The Bulking Up Myth
or: ‘Why Women Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Train With Weights’…
“I don’t lift weights because I don’t want to get bulky.” I’ve heard this phrase too many times to count from my female clients. Somehow, this myth has perpetuated through time, and is still a commonly held belief by many women today.
The next time you’re at the gym, take a look at the free weight section. More than likely, it will be dominated by men with just a few, if any, women working alongside them. Unfortunately, this image only reinforces the stereotype that women don’t need resistance training as part of their fitness regimen. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I’m going to tell you why.
Any woman who is afraid to work with weights for fear of adding excess bulk, know this: Lifting weights will not cause you to become a she-hulk bursting with muscle. Your body simply won’t allow it. If anything, weight training will help you achieve your goals faster and establish a ‘firm and toned’ look.
The main reason for this boils down to one key hormonal difference between men and women: testosterone. Testosterone is a key hormone for male development. It allows men to carry more lean muscle mass, to have less fat mass, and to add muscle via weight training at much faster rates.
Women’s testosterone levels are only about five to ten percent of those in men. A woman’s testosterone level is highest at age 20 and steadily declines by about half by age 40. From then on, the levels keep decreasing as she ages. In short, it is physiologically impossible for a woman to “bulk up” at the same rate as a man. This prevents any woman, without the assistance of steroids, from adding extreme amounts of muscle, therefore avoiding the dreaded ‘bulky’ tag. From my experience, women who choose to abstain from weights are actually doing themselves a major disservice, since the benefits far outweigh any potential drawbacks.
First, there’s what is called the after-burn effect. Even after you’ve finished your resistance session, your muscles are still burning calories. When you lift weights, your muscles are placed under stress that causes them to become slightly damaged. After your workout, your muscles begin to repair themselves by generating new tissue. The formation of new tissue is when the after-burn takes place and occurs for hours after your workout is finished.
Also, weights increase the chances of getting that toned, shaped look. You can walk, jog or use the elliptical for hours and not achieve a toned look nearly as well as if you had been using weights. The reason for this is body composition. Cardio exercise does not promote the addition of muscle mass; it can help you lose weight, but it will not give you as much tone or definition as weight lifting. Weight training alters body composition by adding muscle mass and tone. When combined with a proper diet and cardio training, the addition of weight training can lead to a decrease in fat, an increase in muscle, and result in a more toned look.
Bulking up is nothing more than an unfounded fear based on bad science and stereotypes. Weight training should be a part of everyone’s exercise routine, regardless of fitness goals AND regardless of gender. I highly encourage anyone who has been on the fence regarding weight training to try it now.