Workout of the Day

But I Don't Want to Get Big and Bulky

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I wish I had, at the start of my journey as a coach, started keeping track of the number of people who told me that they were afraid of doing any strength training or heavy lifting because they worried they would get “big and bulky.” I would venture to say that roughly ⅓ of my initial conversations with people about fitness come back to or include some reference to this concern. I can also say with certainty that, of those who have expressed this concern and proceeded to strength train and lift weights, 0% have accidentally gotten “big and bulky” like they feared they would.

To expect that lifting some heavy weights a few times per week will suddenly stimulate the growth of massive amounts of musculature is, honestly, quite silly. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen, and other large-muscled athletes spend hours on hours in the gym every week, consume mind-blowing amounts of food every day, and commit entire careers and lifetimes to the pursuit of building muscle. The reality of the matter is that the body, in general, is quite resistant to change. The body prefers homeostasis (interestingly, this inclination towards homeostasis is actually a pivotal part of what make the body capable of adapting to our training as well), and it takes extra effort to get it to change. In the same way that it takes considerable effort to lose much of that pesky body fat, it takes considerable stimuli to stimulate large amounts of hypertrophy (muscle building).

One of these stimuli is the weight training itself. The body gets stronger in two ways: muscular adaptations (hypertrophy) and neural adaptations (efficiency). Yes, more muscle will make you stronger, but you don’t need to gain muscle to get stronger. One need look no further than strength sports with weight classes to see this phenomenon in action. The physiques of lower weight class weightlifters, for example, are anything but “big and bulky,” and these athletes still manage to lift incredible amounts of weight.

If you’re interested in getting stronger (which you should be) but not interested in putting on muscle mass, the good news is that you have control over the one factor that will have the greatest impact on this: your diet. Muscle doesn’t just appear out of thin air -- it needs to be fed. To gain muscle mass, you must eat to gain muscle mass. This means eating more calories than your body uses for daily life (i.e., a caloric surplus). If you’re afraid of putting on lots of muscle from lifting, the answer is to not eat in a massive caloric surplus. And, if you’re the type who’s concerned about getting “big and bulky,” my guess is that you’re already not eating at a massive caloric surplus, and this is again a non-issue.

Another point worth noting, though less important, is that strength training and hypertrophy training, while they do share some strategies and carryover between adaptations, are two different animals. Strength training generally involves lifting heavier weights for lower volumes, whereas hypertrophy training is preferential to moderate weights for much higher volumes. The irony here is that most people fear that heavy weights will lead to “big” and “bulky” features, whereas lighter weights for more reps will lead to “toned” and “lean” looks. This is far from true, as heavier weights stimulate greater neural strength adaptations, while lighter weights for more reps provide stimulus for more muscle growth.

I am a firm believer that you and I cannot afford to not strength train. The positive effects of strength training (and the negative effects of not strength training) are too significant to ignore. Everything from fat loss, to heart health, to athletic performance, to joint health, to disease risk, to metabolic health, and more is on the table here. The risks involved in not strength training far outweigh any perceived (and easily mitigated) risks of becoming “big and bulky” from picking up the barbell. For those interested in looking better and feeling better (read: all of us), strength training may be just the thing that’s needed.

- PS


4/3/17

  • Standing broad jump - 5-8 attempts

  • Single leg standing broad jump - 5-8 attempts

  • 2 rounds

    • Max handstand push-ups in 60s

    • Rest 60s

    • Max push-ups in 60s

    • Rest 60s

    • Max toes to bar in 60s

    • Rest 60s

    • Max sit-ups in 60s

    • Rest 60s