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Will Lifting Weights Make Me Bulky?

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The year is 2022 and I can’t believe we’re still talking about this. It is still popular belief amongst many women that lifting weights will make them bulky. I hear all the time from women who tell me they get bulky really easily or they gain in their legs really fast and don’t like it. True story, one time we took on a stripper as a client who complained after five workouts that our training was making her too bulky, and she quit. FIVE WORKOUTS! I fear no matter what I say or do, this discussion is never going away. So let me first acknowledge the concerns of turning into lady hulk and provide some scientific explanation to what you may be experiencing and why.

First and most simplistic, it’s important to understand that nobody has ever become a bodybuilder by accident. Building excess skeletal muscle mass, even for the most genetically gifted, is no easy task. It takes consistency, programming specifically intended to produce mass, and a lot of sweat equity. If this weren’t the case, every guy out there would be walking around all swole.

Second, developing large amounts of muscle mass requires testosterone levels that women simply don’t have.  Average testosterone levels in women are 15-70 nanograms, whereas average testosterone levels in men range from 300 to 1000 nanograms. Even women with high levels of testosterone are incapable of naturally reaching those of a man.

Now, I’m not calling you a liar and I’m not saying it’s impossible to add any size whatsoever, especially if you’re working out hard. What I am saying though, is that it’s extremely difficult to get to a point where you’re bulky unintentionally. In over a decade in the industry, I’ve never actually had a female gain muscle mass in specific area, lose body fat in that area, and tell me they’re bulkier. However, I have had countless women gain muscle mass, NOT lose body fat, and tell me they’re bulkier. (Do yourself a favor right now and Google, “5lbs of body fat vs 5lbs of muscle.”)

Of course, gaining muscle without losing body fat is going to increase inches. For many people, if they’re diet isn’t clean, they’ll begin seeing increases in muscle prior to decreases in body fat. This can cause one to feel bulky. It’s also important to understand that working out causes muscle cells to expand and hold water in the recovery process. So, when someone initially starts a program, they may see an increase in size, simply from excess water in their cells. This will balance out after several weeks, but as in the case of our stripper example, you can’t turn into a body builder after five workouts. It’s just water.

If you’re someone who is concerned about getting bulky and are still not sure that what I’m telling you is entirely true, then there are several things we can do for reassurance. First of all, I would recommend that you do a brief browse of Instagram and check out all the wanna be fitness models/online trainers posting videos of themselves lifting hundreds of pounds. Do they look bulky or do they look like you want to look? (Sometimes the mirror test is the best test.) I guarantee there are thousands of “not bulky” women out there lifting way, way more weight than you do and you don’t think they look like she hulk. Second, get some tangible evidence. Do starting measurements, a Dexa scan or Inbody, that shows you the composition of fat and muscle on your body. As you train, regularly retest. This way you can see if your muscle mass is increasing, and if your body fat is staying the same, increasing, or decreasing. I would bet money, that what you think is happening and what is actually happening are not the same.

Finally, recognize that strong and healthy is what is sexy. Gone are the days where twigs were sex symbols. If you want that highly desirable toned look, then you have to lift weights that are heavy for you and reduce your body fat. It takes time, and sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better, but if you trust the process you can be lean and toned.

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