I'm sorry. You have been wasting so much of your time trying to do the right thing, only to get unimpressive, unsustainable or absolutely zero results. And for this, I apologise.
Everywhere I look I see magazines, and other forms of media, claiming to yield amazing results in just about seventeen seconds with little to no effort. I see ads and hear other women talking about wanting to "tone" or "lengthen" their muscles, without getting "bulky". I have clients ask me what superfoods they can eat in order to get the tight tummies and trim thighs they see on other women...
and this kills me. Because society has done us a huge injustice by first telling us that our bodies are not good enough/beautiful enough/thin enough as they are, but now we're being told that in order to achieve the "ideal body" (or even just an appropriately fit one), we need some sort of special light-weight-only-cardio-crazed "toning but not bulking" magic muscle workout and diet plan so we don't get big and muscley (because, God forbid we embrace our strengths).
So here it is gal pals, some hard truths.
A muscle can grow or it can shrink, but there is no way to make a muscle longer or leaner or more or less tone.
How your muscle looks on your skeleton is affected by two things:
1. Genetics. How long your bones are, the length relationship between muscle bellies and tendons, and insertion points determine what your muscularity will look like on your frame. I don't need to tell you that these things are entirely out of your control, barring some sort of crazy body-morphing surgery.
2. Body fat percentage. Individuals with a lower body fat percentage will have more of their muscle on display because there will be less fat covering it. The good news - this factor IS in your control, as it is primarily a result of your diet, training, sleep, stress management and various other lifestyle factors.
So, if your goal is to look long and lean, and you stand at 5' tall and have short limbs, I'm sorry to break it to you, but you won't ever look like (insert your supermodel of choice here) - thanks to mom and dad. But that doesn't mean you can't still look absolutely amazing. You absolutely can.
...More on that later.
Let's first clear a few things up about the big, bad word, "bulking". Bulking is defined as a muscle growth phase achieved by a caloric surplus. In other words,
You can not, and will not, gain muscle unless you are eating more than your body expends through activity.
Yes, you heard that right. Building muscle is HARD work. And it won't happen unless you are eating a lot and intentionally training for hypertrophy "the act of building muscle".
She's talking about heavy weights right?
No. Heavy weights do NOT make you "bulky". Muscle gaining programs - designed specifically to add muscle mass to your frame - incorporate a LOT of volume (to stress the muscles), time under tension, and progressive overload (in addition to a caloric surplus)...but that's getting a little scienc-y. The bottom line is, eating more than your body needs when muscle gain is not the goal and training is not geared towards hypertrophy, is what leads to unanticipated weight gain and a higher body fat percentage. This body fat is what covers your muscles, making them look soft and "untoned". Which sends you into a downward spiral, searching for the next fab food fad and/or exercise regimen, promising to deliver your dreams on a silver ab roller 2000.
So here it is. Instead of focusing on getting "tight and toned" or "long and lean", you will get better, longer-lasting results if nutrition is your #1 focus. This includes the quality of what you're eating, as well as how much you're eating. The way your body looks, the way it feels and how it performs can all be significantly improved by how and what you choose to eat. And that answer isn't super sexy because it's not rocket science and it's not some "magic pill" that saves you from the commitment of consistency (which is why isn't not on the front cover of any magazine), but it is the truth.
When it comes to activity, do what you love. Movement is great. Movement you enjoy is even better. You know what's great too? Building muscle mass. And here's why:
1. Your health. Advancing age is associated with a loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia). Preserving muscle mass can preserve strength, and strength is a predictor of survival as one ages.
2. Your quality of life. Muscle growth improves function. Larger muscles are often stronger muscles, leading to improved daily functioning in most individuals. Have you ever needed to carry groceries from the car to the house? How about laundry? A baby? Additionally, because muscle is metabolically active, individuals with more muscle (and lower percentages of body fat) have better insulin control.
3. Your appearance. Muscle mass improves your body appearance. Women who gain muscle mass while remaining relatively lean appear tighter, firmer, and more “toned.” Men who gain muscle mass while remaining lean appear stronger, larger, and more athletic. This is, of course, subjective, but most "I want to look like that" body types have a significant amount of muscle mass, along with a relatively low body fat percentage.
No matter what your goal is - whether you want to get lean, get strong, or get super sexy so you look good naked, start with nutrition. Adjust accordingly based on what you're looking for (muscle growth, maintenance, fat loss, etc.) Then find a great training program that you enjoy and helps support your goals. If you need help with either of these, I'm here for you. If this is still confusing for you and you don't quite understand, that's okay! There's a lot of information out there that muddies the issue. I'm here for you.
But ladies, for the good of womankind let's please throw out the terms "bulky" and "toned", and instead of dieting and exercising out of fear try eating and training for health because it allows us to feel good, live well
...and look hot as hell.
Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.