How to Avoid Getting Bulky: Expert Tips

Avoid getting bulky.

It’s something women the world over have spent years in absolute dedication to. This post explores some of the best practices wannabe internet experts often miss when help womankind everywhere in this pursuit.

[Note: I was raised in New England, land of real maple syrup, Friendly’s “Cone Head” ice cream sundaes, Fenway pahk, and wicked sarcasm. Only continue reading if you have a sense of humor.]

How to Avoid Getting Bulky: Expert Tips for Women

If I had a dollar for every blog post, magazine article, or celebrity trainer espousing the correct training method women must follow to achieve the elusive Goldilocks level of muscle – you know, enough to look mildly tube-like but not enough to scare the dickens out of little kids – I’d be sipping coconut water on a Balinese beach instead of chained to this laptop.

Truth is, these so-called experts often completely miss the mark. I’m here to set the record straight for these internet trainers with the very best tips for avoiding this dreaded “muscle bulk.”

Avoid Getting Bulky Tip #1: Only lift dumbbells that weigh less than your head.

Fun fact: The average human head weighs approximately 10 pounds, so only lift less than that for the rest of your life. Even after you’ve developed a really solid base of good movement patterns and mobility, it’s best to only ever hold a heavy weight if you have the opportunity to pose for photos.

Bonus points if you apply the best advice from other celebrity trainers found in pithy single-paragraph magazine blurbs, such as this gem on staying feminine:

How to Avoid Getting Bulky: A Modern Woman's Guide

In fact, it’s best to just keep your arms by your sides at all times to avoid creating those masculine muscles. Don’t want to end up wider than a semi-truck! For optimal smallness, you’ll want to use an exercise program that doesn’t encourage you to put your arms over your head.

Avoid Getting Bulky Tip #2: Eat less than a toddler.

For maximum bulk-avoidance, be sure to use a giant dinner plate and appoint it with 3 cubes of chicken breast – any and all bits of fat meticulously removed with the skill of a brain surgeon – 2 celery sticks, 1 cherry tomato (tomatoes are high in carbs after all), and a glass of air.

And if you want to speed up the slimming process, cut out 1/3 or more of your daily calories. Sure, you’ll lose any muscle mass, but who needs that anyway? All it does is increase your metabolism and burn fat, the exact thing you’re trying to do when you “tone.” The horror!

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Avoid Getting Bulky Tip #3: Sleep is for dummies.

Why languish for 8 hours or more wasting time in bed when you can be doing other things like applying the newest Snapchat filter (butterfly crowns, duh) or binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix?

After all, sleep is known to help improve health and – gasp! – build muscle.

For best muscle avoidance, regularly stay up past 11 p.m. and wake up before 5 a.m. to do allthecardio. Pro tip: Do all of this on an empty stomach and only drink coffee until past noon each day. Who needs adrenal glands, anyway?!

Avoid Getting Bulky Tip #4: Stress the shit out of yourself.

Perhaps the best-kept secret of bulk-avoiders everywhere is to be stressed about everything 24-7. With all the cortisol coursing through your veins, you’ll ensure you don’t accidentally venture into Bulky Land.

How does this sorcery work?

Since, as a woman, you only have a tiny fraction of a healthy male’s testosterone levels, ramping your cortisol up all the time will tank your test to practically zero. And since we all know that testosterone makes your muscles magically quadruple in size if you so much as glance sideways at a weight, anything you can do to stress yourself out all the time means you won’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of growing muscle. Win-win.

Which kinds of stress count toward this muscle blockade? My favorites are worry about:

  • Eating too much fat. (See Tip #2.)
  • Eating too many carbs. (Also, see Tip #2.)
  • Eating your macros to the exact gram. If you’re +2 over on fat, well…
  • What everyone thinks about your body.
  • Thighs that touch together.
  • Cellulite…shudder.
  • Having abs even though getting them means you’re miserable.
  • What you look like in shorts or anything with less coverage than a $2 plastic rain poncho.

The above are just a sampling! The possibilities are endless.

Avoid Getting Bulky Tip #5: Contract Avian Bone Syndrome.

If all else fails, you can go the route of Phoebe from season one of 30 Rock and contract Avian Bone Syndrome to avoid getting bulky.

Phoebe’s hollow, bird-like bones were one surefire way to avoid getting bulky at its absolute epicenter. Sure, she had to avoid most human contact, but for the hard core bulk-o-phobe, this goes beyond just atrophied muscle. Why only lose muscle mass when you can lighten your bones, too!

In Conclusion…

This post is totally satirical, and it’s the most sarcastic thing I’ve ever published. I’m not intentionally poking fun at you if you struggle with anything listed above. It’s a commentary on all the crazy, BS things I see internet coaches recommend to women.

I’m so sick of so-called experts treating you like garbage for caring about your own health.

