How to Attain a Slender Look (like Jessica Alba & Zoe Saldana)

“hi bret. i luv your blog and read it everyday. the reason why I’m emailing you is to ask you if I should train differently than how you recommend. you see, i have a lot of respect for all the strong, muscular, and ripped ladies, but i personally don’t want to look that way. i want a slender physique, like jessica alba or zoe saldana. please help! thanks, kristine

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana

Hi Kristine, this is an excellent question and one that I commonly receive. In the S&C community, this is a touchy topic.

On the one hand, we’ve made great strides in getting women to:

  • Not fear heavy weights,
  • Conquer eating disorders,
  • Realize that they can look great at a variety of body weights as long as they’re fit,
  • Not rely solely on scale weight for measures of progress, and
  • Focus on performance

Women can indeed attain amazing physiques by lifting heavy weights and eating well without starving themselves. I should know – I’ve trained dozens of these types!

As hard as it is for us males to accept, not every woman wants this type of physique

As hard as it is to accept, not every woman wants this type of physique

On the other hand, we as an industry need to understand and accept that it’s okay for a woman to desire a slender physique that isn’t overly ripped and muscular. We can’t be prioritizing our values over those of our clients. Women should not let others dictate their physique goals as they’re a matter of personal preference.

I believe that as an industry, we have failed a portion of the population of women.

I’m talking about women who don’t want big lats, big arms, big erectors, or big quads. They just want to look slender with some decent shape, and they want to know how to best train for this purpose. Ironically, this is the type of woman that gravitates to yoga, Pilates, and certain aerobics classes because they feel that these modalities will better-help them reach their physique goals. But these systems cannot do as good of a job at physique enhancement that proper strength training can simply because we can tailor the workout to the woman.

Related Article: Long, Lean Muscles: Oh, the Irony!

If you’re a personal trainer who train models, then you know what I’m talking about. My twin brother does photography on the side, and specializes in shooting female models. Here are some of his clients:

Joel Collage

I’ve been involved in the training of several models and I can tell you that while I initially start training them just like everyone else, I do in fact modify the training after a couple of months, which I’ll describe at the bottom of the article. When a model gains muscle, it really shows on camera, so you have to be aware of this. And the agencies don’t like a lot of muscle – they freak out on the models if muscles start protruding. This isn’t to say that models can’t weight train – they can and should. They just need to go about it differently.

Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba

My primary advice to ladies seeking the “slender model look,” however, is the following:

Wait until you start getting “bulky” or “overly muscular” until you decide to switch up your training. 

Start off training just like other fit women. Wait til you get too bulky to admonish heavy strength training. Many women never bulk up or develop bulging muscles. This is why the typical strength training advice – to focus on progressive overload on a handful of primary movement patterns – works for a good percentage of women.

Moreover, any muscle that a women packs on will elevate their metabolic rate and help them lose bodyfat. So the training itself and the adaptations the training imposes will help women reduce their bodyfat levels and improve body composition.

Considering that 69% of Americans are either overweight or obese, most women should be more concerned with losing weight and fat rather than packing on muscle. When women lean out sufficiently, they lose the fat that hides their muscles so that they can start to see whether or not they indeed have too much muscle.

Furthermore, when dropping significant weight, it’s damn near impossible to build or even retain muscle mass, even if gaining tremendous strength. For reference, see the strength, weight, and lean mass charts HERE from one of most impressive one-year physique transformations I’ve ever witnessed.

Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba

However, there are indeed a certain percentage of women who do what we tell them to do and aren’t happy with the results. They focus on progressive overload, they get markedly stronger while eating properly, and they end up gaining muscle. While many women do this and end up loving their new shape, some do not. This is the population that I believe we’re failing, and we typically lose them to yoga, Pilates, and other training methods simply because we don’t teach them how to modify their training.

Now, the majority of lifters (men and women) aren’t very good at lifting. They never progress that far because they don’t understand proper form, proper intensity, and proper program design. Therefore, there’s a sort of built-in safety net for female lifters not seeking advanced muscular development. When top coaches and trainers train their clients, however, they often achieve very rapid results. Skilled female lifters with good kinaesthetic awareness and a genetic propensity toward building muscle tend to see rapid results too, and these are the ladies who speak up about heavy progressive resistance training and its tendency to add too much bulk. The typical response in the industry to these ladies is to tell them that women are unable to get too muscular. This is both foolish and myopic as it depends on the woman’s training, genetics, and goals.

It’s worth mentioning that the majority of the female experts in strength & conditioning are very strong and carry good amounts of muscle. They don’t look like models nor do they want to look like models. They love their shapely appearance and they feel empowered by their feats of strength. This is great, and it’s something that I love to witness as a personal trainer. However, not all women share this same mindset. And women who love strength training, love getting stronger, and don’t mind increases in muscle mass, tend to have a hard time relating to women who don’t share the same values and goals.

Nevertheless, here are some thoughts for you Kristine:

1. It’s hard to give you advice given that I don’t know what you look like

I haven’t seen your physique as you didn’t include a photo of yourself, therefore it’s impossible to give you proper guidance.

Are you significantly overweight and carrying large amounts of body fat? If so, becoming too muscular and bulky shouldn’t be a concern right now if you’re going for the slender look. You need to drop serious weight if you’re ever going to achieve your goal, and heavy strength training will help you achieve the weight loss while retaining muscle. A proper combination of diet, cardio, and resistance training is the best plan of attack for this type.

Are you skinny with no muscle? If so, you need shape. The best way to gain muscle is to engage in heavy strength training.

Are you overly-muscular according to your standards, but markedly heavier than the body weight you’re targeting? If so, get down in weight so that you can properly evaluate where you stand. Many women find that when they reach their target weight, they actually love the way their bodies look and they don’t feel that they’re too bulky.

Are you lean and slender with the “model” look? If so, congrats – you’ve reached your goal! Keep doing what you’re doing, but if you eventually find yourself developing too much muscle for your liking, then switch it up (I’ll elaborate below).

Are you lean and at your target body weight but still overly muscular according to your standards? If so, this is where you’ll definitely want to switch up your training. Again, I’ll elaborate at the end of this article. Here’s a summary chart:

Capture

2. The ladies you mentioned are very light and lean

Jessica Alba is 5’7″ and weighs 124 lbs (56 kgs).

Zoe Saldana is 5’7″ and weighs 115 lbs (52 kgs).

At 5’7″, 115-124 is very light!

While they’re both quite lean, they’re not “ripped to the bone” with “shredded abs” and “striated glutes.” They possess enough bodyfat to maintain what many would deem a feminine disposition.

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana

Most professionals in the industry will tell you to ignore scale weight. While I appreciate the deflection, I tend to be a straight-shooter. I believe in having high expectations for clients and believing in their goals, and I try to create the best possible plan depending on those goals.

If you tell me that your goal is to look like one of these ladies but you’re currently 5’7″ and weigh 200, then I’m going to map out a target weight along with monthly goals. You will look better every step of the way and will be happy with your progress each month, but unless you tell me that your goals have changed, I’m going to keep striving to get you to where you want to be. This is why you hired me – to help you achieve your goals.

However, if you get to 145 lbs and keep spinning your wheels but you look fantastic, then I’m for damn sure going to tell you to improve your attitude and take a step back to notice how far you’ve progressed. I’m also going to try to help you be pleased with your physique and not rely solely on scale weight for determination of progress.

In fact, here are various indicators that I tell my clients to pay attention to:

  • scale weight
  • body fat levels
  • measurements
  • strength levels
  • how clothes fit
  • progress pictures
  • compliments from others
  • how fit and conditioned they feel
  • other measures of health such as blood pressure, cholesterol profiles, triglycerides, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, inflammation, etc.

