When you’re a woman who wants to be strong and in good shape, you may worry about how it will affect your looks. While there’s a lot to admire about the strength of female body builders, not everyone wants that particular look.

Many women want strength without compromising feminine lines and slender limbs. Thankfully, with hard work, dedication and patience, you can have the strength of an action movie badass without looking like an action figure.

If you’re already feeling like you’re overly muscular, or you’re worried about how your exercise regimen will affect your appearance, here are some simple tips to help you get strong without building big muscles.

Focus on Activities That Build Lean Muscle

Muscle doesn’t just give you strength and keep your body healthy, it also helps you burn more fat. More muscles mean more caloric intake to support your muscle mass. That’s why body builders often eat horrifyingly huge meals, to ensure they have enough calories to continue building muscle. While you do want to build muscle, you want to focus on lean muscle tissue, not bulky muscles.

Consider yoga or Pilates. Yoga is great for improving flexibility and lean muscle tone. It won’t burn that many calories compared with aerobic exercise, and it won’t build the big muscles you are trying to avoid. Pilates is similar but has more of a focus on strength training. Pilates generally uses your own body weight or bands for resistance, ensuring that you aren’t developing huge muscles when you do these exercises. Light resistance training, with emphasis on less weight and more repetitions may also be a good choice.

Swimming is another great way to burn calories, build muscle and improve overall fitness. There’s no heavy lifting, but the water provides enough resistance to encourage strong, lean muscles. While professional swimmers have larger muscles, they have to swim for hours a day (and probably lift weight, too) to build them. If swimming isn’t your thing, maybe boxing is a good idea. It encourages lean muscle and strength, and unless you decide to start doing more intensive strength training, it can help you build strong, lean muscle.

Avoid Certain Exercises to Avoid Big Muscles

If you don’t want to build bulky muscles, it should go without saying that heavy weight lifting probably isn’t the way to go. Even exercises like chin-ups could make your upper body quite bulky. Sticking with lower weights when you’re using them is ideal. Generally speaking, lifting your whole body’s weight with any one muscle group is a pretty intense muscle-building exercise. Lower weights and light resistance are better options for women who want strong, lean muscles.

On the same note, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may not be the best option for your fitness program either. Many of these programs can really push your legs in the higher intensity modes, which can result in the rapid build-up of larger muscles. It is possible to add a HIIT workout to your exercise regimen without building bulk, but you probably want to have a fitness professional, like a personal trainer, review it before you start doing it regularly.

Crossfit is another trendy and popular workout methodology that can result in bulky muscles. People with naturally slender builds and long limbs probably won’t need to worry about it, but those with average to larger bone structures can easily pile on muscle while doing intense Crossfit workouts. Again, having a professional review your specific regimen can help you avoid that bulk. If you’re worried about thick, bulky leg muscles, stay off the stair machine and far away from any coach sending you on hill sprints. Both of these exercises will add bulk to your quads over time.

And of course, RAW is the perfect program for women who want to build long, lean muscles!

By modulating how you exercise, you can easily build strength and burn fat without increasing the size of your muscles.

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