Will Lifting Weights Make Me “Bulky?”

I love this example of how I went to try on my green, plaid shirt from last year and realized it was being stretched at the buttons. And then it hit me. This is what women consider bulky. As you can see from the picture on the left, taken within days,  I do not appear bulky at all, but lifting weights can add muscle and potentially size, in certain places that may make your clothes fit tighter.


I am taking my pic on the right in my pajama pants. Just wanted to explain the color combo.


I often hear from women that they fear lifting weights will make them bulky. And honestly, I do completely get, what most associate with the term bulky. Your jeans fit a little tighter, your shirt fits a little snugger and you assume that you are automatically going to grow out of all your clothes and develop bulging muscles.

In reality,  you probably will not train hard enough to achieve that effect. And if your waistband is getting tight, chances are it is more about extra cookies, ice cream, and pizza making you feel bulky, than lifting weights.

Overall the indication of slightly snugger close may actually be the result of less body fat.  It all comes down to your perception and what is important to you. Here are some thoughts to consider.

It’s all in your mindset.

Instead of the  bulky association, realize that you are gaining a little more muscle on your body. The two pictures above, show a lean look on the left and a tight fitting shirt on the right on the same day. It is all about perception.  If I am lifting heavy do I need to stop or maybe I just need to get a bigger size shirt?

I want to remind you that typically when your diet is pretty decent and you are lifting weights, you are gaining muscle and hopefully losing fat, and that it is possible to carry a higher fat content while looking leaner. I looked way leaner two years ago (down two jean sizes) after I stopped working out for a few months due to chronic back pain, but I was pretty miserable and felt extremely weak in my everyday life and winded in yoga, walks and stairs. I would much rather have a tighter shirt then feel weak and be in pain.

Track your training and nutrition. 

Use a journal to track your workouts and nutrition to see how your body responds. Incorporate a weight routine and follow a healthy way of eating that keeps you looking, feeling and moving your best.

If you do not see the changes in your body that you wish to see, contact an expert in the field who can help adjust your training and nutrition.

Educate yourself on what building muscle actually does for the body.

It creates more muscle on the body can create higher calorie expenditure throughout the day.

It can increase your body’s ability to burn fat during and after exercise and be more effective for fat loss than other types of training in a shorter amount of time.

It can help increase bone density.

It can help create shape on the body. Weight loss is one thing. Creating the shape you desire is another. More defined arms? More shapely butt? There is no shame is aesthetics are part of the reason you work out. Weight training will do that better than any other.

I want to point out that I do not expect everyone to want to, or need to, lift super heavy weights. It’s a personal preference. Some prefer a leaner look, some prefer more muscular. It is your body and you have the right to your preference. But do not discount weight lifting because you think it will give you a bulky look and keep in mind that any serious size may take a minimum of a year to build.

Advice from a Pilates Instructor.

I get poked at with playful fun at all the strength and conditioning conferences I go to when I introduce myself as a trainer and Pilates Instructor. Though it is a very interesting position to be in because they are two very different training methods.

In my opinion everyone needs to lift weight. At the same time I feel Pilates is the missing link to everyone’s routine.

This could be an entirely different blog but the most concerning things I hear often are women wanting to take Pilates to get the “long and lean” muscles or work with 3-5 pound weights only because they feel it will create “tone.”

However the look that is being described is one that is created by lifting weights, heavy enough to create definition and change in the body. Tone is muscle being built and revealed.  I’m not saying Pilates can’t create that I just hate the misconception and the marketing worlds play on women and their insecurities. I love strength coach Mike Boyle’s explanation about the long/lean concept here.

“One of my favorite lines of bull is the old “ this exercise or training method will give you long, lean muscles like a dancer”. This is akin to telling people you can turn an apple into an orange right before their eyes. You can no more make a short stocky female client have long lean muscles like a dancer than you make someone taller. Exercise will remove subcutaneous bodyfat and reduce intramuscular fat stores but, changing the source of resistance in a resistance-based exercise will not produce a muscle that appears different and or larger.”

A few more reasons to lift weights.

The more muscle you have, the more potential calories you can burn while exercising AND at rest.

Lifting weights keeps you strong, mobile, stable (very important as you get holder to help in fall prevention) and functional in your everyday life.

It makes you feel like you can take one anything life throws at you (just my personal opinion). When I see women get stronger in the gym, I see them become more empowered in life.

So can weights make women “bulky”? Well if you associate a tight shirt with bulky, then it would be a yes to you. But if you look at my picture on the left, you would probably say no.

It is all relative and all your own perception.

How do you get started? I put together a free  guide that includes 4 strength training workouts that feel like cardio, so you get the best of both worlds.  For more insights on a weekly basis, to get your guide and for how to exercise smarter snag your spot here: http://bit.ly/sscardioguide



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