Furthermore, I make damn sure that my women understand two important things about their weight:

  • Weight fluctuates daily according to hydration, which is influenced by carb intake, stress, menstrual cycle, and other factors. A five pound fluctuation is normal for women so this needs to be taken into consideration. 
  • Weight loss is never linear. Over the course of a year, it should decrease significantly if that’s the goal. But there will be weeks of rapid progress, weeks of plateaus, and even some weeks of backpedaling. Again, see the charts HERE for a visual.

3. These ladies still have sexy shape to them

Even though these ladies are light and lean, they have shape.

It’s not all about weight; it’s also about shape!!!

Jessica Alba has a Sexy Booty!

Jessica Alba has a Sexy Booty!

Zoe's got booty too!

Zoe’s Got Booty Too!

Many women get down in weight and are not happy with the way they look. You commonly see this with ladies who go crazy on the cardio or endure crash dieting – they end up being “skinny-fat” with no shape (especially in the glutes). Let’s look at some celebrity butts who focused solely on weight loss and ignored shape:

Tara Ried

Tara Reid

Megan Fox

Megan Fox

Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham

Mila Kunis

Mila Kunis

As you can see, it’s not all about losing the weight. When you get down in weight, if you’re like most women, you’ll want to have some shape. Many women get down in weight and are happy with the way their legs, back, arms, and abs look, but not their glutes. If you have excellent genetics for glutes, then you may not need to do much glute training, but chances are, if you’re like the majority of women, your glutes will require extra attention.

4. These ladies are the genetic elite

Please bare in mind that you’re telling me that you want to look like Jessica Alba and Zoe Saldana – two of the hottest women in the entire world.

They’re genetically elite and not everyone can look like them. They have a huge advantage in terms of being able to look amazing. So please put this into perspective and know your genetic potential and limits. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make lofty goals for yourself or strive to be your best. However, please keep this in mind:

You are more than your physique so cut yourself some slack!

I'd love to go around looking like The Rock, but it's not in my genetic cards.

I’d love to go around looking like The Rock, but it’s not in my genetic cards.

5. Ladies like Jessica Alba and Zoe Saldana are typically diligent about their daily caloric intake and don’t go off the deep-end like others do

In the US, the average daily caloric intake is around 3,770 calories. I bet that Jessica and Zoe consistently keep their calories in between 1,200 – 2,000 per day.

Jessica stated in an interview that she takes portion control very seriously and adheres to good nutrition. For example, for breakfast she likes egg-white omelettes and fruit, or cottage cheese and a peach, or yogurt. For lunch she likes salads. For dinner she likes chicken or fish and some veggies. Zoe’s personal trainer mentioned that Zoe is very good about portion control and her nutrition as well. While both ladies will occasionally splurge form time to time, they don’t seem to go off the deep-end and go overboard like many individuals do.

Having worked with plenty of physique athletes, I can tell you that many of them sabotage their progress with 5,000+ calorie binges on a weekly basis. In my experience, ladies who maintain slender physiques have mastered portion control and exert great will-power in avoiding temptation with junk foods and overeating.

I’m not suggesting that women should drastically reduce their calories overnight. What I am suggesting is that women who seek the slender look should gradually begin to curtail their caloric intake if they’re overweight, as trying to “outrun” a sub-par diet is not efficient.

Alba Saldana

6. Ladies like Jessica Alba and Zoe Saldana typically do cardio and resistance training but aren’t obsessed with progressive overload

Many Americans aren’t very big on exercise. In fact, 25% get no exercise at all. And only around 50% exercises at least 3 times per week for 30 minutes (see HERE for recent Gallup poll). On the contrary, Jessica and Zoe exercise very frequently.

They like their cardio, they like their circuit training, they like their stretching, and they do their resistance exercises. If you activate muscles daily, they remain firm. If you quit exercising, muscles get soft and the body gets flabby.

Jessica and Zoe perform exercises like planks, lunges, stability ball leg curls, and weighted glute bridges. However, their goals are not to be able to bust out 20 chin ups, 20 push-ups, a 135 pound full squat, a 225 pound deadlift, or 225 pound hip thrusts. Their secret is consistency and nutrition.

In my experience, ladies who maintain slender physiques prioritize daily physical activity and make sure that they exercise almost every day – they make it a part of their daily habits.

Jessica Alba Zoe Saldana

How to Attain a Slender Look

Having said all of the above, how should women seeking the slender look train?

Initially, nearly everyone should train the same way – learn proper form with the basic movement patterns and get stronger at them. Master bodyweight squats, lunges, hip thrusts, and back extensions. Learn to hip-hinge and perform barbell RDLs. Start doing torso-elevated push-ups, dumbbell military presses, rows, and band-assisted or negative chins. Throw in some lateral band walking and planking.

However, recall the information from the chart that I posted above (also below). Most ladies can continuously engage in progressive overload and keep looking better and better according to their standards. However, some will eventually need to chill out depending on where they stand.

Capture2

For the ladies who fall into the category highlighted above – those who are at the weight they want to be at and still feel too muscular – here’s how I adapt the training (it’s also how I train models who need to be extra careful about gaining too much muscle for their liking).

1. Less squats, lunges, and deadlifts – do them, but go light. Don’t obsess about progressive overload. Feel the right muscles doing the job. Higher rep goblet squats and American deadlifts are good choices.

2. More glute isolation work – wise choices here include barbell glute bridges, back extensions, and cable glute kickbacks, as are lateral band walks and band seated hip abductions.

3. No direct ab training – the abs will get activated with most free weight movements. They don’t require direct training past a certain level of competency. Some planks and the like are certainly okay, but there’s no need for intense abdominal/oblique training. Despite what most S&C experts claim, a small percentage of women do get bulky midsections from too much core work, so this needs to be considered.

4. More variety – this is key. You want challenging workouts from metabolic and muscle activation perspectives. However, you should switch it up, rotate lifts, and employ different techniques and methods. This is also good for preventing boredom.

5. Less focus on progressive overload – continuous progressive overload can make people very hungry. It’s a natural response. You’re telling the body that you want it to be stronger, so it responds by gaining muscle. For overweight individuals who are dieting, it helps them retain muscle mass while shedding fat for weight loss. But for some ideal weight individuals, it can backfire in the long-run by forcing weight gain. This is why powerlifters have such a hard time staying in their respective weight classes over the years.

Focus on progressive overload for exercises targeting muscles that you want to grow – usually glutes and whatever other weak parts that are specific to your body. But with exercises targeting muscles that you’re happy with, don’t concern yourself with progressive overload and just make sure you get in a good work out.

6. Faster pace – you want dense sessions that are metabolically demanding. There’s no need to rest longer than 90 seconds, and you can employ paired supersets that combine non-competing lower body and upper body movements. A 60 second rest period is the usual here.

7. No sprints or plyos – trainers love these and clients do even more. But what can sprints and plyos do for the physique that weights can’t? Weights are a better tool for targeting muscles, and they’re much safer too. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve encountered who hurt themselves almost every time they sprint. I know it makes people feel athletic, but nothing makes you feel more “un-athletic” than an injury. So spare your joints and just stick to weights. It’s not worth the risk with physique clients. Hill sprints and box jumps are easier on the body than traditional sprinting and jumping, so keep that in mind if you’re hell-bent on training explosively.

8. Continued focus on nutrition – this is the most important point. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition! Too many calories will prevent a slender appearance. Many slender women are lucky in that they don’t tend to get as hungry as heavier women and aren’t in a constant state of hunger-battling. Sure extra calories are great for continuously improving performance, but that’s not the goal here.

The training needs to fit the individual.

