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 entirely uncommon for new barre students to feel like their jeans are more challenging to button or that their little black dresses feel a touch snugger. This is true of starting any strength building endeavor. We understand that this can feel especially discouraging when your original goal might have been to slim down, lose weight, or build muscle.

While this can be frustrating, the truth is that some clients may see a slight uptick on the scale at the beginning of their barre journey. The important thing to keep in mind: This is a perfectly natural occurrence that’s only temporary. In fact, it can mean that the barre workouts are working as they should! Many clients that commit and consistently attend class go on to shed inches, lose weight, and gain muscle. To put your mind at ease, we’re sharing some of the main culprits that explain why some clients bulk up before they slim down – and why that can actually lead to more inches and fat loss down the road.

Why Am I Bulking Up Instead of Slimming Down? 

First things first, let’s look at what causes this bulking effect. When new students begin strength training for the first time, they’re usually surprised to see muscles they didn’t even know they had as they start acquiring newfound 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 any temporary bulk and a few inches around their hips and waist, too.

In the short term, however, yes. These students aren’t imagining it. But The Bar Method is not to blame, despite jeans feeling a bit tighter. There are well-established reasons for this awkward stage and we are breaking them down so you can avoid unnecessary, “Why are my jeans tighter,” panic. There’s no need to pivot or reconsider your barre journey, just the opposite in fact. The important thing is to stay the course, patience is key. After three to five months of consistently taking Bar Method classes, your body will adapt and you’ll start seeing the fruits of your barre labor.

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4 Reasons You May Bulk Up Before Slimming Down

1. Your Muscles are Growing

Within those first few weeks of taking barre classes, those muscles that were formerly not worked are kicked into shape and become more defined and 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 startling if your expectation is to see the inches melt immediately upon starting a new fitness routine. With barre, seats and thighs will begin to pushback against the fabric of your clothes, giving them a shape of their own.

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

If you commit to working out three to five times per week for three to six months, you’ll be giving your body the time it needs to burn fat and ultimately 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 strength training in barre class, 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. 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 unfair but true: It takes longer to burn fat than it takes to build muscle. 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. It’s what makes our technique so different from any other barre discipline. After around five months of classes, the intramuscular fat will burn away, your muscles will become more compact and elongated, and bonus, 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 afterwards.   

Be patient with yourself and your body as it burns fat. You’ll be showcasing those newly toned and defined muscles in no time!

4. Your Muscles Have Tensed Up

Many new clients experience tight muscles due to a lack of adequate and properly timed stretching from their other fitness endeavors. Once you begin taking Bar Method classes, those muscles become even tighter as they tone. When 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 sculpted body every step of the way!

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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.

What Makes The Bar Method Workout Different?  

One of the things that makes The Bar Method workout unique in comparison to other barre studios is that it not only keeps you aerobically fit but also slims you down substantially in the process. When we talk about the ‘burn,’ we aren’t kidding when we say it really is no joke. The burn you may feel in your muscles throughout a Bar Method class is a good indicator that your workout is getting intense and your muscles are fatigued. The amount of time you spend during your workout feeling that ‘burn’ is the same amount of time you’re burning calories and shedding weight. Many believe that the best remedy for losing extra pounds is running. While this is true in some cases, barre offers a more holistic approach to weight loss. In fact, The Bar Method incorporates the weight loss benefits of running coupled with toning and increased muscle definition. It truly is the best of both worlds!

Your body is put through a lot when you’re working to burn fat and build muscle, it’s an incredibly challenging process, but so rewarding. Students who have the focus and faith to power through their first few months without looking back deserve all the credit for sticking with their training and seeing it through. The slender, sculpted bodies they end up with are certainly well-deserved.

Are you ready to build real, lean muscle and burn fat? Find your nearest Bar Method studio, or try our online classes for free!