Fitness Myth: Lifting Weights Makes You “Bulky”

paulromasco-com

My personal goals involve increasing muscle mass, reducing body fat, and performing heavy barbell lifts.

However, the majority of my clients do not share these goals. Most of my clients want to lose weight, regain function, improve posture, and reverse disease.

In fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from those trying to get in shape is that they “don’t want to get big muscles”.

For that reason, I’m going to discuss what causes muscle growth, and how you can avoid getting bulky muscles while still leaning out and improving performance.

The technical term for developing muscle size is “muscular hypertrophy”. Hypertrophy is merely the process of tissues increasing in volume. And the form of muscular hypertrophy that results in the largest muscular gains is “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”.

Strictly speaking, 8 to 12 repetitions with a moderate weight is the protocol for hypertrophy training. However, intensity and volume are the real deciding factors.

Intensity is accomplished by working until the muscles can no longer perform the exercise properly, known as “failure”, and moving quickly between sets.

Volume is an equation of sets, reps, and weight. This means that 2 sets of 20 repetitions

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A female Olympian in the 165 lb. weight class. Does SHE look bulky? I don’t think so!

with 5 pounds will result in more growth stimulus than 3 sets of 1 repetition with 50 pounds.

I personally perform an exercise for 4 sets of 15 repetitions if I am trying to increase muscle size. Almost any load can cause significant growth when performed for 15 slow and focused repetitions.

I bring up the topic of intensity to address those that avoid lifting heavy weights because they don’t want to bulk up. The classic bodybuilder approach of 8 to 12 repetitions means that “heavy weights” (relative to the individuals strength) cannot be used.

BulkyThe weights that bodybuilders handle may look heavy but this is merely because they are very strong and have been lifting, with regular improvement, for a long time. It may look like a bench press with two 75-pound dumbbells looks heavy, but if the individual is doing it for 8 or more reps, they could handle over 100-pound dumbbells for fewer reps.

Contrarily, lifting a massively heavy weight for fewer than 5 repetitions will actually train the mind more than the muscles. Yes, the body is getting a great workout, but lifting a maximum load for 1, 2, or 3 repetitions results in more neurological adaptations than muscular growth.

So, if any rep range can stimulate muscle growth, and 8 to 12 reps with a moderately-heavy weight is the most promising to grow muscles, what can you do to avoid “bulking up”?

  • Always feel like you could do 2 to 5 more repetitions with perfect form. The moment you go to failure, and technique breaks down, you are causing muscular damage that will result in the muscle growing larger during recovery.
  • Also, take the time you need to rest between sets. Many bodybuilder programs recommend timed recoveries under 60 seconds, sometimes as low as 15 seconds. Starting your next set before the muscles are ready is a surefire way to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Finally, don’t consume excess calories! One of the main goals of exercising is to increase lean body mass, but, if you don’t want your muscles to grow considerably larger, eat at, or even below, maintenance so your body replaces fat with lean mass.

One last point worth making is regarding “toning”. The same people that say they don’t want to “grow muscles” say that they “only want to tone”. Believe it or not, tone means muscle! There is no way to make fat or skin look “toned”. The definition or tone visible on a fit persons arms, legs, or torso, is actually their muscle.

This doesn’t mean that you have to train like a bodybuilder and put on 50 pounds of muscle to looked toned… but replacing body fat with lean body mass (also known as muscle) is necessary to achieve a fit physique.

The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is filled with mixed messages, preconceived notions, and bogus ideas. But please don’t give any mind to the false claims that lifting weights and increasing strength will make you bulky!

If you work within your limits, have a program structured to your goals, and don’t eat to excess, you will achieve a healthy and proportionate figure.

And as always, if you would like professional guidance, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me atpaulromasco@hotmail.com !

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What I’ve Been Up To: Training Evolution

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In my last post I discussed how my diet changed over the last year. After building my body up to 200 pounds, I trimmed excess body fat, settling at 185 pounds with under 15% body-fat.

Today, let’s look at how my training has evolved, both inside and outside of the gym.

A discovery I made, well over a year ago, was that I had very weak glutes, immobile ankles/calves, and significant external rotation of my femurs.

Starting with isometrics, constant balance and postural work, and abduction exercise (moving legs laterally from the body), I was able to build up the stabilizers throughout my hips and legs. I moved on to strengthening my posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, hips, and lower back) with more classic strength exercises in the gym. c38aea10a40c31734d76e09933886e86

With the strength and neurological proprioception I developed, I jumped into a novice program known as Starting Strength. This program included back squats 3 days a week, adding 5 pounds a session – bringing my squat from an easy starting weight of 185 to around 275 in only 2 months.

As it got tougher to increase my squat 15lbs a week, I moved to my favorite undulating periodization program: 5/3/1. This got my squat to around 315 after a few more months.

Finally, I switched to a conjugate based system – two days a week focused on developing explosive speed on the bench press and squat and two days for max attempts on these lifts.

Through addressing my weaknesses, building my strength back up with improved form, and well calculated programming, I was able to set new records in the 4 major lifts that are vital for proper human movement – I deadlifted 405lbs, squatted 350lbs, benched 275lbs, and pressed 175lbs overhead!

I timed this peak in strength with the peak of my bulking cycle I discussed in my last post. Any lifter will tell you – if you want to put 10lbs on a lift, put 10lbs of mass on your body! Haha.

Knowing that I would soon start reducing calories, I transitioned to a classic images“bodybuilding” program – starting sessions with a heavy lift to maintain my strength, but then dedicating the rest of the workout to higher reps, moderate weight, and short rests. This is the perfect formula for stimulating muscle growth, which can prevent loss of muscle as bodyweight is lowered.