While it was funny to write on one level, it pains me as a nutritionist and weightlifting coach to know that women keep falling prey to these types of damaging practices in the pursuit of a “hotter body.”

It takes the convergence of some very specific factors and a huge amount of effort to produce women who have bodybuilder levels of muscle. Lifting heavy-ish weights a few times a week is simply not enough to bulk up.

If you do lift weights and feel like your clothes are getting tighter, it’s quite possible you had sub-healthy levels of muscle to begin with.

I repeat: If you lift weights and your clothes get tighter, you may not have had enough muscle to start with.

Remember the scale and your weight only tell part of the story. If you want to track whether your body is changing for the healthier, at the very least take photos every few weeks and get a DEXA scan once a year to measure important factors like bone density.

Track your health in a myriad of ways. Get your mind right. Nourish your body. Manage your stress. Move with purpose…and thrive.

A healthy body is what matters.

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5 Ways to Get Better Sleep

If you’re looking improve the quality of your shut-eye time, I’m sharing five ways to get better sleep in this post.

5 Ways to Get Better Sleep |

Wouldn’t it be nice to sleep better?

This excerpt was taken from an original article posted on my other blog last year:

If you struggle to get to sleep, you’re hardly alone. It’s estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. (source) That’s a pretty sobering statistic, considering that for many people, lack of shut-eye is a completely fixable problem.

My sleep habits weren’t always great. I routinely got less than 6 hours in bed, ended the evening by falling asleep in front of the television, and slept in a room that had lots of ambient light.

The thing is, if you asked me if I was doing okay on 6 or less hours of sleep, I’d have sworn I was fine.

A Quick Look at the Science

2006 study comparing total sleep deprivation with sleep restriction concluded that the group that was chronically moderately sleep restricted – 6 hours or 4 hours sleep a night – performed just as poorly on cognitive tests as subjects who stayed awake for 48 hours straight.

Even more telling, the group that got 6 hours of sleep thought they were doing okay, though their cognitive tests showed they weren’t. Even though you might “feel fine,” you’re likely impaired when it comes to tasks involving thinking, reasoning, problem solving and more.

Chronically sleeping less than 6 hours is as bad as pulling an all-nighter. Click To Tweet
I was also training hard on fewer than 6 hours of sleep, which was hurting my physical performance, too. Click here to read more about trading sleep for training time, and listen to Dr. Parsley explain how sleep affects performance.

Somewhere between 7 to 8.5 hours of sleep is optimal depending on your personal requirements, but suffice to say many of us could stand to get more.

Five Ways to Get Better Sleep

1) Lock down a sleep routine.

It’s ironic that bedtime routines are standard for children, but when it comes to using them as adults, many of us don’t. We got to bed at erratic times and don’t build habits that signal to our bodies that it’s time to wind down.

Habits and routines are extremely personal, and what works for me may not work for you, so you may need to do a little experimentation. My general rule is to start my bedtime routine about an hour before I want to turn the lights out.

Suggestions to try include:

  • Putting away the dishes or preparing your lunch for the next day
  • Setting out tomorrow’s clothes or packing your gym bag
  • Having a bath or shower
  • Taking magnesium or other supplements
  • Reading a few pages from your favorite book

The point is to build the same sequence that culminates in sleep, and repeat it every night.

Also important is going to bed – and waking – at roughly the same time each day.

2) Avoid nighttime blue light.

This one’s big.

Nighttime exposure to light, especially the blue wavelengths that mimic sunlight, is very disruptive to melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping to put you to sleep – and keep you asleep. Unfortunately, backlit electronic devices that are so prevalent in our modern world, and they’re oozing with blue light.

Staring at your phone while lying in bed is not helping your sleep problems. Click To Tweet

Televisions, computers, tablets and phones are always close by, and they’re negatively impacting your sleep. Daytime exposure to blue wavelengths is important because it helps maintain the “awake” part of our circadian rhythms. However, reducing or avoiding blue light once the sun goes down is one key to better sleep.

Here are some things you can do to cut down on the amount of nighttime blue light your eyes get:

  • Install the free program f.lux on your computer. It dims your screen and turns it yellow / orange as dusk turns to darkness outside. It’s not available on most phones – and certainly not on your television – so if you can’t avoid those screens 100%, there’s another option…
  • Wear amber glasses or blublockers. They may look nerdy, but these orange-lens glasses function to block much of the blue light coming from your screens. At $10 a pair for the generic kind, that’s a pretty inexpensive solution to help you fall asleep faster. I prefer these gamer glasses from Gunnar – the Intercept style – because they look pretty cool, and they’re comfortable for hours of wear.
  • Eliminate light sources in your bedroom, such as digital alarm clocks, electronic devices with glowing power lights, and light coming through your windows. Blackout curtains are a must.
  • Use salt lamps for a soft light source that doesn’t throw blue light and isn’t dangerous like candles.

