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Does weight training make you bulky?

Last Modified: October 08, 2021

Sports & Exercise

Strength training is an important element of a balanced fitness regimen and, in fact, is included in the recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services. But many people worry about the physical changes they might experience as a result of lifting weights. We invited Rachael Bouwmeester, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, Parkview Sports Medicine, to address the topic.

Will lifting weights make me look bulky?

The simple answer: No. Many people (especially females) are afraid that if they lift weights, they will get bulky (gain a lot of muscle mass), which inevitably changes their physique into what they may view as undesirable. Weight training does one thing very reliably: it makes you stronger.

The first few weeks of weight training affects the nervous system and doesn’t result in any muscle hypertrophy (growth). This nervous system response results in more motor unit recruitment and makes one stronger because the brain tells the muscle to recruit more neurons.

Meals matter

Most people who are classified as “bulky” have a higher percentage of body fat, which is the result of eating more calories than the body needs to maintain its current state.  Therefore, nutrition is the biggest factor in becoming “bulky”. Simply put, if you eat more calories than you burn off, you’ll get bigger.

Heavy lifting

One of the biggest misconceptions with weight training is that women should lift lighter weights to “tone” and avoid “bulking up”. Men and women should be using bigger weights, proper form and a clean diet to optimize results.

Women will not bulk up like men, because they have a different hormone profile. Men have more testosterone, which promotes muscle growth. For women, both fortunately and unfortunately, their hormone profile allows them to tone without getting bulky, but also deters them from losing all the fat they may desire as easily as men. A clean diet will promote this wanted fat loss for them.

For that desired “toned” look, perform sets with a few reps at maximum capacity to be effective. You should have a true “gassed out” feeling at the end of your lifting set and feel unable to perform many, if any, more sets.

You need to be strong to be lean, and to do this, the recipe is simple: weight training, clean diet with everything in moderation and cardio.


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