Here’s Why You May Bulk Up Before Slimming Down (And Why That’s a Good Thing) (2023)

It’s not entirely uncommon for new barre students to feel like their jeans are more challenging to button or that their little black dresses feel a touch snugger. This is true of starting any strength building endeavor. We understand that this can feel especially discouraging when your original goal might have been to slim down, lose weight, or build muscle.

While this can be frustrating, the truth is that some clients may see a slight uptick on the scale at the beginning of their barre journey. The important thing to keep in mind: This is a perfectly natural occurrence that’s only temporary. In fact, it can mean that the barre workouts are working as they should! Many clients that commit and consistently attend class go on to shed inches, lose weight, and gain muscle. To put your mind at ease, we’re sharing some of the main culprits that explain why some clients bulk up before they slim down – and why that can actually lead to more inches and fat loss down the road.

Why Am I Bulking Up Instead of Slimming Down?

First things first, let’s look at what causes this bulking effect. When new students begin strength training for the first time, they’re usually surprised to see muscles they didn’t even know they had as they start acquiring newfound muscle definition. But are they bulking up? In the long term, no. After six to twelve months of classes, most of them will have lost any temporary bulk and a few inches around their hips and waist, too.

In the short term, however, yes. These students aren’t imagining it. But The Bar Method is not to blame, despite jeans feeling a bit tighter. There are well-established reasons for this awkward stage and we are breaking them down so you can avoid unnecessary, “Why are my jeans tighter,” panic. There’s no need to pivot or reconsider your barre journey, just the opposite in fact. The important thing is to stay the course, patience is key. After three to five months of consistently taking Bar Method classes, your body will adapt and you’ll start seeing the fruits of your barre labor.

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4 Reasons You May Bulk Up Before Slimming Down

1. Your Muscles are Growing

Within those first few weeks of taking barre classes, those muscles that were formerly not worked are kicked into shape and become more defined and firmer. According toTetsuro Tamaki, a Japanese physiologist, “Within two or three months of the onset of training, muscle hypertrophy (growth of muscle fiber) may be observed.” The effect of this change can be startling if your expectation is to see the inches melt immediately upon starting a new fitness routine. With barre, seats and thighs will begin to pushback against the fabric of your clothes, giving them a shape of their own.

As a new client, you’ll activate smaller muscles than you’re not accustomed to using in your day-to-day routine. As a result, you’re likely to experience something called muscle hypertrophy. These are the soft, underused muscles that will begin to feel more firm – which is a good thing! When muscles are underworked and soft, it’s easy to squeeze into a pair of jeans. When your muscles become shapely from weight training, however, they fight back against the clothing because they’re defined instead of malleable. That may manifest itself into tighter-fitting clothing initially as you build muscle and burn fat.

If you commit to working out three to five times per week for three to six months, you’ll be giving your body the time it needs toburn fatand ultimately slim down.

2. Your Muscles are Retaining Water

Newly strengthened muscles retain water, and for good reason. Weight training exposes muscles to stress to strengthen them and the resulting soreness causes the surrounding tissues to swell until things calm down. “Extracellular water increases transiently in the muscle to relieve inflammation of the muscle soft-tissues,” Tamaki says.

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As you build muscle through strength training in barre class, your muscle fibers experience microscopic tears. These tears are part of the strength-training process and are often the cause of muscle soreness the day after your workout. As a result, your muscles may swell slightly and retain fluid for a few days. This is completely normal and will subside as your muscles continue to grow stronger and denser overall.

Here’s Why You May Bulk Up Before Slimming Down (And Why That’s a Good Thing) (1)

3. You’re Building Muscle Faster Than You’re Burning Body Fat

It’s unfair but true: It takes longer to burn fat than it takes to build muscle. Until the fat-burning component of The Bar Method technique catches up, you’re likely to feel a bit bulkier than you did before.

But don’t fret: The Bar Method will trim down your entire body. It’s what makes our technique so different from any other barre discipline. After around five months of classes, the intramuscular fat will burn away, your muscles will become more compact and elongated, and bonus, you’ll lose inches!

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As our master trainer, Kate Grove explains, “The Bar Method sculpts, strengthens and elongates the body in an interval format that elevates the heart rate. It produces a caloric burn that continues even after class is over.” In fact, theDepartment of Sport and Movement Sciencereports that resistance exercise can boost your metabolism for up to two days afterwards.

Be patient with yourself and your body as it burns fat. You’ll be showcasing those newly toned and defined muscles in no time!

4. Your Muscles Have Tensed Up

Many new clients experience tight muscles due to a lack of adequate and properly timed stretching from their other fitness endeavors. Once you begin taking Bar Method classes, those muscles become even tighter as they tone. When your muscles release this tension, they become more elastic and wrap themselves closer to the underlying bone, creating a sleek, well-defined shape. Your muscles go through a lot when they’re changing shape. Stay focused, have faith, and learn to love your sculpted body every step of the way!

