Fitness Falsehood #5: Some types of exercise give you “long, lean” muscles instead of “bulky” muscle
Muscle tissue is muscle tissue. There is no “lean” vs. “bulky” muscle tissue. There are bigger muscles and smaller muscles. Period.
What? Did you want more?
Muscle tissue is muscle tissue.** How your muscles will develop on your body and their shape is primarily controlled by your genetics. Some people add muscle easily with the right type of training; others have a harder time achieving noticeable muscle growth with the same type of training. That’s also genetics. You can gear your strength training toward greater strength or greater muscle growth (yes, they are two different things) but much about your body shape and size is… wait for it…. genetic.
How exactly your body will look in response to training will also depend on your current body composition – which is trainer-speak for how much fat vs. muscle tissue you have. If you are carrying a lot of excess fat, you may feel “bulky” as the result of strength training because, well, if you’re adding more muscle you’re adding more tissue to your body and that might feel like bulk.
Sadly, I see many people shy away from strength training with this “bulky” muscle fear – and gravitate toward exercise modalities, such as pilates and yoga or even more cardio, because they heard somewhere that those types of exercise give you the “long” muscles. Or they start and stop their strength training with 8-lb dumbbells, because they don’t want to “bulk up.” So at the risk of being redundant:
· How your muscles are shaped is genetic. They are attached to your bones and you can’t make your bones any longer or leaner. Yes, some bodies show muscle more quickly and easily. Genetic. Some bodies store fat more effectively. Genetic.
· You cannot “bulk up” by accident. It takes an enormous amount of effort to look like a body builder. In fact, it’s insulting to body builders – who spend a crushing amount of time on very specific training and (key hereà) very specific nutrition to achieve their physique goals to imply that you can inadvertently just swell up.
· I’m a full supporter of yoga and pilates (and cardio) but whether/how your yoga practice fits into the “strength” category obviously depends on what type(s) of yoga you practice. “Strength training” must involve resistance and progressive overload to be actual strength training.
Strength training is absolutely essential to long-term weight loss/maintenance but also to long-term health regardless of whether it stimulates weight loss. Starting in our 30s, we lose muscle each year. Yes, in your 30s. So unless you are actively working to maintain or add muscle, you’re losing it. And muscle is your friend. From a weight-loss perspective, muscle is active tissue that burns calories just to keep itself alive – and burning more calories 24-hours day/7 days a week means, well, that you’re burning more calories. From a whole-life perspective, strength training has been proven (with actual science) to play a key role in the health of most of your body systems and incredibly important to disease prevention. (If you want an article or 50, hit me up in the comments.)
**Here we’re talking about skeletal muscle – what most people think about when they think “muscle”-- but to be clear for all your sticklers out there, yes, we also have cardiac muscle and smooth muscle (found in blood vessels and internal organs) and yes, those are different types of muscle tissue.