Are you actually bulking up??

I was wondering if you would be able to provide some input for me about weight training. It seems like every time I try to incorporate weight training into my workout routine, although I do notice an increase in muscle tone, it also seems like my “fluffy” areas (inner/outer thighs, butt, and abs) just seem to get bulkier UNDER the unwanted layer of padding! I’ve read a lot about how important it is for women to weight train, and that it actually provides a better, more effective fat burn than long periods of cardio – and that all makes sense. I’m really just wondering how long it takes to realistically expect to see fatty areas start becoming noticeably less fluffy? I’ve only been working with weights for 4-6 weeks now, so I’m trying to be realistic and stay motivated – but I guess I’m wondering if there’s some pivotal point where the results start to feel and look less bulky and start to look more lean? ~Aimee P.

Thanks for the question Aimee! I hear these concerns a lot, so I felt like it was time to address it. Honestly, I usually just encourage my clients to keep lifting while focusing on their nutritional changes because I know that if they do that it’ll all work itself out. But I thought I’d get a little more in depth today, in the hopes that by giving you a better understanding of what’s actually going on, it’ll become a little less stressful and scary and allow you to relax and trust the process a little more.

SO, you start strength training and all of the sudden it feels like your jeans are getting tighter and you fear you’re already starting to pack on the muscle. While it actually might not be all in your head, it’s probably not what you think it is either! So here’s the skinny (pun intended 😉 )…..

In the beginning, strength training can cause your muscles to temporarily retain water. When you’re brand new to lifting or getting back into it after a break, it’s a new kind of stress especially for your muscles. (Hopefully you have a great trainer who understands this and therefore, eases you into it as much as possible!) Anyways, due to this, your muscles will retain water in order to relieve inflammation in the muscles’ soft tissues. 4-6 week into training, this retention is most likely what’s making you feel puffy. However, this will not last forever. As your muscles adjust to the stress, they will shed that excess water.

As you continue strength training however, your muscles will begin to change. When not in use, muscles become small, weak, and limp. In this state, kind of like fat, they are going to easily conform to your jeans or move around that tight bra strap as necessary. Now, all of the sudden, they start taking on a shape of their own. A firmer shape that instead of simply conforming is actually starting to push back now! So while those jeans that used to fit around your butt perfectly might not actually be the perfect jeans anymore, this is a good thing! It means the muscle in your butt is becoming tighter and more shapely. As you lose fat and tone up, you’re gonna have to buy new jeans anyways! 🙂

On top of this, quite literally, is the fat we haven’t lost yet. As your muscles start to tone up, that fat might also readjust, making certain areas appear even more lumpy than usual! It is an unfortunate side effect but if you can push through, this too shall pass.


women's fitness

Here are some important things to keep in mind:

*Most importantly, remember that we tend to scrutinize our bodies on a level that not even our significant other does! Most of these changes that are glaringly noticeable to you, are NOT noticeable to those around you.

*The best way to make sure you’re losing fat as you tone up is to also be changing your eating habits as well. However, if you’re taking my advice 😉 and easing into better, more sustainable, nutritional habits, then this may be an issue for a few months. Remember, it took you a while to get to where you are. It’s going to take time to get where you want to be.

*Yes, there are some women with the genetics to build muscle easier. I am one of them. However, the ones that can build a significant amount are rare. So I want to encourage you to keep going! It might take some time for your muscles to settle in a bit. And if you ever come to a point where you are honestly putting on more muscle than you prefer, there are simple ways to reverse that. (And no, it’s not just to stop lifting! 😉 )

*Be willing to give it a solid 6 months. There’s a reason weight lifting is becoming a trend with women, from celebrities to former “cardio queens” to those just getting started. It’s such a breath of fresh air to focus on what your body can do instead of just what it looks like. Chances are you’ll find out that you’re a lot stronger than you ever thought possible, you’ll start getting definition where you never thought possible, and you’ll realize that being strong feels even more amazing than you ever thought possible.

You will become smaller, but you’ll become mightier too.  ~Jen Sinkler on weight lifting

I know that the idea of making things “worse”, even if just for a season, is hard to stomach. But the answer to your question Aimee is yes! For those that hang in there, you will come out the other side with a stronger, more sculpted, figure to show for it! And that’s just one of the reasons that make strength training a worthwhile endeavor!