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How to get lean without getting bulky

How to Get Lean Without Getting Bulky (Women’s Guide)

It’s a question women have been asking since the dawn of time: “How do I get lean and not bulky?” Well, you will get lean and toned with the steps I’m about to show you. 

I understand your frustration; the thought of possibly getting a bulky body you don’t want has been stopping you from taking action to get your dream, lean body. 

You want to start your goal with the right guidance; you don’t want to work out for months just to end up with regrets.  

I haven’t seen a real, complete guide on this subject, so with my personal experience, lots of research, and consideration of your pains, I’ve written this guide that I know will get you that lean body. 

Before we get into it, you need to change your perspective on the “lean vs bulky” debate.

Can women get bulky while trying to get lean?

I already covered this topic extensively here, so I’ll just give you a brief rundown.

Women can unintentionally get bulky in the pursuit of being lean but it’s rarely a case of putting on “too much muscle.” 

In most cases, you just put on more body fat. 

This usually happens because, after we work out, we tend to reward ourselves by eating whatever we want. After all, “we’ve earned it.” 

What we don’t realize is that working out is half of the race; the other half is eating right. 

So, let’s ask a better question: can women get bulky while trying to get lean if they work out and eat the right foods at calorie maintenance or a slight deficit? 

Very unlikely. 

If your goal is to get “lean” and not “skinny,” then you will have to put on some size, and then cut back down to reveal your lean, toned body. 

You don’t get lean without building lean muscle. 

And if you just want to look slim, then you’re welcome to just do a bunch of cardio and lose weight. 

Women exercising with bands

Guide to a lean, feminine body

If you want to get a lean body that can actually be maintained, then you need to change how you view the journey to getting lean. 

You may get a bit “bulky” in the process but it’s just temporary fat gain that you can still lose. 

How you go about getting lean will depend on the road you’re taking. 

If you’re at a higher body fat percentage, the way to go about getting lean will be different from that of someone who is skinny.  This point isn’t emphasized enough.

Your road to getting lean has to be somewhat personalized to you. 

So, what I’m doing with this guide is telling you the essentials—the must-do’s for getting lean. 

Then I want you to take them, personalize them for yourself, and follow a guide that is unique to you. 

Before we get into the guide, you need to get into the right mindset. 

Step 1: Fix your mind and expectations 

Getting lean isn’t easy for anyone. Everyone has faced whatever struggles they have had in the past in their attempt to get lean. 

We’ve all tried, stopped trying, and failed. We’ve all felt stuck, undisciplined, and hated ourselves for it. 

Losing weight is a skill

What if you approached weight loss as a skill you could learn? A skill that you learn once will turn into a skill that you’ve unlocked forever. 

And it all starts with being able to hit your weight-loss goal once. 

It sounds counterintuitive, right? 

But it works. 

If you’ve done something once, you can do it repeatedly. 

So, when you’re trying to get lean—when you feel like quitting—remember that you only have to achieve this goal once. 

Once you hit a weight loss goal, the skill of losing weight will become part of you forever.  

It doesn’t stop after you get lean

You also need to know that getting lean isn’t the end goal; maintaining that physique is. 

We tend to only visualize the feeling of achieving our body goals, which is why we want the “fastest hacks.” 

But what about after? 

If you consider the after, your approach to exercise and nutrition will change. 

You will start to choose sustainable approaches rather than the quick, extreme methods we see everywhere. 

You’re making a lifestyle change to get and stay lean so treat it that way. 

Let’s get into your workout structure: 

Step 2: Creating a lean, focused workout routine

If you want to achieve a lean, feminine body without bulking up, you need a well-rounded workout routine that combines cardio, resistance training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). 

HIIT isn’t essential but it helps a ton by burning more calories and spiking your metabolism for the day. 

Here’s a workout plan designed specifically for women aiming to get lean:

Resistance Training

This is any form of exercise that is designed to improve muscular strength and build lean muscle mass.

The lean body most women want requires a toned arm and back, no love handles, a slim midsection, and bigger glutes and quads. 

What you probably don’t know is that if you want to get an hourglass shape, you need a smaller waist (lose fat in your midsection), a big lower body (glutes and quads), and a wider back and shoulders. 

A wide back and shoulders make your waist look even smaller. 

