Do Women Bulk-Up by Working Out with Heavy Weights?
I recently discovered a great blog post about the misconceptions of women lifting weights by a Philip Hoffman, MBA who is a Certified Sports Nutrition Coach and Certified Fitness Trainer. Its definitely worth a read and a great motivation to get your rear to the weight room!
Do Women Bulk-Up by Working Out with Heavy Weights?
Exposing the biggest myth in women’s fitness and how to develop a stunning body by knowing the truth.
I dedicate this article to all the women who have been deceived, duped and downright lied to by the media, women’s fitness magazines and anyone else attempting to profit on selling women worthless information and exercise gadgets.
Millions of women have been deprived of what I believe to be the most empowering method of training for improving the body. All because of the myth that lifting heavy weights will cause you to develop a bulky-looking body.
The myth never seems to die, and the question never stops being asked: will women get bulked-up if they lift heavy weights?
For more than 25 years women have asked me this question, and my answer has always remained the same: you’re much more likely to get bulky (read fat) if you don’t lift weights.
Misconceptions pervade the fitness industry, but nowhere is it more prevalent than in women’s fitness.
It’s time for more industry professionals step up and refute these false notions and spread the word so that women can at least know the truth. Little is being done to educate women on the truths about muscle building, metabolism and permanent weight loss using honest, sustainable methods and strategies. I’m determined to do my part by writing this guide for women.
It’s easy to understand why so many women fall prey to this myth. It’s everywhere!
To a large degree, part of the problem is lack of knowledge about the benefits of strength conditioning with weights. Many people think if they want to lose weight, they shouldn’t be lifting weights. It’s like there’s this nonsensical thinking that heavy weight lifting produces heavy, bulky humans. Some women immediately create the image in their mind of a she-male bodybuilder freak when someone mentions lifting weights. The truth is that the opposite occurs.
Some of you may have aspired to lift weights at one point or another but ended up not following through for one reason or another. Maybe you were simply overwhelmed by the whole gym experience, strolling aimlessly through the maze of exercise machines like a lost puppy in the gym.
Since I’ve spent a significant part of my life coaching clients, I know what goes through people’s minds when they are new to the gym.
You start by doing what you’re confident with doing. This usually means walking over to one of the treadmills, elliptical walkers or some other cardio machine, but you’re afraid to try anything else.
Here are 3 commonly stated reasons why women fear lifting weights:
- You are afraid you’ll get too big and bulky
- You only want to tone muscles, but not build muscles
- You fear lifting incorrectly and are intimidated by free weights
1. The fear of getting big and bulky
If you’re bulky, it’s because you’re fat. It’s not because you have too much muscle. If you don’t lift weights, you won’t have a lot of lean muscle mass. And if you don’t have a lot of lean muscle mass, then that bulk you’re referring to is nothing more than fat tissue.
If you doubt what I’m saying, schedule a body composition analysis test so you can see the results yourself. The test will indicate the amount of lean vs. fat tissue you possess. Once you begin a serious weight lifting routine, you’ll see your body composition greatly improve while you actually get smaller from losing fat tissue.
In some ways, I find it almost insulting on a personal-level when someone says they don’t want to put on too much muscle or become too big from lifting weights. I bust my butt at least five days a week and have done so for many years; let me be the one to tell you that getting big from lifting weights is the last thing you need to worry about.
The reality is that muscle mass is difficult to develop and you should celebrate every ounce you can gain. As you age, your life will depend on this muscle.
When someone says they don’t want to develop too much muscle, it’s like saying you don’t want to eat so healthy because you don’t need all that health. Or you don’t want to work too much because you’ll make too much money. You should only wish it were so easy.
Increasing muscle mass, unless you’re a male between age 16 and 25, with high-levels of testosterone, takes a very long time to develop. You have to work hard for years, training with heavy weights to build a considerable amount of muscle.
Let’s assume for a second that women could develop large muscle mass by heavy weight training. As soon as you stopped lifting, you would lose most of what you gained. The body begins to immediately shed its extra muscle mass when a stimulus is removed (i.e. Heavy weight lifting).
Maintaining muscle mass requires a constant stressor and isn’t something the body permanently holds. Your muscles will begin to atrophy as briefly as two weeks after discontinuing your workout routine.
Lifting weights does not create a bulky, unfeminine body. In fact, it creates a leaner, more athletic, elegant-looking body. Muscle is far more compact than fat; so the more muscle you build, and the fat you lose, the smaller you’ll actually become. And the more lean muscle tissue you acquire, the more calories you’ll burn 24/7.
