“Bulky”: Too Many People Say This, and it Makes Us Cringe

“Toned.” Arguably one of the most destructive words in the fitness industry…yet one to which fitness enthusiasts and even PROFESSIONALS flock. In pursuit of “long and toned” muscles, far too many people (predominantly women) cower at the prospect of “getting bulky”.

Hey – we can’t necessarily blame you for this [completely irrational] fear. Irrationality aside, fitness products nationwide have capitalized on the concept of bulkiness, shoving “long and lean” marketing tactics and misleading buzz words down our throats, leading you to believe that this workout or that gym will help you avoid the dreaded bulk. “Toned” is now accepted as the factual alternative to “big and bulky.”

Well, we are finally calling bullshit.

What Does “Bulky” Even Mean?

Let’s talk about the perception of bulkiness. “Bulky” might mean something completely different to you than it does to your neighbor. For the sake of our point, however, let’s unpack two of the most common scenarios people have in mind when it comes to bulkiness:

1. Feeling thick and puffy…saying some variation of “I’m just big boned” or “I put muscle on quickly and don’t want to get big”; OR

2. Becoming an ultra-shredded replica of the Incredible Hulk…you know, that olympic lifting or body-building trap queen you’re picturing with veins for days.

Debunking Scenario 1: Strength training does not make you bulky. Shitty nutrition does. Add a decelerating metabolism in tandem with aging to the equation (because, let’s face it, we’re not growing teenagers anymore), and you’ll find yourself in a bit of a pickle. And, since we’re past the point of beating around the bush, let’s also not mistake the all-too-common “I eat squeaky clean throughout the week, workout hard, and then blow it out on the weekend” diet as a successful approach. We are all about balance and enjoying life’s occasions, but the free-for-all weekend mentality doesn’t do us any favors. If that lifestyle isn’t something you’re willing to give up…do you! Just be realistic in what you will and won’t be able to achieve from a performance and body composition perspective. Bottom line: you simply cannot out-train a bad diet. If you’re feeling “puffy” despite consistently working your ass off in the gym, you’re going to want to take an honest look at how you fuel yourself before you blame the weights.

Debunking Scenario 2: If the chiseled, 12-pack, quadzilla physique is what you equate with “bulky”, know that the phenoms you’re imagining are a physical representation of their sport (“sport” being an operative word). It’s incredibly difficult to achieve that degree of muscle mass (complemented by a borderline impossibly low percentage of body fat) if you’re not intentionally training for it. These individuals are typically either:

  • Elite olympic lifting athletes or professional athletes who live under the barbell and eat enough food to feed a small country;
  • Body builders who train their muscles in complete isolation.

Both architypes train for competitive purposes AND eat to multiply muscle mass and decrease bodyfat (to unnatural and unsustainable degrees). For the fitness enthusiast that strength trains 3-5 days per week for everyday wellness, this physique just isn’t in the cards.

So You Want to “Get Toned”?

The commonplace request of “I don’t want to get too muscular, I just want to tone and/or lengthen” is painfully paradoxical. First of all, “getting toned” means “getting lean”…and, this [not] just in: “getting lean” means building muscle (and also eating like you give a f*ck). Period. Second of all, you simply cannot alter the “length” of your muscles, as they attach at fixed points in your body (via bones and tendons)…so unless you’re surgically altering the placement of said bones and tendons, consider your lengthening efforts futile.

Furthermore, “leanness” is a function of your muscle mass to body fat ratio (again…nutrition + strength training). The less muscle and the more body fat one carries, the harder it is to visibly see lean muscle definition. But good news! One of the many favorable properties of building muscle by way of strength training IS burning fat. So when you shortchange yourself by selecting lighter weights than you can move, or avoiding weights altogether, you end up shortchanging your body’s ability to most effectively burn fat.

Redirect Your Focus

Shifting your mindset around strength training and what you think it’s going to do to your body composition can be difficult at first…especially since the industry has been force fed with the fabricated juxtaposition of “bulky” vs. “toned” in relation to weight training. Start by completely striking those terms from your vocabulary and focusing on “strong” and “lean” instead. Commit to a regular strength training routine paired with a nutrient-dense diet that supports your activity and lifestyle, and the rest will fall into place! And if you’re a regular at the MADhouse, you can bank on our programming to promote a lean, athletic build.