“Bulking” vs. “Toning”

Weight training is an integral part of any shaping program and the biggest misconception that will never die regarding women and lifting weights is that heavy training makes women “bulky”.

Those familiar with me know that I hate the word “toned” so I’m abolishing that word from the rest of this post; I  prefer the word lean and coincidentally this is what a lot of women want.

This is a picture of the first ever Ms. Olympia (1980), Rachel McLish–the only Ms. Olympia in history to never use steroids. She was featured in Pumping Iron II: The Women and from clips I can tell she trained like an animal. Yet, she doesn’t meet the standards of what women today would consider “bulky”.

The first Ms. Olympia, Rachel McLish

A more recent photo of Rachel, still in phenomenal shape

The next shot is of the current and reigning Ms. Olympia, Iris Kyle. I’m not making a statement about what looks better as I am a huge fan of Iris Kyle’s physique (and I’ve seen her up close–she is freaky and statuesque); but from the pic, you can clearly tell the difference in physique compared to 30 years ago.

Six-time Ms. Olympia, Iris Kyle

My point is that both of these women trained (and dieted) hard–the difference is in the drugs that were available then vs. now.

As a woman, if you think doing so much as picking up anything heavier than a 5 pound dumbbell will blow you up into a man, you are mistaken. Even the hardest training girls will have a hard time becoming muscular; and limiting your progress for fear of doing so will keep you closer to the “skinny-fat” end of the spectrum.

A bigger concern should be to optimize body composition. In other words, don’t worry about the weights making you big; it’s the calories that will have more power to do so!

And that’s a another issue entirely . . .

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5 responses to ““Bulking” vs. “Toning”

  1. What do you mean by “skinny fat?” I tend to think that skinny fat is just someone who isn’t “big,” and probably looks okay with a shirt on, but still has a significant amount of body fat to lose.

  2. Good topic, Jason!
    Jordan D., I might offer my 2 cents:
    You must realise that you cannot think in “big” , “looking okay” or whatever as this is simply inaccurate.
    Skinny-Fat simply denotes a person, who
    a.) does nothing to develop his musculature
    b.) does not provide the conditions for that musculature to be seen (=keeping oneself in a realm of low milieu of bodyfat through diet, see Jason´s Offseason shape and bodyfat percentage blogposts).
    Hence , there is a LOT of leeway (skinnier vs. fatter). Clothes come into play too and we all know that messes with one´s perception.
    Also it should be obvious that the only way one could accurately see if someone is skinny fat is through seeing them semiclothed (at the beach for instance) and/or if you knew about his dietary control and exercise habits.
    Kind regards
    Marcelo Diez

  3. Jordan–exactly, “skinny fat” may be what a lot of people consider thin in clothes, but soft or “flabby” underneath.

  4. Marcelo, I think we’re mostly in agreement. I would just add that reducing body fat is more important than increasing muscle mass. There’s nothing wrong with muscle, of course, but if one has high body fat, no amount of muscle is going to help much. There are probably a lot of guys who are obsessing over putting on as much muscle as possible so that they’re not “skinny fat,” when they should be focusing primarily on getting rid of the excess fat.

    Personal preference and bias come into play, as well. Personally, I don’t think “skinny” is a bad thing per se. There are a lot of people who look very good with low body fat but not a lot of muscle. But I understand that I’m biased because I’ve been overweight for so long that I’m so ready to finally be thin! lol. I don’t really care about the muscle part of it, at least not for now. I just want to get rid of this excess fat.

    And I’m sure there are a lot of guys who have been skinny their whole lives, and are equally anxious to finally put on a little size. I’ve never been particularly ecto, even when I wasn’t fat, so that’s not part of my psychology. Maybe that will change when I’m finally thin, or maybe not. But either way, whether one wants to be thin and trim (like me,) or lean and muscular (like most guys,) low body fat is key.

  5. Indeed we are mostly in agreement.I did not imply that training was more important than diet, though for the ladies who have got the diet part mostly handled never venturing beyond 5 pounds is the problem (as stated in the article) And yes, I am an ecto, but obviously I do understand that diet is the biggest player when it comes to looking good.
    Clearly being fatter with muscle does not help much, though this is the state I see MANY (too many) weighttrainees here in Munich being in. The two should be given equal focus for optimum results.
    I wish you more success for your bodyrecomposition endeavours in the future!
    All the best!
    Marcelo Diez

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