How To Get Stronger Without Getting Bigger | Training Tips for Chicks

Do you wonder how to get stronger without getting bigger? Or, how does one gain strength without gaining mass?

Body-weight movements and external object control are the best tools to help you reach your strength goals.

How to get stronger without getting bigger with exercises like goblet squats

Carolyn Parker, Founder Ripple Effect Training, demonstrating a goblet squat.

Gaining muscle mass is called muscle hypertrophy. And, mountain athletes, like climbers and skiers, need muscles to get themselves up and over land such as hills, cliffs and mountains.

Most gym routines, however, suggest an exercise formula of 3–4 sets of 10–12 reps. This formula comes from bodybuilding, which is designed to build and shape muscles. Building and shaping muscle is not what you want if you are a climber or skier. You want to gain strength with as little gain in mass as possible. Afterall, the less you have to carry up the mountain the better!  

The most-beneficial, strength-training tools for mountain athletes are 1) your own body and 2) unstable, external objects. In other words, machines that stabilize and control movement for you are not great.

To become more efficient, mountain athletes need to increase their strength-to-weight ratios.

As well, mountain athletes need to gain sport-specific fitness in what can often be an unpredictable environment.

The first thing that pops into most people’s minds when it comes to strength-to-weight ratio is “I need to lose weight.” The good news is that the process of getting stronger will likely create that outcome anyway.

Meanwhile, external-object-control is a profound and genuine test of fitness. 

Controlling objects while they are being swung, thrown, pressed, pulled, etc creates unique forces on our bodies. Athletes who can properly manipulate heavier masses are more effective at managing their own weight. Not to mention managing the weight of a pack, ice tool, climbing gear, skis etc.

When an athlete has the skills to perform a lift and is properly warmed up, they should focus on a total rep count of 12–25 in 2–6 sets such as: 5 x 5, 5 x 3, 8 x 3, 6 x 2, etc. The lift or movement should require a high enough muscle output that finishing this low number of reps causes near failure (but not quite) on the last rep, or two. Your strength should fail, but not your form. Do not let your form go!

In order to try this, pick a movement that is often a challenge. I’ll use pull-ups for example but if pull-ups are not a challenge for you, try adding weight to get the full effect. 

Most women have a hard time with pull-ups. So, when a workout calls for 3 sets of 10 pull-ups, they’ll often use assistance bands to get them through. Instead, I suggest doing 2 or 3 without assistance. Or, try reducing the assistance so that you can barely do 4 or 5. 

Try to complete 6 rounds of 3 reps or 5 rounds of 5 reps with at least a minute of rest between sets. 

If you are fit and have a good work capacity you can do something like sit ups or step ups in between sets. As long as your heart rate recovers before your next set of pull ups and you are not overly taxing your arms and upper body.

In conclusion, in order to get stronger without getting bigger, I recommend that you use a low-repetition approach for all strength and power based movements.

Now, let’s add a few more exercises to help you Build a Solid Fitness Foundation.

Previously, I introduced wall squats, shoulder openers and cuban presses. Do some of these now for a warm up and then we’ll add goblet squats and push ups, described below.

(Caution! Strength training should only be done on a solid, injury-free foundation. Seek professional supervision if you lack the knowledge to practice proper form on your own.)

Goblet Squat

A goblet squat is a squat performed with weight held at your chest.

I hold a kettlebell (KB) cupped in my palms (to take stress off my thumbs). Although, there are a number of methods for holding a KB, the important part is that you hold weight above your center of gravity. This further challenges your back, core and posterior chain. Don’t let the weight round your shoulders or pull you forward. Squat to quads parallel and try to mimic the alignment you learned previously for the wall squat.

Do 3 sets of 6



Yes, the good ol’ push up––the number one exercise avoided by most women . . . 

But, from this point forward, I want you to discard silly notions. For example, discard the silly notion that you can’t do push-ups or that you are not good at them. 

I want you to understand that you only have to make up your mind to do push-ups. Then you need to start training properly and you will. This concept applies to all sport: find your weaknesses, face them and then overcome them with practice and effort.

To do a push-up, lay on the floor face down with your hands flat next to your chest––they should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Point your elbows back. Activate your core, back, glutes and legs. Now, get ready and push. 

You can perform push-ups on your knees. Or, you can lower from your toes and then push back up from your knees. Use perfect form and full range of motion (ROM) no matter what. Be patient. If you do them properly, you will gain strength.  

Do 2 sets of 5

Carolyn Parker