hours at the table fueling the body with enough calories to support that level of training.

Many athletes who need to increase their muscle mass to stay competitive, or body builders who desire to have very large muscles generally need to train at tremendous volumes that could include multiple hours per day, often 4, 5 or even 6 times each week. And this training mostly likely would entail very specific programming. We’re talking a whole lot of time and effort spent on increasing muscle mass, and even with this intense effort, it’s simply not that easy.

In addition, genetics play a huge (pun intended) role in the ability to gain large amounts of muscle. Yes, we all know that genetically gifted individual we love to hate. The one who responds to exercise by just looking at a barbell, and his/her body becomes an atlas! But for most people, strength training 2-3 days per week will help maintain and build “moderate” amounts of lean muscle mass (not bulk!!!) at best, and will also assist in reducing those dreaded fat pounds.

And remember, strength training is only one component of our traditional resistance training workout. Extensive movement prep (including mobility, corrective exercises, muscle activation, etc.) power, and stretching are all components of a session.

So an often suggested range of 8-15 or maybe even 20 or 30 repetitions (reps) and 2-3 sets for each strength movement, 2-3 times per week is not going to result in big and bulky muscles…myth busted.

“I am doing my Resistance Training but I’m still not getting lean…why?”

Most likely, you should focus on your diet; you need to “lean” or “clean” up your nutrition so that you can rid your body of the fat that is covering your muscle. Think about that anatomy map of the muscular system you may have seen on a doctor’s office wall. No matter how large or small we are, that map of the human anatomy pretty much represents who we all are underneath our skin and layer(s) of fat (aka: everyone looks the same in terms of how our muscles are mapped out.)

Note the word “layer(s)” is what sets us apart. In other words, fat layers hide the muscle we all have. So those who have less fat and are lean have more visibly “defined” muscle. While those who have more fat are creating a thicker cover of fat, and therefore their muscles are not visible. And maybe this is where some think they are getting “bulky.” Often individuals will start to lift weights and add some muscle, but because their nutrition is poor and maybe they’re performing very little cardio, that fat layer begins to look “bulkier.”

Bottom line: if you want to see the muscle, eat clean (and exercise appropriately) to reduce body fat. This lifestyle will help build and maintain that precious, metabolically active musculature, making those wonderful muscles visible when you look in the mirror! (And when others look at you too.) Pep Talk

Take a moment and think about the exercises you do each week; then ask yourself these questions about your workouts:

1) Am I relying on my old standby routine of going through the motions (e.g., 20 not-so-exerting minutes on the stationary bike, 30 minutes of lollygagging on the treadmill, or the same old machine circuit I’ve been doing for years)?


2) Am I making sure I incorporate movement prep on a frequent basis either as prep for a cardio workout, a resistance workout or simply for The Sport of Everyday Life?

Aim for the latter and you’ll look and feel better!

Week 14 Quiz:

1) How many times of strength training per week will help build lean muscle? a) 2-3 days

b) 5 days c) 7 days d) none of the above

2) Lifting Heavier Weights will turn you into the Incredible Hulk: a) True b) False

3) What other components, aside from strength, make up a session? a) Movement prep b) Power c) a, b, and d d) Stretching

4) If you aren’t getting lean despite doing Resistance Training, you should check your diet: a) True b) False

Once you've taken the quiz, click here to see how you did.


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