Have you been putting off lifting weights because you don’t want to look like a bodybuilder? Are you wondering if there’s a way to get stronger and leaner, but avoid bulking up?
The good news is yes – you can get stronger and leaner without getting huge. It’s a misconception that lifting weights will automatically turn you into a bulky person. Lifting weights is an art, and how you train will determine whether or not you gain size and strength.
There are different ways to train your muscles
Weight training is for everyone, regardless of age, size, weight, or sport. The key is knowing how to train to meet your specific goals. For instance, you can lift weights to lose fat, gain strength, or gain size, but each goal requires a different regimen.
Even runners train with weights, but they train specifically to avoid bulking up to keep their times fast. The thing is, if runners can build lean muscle and lose fat without getting huge, you can too.
To understand why lifting weights won’t automatically make you huge, let’s first look at what’s required to make muscles grow.
What makes muscles grow in size? It’s not what you think
To gain size, you need to do two things: eat plenty of food and train to muscle failure. If you don’t eat enough, you’ll gain more strength than size. If you don’t train to failure, you won’t gain much muscle size, no matter how much you eat.
Food is the key to size
Bodybuilders eat specific foods during their bulking phase. Without eating large amounts of specific foods, their muscles won’t grow in size, no matter how hard they train.
Have you ever seen a bodybuilder off season? They still look pretty big in general, but you can tell their muscles are smaller. Why? It’s because they’re not eating as much as usual.
For instance, most bodybuilders alternate between traditional bulking and cutting phases. During a bulking phase, they’ll eat about 3,800 calories per day, and then cut back to 2,400 calories per day. During the off season, they don’t bulk/cut, and instead, eat normal meals. This inevitably causes their muscles to shrink.
Don’t want big muscles? Don’t eat to gain size
If you don’t want to gain size, don’t eat like a bodybuilder. You can still train hard with weight lifting, but don’t feed your muscles like someone who wants them to grow.
If strength is your goal, train to maximize muscle growth, but without the extra food. For example, you may want to look into lifting heavy weights using low reps, or doing one set with heavy weights using time under tension (TUT). Although they’re similar, there are pros and cons to each of these methods.
However, they both utilize training your muscles to failure.
Want strength? Train your muscles to failure
When you’re training for strength, the key is to perform reps to failure – not fatigue. Training to failure will maximize your strength gains with minimal effort during your workout. However, you’ll need to practice training to failure because it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Some people say training to failure means training until you can’t physically perform any more reps. However, that’s not exactly true. You can be too tired to perform more reps and still not hit muscle failure.
Muscle failure is when your target muscle can no longer contract concentrically. Most people never train to failure because it’s extremely uncomfortable, mentally challenging, and taxing.
You need to overload your muscles to make them stronger. Training to failure with heavy weights is the fastest way to provide that overload. Although, it’s important to remember that being tired doesn’t count as overload. For instance, it doesn’t matter if you do 500 reps and can’t lift your arm one more time – fatigue is not the same as muscle failure and won’t make you stronger.
Want strength? Train heavy and eat normally
The bottom line is that if you want strength, not bulk, you need to train with heavy weights and eat normally. However, what’s considered a “normal” food plan will vary according to each individual’s goals.
Depending on your overall fitness goals, your diet will look very different from other people’s diets. For instance, if you want to lose fat and gain strength at the same time, you’ll want to eat less than someone who has already achieved their body fat goal and just wants to gain strength.
Generally, anytime you want to lose fat, you’ll be in a caloric deficit, but what constitutes a deficit will depend on your lifestyle, activity level, and other goals.
Coming up with a solid nutrition plan isn’t easy, and neither is putting together your own workout plan. You don’t want to start following the wrong plan because you could end up getting the wrong results or no results at all.
Instead of trying to do things on your own, consider getting professional training. Working with a personal trainer is the best way to learn what to eat and what type of strength training you should do to meet your goals.
Start your fitness journey right with DeMetz personal training
Starting a fitness journey can be intimidating when you don’t know where or how to start. On the other hand, hiring a personal trainer will help you get the results you want without wasting your time.
If you haven’t already, check out our personalized nutrition coaching program and our fully customizable strength training program. After taking a quick assessment, we’ll create a personalized plan that will help you reach your goals. No matter what your fitness goals are, we can customize our training programs just for you.
We want to see you succeed in your fitness loss journey, so don’t wait to get started. Check out our programs and contact us if you have any questions. We’d love to help you reach your goals!
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, Utah State University, and the ISSA College of Exercise Science.
Nathan has 20 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.
To work with Nathan directly on your personal training goals, contact him today!