I recall reading a couple articles years back that jive with the advice contained in this article. The first was in regards to Jessica Simpson, while the other was in regards to Jessica Biel.

When Jessica Simpson was training for the part of Daisy Duke in Dukes of Hazard, she needed to get in better shape and gain glute mass. Her trainer had her training six days per week doing lots of squats, lunges, kickbacks, and other glute exercises. She needed to gain significant muscle mass in strategic places, and the results were outstanding.

Jessica Simpson With a Great Booty Transformation

Jessica Simpson With a Great Booty Transformation

Conversely, after Blade Trinity, Jessica Biel was overly muscular for her liking and needed to lose some size. She stopped focusing on heavy resistance training and switched it up a bit more, incorporating more variety and using lighter weight. She experienced great results as well. 

Jessica Biel loses muscle mass for a more feminine look

Jessica Biel Loses Muscle Mass for a Smoother Look

The solution though is never to quit training. I’ve seen pictures of the hottest actresses and models in the world looking out of shape – including the ladies mentioned in this article. Everyone needs to stay active in order to look their best, and proper resistance training is always warranted. Here is a flowchart that sheds light on this (click HERE for a clearer pdf):

Flow Chart

The training plans of the various actresses make sense when you analyze this flowchart, as the ladies train according to where they stand on the chart.

If most of the world’s most popular slender actresses and models trained the way that the strength & conditioning industry recommended, within a year or two they would look markedly different. Their muscles would definitely be larger and they’d be more ripped. For example, if Jessica Alba and Zoe Saldana worked their way up to doing 3 sets of 12 chin ups, 3 sets of 20 push-ups, 3 sets of 10 full squats with 95 pounds, 3 sets of 20 walking lunges with 50 lb dumbbells, and 3 sets of 10 deadlifts with 135 lbs, their bodies would look much different.  Whether this is ideal or not depends on your particular goal, and most of the actresses and models aren’t going for that look. This is why they train differently. I believe that the S&C industry needs to realize and accept this.

Sometimes women shift their goals when they start training as they end up loving the strength & conditioning gains so much. You see this from time to time with women in Crossfit. They start out training for physique purposes, but as they gain proficiency, they gradually begin to train for performance purposes. There’s nothing wrong with this and I love when my clients alter their attitude in this manner. In general, when starting up a new hobby, you like to improve. You don’t just like to go to the gym and go through the motions, nor do you like to just match your performances week in and week out without ever improving on anything. Setting personal records (PR’s) is fun! This is where strength training hooks you, and for some women this spells markedly increased muscularity.

Crossfit Women

Crossfit Women

This information is not to say that women should fall prey to Tracy Anderson type B.S. and stick solely to bodyweight and 2 lb dumbbell exercises. Rather, it’s to train and eat according to individual preferences, to be able to recognize when you’re satisfied with your muscularity, and to have the willpower to place the muscles you’re satisfied with on the backburner while still hammering the muscles that you’re not currently satisfied with. This is much easier said than done.

In summary, training plans should be tailored to the individual and are dependent upon genetics, logistics, preferences, and goals. There is no one-size fits all approach to strength training and we all need to respect the various training methodologies. 

110 Comments

  • Ryan Morville says:

    Bret,

    I’ve had great results in the realm of strength and appearance from incorporating your training advice, and I always find your articles insightful. Tell me, how is it that both you and your brother get into working with such hot chicks? Haha

    Keep em coming,

    -Ryan

    • Bret says:

      Haha! It’s a good world 😉

    • Louise says:

      I’m coming in late, but this article is absolutely excellent. I prefer the lean and toned look also and in achieving it, I’ve always had flat glutes. I understand now that my glutes took a hit trying to be lean. I am doing progressive overload with glutes and this is the only area where I do progressive overload. I do full body weights, but just maintenance everywhere else.

  • Rachel Guy says:

    Bret!!
    You have exposed ALL OF MY SECRETS to training my girls! lol
    Like i said a few months back. I train to look good in a bikini. If i said i was training for performance I would be lying!
    BEST ARTICLE YET! xx

    • Bret says:

      Thank you Rachie Rach! I had a hunch you’d like this 🙂

    • jill says:

      There should not be different workouts geared towards “women”. Women need to start lifting more and HEAVIER… Women will never bulk up unless they take steroids. Squats , lunges, and dead lifts are perfect for everyone…. Muscular legs always look better on women over thin legs. Jessica and zoes p hysiques don’t really look athletic or muscular in my opinion. They can stand to put on a little more muscle. They are a little on the scrawny side…Sorry…..

      • Stephanie says:

        Jill, I think you missed the whole point of the piece. The point is that not every female wants muscular quads and glutes, and it should be their choice whether or not they want to train towards that physique. Yes, you are right that most women won’t get huge and bulky, but that doesn’t mean that every female appreciates or wants the muscular look (even if they’re not “bulky” by definition). I myself have big strong quads and glutes, but understand 100% that that’s not the physique that many women are looking for!

        Great article as usual, Bret!

        • Elyse says:

          I think when you start lifting the perception of attractive changes anyway…many years ago I would have loved a body like Jessica Alba’s but now I prefer the look of bigger quads and hamstrings.

          I’m laughing Bret you must have tons of “celebrity butt” pictures in your search engine.

      • Jada says:

        Sorry, but this simply is not true. Women who are naturally more athletically built i. e. inverted triangle body types, often gain muscle more easily wnd quickly, particularly on their upper bodies. This insistence on all women lifting heavy puzzles me. There is nothing wrong with lifting lighter or less frequenly if What you want is a less muscular appearance. It doesn’t compromise a woman’s health or fitness to do so. It’s clear that Bret has a marked preference for ripped looking women with big glutes. Many, MANY other men are attracted to less muscular women. I also appreciate ripped looking women, but I have no desire to look like them. I too prefer the slim, lithe, toned look. I am very near my goal weight 5’8 129-130 lbs./ currently 133 lbs. I am naturally slim with an atheletic build. Through trial and error, I reduced the amount of weight and frequency of lifting sessions. As a result I am much more streamlined looking. That was my goal. To each their own.

        • Kelly says:

          Jada, I’m built similarly with similar goal (I’m a muscular size 2-4, 5’7″ 139 aiming for 130) but I’m not sure what alternatives to lifting would even be to stay firm and lean. I rely on compound movements to burn calories but feel overmuscled, particularly in the legs. May I ask what kind of program or activities you do to stay fit?

      • Emma says:

        In my case I lifted heavy for a bodybuilding competition figure without steroids and viola my body became something else in 6 months….I do not like the look and was done before I even started. ..it changed my physic totally despite being fit and gorgeous for 5+years before. ..I regret it daily six months later but working on reversing it….so I guess we could say sone girls have a higher T than others…

  • ori says:

    wow Bret, great article!! How long did it take to write this one up? It’s sooo detailed and you had to find all the appropriate pics, etc.

    • Bret says:

      I spent 5 nights working on this one! Glad you noticed the detail and homework.

      • Kristie says:

        Hi Bret, (4 years later) I just found this article and it really helped motivate me stay on track. I still have excess fat to lose, but I feel like I am gaining muscle faster than losing the fat – ( I am a “T” shape and seem to gain and retain muscle very well.) I was getting worried I was gaining too much muscle, but since I still have fat to lose (per your flow chart) I’ll kept plugging away! I’ll keep looking to see if you’re taking online clients (I live in CA). Much thanks for this article. I saved it and re-read it to remind myself that I’ll get there soon!

  • Erin says:

    Great as per usual. Thanks Bret!

