Will Strength Training Make Me Look Bulky?
“Will strength training make me look bulky? Because I don’t want to look like a scary gorilla woman.” – me, circa 2012.
“HA!” – me today
Many clients and people at the gym ask me the same question I asked before I knew anything about strength training. Many women desire to look “toned” and not “bulky”.
Both terms are subjective, so if you are working with a personal trainer it’s helpful for you to show pictures of the physique you find attractive as your starting point. I have women friends who have their pro-cards in the physique division who look amazing, strong and feminine. I have other friends who prefer the softer (but still muscular) look of the bikini division. To each her own, so you need to figure out what you find personally attractive for yourself.
It’s been my experience that most women have a very hard time adding lean muscle mass. Gaining a lot of muscle involves lifting heavy weights and eating the proper nutrition to keep your gains, and for some women it’s even harder to gain muscle than it is to lose weight.
Other women can put on muscle pretty easily, and they are the ones who get seriously nervous about looking bulky. Looking bulky honestly has more to do with diet than lifting. If you are doing strength training, your muscles will grow, but if you’re not eating well that layer of fat on top of your muscles seems to push out, that’s why you have to do both diet and exercise at the same time.
Muscles actually burn more calories than fat, so muscles help your metabolism in the long run. Fat also takes up more space than muscle so if you lose 5 lbs. of fat and gain 5 lbs. of muscle, you’ll weigh the same but look smaller. (This is one of the reasons why I tell my clients to focus more on how their pants are fitting than the number on the scale.)
Another thing to consider is that if you are not used to exercising and suddenly go full force you may feel hungrier until your body adjusts to the additional exertion. If you start eating more calories (especially if you’re eating high fat foods) you will gain more weight, leading you to look “bulky”. Also, sometimes people feel that if they worked out really hard and sweat a lot during boot camp that gives them permission to eat pizza or a giant bowl of pasta. (Don’t do that.) You can gain weight a lot faster through eating than you can lose it through exercise.
You have to trust the process and know that diet should be a key focus if you feel like your clothes are getting tighter around your thighs and bicep area. Diet aside, there are some tips for exercise too.
If bulking is a concern for you, try doing more reps with lighter weights. Now when I say “lighter weights” I don’t mean the girlie-man 2 lb. pink weights. You find your happy dumbbell weight by lifting one up and doing an exercise, like a bicep curl for 8-10 reps. If the last 2 reps were a struggle but still doable while maintaining proper form, that is the right way. If it’s too easy go heavier, if it’s too hard go lighter.
Don’t be afraid of weights! Cardio is great for your heart but strength training makes you look hot in a bikini. Lifting weights really helps to sculpt your muscles to give them that symmetry that so many of us desire. Plus you get the added bonus of feeling like a badass when you’re the only woman doing a bench press in the weight room.
If you focus on eating well combined with cardio and strength training you will get that lean, sexy toned look you’re aiming for.
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Lisa Traugott is a Mom’s Choice Award winning writer, fitness blogger, wife and mom of two….and Original Cast Member of AMERICAN GRIT, starring John Cena, on FOX!!!
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