How to Tone Up Without Getting Too Bulky

Cardio, strength training and a flexibility routine all play equal roles in building lean muscle without adding bulk.



The idea that women who do anything beyond cardio will get bulky is a myth, says Kathleen Goldring, group exercise and yoga director at the Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco. For starters, building muscle requires testosterone, which men produce almost 10 times more of than women. Besides that, Goldring blames heft on the layer of fat that sits on top of those muscles. Burning calories and avoiding saturated fats can address both sides of the issue—melting away that extra padding and keeping testosterone production in check. “Once you lose that fat, you’re just going to have lean muscle,” she says. “And lean muscle mass helps increase metabolism, which burns more calories.” Goldring touts a three-pronged solution for toning up without getting bulky: cardio, such as spin class or Zumba; strength training with light weights for 12-plus repetitions; and a flexibility routine like yoga.

Member Wellness Coordinator Laura Laura, at the Rye YMCA, stresses the importance of building a stable base and working the entire body rather than isolating specific muscles. She likes to bring clients back to the basics—exercises that work against their own body weight, such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges. “Any exercise you do with multi-muscles, you’re always going to get a leaner body,” she says. “It’s when you fixate on one muscle that you tend to have more bulk.”

Jessie Brazil, fitness director at Premier Athletic Club in Montrose, agrees: “If you just use your body weight or gravity as the primary resistance, you cannot get bulkier past the point where it won’t be functional.”

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