  • Polina says:

    Hi bret,
    I found similiar advices in the Strong Curves book, since reading it I feel much better about my training, everything starts to make sense. I finally made the conclusion that the best thing for me is:prioritize. I was doing chest workout too days a week and it didn’t give me anything besides more wide chest line.( which sometimes interupts when choosing tops). I had it all wrong till I found your blog. :)Since I started strong curves program, reduced the number of quad-dominant exercises () I was doing prior to reading the book, redudced the chest exercises to 2-3 times a week as the advances program suggets and incorporating hip thrusts i deffinetly feel better with my apearence.even my mom noticed some changes on my butt! It’s all about deciding what’s your priority, in my case it it certainly wasn’t to get wider chest… so you post came just in time!

  • Clint says:

    Really great article, too often female clients assume you train in the gym to either gain muscle or lose weight- if only more of them read this to know you can maintain a goal shape and not HAVE to keep losing weight or gaining it.

  • Sylvia Smith says:

    So comprehensive. Great job. And don’t forget that thighs and waists are also touched up in photographs. Not just wrinkles and spots. Photographers digitally make a woman’s thighs and waist smaller prior to publication or release. It’s extremely rare for a photo of a model or celebrity to actually be a true image of their slenderness.

  • Ishara says:

    Hi Bret,

    Great article. I have your strong curves book and have had success with the butt only workout in it. However as my butt grew, so did my legs and I ended up not being able get my jeans past my thighs – I clearly put muscle on easily but the flab didn’t shift. I started at 60kgs, ended up gaining about 3kgs instead of losing 3kgs to get to my ideal weight of 57kgs.

    I know and feel that I need to add some cardio into my routines and was wondering if you could please give an example of what sort of cardio you recommend and for how long? Also, whether it should be done after strength training or on a different day?

    Cheers

    • Bret says:

      Ishara, read this post: http://bretcontreras.com/growing-glutes-without-growing-the-legs/

      Also, if you gained 3kgs then you upped your calories. Need to be consistent with caloric intake. Had you stayed the same weight, you’d drop size in the waist and grow in the glutes (which is the essence of Strong Curves).

      Cardio can be 12 min of HIIT, 20 min of HIIT, 30 min of steady-state, 60 min of steady state, etc. Can be walking, incline treadmill, bicycle, elliptical, etc. Lots of variety!

  • Clea says:

    Thank you so much for this Bret…I have been plagued by this problem for around a year or so now after progressive overload strength and conditioning training made my lower body especially my quads too muscular this makes me unhappy and makes finding clothes really difficult …I would like to be a little bit lighter, maybe 5 or so pounds but would like to lose muscle aswell as fat in the lower body but maintain my muscle mass in my upper body.

    Based on the above chart to lose muscle i just need to diet down and do some cardio, Is cardio anything that will get my heart going without the use of weights ie can i use resistance in the form of TRX and bodyweight to do my cardio as traditional cardio bores the life out of me 🙁 I don’t want to stop training completely as I find training allows me to eat a little bit more and unfortunatley I am a hungry lady =) Also, should i stick with lifting weights on the upper body to maintain the level of muscle i have there?

    I really appreciate this post and completely agree that some S&C coaches and trainers have let some women down and it’s very frustrating to see. Thanks for being awesome!!

    Clea.

    • Bret says:

      Clea, just start tinkering. You might only have to do one upper body press and one upper body pull once per week to maintain upper body mass. You may not have to do any knee-dominant movements at all. And yes, cardio can be anything (see above), just stick to things that are easy on the joints.

  • Kim says:

    Awesome article! I do have a question for you though…I’m a girl that falls in your last category of being 5’7 and 115-120lbs but I have more muscle than I’d like, especially in my legs (both quads and hams), and somewhat in my abs. I actually haven’t lifted weights in years and built the muscle mostly from bodweight exercises, though I used to lift about 10 years ago. I’ve been athletic my whole life (always playing at least one sport a season growing up) and I’ve just always been more muscular than most girls. And I’ve always disliked it.

    I’m definitely going to put your advice to use, but I workout at home. I don’t have any weights and right now a gym is out of the question for financial reasons (as is purchasing weights). I do have a suspension trainer, ultimate body press/dip station, stability ball, bosu ball, resistance bands and a few ankle weights. I also love power yoga. I was thinking of using the yoga to work my legs and chest, and then using glute isolation work and other back exercises to cover the rest of the body. I really don’t want my legs any bigger. I’d prefer them smaller frankly, I just don’t know how to get there. I even feel bridges and hip thrusts more in my legs than my glutes.

    Sorry for the super long comment, but how would you adjust your advice, if you even would, for someone who works out at home with no weights?

    • Bret says:

      Kim, as I mentioned in the post, get down in weight through diet mostly and then reevaluate. Do cardio that’s easy on the joints so you can maintain it. Yoga, bodyweight exercises, etc. are fine too, but you need to get down in weight before you determine that you’re too muscular. For glutes there are lots of good exercises that don’t work the legs too much (band work). Hope that helps! BC

      • Kim says:

        Thanks for the reply! I guess what I was wondering is how far down in weight I’d have to go. I’m already only 115lbs at 5ft 7. Actually 112lbs as of this morning. So I’m kind of at loss as to what to do, but I guess I’ll just keep a steady deficit and see if I’ll be happy with my muscle once I lose a bit more.

        • Elle says:

          I’m sorry but I have to chime in… at 5’7 and 112 lbs I highly doubt you have as much muscle as you think. 112 is very light, and it’s the weight Brett mentioned for Zoe/Jessica in the article.

          I am an inch taller and weight 45 lbs more than you. I have a lot of muscle. 112 is not a lot of muscle.

          Instead you might fall into another category- i.e. a girl needing “shape”, and might want to consider recomposition (i.e. losing fat while gaining just a tad muscle, so you look smaller). Then again, this article does talk about personal wants and desires, so maybe me chiming in goes against the main point. 🙂 Just my $00.02.

          • Sarah says:

            ^^ I agree, Elle. Kim, you weigh less than me and have 3 inches on me (although I’m at a *healthy* weight and work out a ton). I think recomp is probably a better bet for you than slashing more cals. Again, not Bret, but my 0.02 as well.

  • Andy morgan says:

    Great article Bret. I kinda get sick of explaining this again and again so glad to have a thorough article to point to. You looking for clients at the moment cause I can always point people your way?

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Andy! Not looking for online clients right now as I’m swamped with blog, PhD, and real training. Thanks for thinking of me though! Hope all is well.

      • Julie says:

        Speaking of real training, Bret, do you do in person consultations? I’ll be in your city next week and would love to do a session with you.

        I am a seasoned lifter, a cat 3/4 cyclist and a personal trainer. I am 5′-2″, 123 pounds and 17-18% body fat. The body fat seems to adhere to the lower body. I’m lean and small on top. I train with another woman who has a very similar body to mine and she is also a personal trainer. We just completed the 12 weeks of the Glute Goddess workout and loved the program. However, this post sheds light on our lifting plight. Where to go from Glute Goddess?

        We often lament that our legs are huge and have been focusing more on glute dominant, rather than quad dominant, movements. We are happy with our upper bodies. Based on this latest post, though, we should lose weight first and then build from there. If Gina and I were to lose weight, it would ultimately show in our upper bodies, chests and faces.

        We are at a training crossroads, and we don’t fit into your flow chart. This is where the coaches need a coach! If you have time for a consultation 9-15 August, it would be put us on the right path.

        Julie

  • Bobby Rudl says:

    Great article! Definitely not something enough people talk or think about!

    Only issue I see is how you say no sprinting or plyos. Now, if you were saying this because of the increased hormonal responses, I would understand somewhat, however your reasons just do not make sense to me.

    The truth is that if we don’t teach our clients how to move, we aren’t doing them service. We are not preparing them for real life. I am not saying we need to do lots of sprints and plyos, but shouldn’t we atleast have the goal of ensuring our clients can sprint or jump without injury?