3) Take magnesium before bed.

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays are role in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. It’s important for muscle function, electrolyte balance, cellular energy production and more. It’s also quite calming so it’s great to take before bedtime.

Nutrient-dense dietary sources rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, sea vegetables and nuts. Worth noting, some minerals such as calcium compete with magnesium for absorption, so if you’re taking it internally, avoid calcium-rich foods at the same time. If you’re training  hard, you may struggle to get enough magnesium from diet alone.

There are several popular and safe ways to use magnesium, among them Epsom salt baths, topical magnesium oil and supplements such as PurePharma M3 (use code SEPALEO to save 10%) and Natural Calm.

The types of magnesium in each are slightly different. PurePharma M3 contains magnesium taurinate and gluconate while Natural Calm has magnesium citrate. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate.

I personally find magnesium citrate to be harsher on my digestive system. (It causes the colon to retain water and too much causes diarrhea.) Though magnesium supplementation is considered very safe, always check with your physician before taking it.

It’s best to take your magnesium about 30 minutes before sleep.

4) Quantify your sleep.

It’s sometimes hard to know if the quality of your sleep is actually good. How much do you toss and turn? Do you really get the deep sleep you think you’re getting?

Instead of guessing, you may want to track or quantify your sleep.

There are many options for doing this, but the most popular and accessible are sleep apps like Sleep Cycle or the Night Shift app native to Apple’s latest iOS update (for iPhone 6).

I used Sleep Cycle for a long time until I decided that sleeping with my phone next to my bed was something I wanted to stop doing. (I had the bad habit of rolling over in the morning and looking at my phone for the first half hour of the day.)

If you’re new to sleep quantification, an app like Sleep Cycle is a good place to start though. While not foolproof, it can give you a good sense of your sleep patterns, and you can enter relevant data that may have affected your sleep such as what you ate, if you trained that day, and the supplements you took.

Recently, we invested in Sense which takes sleep quantification to the next level and includes a more sensitive sensor. It also collects information about the room such as temperature, humidity, and sound levels. But the best part is that I’m able to sleep with my phone out in the living room and still get data about my sleep.

5) Dig in deeper.

So often, it’s easy to overlook key factors that could be preventing you from getting better sleep simply because they don’t appear to be sleep-related. That’s when digging in deeper and taking a look beyond the sheets is of huge value.

My friend Shawn Stevenson – creator of The Model Health Show podcast and trusted voice in the wellness space – just published a book called Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success that’ll help you poke around under the hood.

5 Ways to Get Better Sleep


It’s full of practical tips and things you can implement right now to improve your sleep quality and feel more rested including some stuff that might not be so obvious. And, it’s got a 14-day plan for helping you bring all the pieces together for your more restful night ever.

I highly recommend picking up a copy!

Wrapping It Up…

A healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is the best foundation for getting the hormones responsible for circadian rhythm and sleep in check. If you’re still struggling to fall asleep, try implementing the suggestions in this article – and in Sleep Smarter – before turning to pharmaceutical intervention.

Of course, there are several others things you can try to improve your sleep such as avoiding caffeine after noon time, eating a protein-rich breakfast, getting morning exposure to sunlight, and avoiding alcohol at night. If you continue to suffer from sleep issues, seek the help of a physician or health professional.

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5 Ways to Get Better Sleep |

Have a question about getting better sleep? Leave it in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you!

How to Get More Z’s

How to Get More Z's |

Z and I’ve been wearing amber glasses (or these gamer glasses by Gunnar) for a while now and they help our sleep so much. (Why? Blue light emitted from electronic screens at night blocks melatonin…and that’s the hormone that helps put you to sleep. And most of us have our faces glued to screens in the evening.) 

We both started with amber glasses but they looked a little goofy for him to wear to work at night. His sleep quality started to go down once he started working in the store again because the lights are OFFENSIVELY bright. Once he got a normal looking pair of glasses like these from Gunnar Optiks he started to wear them to work in the evenings. (I have no affiliation with Gunnar…I just really like them.)


In the 3 months since he’s had them, his sleep quality has improved again. He tracks his sleep nightly with Sleep Cycle and has for years. Could there be another explanation for this improvement? Maybe, but it coincides exactly with when he started to wear Gunnars to work.

If you suffer from restless sleep, please invest in a cheap pair of amber glasses to start (just search “amber glasses” on Amazon). They’re about $8. They even have inexpensive prescription versions. These Gunnars are more expensive but I find them more comfortable. They’re also great for wearing for prolonged work on the computer. Yes, there are apps and screen changing programs like f.lux, but they can’t help when you’re watching tv at night and they don’t block other ambient light.

I know a lot of you don’t sleep well so I wanted to pass this along to you. Wishing you better z’s.

Questions about getting better sleep? Leave them in the comments below!