The Method

Here’s Why You May Bulk Up Before Slimming Down (And Why That’s a Good Thing)

September 25, 2009

It’s not uncommon for new barre students to feel like their jeans are more challenging to button or that their little black dresses feel a little snugger. We understand that this can feel especially discouraging when your original goal was to slim down for the new year or an important upcoming event. 

The truth is that some clients do bulk up slightly in the beginning, but this is a perfectly natural reaction that’s only temporary. In fact, it can mean that your barre workout is working as it should! We’re sharing some of the main reasons why some clients bulk up before they slim down — and why that can lead to more inches lost down the road. 

Why Am I Bulking Up Instead of Slimming Down? 

First thing’s first: What exactly causes this bulking effect? When new students begin practicing strength training for the first time, they’re usually surprised to see muscles they didn’t even know they had as they start acquiring some muscle definition. But are they bulking up? In the long term, no. After six to twelve months of classes, most of them will have lost a few inches around their hips and waist and have gone down a few dress sizes.  

In the short term, however, yes: These students aren’t imagining it. The Bar Method really has made their jeans fit tighter. There are well-established reasons for this awkward stage, and if students knew them, they would be less freaked out by tighter-fitting outfits and more likely to stick with the workout until the ultimate results come into view. The important thing is to stay the course. After three to five months, your body will likely start to shrink down. 

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4 Reasons You May Bulk Up Before Slimming Down

1. Your muscles are getting bigger.

Within the first few weeks of taking barre classes, those muscles that were formerly not worked stop sagging and become firmer. According to Tetsuro Tamaki, a Japanese physiologist, “Within two or three months of the onset of training, muscle hypertrophy (growth of muscle fiber) may be observed.” The effect of this change can be scary. Seats and thighs that had easily conformed to the shape of whatever piece of clothing they were being shoved into now begin to push back against the fabric with a shape of their own.  

As a new client, you’ll activate many smaller muscles that you’re not accustomed to using in your daily routine. As a result, you’re likely to experience muscle hypertrophy, and these soft, underused muscles will begin to feel more firm — which is a good thing! When muscles are underworked and soft, it’s easy to squeeze them into a pair of jeans. When your muscles are shapely from weight training, however, they fight back against the clothing because they’re defined rather than malleable. That may manifest itself in tighter-fitting clothing initially as you build muscle and burn fat. 

Commit to working out three to five times per week for around three to six months to give your body the time it needs to burn fat and slim down. 

 2. Your muscles are retaining water.

Newly strengthened muscles retain water, and for good reason. Weight training exposes muscles to stress to strengthen them, and the resulting soreness causes the surrounding tissues to swell until things calm down. “Extracellular water increases transiently in the muscle to relieve inflammation of the muscle soft-tissues,” Tamaki says. 

As you build muscle through weight training, your muscle fibers experience microscopic tears. These tears are part of the strength-training process and are often the cause of muscle soreness the day after your workout. As a result, your muscles may swell slightly and retain fluid for a few days after your workout. This is completely normal and will subside as your muscles continue to grow stronger and denser overall. 



3. You’re building muscle faster than you’re burning body fat.

It’s an unfair fact of life that it takes longer to burn fat than it does to build muscle. Students unaccustomed to strength training often start out with a higher body fat percentage than regular exercisers. Unfortunately, fat takes a lot longer to get rid of than muscles do to change shape. Until the fat-burning component of The Bar Method technique catches up, you’re likely to feel a bit bulkier than you did before. 

But don’t fret: The Bar Method will trim down your entire body. After around five months of classes, the intramuscular fat will burn away, your muscles will become more compact and elongated and you’ll lose inches.  

As our master trainer, Kate Grove explains, “The Bar Method sculpts, strengthens and elongates the body in an interval format that elevates the heart rate. It produces a caloric burn that continues even after class is over.” In fact, the Department of Sport and Movement Science reports that resistance exercise can boost your metabolism for up to two days.   

Be patient with your body as it burns off excess fat. You’ll be showcasing those newly defined muscles soon enough!

4. Your muscles are more tense.

Many new clients have extremely tight muscles due to a lack of adequate and properly timed stretching in their other forms of exercise. Once they begin taking Bar Method classes, those muscles become even tighter as they firm up. As your muscles release this tension, they become more elastic and wrap themselves closer to the underlying bone, creating a sleek, well-defined shape. Your muscles go through a lot when they’re changing shape. Stay focused, have faith, and learn to love your slender, sculpted body! 

What Should I Do if I’m Bulking Up? 

Kerrisa Smith Manheimer, the National Coach and Physical Therapy Consultant for The Bar Method, suggests looking for changes in your overall fitness rather than zeroing in on your shape.   

“I would encourage students that are new to The Bar Method to focus on how they feel after taking class rather than on their appearance,” Kerrisa explains. “Our hope is that students feel stronger both mentally and physically after taking class. For example, being able to complete a set of thigh work without taking a break is a huge accomplishment in itself.” 

Kerrisa goes on to add that although “students who are new to The Bar Method (or working out in general) may initially notice a change in their bodies, what they should notice over time is longer and leaner musculature. This is due to The Bar Method’s interval training and specific placement of exercises, which helps to both strengthen and lengthen muscles.” 

Keep in mind that you’re reaping plenty of health benefits from strength training, as well. According to the American Cancer Societyweight training just two to three times per week increases muscle mass, strengthens bones, increases joint flexibility, supports weight control, and even improves your balance.

The Bottom Line 

When you add up everything your body goes through when you’re working to burn fat and build muscle, it’s a pretty incredible process. Students who have the focus and faith to plow through their first few months without looking back deserve credit for sticking with their training. The slender, sculpted bodies they end up with are certainly well-deserved.  


Ready to build muscle and burn fat? Click here to locate your local Bar Method studio, or try our online classes for free!