    Thanks again for a great article!

    • How is performing a wide variety of resistance exercises, combined with cardiovascular exercise not teaching clients to move?

      Does sprinting and plyometric training prepare someone more for real life than the above?

      I am doing quite well in real life, and I don’t do any plyos, and I rarely sprint. My girlfriend doesn’t exercise at all, and she also seems to do quite well in life.

      I can’t remember a single occasion, outside of sports, when I’ve HAD to sprint in every day normal life.

      Chasing a bus? I’m hardly sprinting – most of the time I’m carrying a bag etc – and if I am active with resistance exercise and cardio, I’m fairly prepared for an impromptu, fully clothed, carrying a bag, no starting blocks, footpath based “sprint”.

      I think this is what Bret is bringing to light – it’s not about our goals or ideals as trainers. It is about the client’s. ALWAYS.

    • Bret says:

      Hi Bobby…I see your point. But most people don’t sprint and jump in their everyday lives, and it’s the volume that injures them, not doing it once or twice. I’ve trained several ladies who started doing sprints (going against my advice) and hurt their SI Joint/Knee/Hamstring/Hip Flexors. It’s one thing if you’re there to coach them, but they do this on their own when I’m not there to supervise form and intensity. And if you’re strengthening their lower body muscles and teaching proper squat/dl/hip thrust/lunge form, then it’ll improve their mechanics for sprinting and jumping anyway. I do see your point though, but it’s not something I think you need to be overly-concerned with.

  • Jennifer says:

    Great article. I learned so much! Thanks.

  • Layla says:

    Fantastic article, Bret!

    I have Strong Curves and was kind of suprised when you suggested that women try training lower body only but now I totally understand where you’re coming from.

    Would the glute only workouts be good for females who want to maintain the defined/muscular look in their upper body but find that their lower body is too skinny for their preferences? I like the muscle in my back/arms but my lower body refuses to grow as I naturally have very slim legs.

    I’ve learned ALLOT from you and your website, thanks for sharing the knowledge!

    • Bret says:

      Layla, try it and see if you like it. Or modify it and only to an upper body press and pull once per week for two sets each. I doubt you’d lose any upper body muscle and would have more energy to devote to lower body.

      • layla says:

        I’ll try it out.

        Thanks again. I’m glad you posted this article because this kind of honest information is hard to come by. Your book/work is the only thing that has helped me towards actually attaining my physique goals and I don’t feel like I’m spinning my wheels anymore.

  • Penny says:

    Yeah! The post I’ve been waiting for! Thanks for bring attention to this perspective in training.

  • nell says:

    Amazingly thoughtful post, thoughtfully written. A lot of times, women who are after this look get accused of internalized misogyny / stupidity. Which is insulting. I appreciate that you’re taking more traditional aesthetic goals seriously, while respecting the women pushing at the boundaries. Thanks!

    Re the plyo: many of the women who can afford trainers are in their 30s, and osteoarthritis/osteoporosis etc, are already creeping in. Most of them do not have the body-awareness or training history to jump without injury. And, it’s *really* hard, even for a trainer (or sports med specialist, even), to guess what’s going on in a foot by looking at it. That shit is complicated. I’ve already suffered permanent damage from pretending I was 20. Just say no to plyo!

  • Tess says:

    Bret, thank you so much for all you do. This article was very informative, it’s going to become my go-to reference when I get mixed up by all the different information out there (which tends to happen a lot).

    I got Strong Curves and I’m using the Glutes only workout. I’m 5’2 and 119lbs with broad shoulders, and I noticed that when I dropped my weight to 112 -114lbs I had really no shape (lower body was too skinny) . Definitely happier with my shape at a higher weight and now focused on body composition.

  • John says:

    Hello Bret. What are your thoughts on protein intake under these circumstances? You mentioned “good nutrition” and seemed to imply eating at maintenance, but should the specific macros (specifically protein) be manipulated given this specific goal (i.e., attaining a slender look). If you don’t know, perhaps Alan has some ideas? Thank you Bret. Great stuff as usual.

    • Bret says:

      Hi John, I purposely leave that vague so I don’t start a war. I agree. For lifters who are already their ideal weight, they can simply maintain their caloric intake and also their protein intake (it doesn’t need to increase over basic recommendations for athletes). Just gaining strength over time will shuttle more energy toward increasing muscle protein synthesis, so if body weight doesn’t change and muscle increases, then fat must decrease accordingly.

  • tammy says:

    Great article Bret. It has something for everyone and is so very thorough. I’m going to pass it along. 🙂

    You’ve been churning out some really good stuff during the last couple of weeks.

    • Bret says:

      Thank you Tamara/Tammy/Tammie/Tammee 😉

      Glad you liked it. And I’m glad that I didn’t seem to offend anyone!

      Keep workin’ hard and smart my friend.

  • Cherie Strand says:

    Bret- this is by far the best article I have read on effectively changing your body composition based on individual desires and how easily one adds muscle. I am a female who adds muscle rapidly and carries most of my bodyfat in my hips/legs. I now have a solid plan for how to improve my physique and health based on my personal goals and the way my body responds to weight training progressive overload. Strong Curves is up next for me. Thank you for a well written insightful article!

    • Bret says:

      You’re very welcome Cherie! Glad that the article was helpful to you.

      • Gina McNeal says:

        Bret, I have a similar situation to Cherie’s, but I don’t understand what to do or where I fit on the chart. I have a lot of muscle on top (which I love) and a lot of muscle plus some fat on the bottom (which frustrates me). I am 5′ 5″, 133 pounds, and my body fat is about 20%, which I think is good for my age (over 40), but all of it is in my thighs. So what do I do if my goal is maintaining my upper body and reducing my lower body (both fat and muscle)? BTW, I have Strong Curves and LOVE what it is doing for my butt. I will keep all the butt muscle I can get!

  • Anoop says:

    nice post Bret.

    Most of the female clients I had/have think they fall into this category: Excess weight and have too much muscle/easily put on muscle.

    And if they think they are overweight/ easily put on muscle, hell no way to change their minds even if they are no way close to it, even if you have a nice table with categories haha

  • Laura Scott says:

    Great article. You have a very realistic and honest way of speaking to your clients and fans. It’s encouraging for those of us doing your workouts without trainers. Thank you!

  • Long article haha.

    It’s a lot of good info. Many girls are so afraid to even start. What I find interesting is that a lot that do start, even reluctantly, when they start to see progress will still keep with it when they get to the point where they previously said they never wanted to be.

  • Gina says:

    Freaking love this article! You rock Bret!

    A couple of questions for you.

    1. I agree that Tracey Anderson’s stuff is BS. I’m curious as to what you think of zuzana light?
    2. How is swimming for toning the legs, specifically kick board and water jogging?
    3. I’m a skinny fat person and have focused on lifting heavier weights and though I like the results as I have more shape, I still have too much fat! What should my primary focus be?

    Thanks and keep up the awesome work!

  • Tom says:

    Bret, great article, loved it! There’s a lot to take away, even for us guys. However, I would love to see this kind of article for the guys on how to attain a look like Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman or Jason Statham and so forth – the shredded but not too muscular look concerning exercise selection, diet, cardio etc. Can you do that?! PLEEEAASE 🙂 THX and keep up the great work!

  • Melanie says:

    Great article Bret! I don’t want to be too muscular looking, but I want a great shape. I am currently over weight (5’4″ 177 lbs), yet was worried about getting bulky. After reading this I am not going to worry about that until I lose the weight! I just got “Strong Curves” in the mail a few days ago and cannot wait to get moving! Thanks for all sharing your knowledge! 🙂

  • Ash says:

    Pretty sure Jessica Simpson wore padded underwear/jeans for The Dukes of Hazzard.

