I know I Should Lift Weights . . . But I Don’t Want to Get too Bulky

Building muscle isn’t easy. Ask any bodybuilder (male or female) – it’s tough. During our No Sweat Intro process, it’s rare for a male to tell me that they don’t want to put on muscle, but it is shared with most of the women who come in looking to begin a new fitness routine. Since it’s inception, CrossFit has done a remarkable job of dispelling the myth that strong women aren’t beautiful. I would argue that CrossFit has done more to promote a positive body image in the female fitness community than any other organization out there. However, a lot of women are still concerned that lifting weights is going to make them “bulky.”

When it comes to building muscles, there are two things we need to consider, and one far outweighs the other: routine and nutrition. Want to guess as to which one plays the bigger role? Correct: nutrition.

Here’s how it works. When we do any exercise, be it bodybuilding, CrossFit, running, or dancing, we will experience muscle breakdown. The stress that we put on our body tears our muscles apart, leaving them damaged. To help those muscles recover, we need to refuel after exercise, and the two best sources for recovery are protein and carbohydrates. How much of each we need depends on several factors such as how hard we work out, whether we are trying to build muscle, do we want to burn fat, or to aim to optimize our performance.

Let’s look at two hypothetical clients doing the same workout.

Client 1: Wants to build muscle.

Client 2: Wants to burn fat.

Each client is in the same class doing the same workout:

4 Rounds
25 Chest Press
25 Sit-ups
400m Run

If they have a good coach who knows their clients and understands their goals, they will tell each client how to tailor that workout to help them reach those goals.

Coach to Client 1: “I know we are aiming to build muscle, so in today’s workout, I want you to focus on the chest press and the sit-ups. These should be completed as strictly as possible, and your muscles should feel like they are breaking down throughout the workout. When it comes time for the run, think of this as your recovery period. Don’t push so hard that it will take away from the next round of presses and sit-ups.”

Coach to Client 2: “To optimize our body’s ability to burn fat, we need to focus on the run. The more you can push the run, the more calories you are going to burn. After the run, break up the sets of chest press and sit-ups as needed so our lungs can recover, and we can push and optimize calorie burn on the next run.”

Two clients, same workout, but vastly different approaches. But, let’s take a look at the thing that mattes – nutrition. Let’s assume each client is working with a great nutrition coach (like the ones we have at Arsenal). If this is the case, you can bet that their coaches suggested to them the most effective nutrition strategies to help them reach their goals.

At the end of the day, building muscle or losing fat is about calories in vs. calories out. It’s simple math. If Client 1 wants to build muscle, they will need to eat more than Client 2, who is looking to burn fat.

Using myself as an example here is what my nutrition would like post-workout for each goal:

Building Muscle: 25 grams of protein & 50 grams of carbohydrates (approximately 300 calories)
Lose Fat: 25 grams of protein & 25 grams of carbohydrates (approximately 200 calories)

Each client did the same workout, but took a different approach. In each scenario, they both ate the same types of food post-workout but in different quantities. The key is that they each had a coach guiding them throughout the process. If you are concerned about lifting weights and becoming “too bulky” find a coach who will monitor your progress and help guide you through the process. You will find that after a few months of working out consistently and eating a balanced diet, your body will begin to look exactly how it was meant to look all along!