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What Should I Do if I’m Bulking Up?

Kerrisa Smith Manheimer, the National Coach and Physical Therapy Consultant for The Bar Method, suggests looking for changes in your overall fitness rather than zeroing in on your shape.

Here’s Why You May Bulk Up Before Slimming Down (And Why That’s a Good Thing) (2)

“I would encourage students that are new to The Bar Method to focus on how they feel after taking class rather than on their appearance,” Kerrisa explains. “Our hope is that students feel stronger both mentally and physically after taking class. For example, being able to complete a set of thigh work without taking a break is a huge accomplishment in itself.”

Kerrisa goes on to add that although “students who are new to The Bar Method (or working out in general) may initially notice a change in their bodies, what they should notice over time is longer and leaner musculature. This is due to The Bar Method’s interval training and specific placement of exercises, which helps to both strengthen and lengthen muscles.”

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Keep in mind that you’re reaping plenty of health benefits fromstrength training, as well. According to theAmerican Cancer Society,weight training just two to three times per week increases muscle mass, strengthens bones, increases joint flexibility, supports weight control, and even improves your balance.

What Makes The Bar Method Workout Different?

One of the things that makes The Bar Method workout unique in comparison to other barre studios is that it not only keeps you aerobically fit but also slims you down substantially in the process. When we talk about the ‘burn,’ we aren’t kidding when we say it really is no joke. The burn you may feel in your muscles throughout a Bar Method class is a good indicator that your workout is getting intense and your muscles are fatigued. The amount of time you spend during your workout feeling that ‘burn’ is the same amount of time you’re burning calories and shedding weight. Many believe that the best remedy for losing extra pounds is running. While this is true in some cases, barre offers a more holistic approach to weight loss. In fact, The Bar Method incorporates the weight loss benefits of running coupled with toning and increased muscle definition. It truly is the best of both worlds!

Your body is put through a lot when you’re working to burn fat and build muscle, it’s an incredibly challenging process, but so rewarding. Students who have the focus and faith to power through their first few months without looking back deserve all the credit for sticking with their training and seeing it through. The slender, sculpted bodies they end up with are certainly well-deserved.

Are you ready to build real, lean muscle and burn fat? Find your nearest Bar Method studio, or try our online classes for free!


Why do you bulk up before slimming down? ›

You're Building Muscle Faster Than You're Burning Body Fat

It's unfair but true: It takes longer to burn fat than it takes to build muscle. Until the fat-burning component of The Bar Method technique catches up, you're likely to feel a bit bulkier than you did before.

Why do I bulk up easily? ›

Fast-twitch muscle fibres are used for power and strength – high-intensity movements or exercises – and grow faster and bigger.” So if you're someone who has a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibres, you're going to be able to gain more muscle definition, at a higher rate – purely because of your genes.

How can I slim down without bulking up? ›

So a key part of how to get toned without bulking is to use lighter weights. For best results, incorporate a combination of light weight days and moderate weight days. Perform exercises for a higher amount of reps and less sets. This will help you achieve muscular endurance and toning.

Should I bulk or slim? ›

It's pretty simple. If you're lean enough to bulk (10-15% body fat or less for a man, or 18-23% or less for a woman), you should probably bulk first. If you're above these ranges, you should cut first. And if you're a beginner who's somewhere in the middle, you should recomp.

Is it better to shred or bulk first? ›

Should you bulk or cut first? If you are underweight, you should bulk. If you are overweight, you need to cut; however, the less training experience you have, the more likely it is that you will gain muscle simultaneously as you lean out (though you'll lose weight overall).

When I try to bulk I just get fat? ›

The reason people get fat while bulking is because they're eating too many extra calories, and those extra calories are being stored as body fat. The best way to improve your results is to maximize your rate of muscle growth by improving your workout routine, diet, and lifestyle.

Is there a reason to bulk? ›

If your goal is to gain muscle and strength and you aren't concerned with gaining a bit of fat in the process, a bulk may be a good choice. On the other hand, if you're looking to lose fat and maintain muscle, a cut may be more in line with your goals.

Is being bulk a good thing? ›

The most obvious health benefit of bulking is that we gain more muscle and strength. A recent study found that 70% of people aren't doing enough resistance training to maintain good health, and so training in a way that builds bigger and stronger things is one of the very best things we can do.

Can you bulk without getting fat? ›

Eat at a caloric surplus but avoid excess fat

When your caloric surplus is too large and contains too many carbohydrates and fats, you'll put on body fat. To maintain a lean bulk, you'll need to eat at a calorie surplus that consists of extra protein and wholegrains, without containing too much fat.

