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Ask JJ: How Do I Build Muscle Without Bulking Up?

Beyond exercise, you want to make sure what you're sending your body the message to build muscle, burn fat, and maintain strong bones. Here are six ways to do that:
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Dear JJ: I started lifting weights with a trainer a few times each week. My trainer wants me to increase my arm weights, but I don't want to get bulky. What advice can you give a novice lifter?

It's always bugged me that the little wimpy weights come in shades of pink and purple, as if they're made for women. Lifting weights alone won't make either women or men bulk up. The bulk only comes if you also add large amounts of fast carbs and unhealthy proteins to your diet.

In fact, if you want to create strong, toned arms and a lean body, listen to your trainer: keep working toward heavier weights.

Building lean muscle actually holds everything in tighter instead of making you look bigger. It also revs up your metabolism, so your whole body can burn fat just because of the work you're doing on your arms.

With resistance training (working with weights), go for intensity rather than lifting for hours every week. Lift the strongest weight you can while maintaining good form, and focus on multi-joint, full-body style movements.

Combine that with interval training to keep you moving, and you've got the ideal one-two punch for toned, gorgeous arms. But here's the secret most trainers skip: what you do outside the gym counts more than how heavy you lift.

Beyond exercise, you want to make sure what you're sending your body the message to build muscle, burn fat, and maintain strong bones. Here are six ways to do that:

1. Time meals correctly. No skipping or waiting too long between meals! Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. Then eat a substantial meal every four to six hours that combines lean protein, healthy fats, slow-low carbs like quinoa, and lots of non-starchy veggies. Close down the kitchen about three hours before bed to create a 12-14 hour fasting window that optimizes fat burning and muscle building.

2. Pack in the clean, lean protein. The amino acids in protein are the building blocks your body needs to build and maintain muscle. Your body can create some amino acids on its own, but others - called essential amino acids-- you can only get from your diet. Free-range chicken, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and pastured eggs are ideal sources. A protein shake with non-soy, non-dairy protein powder makes the perfect breakfast or meal-replacement protein source. (That means no whey.)

3. Drink up. Among its many benefits, water helps muscle maintenance and recovery. Muscle tissue is about 79% water, which explains why even slight dehydration can reduce muscle strength and lead to protein breakdown. Optimal hydration replenishes electrolytes and reduces exercise-related inflammation. Keep water nearby, especially while you work out.

4. Don't be afraid of fat. Thankfully, athletes and healthcare providers are finally figuring out that the low-fat/no-fat trend of the '80s only succeeded in making people fatter! That's because your body won't burn fat for energy unless you're also eating healthy fats. Load your plate and protein shakes with filling, healthy fats like avocado, coconut, tree nuts and tree nut butters, and yes, even a little low-sugar impact dark chocolate.

5. Get great sleep. Optimal sleep aids muscle synthesis and recovery. Conversely, getting poor rest hinders recovery and keeps you from building new muscle. No question: to build and maintain awesome muscle, get seven to nine hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night.

6. Steer clear of stress. Research shows that chronic stress impairs muscle recovery after resistance training. Getting lean and muscular demands recovery and downtime, whether that means a spa day or a coffee date with your bestie.

As you can see, lifting weights is just one step toward getting lean and toned. What other strategy would you add to this list to help burn fat and build muscle? Share yours below, and keep those questions coming at

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