Baby & Beyond – What No One Else Will Tell You… Natalie debunks that myth that workouts with weights will bulk you up. It’s the diet, not the weights, that make you bulky & big.
Ladies, let’s get real for a second. Stop opting out of a workout with weights by saying you are afraid you are going to bulk up. Seriously. Enough is enough. Let’s debunk this silly idea that working out with weights gives you a bulky look.
I’ve been a fitness instructor for about 4 years now. I am a 200 RYT (registered yoga teacher), and I have my certification in teaching spin, kettlebell, and barre workouts. Personally, I’ve been consistently working out for the past six years doing a mix of yoga sculpt (yoga with weights), spin, kettlebell weights, barre, and crossfit. And I’ve pretty much tried every exercise under the sun from step aerobics to horizontal conditioning, and I played lacrosse in college. Over the years I’ve seen my body change from “skinny-fat” and soft to lean and toned. In high school and college, I subsisted on a diet that was mostly non-fat yogurt, granola bars, jello, and sugar, thinking that the less I ate the thinner I would become. My body craved sugar because it was the only way I could power through a day on less than 2,000 calories. I was a skinny fat person. Today, I have toned arms and legs and muscles I couldn’t even begin to dream about having before. My body today is not the result of working out; it’s a result of diet. I eat an (almost) Ageless Diet™. (I sneak in more sugar than I should, but I try to stick to the Ageless Diet way of eating.)
Last Saturday, while teaching my strength/barre class (one that combines half an hour of a kettlebell based bootcamp workout with half an hour of barre) a student stopped midworkout and asked if she was going to get bulky from using such a “heavy” weight. The kettlebells I had chosen for us that day were 10 pounds (lbs), because we were doing single arm training exercises. I told the girl that for ballistic movements such as the ones we were doing, the recommended weight according to kettlebell and crossfit standards is actually 8kg/18lbs and 12kg/26lbs, which are obviously well above the 10lbs we were using. (She wanted to use 5lbs.) The motion of swinging a kettlebell comes from the hips and the core thus the lighter the weight the more ineffective. A good rule of thumb (and physiology) is that if you can lift the weight 12 times, it won’t add size to the muscle. The ability to add muscle largely comes down to the levels of your testosterone, and given that most women have low levels of it, it’s extremely hard for them to bulk up. After class, I went on to talk to the student about her concerns with her body. She was under the false impression that with all the exercise she was doing that she was getting bigger and not leaner. She was taking a lot of high intensity classes but wasn’t seeing the results she wanted in her body. I suggested some dietary changes along with adding in yoga which would give her more flexibility and would change her posture, which in turn would give her a leaner look when standing up right. Her diet was less than ideal. Full of inflammatory foods, like dairy and sugar, and a lot of non to low-fat foods.
I blame celebrity trainers like Tracy Anderson for having a hand in this madness, where women are afraid of becoming bulky. Time and time again at my training center, I have talked to women who refuse to use heavy weights or to take spin classes because they believe their bodies will become Hulk Hoganesque. In fact, recently Tracy Anderson came under fire for saying that spin classes give you bulky thighs. If you follow Tracy Anderson she’s been spreading her workout philosophy like poison and celebrities are lining up around the block to endorse her. I guess there’s something wrong about being a strong woman in Hollywood!
Here are few of Tracy’s recommendations for women: 1. Don’t lift anything heavier than 3lbs 2. Avoid repetition 3. No running or spinning 4. Core strength will push out your rib cage and make you bulky 5. On her 30 day method plan you have to do 4 hours of exercise a day and even more importantly you have to follow her diet. If you followed her dietary restrictions, you’d be consuming about 700 calories a day. Of course, then the Tracey Anderson method makes sense! Because if you can only eat 700 calories a day (she even recommends a baby food like diet) then how on earth would you lift anything heavier than your purse? You would fall over from weakness during a spin class if all you had to “eat” that day was juice. If you avoid repetition then you will never see results, and you will never get stronger in your workouts. If you do not lift anything heavier than three pounds then you will not be able to break the muscle down (ripping it) and adding new muscle (repairing it). And for most of us a bag of groceries weighs more than those 3 pounds.
Spinning works perhaps the most important muscle in your body, your heart. Getting your heart rate up via cardio will burn the fat around the muscle. If you can’t see the muscle because of the fat, then what’s the point in building any muscle in the first place? Core strength will keep your back strong, and it’s what allows us balance in our every day lives. Four hours of exercise a day? If you have time for this, then fantastic, but for most of us it’s just not realistic. What I would like to see is women putting more of an effort into their workouts when they are at the gym.
My fitness classes I teach are not easy, and I will admit I’ve had students sometimes walk out, because it was, in their words “it was too hard.” One told me she didn’t know there were going to be so many “ballistic movements” in class. I wasn’t sure if she thought she was signing up for a massage and pedicure session, but working out is supposed to be just that… WORK! If you aren’t there for work in the hour that you committed to coming to class, then you might as well stay home in bed. The work extends far beyond the gym doors, however. I know many students who grow frustrated because they are changing everything BUT their diet. Some even use working out as an excuse to eat more because of the “I deserve it since I worked hard” mentality. Many times the hunger or headaches you feel after an intense workout are simply dehydration and upping your intake of water can help tremendously. I am not a nutritionist, but I do know that if you eat too much or too little or too much processed anything, you won’t see the results in your body you’d like to, no matter how much you work out.
To all my female readers out there, please stop believing that exercise will make you bulky. It makes you lean and strong and sexy. Tracey Anderson is full of bullshit, and she’s getting rich promoting what amounts to a glorified eating disorder. Your genetics and your diet are what largely determine your body type, and you must realize that unless you are pumping testosterone into your body you will not look like an Olympic Power lifter. Learn what the recommended weight to lift for your percentage of body weight and start your exercise routine from there. If you want to build muscle, then max out at your heaviest weight and do less reps rather than using lighter weights for more reps. Remember, in the gym it’s quality over quantity that counts. (It’s a solid hour workout versus four hours of dancing around, Tracy Anderson style.) Put your best effort in, and when you show up listen to your instructor, work hard and focus on the movements to avoid injury. Above all think of food as fuel for your body not a reward. Stop buying the crap that people are selling and go for tried and true methods of fitness and diet. Worry about bulking up your savings account… not your body.
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.