More women are picking up weightlifting than ever before. Yet, I still hear women who say they don’t want to “look bulky.” And that’s completely understandable; I don’t want to look bulky, either! However, as it turns out, weight lifting will NOT cause you to look bulky, but rather build that sleek and toned figure you DO want. Strength training offers a variety of benefits, and is actually recommended for ALL adults. Don’t worry, I’m going to explain exactly why heavy lifting won’t cause bulk to your figure!
Women and the Ever-Popular Worry of Becoming “Too Bulky”
Perhaps you have hesitated to add strength training to your schedule because you fear becoming “too bulky.” Your goal isn’t to get bigger, bur slimmer! Let me assure, women’s bodies and hormones will simply not allow you to become bulky with a moderate strength training program. In contrast, weight lifting will help to give you that toned physique you desire. So, ladies, to avoid heavy lifting because your goal isn’t bulky is a huge disservice to yourself! Not to mention, in addition to achieving a slimmer look, weight lifting builds bone density.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends ALL adults strength train at least 2 times a week, and preferably 3 or more. Studies have shown that only 24.8% of adults met the strength training guidelines of 2 or more times per week in 2015. This means slightly more than 1 in 5 adults are participating in weight lifting, which is even lower than the proportion of adults meeting cardio recommendations (about 50%).
Why Heavy Lifting Won’t Cause Bulk
Here are a few reasons why heavy lifting won’t cause bulk. Don’t worry, adding in weight lifting won’t leave you looking like the hulk!
1. Women produce much less testosterone than men.
Here it is, testosterone… the primary reason women don’t bulk up like men. Because women produce much less testosterone than men, we simply won’t bulk up in the same way from weight training. Strength training can increase production of human growth hormone in women; however, this can actually aid in fat reduction and therefore is not a bad thing. Studies have shown that whereas testosterone increases in men following strength training exercise, it does not significantly increase in women, keeping them from looking huge and bulky.
2. Strength training increases calorie burn.
If you read my article on all the benefits of strength training, you already know that it boosts your metabolism and thus burns more calories. It is really true that muscle burns more calories than fat, and this alone will help to keep you slim and fit. Having more lean muscle tissue will allow you to burn more calories overall each day (even on days you don’t exercise.)
3. Bulking for anyone only comes with dietary influence.
Even for men, a “bulking” phase is achieved through diet. Therefore, bulking will not occur through the addition of strength training alone. Bodybuilders not only spend hours in the gym to achieve their bulk, but also follow a highly controlled diet specifically designed for building muscle. This diet is often very high in calories and is engineered to maximize bulk while limiting fat accumulation. The average man who wishes to pack on muscle mass would have to be very meticulous in his meal planning to achieve his goals, even with a natural predisposition to bulk more than the average woman.
4. Myth: Women should use light weights for “toning”
Often women lift light weights with many repetitions in an effort to “tone” instead of creating “bulk.” While lifting lighter weights many lead to improved muscular endurance, lifting heavy weights does not mean automatic bulk. Heavier lifting does fatigue the muscle more easily, and therefore lead to a more efficient increase in muscle mass. This actually helps women achieve the toned look they want.
Bulky is Subjective
Perhaps it should made noted that the term bulky is completely subjective anyway! When surveyed for studies, this term is shown to mean different things to different women. The important thing to remember is that with any new exercise regimen change doesn’t happen overnight. You will not grow muscle and become bulky overnight. Muscle takes a lot of time to build and working with the right trainer (as well as a Dietitian for diet advice) can help you to achieve your desired look. Just know that you won’t turn into Popeye from adding a moderate strength training program 2-3 times each week to your usual routine!
Pick up the barbells and hit the squat racks!
So ladies, now that you know why heavy lifting doesn’t cause bulk, it’s time to pick up the barbells and hit the squat racks. Curl those dumbbells. Do those chin ups, push ups, and deadlifts. My husband and I actually love to lift together and do most of the same exercises. He can just lift more than me! But, that doesn’t keep me from lifting as heavy as I’m able and pushing myself alongside him. Of course, it’s also great to hit the gym with your girlfriends. Just don’t be afraid to head over to the other side. The weight room can be intimidating when you start, so find a friend with experience or hire a personal trainer for even just a few sessions to learn and get your form right.
And don’t think you have to tell cardio goodbye. Cardio exercise is still loaded with benefits and High Interval Intensity Training is an especially good way to burn fat in a really short workout!
Comparison of serum testosterone and androstenedione responses to weight lifting in men and women
Selective muscle hypertrophy, changes in EMG and force, and serum hormones during strength training in older women