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5 Secrets to Sculpting a Toned Body Without Getting Bulky

OK so I have a confession to make.

I don’t normally like to do this kind of thing, but the truth is I intentionally colored the title to this blog post with bro-speak, just for the purposes of grabbing people’s attention.

If you read the title and didn’t find anything wrong with it, that’s good. You’re probably about to learn something, so please read on.

The fact is, there’s a huge number of women out there whose goal it is to simply get a nice, lean, toned-looking body. They have no interest in developing big, bulky muscles that make them look like a man.

That goal is totally fair enough. Quite understandable.

There are two problems however.

The first is that the statement itself shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how physique development actually works. And the second is there are some pervasive myths out there about exactly how a woman needs to train to develop a beautiful, feminine body.

The following 5 facts will both clear up all these misunderstandings and dispel the harmful myths that are keeping so many women in the dark with regards to developing their physique.

Fact #1:  Weight training won’t make you bulky

The belief that training with weights makes you bulky is perhaps one of the most pervasive, and most misguided, fitness misconceptions among women. They see images of female bodybuilders with physiques comparable to those of men and conclude that weight training is responsible.

It’s for this reason that so many women restrict their workouts to just cardio training and avoid weights like the plague.

Simply put, a too-bulky female physique is the result of one of two factors, or both.

The first, and by far most influential, is excess body fat. Weight training is in fact a vital component of any effective fat-loss program, since it increases muscle mass and thereby your body’s BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). That’s a good thing because the BMR is a major contributor to your body’s fat-loss equation.

If the notion of increasing muscle mass to decrease fat mass sounds counterintuitive, consider this. Muscle tissue is far denser, and therefore heavier, than fat tissue. A woman who replaces 20lb of fat with 20lb of muscle will therefore appear far smaller (less bulky).

The following photos illustrate this point perfectly:

Fat vs MuscleFat vs MuscleFat vs MuscleFat vs Muscle

The second factor that leads to a too-bulky physique is excessive muscle mass. And I mean, far too excessive.The reality is that in 95% of cases, this simply isn’t achievable in a woman, even intentionally. Women simply don’t have the testosterone levels necessary for that kind of muscle development.

As a woman, unless you’re specifically training to build the maximum amount of muscle possible and are extraordinarily motivated and dedicated to do so, working consistently to your physical and mental limits, five to seven days a week, the chances of you developing too much muscle are virtually nil.

If these simple facts are not enough to allay any fears you may have of weight training, consider the fact that muscle doesn’t simply appear overnight. It’s built very, very gradually.

If at some point you no longer wish to continue developing your physique any further therefore, you can simply adjust your training program to shift its focus to maintenance rather than additional growth.

Fact #2:  There’s no such thing as “toning”

That’s right, “toning” doesn’t actually exist.

It’s nothing more than a fancy marketing term aimed at making women feel good about building muscle.

As I mentioned a moment ago, many women are opposed to the thought of building muscle. After all, that’s for guys. They want their body to look tight and sexy, but without all that bulky, manly “muscle building” stuff.

Enter “toning”.

Marketers aiming workout programs and products at women have them convinced that “toning” is the secret to a great-looking, feminine body without the bulk.

Have you ever heard of a men’s fitness product claiming to tone the body?

Have you ever heard a man stating that he wanted to get toned?

Probably not.

Not all men want huge muscles. Some just want to look modestly good. But even so they don’t call it “toned”, because the marketing machine has made that a woman’s term.

So what is toning supposed to mean exactly?

Well, that’s the thing. It has no real meaning. It’s nothing more than a “feel-good” buzz word.

Here’s the bottom line: muscle is muscle, whether it’s on a man or a woman.

And it can only do one of two things. It can “hypertrophy”, or grow, and it can “atrophy”, or shrink. Again, that’s so regardless of whether it’s on a man or a woman.

That’s it!

So you’re either growing muscle, or losing muscle, or maintaining muscle.

And it stands to reason that if you want to grow muscle, then the best way to go about it is the same regardless of your gender. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

As I said, muscle is muscle.

Fact #3:  “Long, lean muscles” are a myth

You’ve no doubt heard this expression as well at some point. It’s commonly claimed to be a benefit of some workout programs and styles of training.

You have to admit, it sounds pretty good.

Problem is, it’s B.S.

Let’s start with the “lean” part.

The term “lean” means the absence of fat. Well, muscle is one type of tissue, and fat is another. By definition, all muscle is lean. There’s no such thing as muscle that isn’t lean.

