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I Am Getting Stronger, But My Body Doesn't Look Different! Help?
I have read your articles and I was pretty impressed with all of the answers that you gave. I am new at the "workout" thing, but I am really into it. I am 5'4", 23 years old and weigh 125. I am not writing to you to complain about myself, but to ask you for your input. I have been working out 5 days a week at the gym. I was told to do legs one day and arms the next, but it's been about a month, and I can really tell a difference in my strength, but not in my shape. I feel like I am putting on weight, instead of losing it, and toning up. I eat healthy, and pretty much stay on a low carb diet. I never use really heavy weights, because I don't want to "bulk" up, but that's what I feel like. Help!
You have to realize that initially all improvements in strength are due to increased neurological factors. Basically, your brain becomes more efficient at performing the movement. This is very similar to riding a bike for the first time.
The training split you mention seems to neglect the training of the major upper body muscle groups such as the upper back and chest. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the smaller muscle groups receive a significant training effect fromt the use of multi-joint exercises. This is far more effective than relying on isolation exercises to "spot reduce." In any event, along with your split it would be necessary to see what you are performing within each training session.
Now, your fear of becoming too bulky is one I hear from females ALL the time. First of all, "heavy" weights (those that are 85-100% of a 1 repetition maximum) usually do NOT result in great amounts of muscle mass. The volume of these training programs are usually too low to produce great gains in hypertrophy. The repetition schemes that are most likely to produce muscle gains are 6-12. The reason that very high repetition schemes (those of 15 or greater) are often promoted as better for "toning" is that the loads are too low to produce great muscle gain, and the volume is high enough to burn a good amount of calories.
However, there are some major problems with this line of thinking. Initially, almost any form of strength training has potential to put on some muscle mass. This is not a negative though as if you do not have some appreciable muscle then the "tone" look will never be achieved and you will never receive the benefits of such training such as an increased metabolism. It is also important to note that women have one-tenth the testosterone as males. This point must be remembered because testosterone levels have a great deal to do with males ability to produce muscles with great size. In other words, you have far less potential to get big than any guy.
You must forget about this notion of "toning" or "sculpting." As I have mentioned before, you can gain or lose body fat and you can gain or lose muscle. All these other marketing terms are impossible. In essence you have to lose some body fat and increase your muscle mass to achieve the look you desire. I would greatly recommend you set some standards to test your progress. I usually use the scale, circumference measurements (in centimeters), and calipers to test body fat. Without these numbers you are solely depending upon the "mirror" test and this is a great way to drive yourself insane.