  • erica menendez says:

    This was a great article. I trained with a private training group for a year and still didn’t achieve the aesthetics I was after. While I felt like a bit of a bad ass training with mostly men, my glutes/legs (esp the glutes) lagged behind as we only trained them once a week while my upper body exploded. The volume was also incredibly high and I found myself suffering a lot of illnesses, taking a long time to recover. I’m now doing your on-line Get Glutes training program. I’ve only starting my second week and I feel my body responding to the training in an immense way. Although I have to say it feels strange to walk out of a workout with some energy to spare. I’m used to wanting to crawl into bed after a workout, maybe even vomiting. I exaggerate but not by much. But here’s a question for you. I’m 44, female. What are your thoughts on being able to gain appreciable muscle at my age/sex? I’m content with my physique (around 5’7″, 130 lbs., approx 18% bf), but there’s a distinct difference in skin laxity, etc., that I imagine is just something one needs to live with as they age. Perhaps you have an old archived article on training for the above 40 crowd, what we can expect, what special needs may be, etc. But thanks so much to trainers such as yourself that have made your techniques/methods available to the masses via internet. Nothing feels as good as being a woman who can deadlift, squat, and do pull ups nor feel intimated making her way around a weight room. The psychological boost trumps all the physical benefits.

  • Gina McNeal says:

    Another comment, Bret: I find it pretty hard to do HIIT without using plyos. I am in really good shape, so I have to jump if I want to get my heart rate up 🙂 I also teach a HIIT class, and my students jump (I teach them landing mechanics). I haven’t seen the “absolutely no plyos” advice (except as it applies for certain populations) anywhere else except your blog. I am wondering what kind of HIIT your clients do.

  • Jolanda says:

    Great article! I liked the one about the different types of hip extensions too!
    I have read Strong Curves and I am currently in the process of changing my gym routine. Only thing is, I still feel a bit self conscious doing glute bridges and hip thrusts while people are pretending NOT to look.
    I guess it’s just a matter of getting used to… 😉

  • Alicia says:

    Hi Bret,

    I am a big fan of your articles, but was hoping you could answer a few questions. I am 5’4 and 161lbs. I got a BodyPod done and have 23.4% BF. I am a very muscular individual and do enjoy that but I would like to get lighter for mountain biking. I am aiming to be at about 18-20% BF and am doing that through calorie deficit, regular mountain bike riding, running, hiking and HIIT. I am just starting to lift heavy as I believe HIIT and lifting are the only ways to get my BF% down. I guess my question is: do you think it is possible to get down to 135-140lbs without losing strength/ should I not be lifting??

    Thanks!

  • Louie says:

    This article is incredible. There’s a sense of humility as I am one of the people to ALWAYS emphasize women will not get bulky although I DO know genetics play a big role. Nevertheless, I will be taking this and rewording my comments to prospective clients as well as reference the chart…plain and simple, its badass and on point.

  • Yvette says:

    Great read. What about the women who are conflicted: they start training, love making strength gains, want to continue to do so, but still want to stay lean year-round without having to do any crazy cutting? Besides the nutritional aspect, how can one train for BOTH leanness and strength?

  • Nissa says:

    This is an excellent article! I love all your articles and the Strong Curves book. I recommend it often! I have good glute genetics, I’m a dancer, and I’m naturally slender, petite, small framed. But, I love working on maintaining and improving my fitness, skills, and muscles. I relate to this article a lot. Thanks!

  • Jess says:

    Wow – thank you! I’ve been bugging my powerlifting coach about this…

    I met him when I was in recovery from anorexia, at 95#, 5’4″. A year later, I’m at 110#, body is working, but I’m too muscular for my taste. I have no desire to lose weight, but I loathe how thick I am. Even he commented I put muscle on a freakish rate.

    I competed in June, and love powerlifting, with my PRs BP/S/DL = 95 # / 135 /200.

    My question is – why do I keep putting on muscle, even though I am METICULOUS (ie weighing and measuring) my intake. I’m between 1400-1800 – usually average 1500/1600, but have occasional high / low days. And still…gaining size.

    It’s not fat. I can see that.

    And I don’t think it would be healthy to drop my cals (given my history). Should I up cardio? I sprint 1-2 week, do 10 minbodyweight HIIT 2-3x/ and walk briskly 4-5x/week at least 30-45 min. Plus lift 30-45 min 4x a week.

    And ideas would be welcome. I want to look…longer and leaner, without sacrificing health. If that’s possible, I’d love some suggestions on how to alter my training.

  • Aja Parks says:

    I would like to know how to tone up and what foods I can eat to become more slender?

    I am 34 yrs old and I weigh between 140 and 145 lbs. I would actually like to be smaller like 130. I am small at 5’8″ but my stomach is not even flat. How do I attain that look of a model but not stick thin? I would attach a photo but don’t know how on this site.

  • Beth says:

    Interesting article! However, one area that you did NOT seem to address was the issue of someone (i.e., ME!) who is at their goal weight but would like to have additional fat loss. I’m perfectly happy with my muscle tone, but having added fat (particularly on my lower body–I’m more of a pear-shape) hides the muscles. When I lose weight, it tends to come mainly off my torso, so that doesn’t seem to be the answer for me. Any suggestions?

  • Carly says:

    What can I do if I’ve already gotten myself into the “skinny fat” predicament? I was aiming for the Jessica/Zoe body composition type but ended up with a body composition similar to that picture you put of Mila Kunis, probably from doing lots of cardio and eating a low calorie vegetarian diet. I really don’t want to gain more fat because even though I am in the low-normal range for my body weight, I still have fat rolls and am soft all over. I’d really appreciate any advice you have, thanks!

    • Sam the Man says:

      Hello. Your predicament is not that tough after all. What you need to first achieve, is some active muscle mass that will be able to use your bodyfat as fuel later when you start to feel too “bulky”. Just focus on basic, simple exercises as described by every decent strength coach. Gain muscle, you always need it as a base, like Bret wrote there.

  • Nicole says:

    Hi there,

    I would like to give you an enormous thank you for this article! I have been involved in fitness my entire life, and even had a brief stint in the industry as a personal trainer. I recognize that I am a minority in this industry, preferring a “leaner” physique like Jessica’s over a muscular, shapely body type. I have also struggled because I am one of those who you spoke about who actually gains muscle very easily! You are right. If you consult the majority of individuals in this industry they will tell you “keep lifting heavy, because women have a limited muscle building capacity”. If that’s the truth, why do they also (fondly) call me “Quadasaurus Rex”? I suppose it is a classic case of “the grass is greener”, as I am certain that many slender women would love to be able to build muscle faster. I am just grateful that you have offered the tools for achieving our specific goals (whatever they may be). I will certainly be employing this approach in the near future (though I can’t say I won’t occassionally miss the looks that you get when you can squat like a boy!)

    Thanks again!

    Cheers

  • becka says:

    hi brett I would be curious for you to help me to reach my goal of 115 im currently130 ad seems like no matter what i do that I cannot shed fat

  • maria lalet says:

    This is a great article. I want to get leaner and less muscular more like jessica alba. Right now I need to lose 15 pounds of muscle. I’m very happy i found your website.

  • Mirna Alsharif says:

    Bret Bret Bret ! Just another FANTASTIC article ! I love it how you do not leave any detail behind. You go through every question that a client would ask! I am forwarding this to my clients because it simply answers all questions and concerns! Thank you for taking the time to put this together. It’s a lot of hard work.

    Mirna

  • Natalie says:

    Bret – I loved the article it confirmed what I suspected I need to dial in the diet more. I’m strong and train hard (combo of strength and crossfit) but I have a small question on diet?