As a result, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) will increase which should be the ultimate goal for anyone wanting to decrease body fat and stay lean. Increasing lean muscle mass by lifting weights is by far the most effective strategy of increasing your BMR.
In more than 35 years, I’ve yet to see even one female get big, bulky and muscular with the exception of those who took anabolic steroids. If I haven’t met a single woman that experienced this problem while lifting heavy weights, how is it that other women have seen differently?
Are people using women in bodybuilding magazines to base their conclusions?
Has anyone ever honestly seen the elusive women who acquire large, bulky muscles that aren’t in fact bodybuilders who take steroids?
The physiological reason women don’t develop big muscles from lifting weights
It’s all about the testicles
There is one simple reason why women are incapable of acquiring muscle mass anywhere close to the level that a male is capable of acquiring…the hormone testosterone.
Normal testosterone levels in men are 300-1100 ng/dl while in women normal is 15-70 ng/dl. If you compare the median-range testosterone levels in men and women, men’s = 700 and women’s = 42.5. On average, men produce roughly 16 times more testosterone than women, and many research articles state levels greater than 25 times more!
Testosterone levels in the body have a large range because all age groups are taken into consideration.
Consider this for a moment. Every male in the gym works to gain as much muscle as possible. Recalling the fact that men produce more than 15 times the testosterone of females, you’d think men could easily develop as much muscle mass as they desired.
There are very few men that are able to gain a significant amount of muscle mass without the use of anabolic steroids. Ask any male gym enthusiast if he has to cut down on his weight lifting because he’s developing too much muscle mass and see what he tells you.
Instead, males eagerly search for any supplement or training methods that provide them with an edge in developing muscle, because muscle gains are minimal and difficult to acquire.
If gaining muscle was so easy to gain, why does there exist a multi-billion dollar market for muscle-building products and information?
My point is this; not even males have to worry about getting too big! Anyone that you see with grossly large muscles is consuming steroids. Unless you have a rare set of genes, you’re going to work your ass off just to gain some respectable muscle.
Another point to clarify here is that women do produce testosterone, but it’s in such small quantities that it’s ridiculous to debate the natural ability of growing massive muscles in 99.9% of females.
Even women who dedicate their entire lives to lifting weights don’t get large and bulky because their bodies don’t naturally produce enough testosterone.
In addition to large differences in testosterone between men and women, there are also major structural differences in the size of their muscle fibers.
Men have contractile muscle fibers that are two times larger than women. In fact, research continues to reveal that although females can make significant increases in strength by weight training, they are not capable of increasing muscle size to the degree that men can.
2. The desire to tone muscles but without building
One of the most commonly-stated myths in women’s health is that you can “tone” your muscle without building muscle.
There is no difference in these terms, but the fitness industry and media use these terms to trick women by making them think they don’t have to worry about building bulky muscles. Women are misled into believing they can “tone muscles”. This is an aesthetically-pleasing euphemism that’s very effective in marketing.
“Tone” is a term women’s fitness magazines use as an alternative to “building muscle”.
To avoid the chance that women will envision images of steroid-induced, huge, bulky women bodybuilders, slick marketers use the “toned muscle” terminology in their advertising.
The toning myth has led to another misconception:
Women should workout differently than men.
The toning misconception is strongly supported by the media and fitness industry for the sole reason of selling gender-targeted activities and gym memberships. This, of course is at the expense of your fitness goals.
The marketing gender is powerful and is done so for good reason-profits. Fitness clubs sell memberships to women according to classes that are appealing. Clubs that have the latest treadmills with insulated cup-holders to keep your water cool or high-tech, selectorized weight machines that are stylish are all part of the plan to attract the female client.
Statistics indicate that females make up two-thirds (66%) of all gym members. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on appealing to selling to women. Helping you get results is secondary to what’s best for the health clubs.
What women need to assess when they’re looking to become a member of a gym are the free weights such as the dumbbells and barbells, number of benches, and area to perform your core-training exercises.
Instead, what we observe is the sales person walking a potential gym member through the gym, showing you the fancy equipment, yet walking by the free weight area with a comment like, “oh-and this is our free-weight area” with nothing more to say.
The key point is this: Women don’t have special needs as it relates to a method of training to develop a fit, strong and feminine body. Anyone telling you otherwise is lacking in knowledge and experience.
The truth is women need to train using the same type of equipment, applying the same principles of training, and performing the same exercise routines as men.
