Does Lifting Weights Make You Bulky

I don’t want to get big and bulky, just tone up
— Most Women First Starting At The Gym
A lot of women avoid the dumbbell rack and use small vinyl weights

A lot of women avoid the dumbbell rack and use small vinyl weights

What is 'Bulky' anyway .. can you define it .. I can't .. it's subjective.

Generally, when women talk about getting “bulky,” the one thing that word has in common for all of them is that it’s usually an undesirable appearance. However, the actual definition of what “bulky” looks like to each of them can be very different. What one woman finds bulky, another might find still too slim, or just right, or perhaps downright beautiful

Gaining muscle mass is seen as 'bulking' in the bodybuilding terms for guys and some women an as much as it's all subjective, a lot of women will immediately think of the female bodybuilders and their 'masculine' ' physiques. What we need to focus on and understand is firstly, lifting weights, whether it be 2kg or 30kg is stimulating the muscle to grow or to build. 

When women say to me they want to tone up then 'toning up' is simply weight training to help build muscle, the definition comes from losing body fat which surrounds the muscle. So when a person has a lower body fat percentage you'll notice they look 'lean' or quite 'toned'. But again this can also be subjective as marathon runners are less than 4-7% body fat and have lower muscle mass percentages but to some they like their 'toned' look. Whereas those than take part in high intensity training and some weight sessions look slightly larger in frame because they have a higher amount of muscle, possibly a low fat percentage too depending on their diet and genetics.

Every woman that trains or exercises will look and feel different .. one will be effected very little by weight training whereas another will be effected quite a lot. It all depends on how our body responds to the stimulus. 

It takes a long time to build muscle and many guys struggle, so ladies 'its actually very difficult to build a certain amount of muscle'

For any woman starting exercise remember depending on the training stimulus your body will react and respond differently. For a beginner, you'll respond pretty quickly, initial change in muscle mass and body fat is expected as you've come from doing very little to exercise probably 3-4 times a week. Believe me there's nothing wrong with adding a percent of muscle mass on, after all that's what is holding your body together .. helping you to move and exercise. So for beginners the initial month or two can be nerving, but after that you'll find the muscle building reduce and slow down and the body fat (depending on diet) reduce, leaving you eventually with that toned look and lower body fat. Which is the main plan after all. 

One thing about exercising is that it makes you eat more .. or does it ..

One thing you'll notice when you start lifting weights is that because your using your muscles and it's stored energy to perform in the session you'll feel like your appetite has increased. When running you'll mainly use oxygen to some stored energy to help you get through because it's less intense on the energy systems, we'd all love to run as fast as Jessica-Ennis Hill but she's a trained athlete that has been training for years. Rather than weight lifting which is more focused on stored energy usage, using calories that you've consumed. When these are depleted or low, we feel hungry. One trick is to monitor your calorie intake when you start exercising, as we tend to eat more then we really need, over estimating calories burnt in a session or having no understanding of the amount of calories in our meals and snacks. So if we are eating slightly more and weight training, yes it'll make you feel and look 'fuller' or 'bulky' after all we are eating more calories. This can be send of all exercise types though but because we still see lifting weights as masculine and imagine bodybuilders then we blame the training stimulus. So watch what you eat and don't exceed your calorie intake. 


Things to think about

  1. “Bulky” is relative, and it’s no one’s place to push a particular body type on anyone else.  We all get to choose what type of body shape, size, leanness, and muscularity level we strive for.
  2. Gaining lean mass doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen for some more quickly and easily than others.
  3. “Lifting heavy” doesn’t give you one particular body type.  Lifting heavy will give you a strong, sexy, fit, kick-ass version of the body you were given.

Now that we have cleared up any misconceptions about light/heavy strength training and gaining 50 pounds of muscle overnight, let me quickly remind you why heavy strength training for women is such a good idea.

  • Major confidence boost. Every single woman I’ve ever spoken with about the benefits of strength training has mentioned improved confidence as a side effect. There’s just something about picking a heavy weight up off ground that makes you feel like you can tackle anything!
  • You can focus positive, performance-based goals. If your main focus at the gym is constantly on not being enough, not lean enough, not thin enough, not small enough, you’re going to have a consistent negative dialogue playing in your head. However, if your focus is on positive, performance-based goals like adding 10 kilos to your squat, or nailing 5 pull ups your focus and self-talk will be much more positive.
  • Gaining lean mass. Gaining lean mass is beneficial in maintaining a healthy body weight and body fat levels because muscle is metabolically expensive tissue (read: it burns a lot of calories). In addition, because we lose muscle mass as we get older (a condition known as sarcopenia, which can be significantly reduced with strength training) gaining lean mass puts you “ahead of the game” so to speak. Sarcopenia can lead to loss of strength and mobility as we age. If you have more lean mass to begin with, and continue with strength training, you can greatly reduce the negative side effects associated with sarcopenia, and stay strong, mobile, and healthy for a long time.
  • Increased bone density. Weight training and Heavy strength training also increases bone density and prevents bone loss as we age. Low bone mass increases your chance of breaking or fracturing your bones, which is no fun when you’re young, and can be devastating as you get older. How many women these days have osteoporosis or stages of it. 
  • Improved patience. Ask anyone who has been strength training for more than a couple of years. Lifting heavy weights and reaching strength goals over the long haul takes patience. When you first start strength training, you’ll likely notice somewhat rapid gains in strength as your body figures out how to perform movements more efficiently. After a while, those gains will be smaller, and you’ll likely experience some plateaus. This is all part of the journey. Use it as an opportunity to practice patience.
  • Remove self-imposed limitations. This is similar to #1 (improved confidence) but slightly different. Often times women categorize themselves as “un-athletic” or “weak” or “clumsy” before they start strength training. Once they get started, they begin to realize that they aren’t any of those things at all! In fact, they realize that they are strong, athletic, and move beautifully. Then they start to wonder, “What other self-limiting beliefs am I holding?”
  • Promotes fat loss. As I mentioned above, the lean mass gain that comes from heavy lifting increases your metabolism. That, in turn, promotes fat loss if your nutrition is on point. In addition, the heavy strength training itself burns a significant amount of calories not just while you’re training, but afterwards as well, as the body slowly returns to homeostasis.
  • To take care of others. As wives, mothers, business owners, sisters, nieces, doctors, grandmothers, and teachers… we wear so many hats and take care of so many other people in our lives. Unfortunately, we often sacrifice our own health and well-being to do so. Lifting heavy things not only allows you to be physically capable of caring for others, but it allows you to be mentally and emotionally capable as well. Plus, because it’s super effective, you don’t have to slave away at the gym for hours every day, which means more free time to spend with loved ones.
  • Because it’s awesome. Yes. Lifting heavy stuff off the ground, pulling yourself up over a Chin-up bar, pressing something heavy over your head, hoisting your 30 kilo black lab into your car, changing the 5-gallon water jug at work, and moving your own furniture without asking for help? All of this is awesome, and it’s all a side effect of heavy lifting.

I've taken extracts from the Girls gone Strong site for which I follow and recommend any man and woman to do so too. Don't be put off by the misconceptions and media, we are living longer and we need to focus on our health and fitness more than ever. 

Thanks for reading, Pete