This style of training also allowed a much-needed break from the neurological recruitment involved in lifting maximal weights. All I had to do in the gym was close my eyes and focus on the stretch and contraction of specific muscles – quite meditative in a way.

I ended with a program developed in the early 1900’s by nowdeceased trainer Vince Gironda (“The Iron Guru”). His program involved 6 sets of 6 reps with only 15 seconds rest. Over the course of six weeks I worked up to 8 sets of 8 reps, still with only enough time for 3 deep breathes between sets. And trust me, after completing 64 repetitions in about 8 minutes, any weight feels heavy!

During this time I also replaced high intensity interval training (HIIT) with steady state aerobics such as biking and running. I did this to get some endurance training and take advantage of the gorgeous Vermont mornings and evenings. As a “strength athlete” at heart, I only run twice a week – with Wednesday’s focused on increasing my 1 mile speed and Saturday’s adding 1 minute out and back each week.

At the moment, I’m running an Olympic weightlifting program for the first time in my life. This involves the “clean and jerk” and “snatch”, variations of these movements, and different styles of squats almost every day.

 

black-weight-liftingOlympic lifting requires superb athleticism, speed, and mobility. I have built up my raw strength, pushing or pulling a heavy weight, often grinding to complete a rep…but this new style of training should help train other movement pathways within the body.

So far it is going excellent! I am feeling more agile and mobile from these full body, technical lifts. I plan to continue for another month or two in order to get enough exposure to this new style of training.

But honestly, I’m eager to return to powerlifting – I’ve got to get my squat to two times bodyweight (close to 400lbs), my deadlift to 500, bench press to 315, and achieve a bodyweight overhead press!

I’ve already got the basic outline for 3 particularly programs I will use over the next 6+ months to reach these goals.

And that’s what trainings all about: doing what you love; throwing in some new stuff to ensure balanced development; and proper programming. As long as you are consistent day-in and day-out, you can expect to improve from one year to the next.

As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if you want a program designed for your particular needs. I wouldn’t be where I am without the valuable information I’ve learned from others – I only wish to provide the same value to all of you!

Thanks again for reading! See you next time when I wrap up this series with more lifestyle development, including changes to my recovery techniques, supplementation, and day-to-day life.

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I’m Back!

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Wow! Almost one year to the day since I last posted! Where have I been? Did I suffer a heart attack from all the red meat and eggs? Maybe wasted away without all those heart-healthy, whole grains? Or returned to my childhood lifestyle fueled by Skittles and Mountain Dew? Not likely!

Without getting too dramatic, I came to some realizations regarding my personal training career. I was averaging over 35 sessions a week. Combined with preparing programs and diets, studying to earn Continuing Education Credits and stay up on current research, marketing my services, contributing to gyms administratively…I was busy every second of every day.

Don’t get me wrong – it was amazing to do what I loved, as a career. But the fact is, I hit a “glass ceiling” of sorts. I couldn’t accept more clients while still providing top notch service.

My second realization was that most Americans still rely upon a reactive model of health care, as opposed to improving lifestyle in a proactive manner. As part of this, exercise is viewed as a way of balancing out unhealthy choices made the rest of the day.

Easily 75% of those that came to me wanted to do 10 or 20 sessions to get them “in the swing” of exercising a few hours a week, convinced that this would ensure good health regardless of diet, genes, and other lifestyle factors.

images (1)Not only is the general public lacking information, but even many in the medical community have thrown up their hands in despair! During my last year of full-time training I had easily a dozen different clients that came to me only at the insistence of their doctor. Some of these people were 100 to 200 pounds overweight; some had cholesterol levels that no dose of medication could “control”; others went from a diagnosis of pre-diabetes to insulin-dependent diabetes in under a year.

Their doctors prescribed more and more medications. Patients were referred to Registered Dieticians and given USDA handouts recommending a grain-based diet (still 8 to 11 servings a day!) and cautioning against nutrient-dense sources of protein and fat found in nature. Regardless of all this, these clients’ health kept deteriorating until the only place left to look (and point the finger) was their activity and exercise level.

“Your body has lost its ability to properly use carbohydrates? The insulin injections we gave you to do the job of your failing pancreas is no longer helping? And eating more carbs while limiting other nutrients didn’t help? Well, you must be too lazy!”

“You’ve gained 200 pounds in the last 5 years? Noooo, don’t avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient, hunger-stimulating foods like bagels, pastas, and cereal – just peddle a stationary bike for 30 minutes a day!”

“Your iron levels are so low that we want to inject it into your bloodstream. But, if you insist on trying something less invasive, maybe you can give occasional strength training a shot. It’s not like iron is a nutrient found in plenty of foods, with well understood absorption rates.”

 

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Not only was I trying to reshape an individual’s understanding of a healthy lifestyle, but I was also fighting an uphill battle against rhetoric from other health organizations. Again, I don’t blame any individual person…unfortunately, a couple bad studies half a century ago led to the biggest misdirection in terms of nutrition that we have ever experienced.

So, I “sold out to the man” and got a boring 8 to 5 desk job. But, I’m almost 30 and had to accept that guaranteed pay for the hours I work (plus benefits) is necessary to ensure stability in my life. I did keep my most committed clients and I’m still doing everything I can to help any person I come in contact with. And, truth be told, I’ve missed having this outlet to share my discoveries and, let’s be honest, ramble about anything remotely health-related!

In conclusion, I am glad to say that I will return to posting every Monday.

If you haven’t yet, please click the “Follow” button on the right-side of the page – this will send you an email version of each blog post the moment I finish it. And, as always, feel free to contact me via email or phone (also on the right hand side of the page) if you’d like some input specifically for you and your needs.

Sorry for my absence and thanks for reading!