There’s no such concept as exercises for men and exercises for women. All the crap you see in women’s fitness magazines only serves to sabotage women’s effort to making crucial, life-changing progress to shaping the body and getting lean.
If you have any doubts about what I’m saying, take the time to do some research and read about the fitness philosophies of some of the foremost strength and conditioning authorities in the nation such as, Alwyn Cosgrove, John Berardi, Shawn Phillips, Tom Venuto or Bret Contreras.
It drives me crazy whenever I see personal trainers at the gym, training women using weights so small they could perform 40 repetitions.
The usual nonsense remark is this is the way to “tone” their muscles to look “slim and “feminine”. In reality, all they’re doing is wasting their clients’ hard-earned time and money.
There are millions of frustrated women that are making little to no progress with their fitness goals because of the powerful misconceptions that have been implanted in their heads by the media and fitness industry marketers.
The current approach that women are following is not working. As Einstein once quoted; the definition of insanity is someone that does the same thing over and over again yet expects a different result.
It’s time to change the way you work out if you expect to see different results.
Accept the fact that you need to workout performing the same exercises as men and you’ll be miles ahead of other women, and on your way to strengthening and shaping your body in a way you never thought possible.
3. You fear being judged by others and are intimidated by free weights
You’re not alone with your fear and intimidation of how to lift and use the free-weight area of the gym. In fact, I would say that men who are novice lifters have a greater fear because expectations are higher for males.
To help remedy the fear of being judged, you have a couple different options.
First, you can purchase equipment for home-based workouts until you gain a baseline level of experience and feel comfortable moving on to joining a gym. I recently wrote an article on my blog called How to set-up a home-based gym. You can view the list of equipment necessary to perform the exercises I recommend.
You could also seek out a qualified trainer that can teach you how to properly perform the compound exercise movements discussed. I seldom see personal trainers coaching women how to train this way, so you’ll have to get a referral from someone that knows what they’re doing.
Another option is to join a local cross fit gym and learn a few basic exercises. After one month, you should know how to perform the exercises on your own and then you can join a gym.
The worst thing you can do is allow fear to deprive you of experiencing the incredible benefits of weight training. There’s no reason to be intimidated by guys in the free-weight area of the gym.
Start reading articles on websites that write about weight training, watch YouTube videos and join a respectable forum where you can get help with questions. There will definitely be a learning curve just as there is with everything we do in the beginning.
You might feel intimidated and want to say “to hell with it” and want to hide out in the cardio area of the gym, but you must get over this. No one really cares what you’re doing in the gym. If you think people are staring at you because you’re not lifting with perfect form, you’re most likely very wrong. People are wrapped up with their own concerns and that doesn’t include you.
In fact, guys have respect for women that weight train, and there’s a chance you’ll intimate a guy with your experience. Especially once you know what you’re doing. The number of males that incorrectly perform the basic, functional exercises in the free-weight area is horrendous.
In my book, The 9 Principles For a Lean & Defined Body, I mention improper exercise form as one of the principles. One of the major reasons why most males don’t make significant progress is because of their poor exercise form and technique.
Learn proper exercise form, lose the fear factor, and you’ll intimidate some of the guys by your performance! I guarantee it.
Why you’ll actually get smaller by lifting weights:
The density of fat vs. muscle tissue
I’m sure you’ve heard before that muscle is more compact than fat. The reason for this is because of the difference in densities of the two types of tissue.
Fat takes up more space because it’s very soft and loose so fat occupies more space than muscle does when comparing equal weights of both tissue types.
Muscle density is 1.06 kg per liter of space and fat density is 0.919 kg per liter of space. That makes muscle about 18% more dense than fat.
If you gained 10 lbs. of muscle at the same time you lost 10 lbs of fat, you would be smaller in size. On the scale you’d weigh the same, but your pants for example would be looser.
Top 8 Reasons why every woman should lift weights:
- Increases your metabolism and BMR so that you are burning fat 24/7.
- Become empowered and increase your confidence. Becoming strong carries over into many other areas of life and helps you to be successful.
- Enhances curves, sculpts and shapes your body by increasing muscle tissue.
- Reduces chances for osteoporosis by increasing bone density
- Most effective anti-aging activity that exists for creating the “Fountain of Youth”.
- Reduces chances for many life-style related diseases and chronic illnesses.
- Increases energy levels and mood through the release of brain-chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression.
- Increases quality of life and well-being in countless areas such as sexuality, vitality, and relationships.