How To Lift Weights Without Bulking Up Too Much

How To Lift Weights Without Bulking Up Too Much

Who doesn’t want a strong, sculpted silhouette? Although lifting weights can be an effective way to achieve this many of us are still concerned about adding too much bulk. So, we asked two experts for their top tips...

Firstly, Know The Benefits Of Weight Lifting

“Lifting weights (also referred to as strength or resistance training) is a form of exercise that requires you to perform movements which load your muscles and challenge your strength,” says Don Graham, Head of Fitness Coaching at Goal Master Fitness. “This can be done by bearing the weight of one’s own body (e.g. a push-up or bodyweight squat) or by adding external resistance such as dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. People engage in resistance training to become stronger, fitter, build muscles, optimise weight-loss (by preserving muscle tissue) and to generally become more physically capable.” 

Excessive ‘Bulking’ Is Actually Hard To Achieve

“If all that comes to mind when you hear the term ‘strength training’ is that veiny, body builder in the gym, you’ve got it all wrong,” explains Lucie Cowan, trainer at Third Space London. “Bulking is actually an extremely hard thing to achieve, and requires precision, dedication and training specificity, so you really don’t need to worry. If I had a penny for every client who ‘wants to tone up but not bulk’ I’d be seriously wealthy. This fear is the equivalent of accidentally becoming a millionaire through doing well at work!” 

Keep Muscle Mass Low With These Simple Steps

“Testosterone is the main muscle building hormone, and women have far less than men. This is another reason not to fear becoming bulky from strength training,” says Don. “Despite this, below are a few of my easy steps you can follow to stop muscle increasing dramatically:” 

1. Ensure you are consuming the right amount of food
“It is impossible to bulk up from lifting weights unless you are consistently in a calorie-surplus. This means that you consume more calories than your body expends. If you are consistently at calorie-maintenance or in a calorie-deficit you will not get bulky.”

2. Don’t be afraid to regularly lift weights
“As long as you are eating at calorie maintenance or, if you are looking to lose body fat, in a calorie deficit, you should make lifting weights the main focus of your exercise programme. You won’t get bulky. You will, however, be able to develop a physique that looks firm, toned and lean, especially if you keep it frequent.”

3. Perform compound exercises
“These are exercises that require more than one joint to move, such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, hip bridges, rows, push-ups. These movements recruit more muscles than isolation or single joint exercises – such as leg extensions or bicep curls – creating greater stimulus, including calorie expenditure.”

4. Do more work on the areas you want to enhance
“If you want to focus on your bum for instance, do more deadlifts, glute bridges, squats and lunges and consider adding in isolation exercises – such as the seated abduction machine (found in most gyms) and side lying hip raises. Want more shapely calves? Add standing and seated calf raises to your programme. If you feel top heavy, spend more work training your lower body than upper body. Basically, distribute the wealth of your efforts accordingly.”

5. Do not confuse inflammation with muscle gain
“Lifting weights causes your muscles to become engorged with blood; a temporary effect sometimes referred to as ‘the pump’. It also creates micro-tears in your muscle fibres. This and the repair of these micro-tears is the physiological process by which your body adapts to the stimulus of strength training. There may be occasions when your muscles are sore and appear bigger after training, but this is an inflammatory effect, not a sudden increase in muscle mass. Don’t be freaked out and trust that this effect will subside as you get used to strength training.”

Learn The Basics To Notice Weight Loss Benefits

“Strength training makes up a crucial part of our overall fitness, with a huge range of physical (and mental) benefits for those of all ages, including weight loss and boosting metabolism,” adds Lucie. “As muscle tissue is denser than fat, it occupies less space, meaning that by increasing your muscle mass, you may actually appear leaner – not larger. If that wasn’t enough, muscle burns more fuel that fat (up to three times the amount) even at rest, which can lead to an increased resting metabolic rate.” 

Run Through This Mental List Before You Lift

“As much as we’ve identified weight lifting as playing an essential role in our health, if done wrong, it can lead to injury and imbalances fast,” says Lucie. “Because of this, you should always make sure you have a full biomechanical assessment and get yourself a good, bespoke programme to follow. I also always tell my clients that they shouldn’t start lifting heavy weights before mastering proper technique with lighter weights. Finally, remember that heavy lifting all starts with a strong core. Through engaging the core and learning how to adopt the canister position, we can build a strong foundation from which to safely increase the weight selection. Remember, it must be a gradual increase, rather than just starting with a heavy weight. Make sure you know how to execute each move correctly with perfect technique using only your bodyweight, before attempting to lift with heavy weights.”

Finally, Know Your Limits

“Train for intensity rather than volume, and avoid lifting for hours on end every week,” says Lucie. “A 45-minute strength session 3 times per week really is enough. Lift the heaviest weight you can lift, while maintaining good form, and incorporate multi-joint, compound exercises wherever possible. If you can perform 12 to 15 repetitions and find that you could keep going, your weights are too light.”

SL’s Favourite Strength Training Classes & Services Across London: 

  1. Romans at F45, classes from £25,

  2. Strength, Cardio, Tone at Good Vibes, from £25,

  3. PT training at Third Space London, ThirdSpace.London 

  4. Strength Conditioning At Sweat By BXR, from £30, 

  5. The Yard At Manor, from £19 per session, MyManor.London 

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