Fear of getting bigger and muscular is common to many women. Typically, though, this fear is unfounded or based on incomplete observations of others. As a general rule, lifting doesn't make your legs "beefy." Instead, it typically has the opposite effect. Combining a basic knowledge of your body's hormones and simple exercise prescription will help get you those athletic and toned legs you desire.
It's All About Hormones
Being in touch with your hormones isn't simply about knowing your menstrual cycle, it's also about how your body works and why it does certain things. Testosterone is a powerful muscle-building agent. By virtue of being a woman, you don't have much testosterone. This means that you simply can't get very big and muscular. According to the "British Journal of Pharmacology," those female bodybuilders you see have increased their testosterone concentrations and decreased their estrogen by stopping their menstrual cycle by a process known as amenorrhea. As long as your menstrual cycle is not being stopped, then you shouldn't worry about becoming bulky and overly muscular.
Testosterone Isn't All Bad
While it's true that testosterone will make you big and bulky, it's also the key to making your legs toned and athletic looking. Everybody has a ratio of testosterone and cortisol. Cortisol breaks down muscle while testosterone builds it. When you exercise the ratio changes -- you gain more testosterone when compared to cortisol. This means cortisol decreases while testosterone stays the same. Practically speaking, this means your body will build muscle without becoming overly muscular. Basically, the cortisol regulates your body enough so you don't put on a lot of muscle, just enough to gain some definition.
It's a common myth that exercises consisting of 15 or more repetitions tone your body. Instead, it adds unnecessary muscle. Bodybuilders use repetition ranges of eight to 15, and you certainly don't want to look like one of them. Instead, you should focus on lifting fairly heavy weights for five repetitions. This will stress your body enough to burn calories and add strength but will signal your brain that you need to build additional muscle.
An Added Bonus
Weight training the body doesn't simply burn calories during the workout. Long after the workout ends -- up to 48 hours -- your body is burning extra calories as it tries to recover and repair from the exercise. This extra metabolic activity can be as much as 10 calories per hour on top of the calories burned during exercise. If you take proper care of your diet during this time, then these extra calories burned will burn away the fat while maintaining muscle.
- British Journal of Pharmacology: Regulation of muscle mass by growth hormone and IGF-I
- Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte: Alteration Of Testosterone:Cortisol Ratio Induced By Resistance Training In Women
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: Exercise Modality And Physical Fitness In Perimenopausal Women
- Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption response to a bout of resistance exercise
Rick Nadell received his Masters in kinesiology from the University of Rhode Island and my Bachelors in physical education from Bridgewater State University. He currently serves as an assistant strength coach at Athlete’s Equation in Cumberland, R.I. as well as runs his own website, PerformRev.com.