Here’s How To Tone Up Without Bulking

Here’s How To Tone Up Without Bulking

We all know getting in shape takes time, commitment and consistency. But what do you do when you’re putting in the effort and seeing the wrong type of results? If you’re someone who has a naturally athletic shape, intensive exercise may leave you looking bigger than intended. So, how should you approach working out? We asked Personal Trainer and Boom Cycle instructor Hannah Frankson to break it down for us…

I build muscle quickly so I'm reluctant to use weights….  

Building muscle is important if you’re trying to create a more toned body, so don’t write it off. When you first begin weight training, you’ll likely see a sudden increase in muscle mass, as your body is adapting. But after this initial phase, it becomes a lot harder to increase muscle mass – it would take regular, extremely heavy lifting sessions (four to five times a week) paired with a strict diet to keep on increasing. If you build muscle quickly, work up to a slightly challenging weight and don’t go beyond that – instead, play around with rest periods and reps to ensure there’s still an element of progression in your training.  

Is it true that sprints bulk your legs?  

I feel fairly confident to say there’s no way they would, when done alone. Despite what people think, bulking your legs is incredibly hard to do, especially for women who have lower testosterone levels than men. You would have to be following a strict training regime and seriously increase your calorie intake to do so. 

What moves can I do at home?  

Any bodyweight exercises are perfect to do at home. As you’re not using any extra weight, it would be impossible to build up excessive muscle mass. For lower body, try squats, lunges (forward, side and reverse), split squats, glute bridges (double or single leg for more of a challenge), inchworms and single leg deadlifts. For upper body, try press-ups, tricep dips and handstand holds. Pilates is also great to do at home – there are a lot of videos on YouTube which you can follow. 

Which exercise classes are best?  

I personally love spin classes, as I teach at Boom Cycle. Spin is also fairly low impact – there's a misconception that you get bulky legs from spinning, but this is merely a fitness myth! Other classes to try are TRX: a great one to build lean muscle, using your body weight; Barrecore: another fantastic class which focuses on working smaller, isolated muscle groups to shape your body; and Kobox: an intensive full-body workout that will help you lose weight fast. It doesn’t involve any weights but does take a lot of power and stamina – I’d recommend it for anyone wanting to slim down and tone.   

Should I avoid any exercises?  

Higher impact moves should be gradually built into a program due to the amount of force they put through your body. And keeping it simple always pays off – don’t overdo it. I see people walking on the treadmill with weights or combining a ton of exercises in the hope that they burn more calories. Keep it stripped-back and consistent and you won't have to do this madness.  

Can I use lighter weights? 

Depending on what your goal is, there’s research to support the benefits of using lighter weights. Using heavier weights will lead to a more rapid muscle gain –  so lighter weights are the most efficient option if you’re trying to avoid this. You can lift lighter weights and do more repetitions, however this makes gaining muscle take much longer. So, if you’re not looking to build, try lighter weights and longer sessions. 

What would you suggest in order to slim down your arms?  

When you lose body fat, it doesn't happen in one area, it happens all over. There are certain exercises that target the arms and specifically tone and shape the smaller muscle groups, rather than building the bigger ones. For this, you can use light weights with a high repetition or try resistance bands. You can also perform moves involving only your body weight, like press-ups and dips. 

Does diet matter?  

If you’re exercising without making any changes in your diet and are consuming a lot of unhealthy food, it’s likely that you’ll be building muscle without losing fat – this is when your body can start to bulk up. In the same way that rugby players consume vast quantities of calories combined with heavy weight training to increase their overall size, you’ll tend to see that your body mass increases rather than decreases. 

To counteract this, you should always make sure you combine your exercise routine with a calorie-controlled diet. Your diet is more important that the exercises you’re doing, so always keep this in mind. And remember, there are no quick fixes – just like exercise, it’s all about being consistent. Some people love intermittent fasting and some don't, and that’s fine; some people find tracking their macros help and some don't, and that’s also fine, but you must find something that works for you. 

For more information, or to book a Boom Cycle session, visit

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