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Don’t Buy Into the Long and Lean Muscle Myth

April 11th, 2009

If you have any interest in fitness there’s almost no chance you’ve missed hearing about “long and lean” muscles. Every woman wants them and it seems none of us but dancers and non-skeltonized models have them. We’re often told the secret to long and lean muscles has nothing to do with our body makeup or genetics. The key, say various sources, is certain workouts like Pilates that will actually lengthen your muscles as they strengthen them. Other experts tell us the secret to long and lean muscles is lifting light weights and doing high numbers of repetitions, so the muscles we build aren’t too bulky.

So that must mean a routine consisting of Pilates and light weights is the answer? Not even close.

There is one main reason certain women appear to have long, lean muscles – they have less body fat than the rest of us. Take the same body and add or subtract 50 pounds. I guarantee you the lighter version will appear a lot longer and leaner. It’s more about what is overlying the muscle than the muscle itself. Any exercises that causes your body to shed fat will help you achieve the long, lean look.

Of course this is not always true you’re probably thinking. Just look at female bodybuilders. Well if you haven’t read our page on female muscle myths I won’t fault you for that belief. The truth is women need a lot of help to gain a significant amount of muscle. This can come in the form of a diet high in protein and muscle building supplements, coupled with frequent high volume strength training involving plenty of isolation exercises. Sometimes it also involves steroids. Without all that there’s no way the rest of us will ever come close.

The way your muscle will look has a lot more to do with genetics. Muscles can only be as long as the distance between their attachments. Your biceps femoris isn’t going to grow any longer than your upper arm, no matter how many reps you complete with a three pound dumbbell. Even worse, if you’re strictly using light weights the muscle not only won’t lengthen, it won’t grow in size or strength either.

A better plan of attack would be to fix your posture. If your shoulders are rounded forward and your back is hunched of course you’re going to look shorter. Work on strengthening the muscles that pull your shoulders back and improve posture (such as the rhomboids) and stretching the muscles that are tight and pulling you into that forward position (pectorals). And put down the baby weights. You should be pumping enough iron to hit momentary muscle fatigue after 8 – 15 repetitions (that means you’d have to cheat on your form to complete another one).

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