So saying “lean muscle” is like saying “wet water”. It’s cunningly designed to make things sound better, but it’s a pointless thing to say.

So, what about “long” muscles?

Well, think about it. All your muscles are attached to your skeletal system via tendons at fixed points. And these don’t change. Regardless of the type of training you do.

Sure, muscles change in length. After all, that’s how they work to create movement of your joints. But their extended length is set by your anatomy, and that doesn’t change once you’re a fully-grown adult.

As a muscle grows in size, or hypertophys, it gets wider in circumference, but it doesn’t get longer or shorter. So it’s ratio of length to width gets smaller. This might give it the appearance of being shorter, but it isn’t shorter.

Why is this an important distinction?

Because the promoters of some workout programs would have you believe that their “special” training methodologies lead you to developing long muscles, whereas traditional weight training programs lead you to developing ugly, short muscles. Again, this is B.S.

The best way of developing muscle always has been, and always will be, through an appropriate resistance training program. To make your muscles appear longer, simply don’t develop them as far. And ensure that your body composition is sufficiently low in fat.

That’s it!

No magical training program required.

Fact #4:  Heavy weights aren’t just for bodybuilders

Hand in hand with this pervasive fear women have about looking bulky is the notion that if they do participate in weight training, they need to restrict themselves to light weights, since training with heavy weights will lead to too much muscle.

Again, this is simply incorrect.

While light weight/high repetition training has its place in any good resistance training program, the fact is that training with light weights alone isn’t very effective for building a lovely physique.

The most effective way of growing muscle to develop a sexy, feminine physique is through consistent training with relatively heavy weights. Most women grossly underestimate the amount of weight and training that’s required to achieve this.

As a result, many keep their training weights way too low, leading to very disappointing results.

Heavy weights aren’t only for bodybuilders, and they certainly aren’t only for men. They’re for anyone interested in growing muscle, a little or a lot, to develop a great looking physique.

Fact #5:  Seeing isn’t always believing

Unless you’re heavily involved in the world of fitness, it can often be confusing and difficult to figure out exactly what is and isn’t realistically achievable for a woman as far as her physique goes, just from looking at established fitness models and athletes.

For this reason, if you’re someone who’s relatively new or unfamiliar with fitness you can easily be scared off by what you see.

The sad but honest truth however is that many of the amazing female physiques you come across will actually be enhanced by steroids. I say “sad” because this practice leads to a lot of misunderstanding among women who are looking to fitness celebrities as role models to follow.

For women hoping to develop a very muscular physique, it gives them a false impression of what’s achievable naturally, through sheer grit and hard work. Many will work day in and day out to the very limits of their capabilities and still fall way short of the physiques they see in magazines.

And for women hoping to simply “tone up” a little, it causes an unfounded fear that picking up a heavy weight will result in them looking like a man. Remember this, an appropriately-designed resistance training program will build any type of physique you desire. There’s no need to fear anything.

If you’re not yet experienced enough to make assessments about which physiques are natural and which are enhanced, then don’t believe what you see. It will only risk giving you the wrong idea about what weight training will do for you.

So then, armed with these five vital facts, what is the way to create a “toned”, not too-bulky physique?

Well, I’m going to assume that by this we mean a lean, athletic, slightly-muscular yet still very feminine physique. With maybe some nice six-pack abs. Because as I said, “toning” is just a marketing buzz word.

What we’re talking about here is pretty straightforward – a moderate amount of muscle growth, coupled with an appropriate amount of fat loss.

And the way to achieve it is equally simple . . . relatively heavy weight training, an appropriate amount of cardio exercise, and a good nutrition plan.

That’s it.

No special (and usually expensive) training programs and diets. No magical workouts that supposedly achieve anatomical impossibilities.

Within this simple (and timeless) framework, playing with variables such as training volume and frequency, and calorie and macronutrient intake, you’ll be able to fine-tune your training and diet to create exactly the physique you’re looking for, whether it’s a little bit of muscle mass or a lot, and a little bit of fat-loss or a lot.

The way not to achieve your dream physique is to fall for viral hype that’s only designed to mislead you and relieve you of your money. Hopefully this article will have helped prevent that.

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Fabian Colussi is a women's Bikini and Figure competition coach for natural athletes, certified personal trainer and gym instructor, and women's fitness consultant. He also has a background in martial arts, is an NLP Master Practitioner, and has a certification in Hypnotherapy. Fabian is a co-owner and co-founder of Million Dollar Baby Fitness.

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