How can I get lean but not skinny? ›

We want to shed the fat and leave just the lean muscle (some of us want to increase the muscle, others just want to lose the fat).
  1. Increase cardio. ...
  2. Do triathlon training. ...
  3. Lift heavy. ...
  4. Eat adequate protein. ...
  5. Focus on bodyfat, not weight. ...
  6. Be accountable.

What's the difference between lean and bulk? ›

The difference mainly lies in the fat content around the muscle. When you compare lean vs bulk, the former contains less fat around the muscle tissue. So, the body looks slimmer and the muscles seem rock-solid. On the other hand, bulk muscles add to the overall body mass, giving you a bigger appearance.

Is it better to bulk with carbs or fat? ›

The ideal bulking macros are to get around 20–30% of our calories from protein, 50–60% from carbs, and 20–30% from fat.

Is it better to tone or bulk? ›

When you bulk up, you use heavier weights than you would for simply health benefits. The heavier weights with higher protein and higher calorie intake create that muscle growth that bodybuilders want. Toning does not have the same nutritional limitations that bulking up has.

Are you stronger on a bulk or cut? ›

Generally, it's better to bulk first and then cut if your goal is to build muscle. But, again, it all depends on your goals. Bulking first and then cutting allows you to increase muscle mass and then cut down excess fat or weight you gained during the bulk.

How long should I bulk as a beginner? ›

If you are at a satisfactory lean starting body composition start with a bulk for 12 weeks, then rest for four to eight weeks, followed by a six to 12 week cut - depending on how much fat you gained.

Can you build muscle without bulking? ›

Concentrate on eating: • Lean Meat • Fruits and vegetables • Whole Grain • Good fats (olive oil, canola oil sunflower/safflower) By eating right and doing a mix of both cardio and strength training, you can build muscle without bulking up and get the muscle definition that you have always wanted.

At what weight should I bulk? ›

While advice differs, it's generally said that a bulk should begin when one reaches 10% body fat for men and 20% for women, or under. Of course, this is all up to you. If you're comfortable putting on slightly more weight in fat to get some gains, then that's up to you.

What is the dirty bulk? ›

A dirty bulk refers to a period of aggressive weight gain used to promote muscle and strength gains in strength sports and certain team sports.

How long should you bulk? ›

Most people can have highly effective cutting cycles in 8-12 weeks, but an effective bulking cycle should be 16-26 weeks on the low end and upwards of an entire year on the longer end. You can see some progress after 6-8 weeks, but it will be marginal, and extending your bulk beyond that is highly recommended.

What happens to your body when you bulk? ›

During a bulking phase, bodybuilders typically consume additional carbohydrates and protein to maintain a calorie surplus. The goal is to use these additional calories to build muscle. A person must strength train during a bulking phase to stimulate muscle growth. Bulking increases muscle mass and body fat.

What happens if you bulk too much? ›

Following a dirty bulk for an extended period can lead to compromised health. Following a dirty bulk may cause several negative side effects, including excess fat gain, sluggishness, and abnormal levels of some important health markers. Thus, it's best followed as a short-term strategy.

What should you not do on a bulk? ›

When bulking, be sure to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods in your diet to support muscle growth and overall health. You should limit alcohol, added sugars, and fried foods, though certain supplements can be useful.

Can I just bulk and not cut? ›

You should only bulk if you want to maximize muscle gain and you don't mind gaining some fat. (Yes, some people can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, but unless you've been weightlifting for less than about six months, you're probably not one of them.)

How much protein do I need to build muscle a day? ›

A common recommendation for gaining muscle is 1 gram of protein per pound (2.2 grams per kg) of body weight. Other scientists have estimated protein needs to be a minimum of 0.7 grams per pound (1.6 grams per kg) of body weight ( 13 ).

Can you bulk without getting a belly? ›

It's possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, a process known as body recomposition. So by taking your time with your muscle-building, you'll gain less fat and be able to maintain a "toned" look.

How do you get a lean stomach? ›

Techniques that may help people get a flat stomach include:
  1. Add cardio. Share on Pinterest Running is effective in trimming a person's midsection. ...
  2. Eat more fiber. ...
  3. Limit refined carbs. ...
  4. Increase protein intake. ...
  5. Do exercises while standing, not sitting. ...
  6. Add resistance training. ...
  7. Eat more monounsaturated fatty acids. ...
  8. Move more.
6 Mar 2019

How long does it take to transform your body from fat to fit? ›

“At 6 to 8 weeks, you can definitely notice some changes,” said Logie, “and in 3 to 4 months you can do a pretty good overhaul to your health and fitness.” Strength-specific results take about the same amount of time.

