When people think about strength training, many envision massive bodybuilders or Olympic weightlifters – people with unbelievably muscular bodies just bursting out of their clothes. For most, that’s not a desirable aesthetic, and may even be distinctly unattractive, but does that mean strength training is out of the question? Not at all!
It’s not only possible to participate in strength training without bulking up, but it’s actually the most likely outcome. Gaining muscle is hard, and gaining muscle on the scale that bodybuilders want requires much more than just exercise. By gaining a better understanding of the principles underlying strength training, we can put these misconceptions behind us and support more people on their journey towards greater fitness.
Strength Training Versus Resistance Training
When discussing fitness in the vernacular, we often differentiate between strength training and resistance training, but talk to a professional and you’ll quickly learn that’s there isn’t actually a significant difference between the two. They’re just two terms for related types of exercise, with resistance training being the umbrella category that contains strength training.
Exercises under the resistance training heading include everything from bodyweight training and exercising with resistance bands to, yes, lifting the big weights. Though resistance training often uses more reps at lower weights, it would be disingenuous to suggest there isn’t a connection. Articulating that can make people more comfortable with the idea of weight training.
Why Some People Bulk Up
In addition to developing a deeper understanding of what strength training really is and what exercises can help you get stronger, it’s also important to understand just how much effort goes into bulking up.
First, to build muscle in the ways that we imagine when we talk about strength training, you’ll need a caloric surplus. No caloric surplus, no increased muscle mass – it’s that simple. That’s why people who are functioning at a caloric deficit or net zero generally won’t put on muscle, though they will still see a change in body shape, specifically a more toned overall appearance. This happens because you’ll shed fat as you go, revealing underlying muscle tone. It’s the same reason that you can theoretically have a six-pack without it being visible: fat acts as a barrier to muscle definition.
Another major aspect to building muscles and attaining that large, defined look is hormones. Women, who tend to be the most put-off by the prospect of bulking up, actually have very little to worry about because their lower testosterone levels relative to men make building muscle somewhat difficult. That means that women can safely take on the challenge of heavier weights without worrying they’ll develop large muscles. For most women, challenging weights will only lead to firm, lean muscle, not a bodybuilder physique.
Finally, you can’t discount the sheer amount of time that it takes to gain the extreme muscles you’ve seen in the media. While most people are fighting to find an hour to spend at the gym a few times a week, serious weightlifters spend countless hours shaping their distinctive musculature. They don’t see those kinds of results overnight, and you won’t see them with a run-of-the-mill gym routine.
Finding What Works For You
If you’re interested in trying out some form of strength training, there are a lot of activities you can choose that won’t cause you to build a lot of muscle. In fact, at Demetz Online Personal Training, we even offer a personalized strength coaching program designed to be completed on your own schedule and with your specific goals in mind. If you want to bulk up, we can help with that, but if you don’t, we can recommend exercises that won’t have that effect. In general, though, those who build a lot of muscle are in the minority, and they do so very intentionally.
Ready to start exercising? Start increasing your strength with these four tips and set aside your concerns about excessive muscle mass.
- Fast And Furious: In general, most people can’t do a lot of reps at higher weights, and because of the structure of common motions like the clean and jerk, these are often longer, slower repetitions. Instead of these slow distinct motions, try recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibers by completing these multi-joint lifting motions quickly. The goal isn’t to do a lot of them, but to maximize the use of these quick-fatiguing fibers.
- Try A Power Ploy: Another way to approach lifting without increasing your muscle size is to reduce the number of sets you do while, again, focusing on speed. You need the reps to bulk up, but if you lift the same amount of weight for fewer sets, you’ll see gains in strength without the volume.
- Think Broadly: We often oversimplify the full complexity of different fitness practices, whether that’s strength training, increasing endurance, or just honing the skills needed for a specific sport. What we see with any professional or serious athlete, though, is that they cross-train using different activities for optimal results. As part of your strength training routine, then, you might integrate plyometrics, sprints and agility drills, or swimming into your workouts. All exercises produce some kind of strength and by mixing and matching activities, you’ll gain endurance, flexibility, and overall physical capacity.
- Don’t Forget To Rest: Rest is integral to any workout plan, but not just the rest time between workouts. You also need to pause between sets. When working out for strength but not size, extend the rest periods between intervals, from 30 to 60 seconds up to 2 to 5 minutes. It can feel weird just waiting around, but the breaks between sets will help deliver the results you want.
Be Your Best Self
If you’re ready to take the next step in your strength training regimen, Demetz Online Personal Training is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our strength coaching program, and together we can develop a fitness plan focused on your goals and built around your particular lifestyle.
Whether you have a very physical job or a sedentary one, are raising kids or living alone, there are no excuses for putting off your health goals. Let us help you become your best self, with a plan developed just for you.