    I know my issue is portion control – I come from a family of BIG eaters.
    1. How to format a plate – are you a zone man?
    2. How can I know how much is enough?
    3. Is there a natural appetite suppressant that would help keep portion sizes smaller during the learning phase?
    4. And lastly – I have a tyroid issue – even after all this work on diet… will a slow thyroid keep me at 30% BF no matter what I do?
    Thank you – I understand if you do not have the time to respond – but thank you for the article – it was insightful

  • Tara says:

    Great article, thank you! I am currently in the need to lose a lot of body fat category. I count macros and stick to a 400 cal per day deficit. I know my body comp has changed a lot but scale doesn’t move. I read online “don’t weigh yourself the scale lies, don’t do much cardio, lift heavy eat big, etc”. Currently I am doing Stronglifts 5×5 (with added accessory work) and am making nice strength gains and love the program. Recently I’ve added sprints in after each workout because I feel like although I’m getting some nice newb gains, I’m not leaning out as I’d like. In your opinion, is HIIT cardio sufficient for someone like me or should I be doing more steady state cardio?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

  • Annie Brees says:

    Great post. I love how you differentiate between the clients goal and your goals for the client. So important to see the difference when really trying to help people. I firmly believe that when they have a hand in the decision making process they’re more likely to “buy in” and succeed. I could quote this whole article all day. Well done and than you for sharing!

  • Teri says:

    Thank you for a great post, Bret. One of the things that I appreciate most about you (and that you speak about in your book, Strong Curves) is that you do not hoard your knowledge. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for all that I have learned from you. Many of my women clients are now training according to “Strong Curves”. Still, it’s great to see the other side of the coin and how to reach these women. Thank you for being so generous! The help you give keeps on giving exponentially.

  • Christina says:

    Great article!! Thank you!! This debate has ALWAYS been on my mind and I’m so glad that you say things like: “The typical response in the industry to these ladies is to tell them that women are unable to get too muscular.” I’ve always hated when I get that response- typically from a guy. It implies that I don’t know what I’m talking about, or that I’m afraid of weights, or any other number of things. Here’s the thing- I’m a certified PT, I’ve been lifting since my early 20s, I’ve done Starting Strength and have deadlifted and squatted my own bodyweight. But I think it’s short-sighted to say women won’t or can’t get bulky. Yes- they most certainly can. Especially if they’re adding muscle while being at a higher level of BF. Anyway, thank you! : )

    Now, question time, I’m pretty sure I’m understanding your article correctly but just in case… I’m 5’4″, currently 140 with 20% bf. I’m a size 4 and have pretty good proportion. My goal is to get down to 17-18% bf. I love lifting and I like the look of muscle but not “too muscular”. Should I continue to lift and just stop when I starting getting too big for my taste?

    There’s so many opinions out there- it can be really overwhelming! And I really love lifting- I’m competitive so I hate going to the gym and not going all out.

    Thanks again,
    Christina

  • Sylvia says:

    Great advice!

    What would you recommend for someone with mild tendonitis in their wrist so I can’t use any weights? I can’t do push-ups or planks anymore because it makes it worse. My tummy has gone soft.

    I’m only walking 30 minutes daily to and from home/work and Zumba twice weekly or elliptical machines. I use to also indoor rock climb, yoga, Zumba and eliptical once weekly, and a 30 minutes BodyShred class once weekly (1 minute intervals of everything or Cardio Kickboxing), which felt great athletically, , but like you said I think I overdid it and my body didn’t like it (injury and noticed my legs became a tad too muscular for my liking).

    Thanks!

  • victoria says:

    Thank you so much for this article! its really informational and helpful! However, im still a little un clear on what to do for my body type… im 16 and I have a very short body.. im 4’10” I know that in being so short its easy to pack on weight faster.. Im a competitive cheerleader which I know youre probably thinking well you cant gain much muscle from that.. well I also tumbler.. that contains a lot of vigorous exercise that results in very bulky muscle.. due to my short figure i am a flyer ( the person that is thrown in the air) meaning i need to be light however i find myself continuously gaining weight! i weigh 113 pounds which i feel is too much for my height. now i don’t necessarily plan on quitting my activities as an athlete but i do want to cut weight and loose muscle mass.. i want to be like the slender model body type you talk about in the article but i just don’t know how to achieve this goal! and i know you say to start by just cutting weight before worrying about muscle, but even when i try the weight just does not seem to come off.. can you give me some specific tips on exercise and diets?? thanks again!

  • Sam says:

    Great article! Thank you for writing it. I began lifting heavy as a way to boost my metabolism about a year and a half ago and there have been weeks I dropped off and then found myself back at square one. I’ve lost inches but gained scale weight and also lost no inches in my thighs which has been disheartening. But I learned a lot from your piece. Thank you.

  • MD says:

    This is a great article. I have a clarifying question. If I am slightly overweight (10 lbs) and I believe I might have excesses muscle, your recommendation is to “diet down” . Should I stop cardio and resistance training? I have been doing resistance training & cardio most of the past year.

    I have not been consistent with my diet, that is why I haven’t gotten to my goal weight.

    Thank you!!!
    MD

  • Robin says:

    Hi Bret. I am a 64 yr female who has almost zero muscle tone and even less strength. I spent the last two years prepping myself for weight training by working on my various dysfunctions and unbalances. I used your and a couple of your colleagues’s videos and blogs to fix what I needed to fix. I am ready to begin loading up. I know what to do and how to get started. What I am asking from you is a little encouragement that it isn’t too late. I know I will never look like a model or body builder but that isn’t what I am going for. I want to be fit and healthy and look great “for my age”. Since I am riddled with arthritis I know I need to be careful with my progressions. I guess I am saying … Please wish me luck! You have helped me enormously already so … thank you.

  • Jennifer L says:

    Hi Bret, not sure if you check comments here anymore, but I will give it a shot. I am a 31 y/o female, 5’5.5″, ~132 lbs. I am super happy with my weight, but I am not toned in any sense of the word. I am skinny fat, with excess fat on my stomach, thighs, and upper arms. Yet I am happy at this weight and would just like to turn some of this fat into muscle. Which category do I fall into? Would it be skinny with no shape or overweight with excessive fat? When I look in the mirror, I feel fat with the excess fat on my body, but I feel my weight is fine. I have been lifting heavy with minimal cardio and watching my diet. Is this the correct route to take? Thank you in advance!

  • Anne says:

    Hi I have a question regarding hiit on the treadmill do u have any hiit workouts that I can do on the treadmill without bulking my quads?

  • Julee Ann Garcia says:

    I knew there was an answer! Been looking for days for an article like yours. I think you should be my Personal Trainer!

  • Farzana says:

    I love this article as I am tired of hearing ‘weights wont make you manly’as they forget everyone has different goals..one quick qs for a jessica alba type of look where i do not want huge legs-nice and slender and toned- what type of cardio woudl you recommend? Im 5ft 5 and currently weigh 56kg…at my most toned and slimmest (goal body) i was 53kg and had literally no cellulite and im back on my mission of getting to that body again..im just feeling like my legs are getting chunky and im not liking it as i feel like i want to strip my body fat down more before i can assess the size of muscles etc..i currently do kayla itsines workouts- with a tiny bit of free weights thrown in for fun..advice would be really appreciated.

  • Jackie Smyth says:

    Thank you for this article, I’ve been lifting for 2 years and now feel like I’m getting bulky. I know I need to change things up but I wasn’t sure how. Now I have a better understanding.