How should I eat to get lean and toned? ›

Muscle building foods for gaining lean muscle
  1. Eggs. Eggs contain high quality protein, healthy fats, and other important nutrients like B vitamins and choline ( 1 ). ...
  2. Salmon. Salmon is a great choice for muscle building and overall health. ...
  3. Chicken breast. ...
  4. Greek yogurt. ...
  5. Tuna. ...
  6. Lean beef. ...
  7. Shrimp. ...
  8. Soybeans.

Is it healthier to be lean or bulky? ›

From the two illustrations, lean muscle is the healthier option in the long run because it is easier to stick to a routine that offers flexibility and is also a much more natural way to stay fit and workout.

How many calories is good for a lean bulk? ›

You'll need about 3,200 calories to maintain your current weight. That means that, during a lean bulk, you should be eating around 3,500 calories per day – 300 above “maintenance”. In addition, you will need to consume 175 grams of protein per day.

How much protein is too much? ›

Excessive protein intake would be more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. If you are overweight, your weight is adjusted before calculating your protein needs to avoid overestimating. You can see a dietitian to help develop a personalized plan.

How many carbs do I need a day to bulk? ›

During the bulking phase, eat about 4-7 g/kg of body weight of carbohydrates per day, or 270-480 g/day for a 68 kg (150 lb.) person (2). Focus your carbs before and after your workouts to fuel yourself for your lifting sessions, and restore your glycogen stores post-workout.

Do you still get stronger while cutting? ›

That is a great question, and the answer is: yes, you can get stronger while cutting. Your strength is influenced by a ton of factors, but the three big ones are: Technique – how you position yourself and the barbell during the lift.

How long should a cut last? ›

A cutting diet lasts 2–4 months, depending on how lean you are before dieting, and is normally timed around bodybuilding competitions, athletic events, or occasions like holidays ( 4 ).

How long should you bulk before shredding? ›

Generally it doesn't matter a whole lot the frequency you choose what's important is to keep going until you achieve the desired results. However, for most I recommend bulking for 2-3 months, then cut down for however long you need to get rid of the unwanted amount of fat. Everyone will need a different amount of time.

Do you have to bulk to get shredded? ›

For many people, getting shredded requires them to build muscle mass or "bulking" before focusing on fat loss. And that's really it in a nutshell; there are only two requirements for getting a six-pack: Build abdominal muscles. Lose body fat.

Can you bulk and slim down at the same time? ›

If you can sustain a lifting program and eat a caloric deficit, your body will be able to pull from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially build muscle mass. Prioritizing foods rich in protein is a key component to both losing body fat and building muscle at the same time.

Should I bulk if I still have belly fat? ›

You should bulk first if you are skinny fat. A 10% caloric surplus is optimal to build muscle while ensuring you don't put on a lot of excess body fat. Stay in a surplus for a minimum of 4 months and then begin a slow, gradual cut.

How much should you bulk before cutting? ›

That said, a good rule of thumb for most lifters is to spend at least 8-to-12 weeks bulking and use a bulking-to-cutting ratio of 3:1 (unless you're very overweight, in which case you may need to spend considerably more time cutting than bulking until you reach a more healthy weight).

How often should you bulk before cutting? ›

Bulk for at least 12-to-16 weeks, mini-cut for no more than 4-to-8 weeks. As a general rule, you want to use a 3-or-4:1 ratio of time spent bulking to cutting. In practice, this means bulking for three or four months before cutting for one month.

What happens if you work out but don't bulk? ›

Your body needs protein to build and repair tissues, so if you aren't eating enough, your muscles won't have the material they need to grow. You could feel “punch drunk” after working out, your arms and other muscles might ache more than usual, and your body may even feel generally weaker.

Can I just cut and not bulk? ›

Generally, it's better to bulk first and then cut if your goal is to build muscle. But, again, it all depends on your goals. Bulking first and then cutting allows you to increase muscle mass and then cut down excess fat or weight you gained during the bulk.

Why is bulking so hard? ›

Bulking takes time, and you can't rush your rate of gain, especially as a hardgainer. While you are touted as having a high metabolism (most people's dream) and someone who can stay lean and lose weight easily (most people struggle with those issues their entire life), you also need to understand it takes time.

Why am I building muscle and not losing fat? ›

Gaining muscle and not losing fat often comes down to diet. It's possible that you're eating too much and may need to decrease your calories slightly. You'll also need to analyze your workouts and overall daily activity levels and consider adding in more calorie-burning activities to boost your fat loss efforts.

Should I focus on gaining muscle or losing fat? ›

The Bottom Line on How to Approach Your Body Transformation

If you are a guy well above 15% body fat or a girl well above 23% body fat, you will want to focus on burning fat first. If you're in the 12-15% body fat for men or the 20-23% body fat for women, you can focus on building muscle first.


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