Does Lifting Heavy Make You Bulky? The Truth Behind The Myth

A common question I often get asked is “Will lifting these heavy weights make me big and bulky?”. It is an understandable question to be asked by women, due to the pictures they see in magazines and in their mind of these huge bulking men who have been lifting years. But in this article I want to address this issue for women and put to rest this idea that lifting heavy weights may make you big and bulky.

First of all however, what is bulky?

It is an impossible term to define because it is completely subjective and people have different opinions of what being bulky looks like. It is therefore up to you to decide what level of muscularity you desire for yourselves.

Some women love having muscles and looking and feeling strong, but for some they prefer a body type and level of leanness completely different to what others would prefer. Similarly, other women might desire a body type that might not be someone else’s preference. It might be considered too “bulky,” too lean, too curvy, too soft, or too firm for someone else. That’s all OK. We don’t determine what someone else should want their body to look like.

The common theme when women talk about getting “bulky,” is that for all of them 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.

Building Muscle or Excess Body Fat?

Women are generally very afraid to lift weights as they are very afraid of building too much muscle, of which they think will make them look bulky. The common response to this is normally that women do not have the hormonal profile to build a significant amount of lean muscle mass, unlike men. Whilst this is very true to the general population, there is another thing to consider. Body Fat.

More often than not, when a client starts strength training, that activity in combination with the increase in lean mass over time, raises caloric expenditure enough to encourage body fat loss. So even though the client is gaining muscle, she is also losing body fat (not simultaneously, but within the same time period). She ends up leaner, firmer, and smaller, even if she hasn’t altered her diet much and may not even weigh that much different.jenn-comparison-pics-714x1024

Take a look at this photo here and you can see the complete different change in size and shape, but in fact she has not actually changed in terms of her weight. Consequently, what has happened is that she has started strength training and begun to increase her resting metabolism. As a result she has built a significant amount of muscle and lost body fat, which counteract each other to show no change in scale weight, since muscle is much smaller per pound compared to fat. However, you can see there has been a complete change in body image, size and shape

This just goes to show that building a significant amount of muscle does not actually mean that you will result in being bulky. It will only be if you retain excess body fat that you may feel and look bulky. But with good, solid nutritional habits this will not be the case, as you will look to lose body fat at the same time. Resulting in a leaner, stronger and healthier you.

The Takeaways
  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.  “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.
  3. Don’t mistake excess body fat for “bulk” from strength training.  Body fat takes up more space per pound than muscle does, so if you lose 5 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle, you’ll weigh the same, but you’ll be smaller.
  4. If you’re satisfied with how much mass you have, you can still lift heavy, without gaining appreciable size, as long as you plan your training and nutrition accordingly.