  • Hannah says:

    Hi Brett,
    I realize I am a little late on reading this post. I am going to be graduating soon as a registered dietitian and will have a masters in nutrition as well. I enjoyed reading this blog post. However, I think it is extremely important to address that Zoe Saldana is not at a healthy weight (BMI of 18.0-underweight) and Jessica Alba is bordering an unhealthy weight. I realize BMI is not always a good indicator of health, however, it is a standard. I feel that when giving weight loss advice it is important to educate your clients at what a healthy weight is, and to never support losing weight that will cause them to become underweight. We, as women, need a healthy amount of fat (18.0%-28.0% body fat) in order for our bodies to function at their optimal level.
    I also realize that is not often that you are dealing with people who wish to lose this amount of weight.
    I hope this finds you well!

  • Leo says:

    I really really hope you answer this, probably not since it’s old but I’ll give it a go.. big thanks if you do answer!! :]

    In this article what you have written down recommended for women who are at their target weight but feel too muscular, you give advice on how to prevent gaining any more muscle and maintain what you have, rather than actually reduce the muscle that’s already there…

  • Becca says:

    This is such an insightful article… I usually gravitate toward sweat-inducing, high intensity cardio mixed along with resistance training… I’m not a perfect “10” in my eyes and have struggled with large, bulky shoulders and biceps, not a real defined waist and kind of doughy legs… no matter how hard I’ve trained, the ratios seem to stay the same. After reading this, I realize I’ve been eating waaay too much protein without regard for caloric content, and splitting the resistance training equally between my upper and lower body- I need to diet down to lose the last 8-10 Lbs of fat, and increase my lower body resistance training by a LOT and cut back on my upper body to 1-2X/week… Any thoughts on Spinning to help build leg/glute muscle at same time as cardio?

    • Karen says:

      I don’t have any idea on Spinning but just wanted to comment because I have the exact same situation as you. I do HIIT cardio and intervals on the treadmill and heavy total body weights and my body shape is just as you describe. My legs are doughy is exactly how I feel about them although I hadn’t been able to articulate it before. At some point I had a much better shape but after a certain amount of years my workouts have gotten harder and always consistent but I am not thrilled w/my body and actually cover it up a lot in the summer, although I am not overweight by more than 5 lbs. I love how the HIIT makes me feel and steady state cardio bores me to tears so I’m not sure what to switch to yet. This article and your comment is so refreshing because I haven’t really been able to put my finger on my problem until now and of course don’t want to stop working out as it makes me feel wonderful.

  • Esse Johnson says:

    Bret, awesome article! And thx for acknowledging that some girls DO put on muscle easily and more than desired! I usually work out from home using vids on youtube or downloaded. Do you know anyone who offers follow along workouts that fit the mold you described?? I get bored sooo easily but those follow alongs really work for me. Thanks again!

  • Thomas Le says:

    I find it strange that a fitness trainer would defend Zoe Saldana’s weight as “feminine with enough body fat”. At 5’7″/115, she is considered underweight by pretty much every authority on the subject. To me she looks overly thin.

    Jessica Simpson’s (suspiciously temporary!) butt transformation was due to inserts in her daisy dukes, alas. You can check pictures of her from around the same time period, but not on the movie set, for confirmation.

    Also, the phrase “genetic elite” is gross.

    • Jaimie says:

      At 5’7″ and 115 lbs, that’s a little bit heavier than an ideal dancer’s weight. Everyone has different goals, and as long as they are eating well and are healthy enough to have their hormones in balance, I don’t see how someone’s weight could be anyone else’s concern. I think a good coach would want a client to meet her own goals instead of forcing their personal ideals on them… And I’m sure Zoe can afford to visit the doctor if she has any concerns. 🙂

      (I also prefer a thicker look, but that’s beside the point.)

    • Petar Ivanovic says:

      These ‘authorities on the subject’ you are referencing are likely coming at it from the point of view of trying to make obese Americans feel better about themselves, so they don’t bother going into the complexities of larger / smaller bone structures and etc.. Zoe Saldana has a very slight frame and so looks thin and weighs less at a given height but if you look at pictures of her you can obviously see she is carrying a normal to lean amount of body fat.

      Also, what is gross about that phrase? It’s simply a description of reality. I am sorry that you find reality gross but could you come up with a better term to describe people who are genetically predisposed to have what we consider ideal characteristics?

  • Karen O says:

    Alba weighs 124 at 5’7? I am the same, and I am larger than her. I have felt like my arms are looking bulky (like Jessica Biel, who looked great, but it seems even she felt it was a tad much outside of a movie role). I suppose this is about body composition? My butt is definitely bigger and fattier than hers too. I am 34-25-37. Despite my weight, I am closer to JLO size, who also looks great, but is not considered skinny like Alba or Zaldana.

  • Kristie says:

    Thank you for this article! This is EXACTLY what I was looking for. I wish you were in Northern CA!

  • Raven says:

    Thank you!!!! Any recommendations for someone who is at their ideal weight but just carries a little bit of lower body weight more than they’d like? Thanks

  • Tanya says:

    Hey Bret, thanks for the detailed article! I wonder if you have any advice for women who are naturally a bit too muscular, but don’t do any weights whatsoever? I have always had very large and defined biceps, and by that I mean they stick out when I bend my arm without flexing, as well as larger shoulders, and with that it gives me a masculine shape – I have to stay away from halter tops. I don’t ever work on my arms, and I’m always too busy for the gym. But I do get a lot of exercise rollerblading and walking the commute, at least 10km everyday. What would you suggest I should do to loose some of the bulkiness? I’m 5’6 and 128lbs last time I checked,

    Thanks for the help!

  • Heidi says:

    Hello Bret,
    I recently ordered Strong Curves,…,I I have been consistently training for years;
    full body/compound/3Xweekly, (circuit style/antagonist training.) 4-5 days cardio/ various inclines on treadmill/elliptical, 30mnts after training and 1-2 days fasted morning cardio.
    I follow a very low carb, low cal diet and am extremely disciplined.
    I am a classic pear shape and struggle the most with my lower body. I have built muscle on my upper body in hopes to balance out my shape but I always feel my legs are too full. I’m at a point where I’m afraid to go too heavy with squats and lunges and do feel my legs are worked a lot with my weekly routines. Unfortunately throughout my journey , my glutes have taken a hard hit with diet/exercise and my lower body is just not as firm as I feel it should be with all the training I do.
    I’m at a stand still at this point-not knowing which way to go- can you please offer any direction!
    Do I focus on glutes only, while maintaining upper body?
    Do I use low weight high reps for lower body?
    My true goal is too look good naked, not just in clothes. I don’t want my thighs/glutes to jiggle I want them to have shape and feel hard.
    I am lean but I feel I still carry fat in my lower body region…
    HELP PLEASE!!!

  • Sandra Pellis says:

    Hey Bret!
    So firstly THANK YOU FOR CREATING SUCH AMAZING CONTENT!
    I work at a gym and the evenings are long and you blog is essential for evening survival…
    I’m 1.55 meters and weigh about 53 kilos, my home “bodyanalizer” skale says I am around 19% BF…which i also know is really good BUT, I feel like i dont look it. I’d really like to tone up a bit.
    I know nutrition IS KEY.. I eat abut 1800 cals a day 98% clean ( I do eat a cookie when I crave it but usually still fit it into my cals)
    I do weight training around 3-4 x a week, cardio depending on how active i was asually LISS around 2 times a week…I also do Brasilian JiuJitsu around 3-5x a week, could it be that i am not eating enough? shouldn’t I be loosing weight if that was the case? I am scared to eat more and gain weight…
    I was in my best shape around 2 years ago when I weighed around 50kg.. I’ve been trying EVERYTHING to get back to that weight and shape but its starting to feel hopeless…
    PLEASE HELP

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