Celebrity trainer and Nike-sponsored athlete Noah Neiman, who regularly trains Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret models, considers “long, lean muscles” the fitness buzz phrase equivalent of the food industry’s “fat-free, sugar-free, all-natural,” in terms of its level of deception.
“Let’s clear something up, muscles are inherently lean,” says Neiman. “Have you ever been gossiping in a group and said, ‘Ohhhh my…that Becky…she has some really fat, sloppy muscles?’ The redundancy of saying lean before muscle makes me want to throw a medicine ball against my face — but it sells and it sounds sexy, so people buy into it.”
Neiman goes on to explain that it’s a complete myth that a certain type of workout, be it pilates, ballet-barre or yoga, can develop these supposed long, lean muscles. “Your muscle length is genetically predetermined. Your bones are a certain length and the muscles attached are, by default, a length determined by those bones and, unfortunately, pulsing your arms for 15 minutes straight isn’t going to do anything to change that. There simply is no magic workout that can turn you into Inspector Gadget and have you reaching 15 extra feet by pulsing to the high heavens.”
Does that mean changing your body is a lost cause? Far from it. While you may not be able to lengthen your muscles, you can build them. “Building muscle is called toning your body,” Neiman elaborates. “Genetics play a factor for muscle length, the way muscle is carried on the body and the ease of building muscle, but it’s not the end all be all.” To illustrate his point, Neiman points to ballet dancers noting that they tend to have a similar body type; they are genetically predisposed to being good dancers, so they dance — “not many people decide they want to be a dancer with the muscle coordination of a moose on ice and continue to dance.” These coordinated dancers, he explains, continue to hone their craft, but they started with a long, lean body and built on it by practicing hours on end and working to grow and develop the specific muscles required for dancing. What many people don’t realize is that most top dancers, both male and female, also lift weights — and they’re not light weights.
“Despite the two-pound weights many boutique dance studios have you pulsing with, professional dancers and athletes train to get stronger, so they can apply strength to their specific sport. In fact, most athletes with the bodies people covet have one thing in common: They focus on resistance training and getting stronger. I train everyone from novices to athletes, lawyers to some of today’s top supermodels and they all lift heavy weights — heavy weights don’t make you bulky, they make you strong.”
Why is getting stronger so important even for non-athletes? As you get stronger, you gain more muscle and since muscle is inherently lean, your overall body will lean out.
“Ballet, cycling and barre are all great exercises; they keep you active and they trigger very specific muscles that only that sort of activity can stimulate, but they are not great for building muscle. Do those exercises for fun, for fitness, for sport, but not because someone sells you on the bunk long, lean muscle phrase.”
If you want to be the leanest you can be, Neiman says to eat right and focus on getting stronger. “You won’t pulse your way to a 6’1” Gisele physique, but you can always squat your ass into Nina Agdal/Shakira status, so go out there and squat your body into something that would make your Instagram account proud. #belfie”