Why You Should Be Skeptical Of Workouts Promoting 'Long And Lean' Muscles

If you Google "long and lean workout," you'll see plenty of videos and websites promising to tone the muscles using body weight or small hand weights. You'll even see the popular question, "How do I get lean but not bulky?"

According to Self, many of these "long and lean" workouts target women who fear gaining bulky muscles. In truth, your muscles can't grow longer or leaner from any workout. Muscle length has to do with where the muscles attach to the tendons and bones, so your bones dictate how long your muscles can be. Strength training can't make them longer, and stretching only gives your muscles a little more range of motion. As far as lean muscle, there is very little fat in muscle to begin with, so all muscle is lean.

According to InStyle, your genetics often dictate how your body responds to certain types of workouts. Your body type, such as how short or long your legs are, can also determine how your body is shaped. Therefore, "long and lean" workouts are promoting a myth.

Overcoming resistance to strength training

InStyle says that when Joseph Pilates brought his system to New York City, he first worked with many ballet dancers at his studio, who often have very lean body types. Even now, many former dancers become Pilates and barre instructors. The fashion industry and Hollywood also emphasize long and lean body types as the most desirable. That being said, these days, more women strength train and don't mind a little solid muscle (via Self).

The American Council on Exercise says that a full-body strength training circuit can help you metabolize fat better than low-intensity aerobic exercise. Additionally, using light weights and high reps might build muscular endurance, but it won't give you muscular definition. Light weights can only create definition if your muscles are challenged enough to fatigue.

For those who fear bulky muscles, remember that women produce less testosterone compared to men, according to the American Council on Exercise. Women can't build very big muscles without a solid weight training regimen focused on building bulk. Therefore, if you lift heavier weights and add some extra days of weight training, you're not likely to add considerable bulk the way men can.

How body ideals influence your body image

According to InStyle, the myth of the "long and lean" body type can be dangerous because it can perpetuate an unhealthy ideal. Instead, it's best to work with accepting your body, noticing that feeling disappointed is natural sometimes. You can also consider what you desire out of a healthy body and recognize when unhealthy behaviors might be pushing you to an unattainable ideal. Rather than thinking about exercise as a means to achieving a perfect body, InStyle suggests including exercise as part of your overall well-being.

In addition, what you follow on social media can influence how you see yourself. A 2016 study in Social Media + Society found that following fitness boards on Pinterest is connected to extreme weight-loss behaviors, especially if you endorse an ideal female body. Similarly, using TikTok to look for fitness inspiration and fitness role models can worsen body dissatisfaction, according to a 2022 study in Body Image.

However, social media could help with body-positive messages. AnotherĀ 2022 study in Body Image conducted an experiment with 205 adult women ranging from 18 to 76 years old. The researchers showed either body-positive, thin ideal, or appearance-neutral Instagram posts and found that body-positive content increased body satisfaction and appreciation.