It’s all a marketing sham.
Women lifting weights: We realize there is a stigma around this topic. Although it’s becoming more common to see women weight training, many still shy away for the fear of “bulking up.” So let’s address the elephant in the room.
The age-old fitness goal of most women tends to be: “I just want to build lean muscle and tone up”. Let us let you in on a few secrets. First, we already busted the “lean muscle” myth. All muscle is lean. Second, lifting weights will not make women bulky, manly, or big — lifting weights will make women lean, strong, and fit, though.
Here’s our take on why everyone should stop believing that lifting weights makes women bulky, and why all women should lift weights.
Do women get bulky from lifting weights?
The short answer: No, women don’t get bulky from lifting weights. There are always exceptions to the rule, but the truth is, it takes a heck of a lot of work to build muscle. It doesn’t happen by accident.
It takes years and hours of consistent, smart work to put on the amount of muscle it takes to “get big.” Large, well-defined muscles don’t come from strength training with the sole goal of improving your health — they come from years upon years of intentional effort to compete in sports or bodybuilding.
Yes, years. Next time you see a bodybuilder, ask them how long it took (and how much effort it took) to gain their physique. Many (but certainly not all) bodybuilders take performance-enhancing drugs on top of hours in the gym to get that look (but PED is another topic for another day).
Why women don’t get bulky from lifting weights
While it’s true that each person builds muscle mass at different rates based on genetics, experience, lifestyle factors, and body type, it’s also true that women build muscle at significantly slower rates than men.
For some perspective, it can even take a man (who has higher testosterone) several months of heavy lifting and eating in a calorie surplus to put on just one pound of muscle mass. So, if it’s virtually impossible for women to skyrocket in size overnight, why do we still have this fear of “bulking” up?
Here are two big reasons why women don’t get bulky when they start lifting weights.
You don’t have enough testosterone
Here are some scientific facts: Women have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone and, as we mentioned earlier, lower levels of testosterone than men. Because of genetic makeup, a woman simply cannot and will not grow new muscle tissue to the same degree as a man, even when lifting heavy weights.
You don’t eat enough
As if biological factors aren’t enough to prove you won’t build a man body, we mentioned “eating in a surplus” above. In order to “bulk” or build muscle, you have to be eating an excess of calories. Most women don’t eat enough calories, especially from protein, in order to build and repair muscle mass.
You should also know that if you want to get that “toned,” lean look, it really all comes down to the amount of fat mass you carry on top of your muscle mass. That is, you have to both build muscle and maintain a low enough body fat percentage in order to achieve noticeable muscle definition.
You don’t lift heavy enough
Like we said earlier, getting “big” doesn’t happen by accident. It takes hours of dedication and effort each week. Lifting weights for a physique isn’t the same as lifting weights for health. Chances are, you don’t lift heavy enough to put on the kind of muscle mass that looks bulky.
4 Benefits of Lifting Weights
If you start lifting weights, you’ll definitely notice an improvement in your physique, but it’s not all about appearance. These four big benefits of lifting weights might convince you to hit the squat rack.
You’ll improve bone density
Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. The good news is that you can do something to prevent it. Lifting weights helps prevent bone loss and increases (or at the very least, maintains) your bone density, which reduces your chances of osteoporosis-related fractures. Nobody wants to be falling down and fracturing hips at 70! Next time you shy away from the free weights to do the elliptical, think on this.
You’ll change your body composition
Building muscle mass will increase your metabolic rate, meaning your body will burn more calories at rest. Who wouldn’t want to turn their body into a calorie-torching machine? Gaining muscle mass will aid fat loss goals — more muscle, more food — and we’re here for that.
You’ll improve immunity
Having an appropriate balance of strength training, aerobic work, and a healthy lifestyle helps you build a stronger immune system. Lifting weights increases your lean body mass, makes you more resilient, and improves your body’s ability to fight off colds, flus, and other infections.
You’ll feel empowered
We know starting your journey can feel a bit scary or intimidating, but once you start, you’ll understand the incredible feeling of empowerment resistance training can bring. We know strength training will leave you feeling more confident and energized for your everyday life, and this will leak over into every area of your life, relationships, and goals.
Smarter Sweat takeaways
Ladies, now that you know you won’t accidentally bulk up from lifting weights, let’s be knowledgeable, empowered, and take charge of our training.
Next time you head to the gym and plan to only hop on the elliptical or treadmill, remember that to build the “toned, lean” look you want, you’ll have to do some resistance training.
If you’re ready to see and feel the benefits for yourself, check out our free 7 day training program.
By Ashley Pfantz
Ashley is the cofounder of Smarter Sweat, certified personal trainer and professional health and fitness coach. She also owns Pfancy Fitness, an individualized fitness, nourishment, and lifestyle coaching business where she coaches all of her clients remotely.
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Pratley R, Nicklas B, Rubin M, et al. Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50- to 65-yr-old men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1994;76(1):133-137. doi:10.1152/jappl.19126.96.36.199
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About Smarter Sweat
Smarter Sweat is a fitness company built from the ground up by fitness experts Amanda Capritto and Ashley Phantz. Amanda and Ashley are both dead-set on cutting through the clutter of the fitness industry and providing raw, real, utterly honest information about fitness and wellness.