You’ve heard the claims before. Performing certain workouts or using special fitness gadgets can result in “long, lean muscles” or give you “that toned look without the bulk!” Whenever I see or hear something like this I can’t help but roll my eyes, as these claims are clearly targeted towards women, and preying on their fears of “bulking up.” My background in advertising certainly makes me more cynical than most when it comes to this type of thing, but for the less jaded among us who might be curious about whether or not there’s any truth to it, I thought I’d address the following here: is it really possible to change the length of a muscle by working out?
The short answer is no, you cannot permanently lengthen a muscle. Why? Simply put, because muscle fibers are attached to the tendons that are connected to your bones, and there is nothing you can do to change your bone structure, or the way in which your muscles insert into the tendon they attach to. It is all part of your unique bodily structure. Think about your tall, lanky guy friend who has trouble building muscle. His limbs are longer, so even after working hard to build muscle mass, it’s going to be tough for his muscles to appear much bigger if the points of origin and insertion for that muscle are further apart. By the same token, muscles can tend to look bigger on a person with shorter limbs. Stretching will temporarily lengthen a muscle (think of your muscles as rubber bands) but when you stop, the muscle goes right back to its original length.
So if you can’t change what your momma gave ya, what is the best way to look as long, lean and toned as possible for your body type? Combine a healthy diet with regular cardiovascular exercise and resistance training, along with stretching and flexibility/mobility work. It obviously doesn’t sound as sexy, but by incorporating more cardio you’ll burn calories, and strength training will help change your body composition by boosting your metabolism, lowering your body fat, and building muscle. Since muscle takes up less space than the same amount of fat, you’ll look leaner. Stretching helps prevent injuries, and including workouts like yoga and Pilates can help improve your flexibility and posture.
Standing up straighter, with confidence? Now that will make you look longer and leaner instantly!