Here are simple exercises for each muscle group: 

  • Bicep Curls
  • Tricep Dips
  • Hammer Curls
  • Tricep Pushdowns
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Hip Thrusts
  • Glute Bridges
  • Leg Press
  • Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Walking Lunges
  • Leg Extensions
Obliques for removing love handles:
  • Russian Twists
  • Side Planks
  • Bicycle Crunches
  • Cable crunches (upper abs)
  • Laying or hanging leg raises (lower abs)


You don’t have to go extreme with cardio like people online make it to be.

Choose any form of cardiovascular exercise that you enjoy and that will get your heart rate up, such as: 

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Walking or even dancing

Just choose something you can be consistent with and aim for at least 30-minute sessions on most days of the week.

HIIT Exercises

Perform HIIT workouts 2-3 times per week, alternating between periods of high-intensity exercise and rest. 

Include exercises like:

  • Burpees 
  • Mountain climbers 
  • High knees
  • Jumping jacks

Here’s a sample 1-week workout routine:

DayWorkoutSets x Reps
MondayArms & Back Resistance + Cardio (30 minutes) 3 sets x 12-15 reps
TuesdayHIIT Workout + Abs4 sets x 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off
ThursdayGlutes & Quads Resistance + Cardio (30 minutes) 3 sets x 12-15 reps
FridayHIIT Workout + Abs4 sets x 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off
SundayObliques, Glutes & Quads + Cardio (30 minutes) 3 sets x 12-15 reps


  • Do a proper warm-up before starting each workout session.
  • Focus on maintaining proper form and technique throughout the exercises.
  • Adjust weights and intensity levels according to your fitness level and progression.
  • Listen to your body and rest when needed to prevent overtraining and injury.
  • Stay consistent with your workout routine and pair it with a balanced diet for optimal results in achieving a lean physique.
Woman eating

Step 3: Nutrition for getting a lean female body

They say 80% of the effort to get lean comes from the kitchen. 

So, when striving for a lean physique, the right nutrition plays a huge role in sculpting your body without getting bulky.

Here’s a guide to the best approach to nutrition to achieve a lean, toned look:

1. The first step is portion control

You need to pay attention to portion sizes to avoid overeating, especially with calorie-dense foods. The best way to do this is by tracking your calories. 

Here’s how to do it:

  • Determine your body’s maintenance calories using an online calculator, which estimates the calories your body needs to maintain basic functions at rest.
  • With that number, aim for a slight calorie deficit of around 300 calories per day to promote fat loss without sacrificing muscle mass.

If your maintenance calorie is 2000, subtract 300 and start at a deficit of 1700 calories.

If you don’t want to go the calorie tracking route, use smaller plates and instinctively measure out servings to prevent an unintentional calorie surplus. This is usually a lot trickier to measure.

Check out: How to Finally Lose Weight After 40 (4-Week Guide)

2. Prioritize lean protein

Prioritize lean protein sources such as chicken breast, fish, tofu, and legumes in your meals. Protein supports muscle repair and growth while keeping you feeling satisfied. 

A lean body requires more protein, so aim for 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. 

If you weigh 150 pounds, eating 120 grams of protein will be optimal. 

3. Go for Complex Carbohydrates

Choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables over refined options. These provide sustained energy for workouts and help regulate blood sugar levels.

4. Include healthy fats

Don’t skimp on healthy fats from sources such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats support hormone balance and aid in nutrient absorption.

5. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to support your metabolism and overall health. Adequate hydration also aids in digestion and can help curb cravings.

6. Monitor your intake

Keep track of your food intake using a journal or mobile app to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs while staying within your calorie goals.

7. Add fiber-rich foods

Include plenty of fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your diet. Fiber helps keep you feeling full and supports digestive health.

8. Plan Ahead

Take time to plan and prep your meals in advance to set yourself up for success. 

Having healthy options readily available reduces the likelihood of making poor food choices out of convenience.

9. Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, and eat mindfully. 

Avoid restrictive diets and instead focus on nourishing your body with wholesome, nutrient-rich foods.

If you follow most of these steps, then you will start getting lean in no time. 

In Summary

Achieving a lean, toned physique as a woman is not about avoiding bulkiness but rather embracing a complete approach to fitness and nutrition. 

By following the steps outlined in this guide, including tailored workouts and mindful eating habits, you can confidently pursue your fitness goals without fear of unwanted bulk. 

Remember, it’s not just about the destination—it’s about enjoying the process and celebrating every step toward a healthier, happier you.

Faysal Tahir
Faysal Tahir
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