The vast majority of female clients I work with aspire to have a lean and defined look. To achieve that look, one must first develop a base of muscle and then subsequently lose any layers of fat covering the muscle. Most women are happy to gain muscle, but they do not like the idea of getting bigger or bulkier in the process.
Many people (including myself) often claim that lifting weights will not make you bulky. This is true, but it’s not to say you won’t get bigger once you start lifting weights. It is not the lifting itself that can make you feel bigger, but what you put in your mouth. When you are consuming more calories than you burn, you will build muscle – but your existing fat layer will not budge. Think of it as building a ‘muscle sweater’ which you wear over your frame. Until you burn that layer of fat, you will feel ‘bigger’ than you did before.
The harsh reality is that in order to build a serious amount of muscle, you have to be willing to gain some size (including fat). You can’t expect to gain pure muscle hence there will be times you probably feel uncomfortable in your own skin. You cannot expect to maintain a six pack while packing on muscle mass. It just doesn’t work like that.
I underwent a strict bulking phase for an entire year before I switched to a slower building approach to minimise fat gain earlier this year. It is much, much harder to build muscle with only a minimal caloric surplus – and it also means you have to be very, very in tune with your body and know what type of macronutrient split works best for you. It took me years to reach this point.
Having done a pure bulking phase, I know how much it can mess with you mentally. You will have days where you feel strong and buff, and then you will have days where you feel fat and want to throw it all in and start cutting. You must resist the temptation to do this! Too many women do a six week bulking phase and then decide to cut. It takes a lot longer than six weeks to gain any real muscle!
One thing I have learnt throughout my journey of bulking and cutting is that weight means absolutely nothing! When I started lifting weights, I weighed 66kg (145 lbs) at a height of 5’9″. I thought I was huge and wanted to get down to my ‘goal’ weight of 60kg (132 lbs).
HA. When I started the Paleo diet two weeks ago, I weighed in at 75kg (165 lbs)! I did not feel fat at all, but I immediately started thinking that number was too high. Heck, I weigh more than three of the guys I work with! (In hindsight, I realise that it is them who should be embarrassed, not me!)
My weight is my ‘party trick’, if you like. Most people hate being weighed, so when I initially weigh my clients, I jump on the scale right after them. Their eyes usually bulge out of their heads because they can’t believe I weigh so much! It is at that point I explain how pointless the number on the scale is.
Since I started Paleo, I have lost 4kg (9 lbs). I will blog about this later, but I am being careful not to lose too much more weight. At 71kg, I feel great – lean and strong! I don’t feel bulky or big.
It is very important to always keep your end goal in mind. Remember that nothing happens overnight. If you truly want to build a lean physique, it takes YEARS. If you can’t handle the mental aspect of pure bulking and cutting, you can try a slower approach with a minimal caloric surplus – but keep in mind you will be extending the time it takes to reach your physical goals even further.
Men rarely have a problem with bulking, but women do struggle. It can be difficult dealing with the inevitable onslaught of questions that occur when you tell people you are actually trying to get bigger, not to mention the fact that you will outgrow your clothes, occasionally feel uncomfortable in your skin and often have to resist the urge to do what society pressures us to do and reach a permanent state of shreddedness (yes, I just made that a word!).
Do you struggle with bulking?