How to Build Muscle Without Getting Bulky

Not everyone wants to build muscle and get bulky:

  • Budget. You need to eat more calories to gain weight. If you’re on a budget, you might not have the money to buy more food.
  • Women. It’s a common myth that weight lifting makes you bulky. You will build muscle, but you can do this without gaining weight.
  • Clothes. Read Doo’s story. New clothes cost money. And if you’re short, you’ll get problems finding clothes that fit.
  • Sports. Reader Quagmire posted in the forum: “I have other interests such as mountaineering and rock climbing, and getting huge would be counterproductive.” Many sports work with weight categories.
  • You Don’t Like It. Another one by Quagmire: “You may get pressure in this game to add weight and then add some more. Most of the guys I have come across have this obsession with getting over 200lbs and then some.

This obsession is the opposite of anorexia: fear of being small. If you fear being small, you’ll always be. Eat more so you lose the skinny look. But you don’t have to weigh 220lbs because others do. Do it for yourself.

Below Olympic Weightlifter Le Maosheng. World record holder in the Clean & Jerk: 182,5kg in the 62kg category. He’s 1m63.

Le Maosheng
Le Maosheng. Image credit: Dehwang.

Before I explain how to build muscle without getting bulky, some basics about strength training and building muscle.

  • More strength means more muscle. You can’t avoid muscle gains if you train hard. Even small guys will get muscular. Check Naim SüleymanoÄŸlu.
  • But you can control your body-weight. The trick is to minimize fat gains, maximize muscle gains and control your calorie intake.
  • Muscles look more bulky than no muscles. You’ll have bigger legs, chest & shoulders. If that’s a problem for you, forget about weight lifting.

Let’s go with the how to.

1. Limit Calories
. Daily caloric needs depend on how many calories you burn. You need less calories if you have a desk job than if you have a physical job. But avoid undereating (muscle loss) as much as overeating (weight gain).

Start with your body-weight in lbs x 18 kcal daily. That’s 2800kcal if you weigh 155lbs. Do that for 14 days without exception. Weigh yourself. If you lost weight, eat BWx20kcal. If you gained weight: BWx16kcal.

2. Eat Low Calorie Foods.
Fights hunger by filling your stomach. Low calorie foods, like green veggies, often burn more calories than you get by consuming them. Use NutritionData to find low calorie foods.

Get 1g/lbs protein daily. Eat 1-2 low carb meals per day. Stay away from junk food. Make sure you get your total calories at the end of the day: you need calories for energy & to build muscle. Example meal plan:

  • Breakfast. Eggs with veggies.
  • Post Workout. Protein shake of whey & oats with raisins.
  • Lunch. Tuna, rice & fruit.
  • Snack. Red meat & green veggies.
  • Dinner. Poultry & green veggies.
  • Pre Bed Snack. Cottage cheese, berries, flax seeds, fish oil.

3. Cardio
. 30mins moderate intensity cardio on the elliptical driver burns about 500kcal. Which means you can eat 3500kcal without gaining weight if you need 3000kcal daily to maintain your body-weight.

I don’t like adding cardio to build muscle without getting bulky. 3x/week cardio is time consuming. Limiting calorie intake & eating clean food is easier. But if you have the time & want to add cardio:

  • 3x/Week. Post strength training so you have several days per week where you get both physical & mental rest.
  • Moderate Intensity. Breathing heavier than at rest but not gasping.

4. Train Low Rep
. You can influence the increase in muscle size you get from lifting weights. The process of building muscle is called hypertrophy. You have 2 kinds of muscular hypertrophy:

  • Myofibrillar Hypertrophy. Gives a denser look but less muscle size. You get this by doing less than 5 reps per set.
  • Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy. More muscle size but you don’t get as strong. Achieved by doing sets of 8 reps & more.

StrongLifts 5×5 builds strength & muscle. But you won’t get the same muscle size as when doing sets of 10 reps. You can further minimize hypertrophy by doing 8×3 or 12×2 instead of 5×5. This is still about 25 reps volume.

The problem with this approach: you’re training closer to your 1 repetition max. Adding weight each workout gets harder and it’s easier to overtrain.

What About You?
Do you care about getting bulky? Do you have tips to build muscle without getting bulky? Click here to share your opinion & tips.

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