“I don’t want to look too bulky, I just want to tone up” – this is something we hear a lot as personal trainers when we start talking to female clients about lifting weights. Although more and more women are embracing weight training, some still worry that lifting heavy will make them look “manly” or “bulky”.
First of all, what do we even mean when we use the term “bulky”? This in itself is problematic, because it’s incredibly subjective. What one person perceives as perfectly toned and healthy might be “too much” for someone else. While one person might see themselves as “not toned enough”, others around them might admire their physique and think they look super strong and lean.
The question of “bulkiness” also means that we’re focusing purely on aesthetics as a goal. This is fine (hey, we all want abs), but it’s also really important to understand that building muscle has many far, far more important functions than simply looking good. From enhancing bone and joint health, increasing mobility and reducing our risk of injury, to improving our mental health or helping us get strong enough to smash a running PB, lifting weights has a lot to offer beyond its impact on how our bodies look.
If a fear of looking “too bulky” is preventing you from picking up the dumbbells, then keep reading… Here are 5 reasons why lifting heavy weights WON’T suddenly make you “too bulky”.
Well, to start with, building a significant amount of muscle takes a lot of hard work and time! Adding weights into your training regime will not see you suddenly develop huge amounts of muscle. It takes time, commitment and a well-designed training programme that includes progressive overload and am effective nutrition plan.
There’s still a misconception that lifting weights will make you “big”. While it’s certainly possible to add mass and grow your body through weights, that’s just one outcome. With proper programming, you can use weight training to simply shape your body and create a toned, lean look. It’s time to break the stereotype that weight-lifting is all about huge guys in the gym doing aggressive bicep curls in the mirror.
To build a serious amount of muscle, you also need to eat a serious amount of food! Bulking up in a noticeable way not only takes time and heavy weights, it also requires you to eat a lot more. You would need to be in a consistent calorie surplus with a high amount of protein to put on serious bulk. If building mass that’s your goal – great, weight training can help you to achieve this. If not – no worries. Weight-lifting can be incorporated intelligently into your training to achieve a wide variety of goals.
Thanks to hormonal differences between men and women, notably the far lower levels of testosterone, it’s much more difficult for women to get “bulky” when strength training. To give you an idea, in blood tests adult men may have anywhere between 240-950 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter, whereas adult women can expect to have between 8-60. Since testosterone is a key driver of muscle strength, logic follows that men will find it relatively easier to pack on muscle mass compared to their female counterparts. So, instead of worrying about putting on unwanted mass, focus on the fact that lifting weights will help to strengthen your bones and give you increased muscle definition.
Many women talk about wanting to “tone up” when they embark on a fitness regime. To achieve this, there are two basic steps: strengthening your muscles and losing the body fat covering them. The result is that your muscles become more visible and defined.
A common mistake for women with this goal is to hop on the cardio machines. While this will help you to achieve a calorie deficit and therefore lose weight, it will not guarantee that this weight loss comes from fat, and it will not build muscle. Therefore, you might find yourself with a smaller body, but not a lean one. Think of the popular #StrongNotSkinny tag on Instagram – lifting weights is all about shaping your body and creating strength.
A lean body is not a small one – it’s a strong one, with low body fat, something that cardio alone will not help you to achieve. So, don’t be nervous about incorporating heavier weights into your training! It does not mean that your muscles will dramatically increase in size. Instead, your muscles will get stronger and denser and – provided you fuel your body correctly and hit the macro targets suitable for your body and goals – you’ll burn the fat on top of your muscles, to achieve a toned and strong look.
There is so much to gain from incorporating weights in your training! If you’re not convinced, or want to get started but you’re not sure how, then book in for a free consultation with one of our personal trainers, who can help you kickstart your training!
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