Bulky might as well be a four letter word in the female fitness world.
Many women don’t lift weights because they don’t want to get too bulky, and many who are in the fitness industry will repeat “you will not get bulky” until they’re blue in the face. But that might not be the whole truth.
No, as a female who is strength training, you will not suddenly hulk up and tear out of your clothing. You will not become a veiny, muscle bound, faux tanned Miss Olympia just because you pick up a barbell. But what most fitness professionals don’t tell you is that yes, your body will change.
Some parts will get a little bit bigger. Some parts will get a little bit smaller. Some parts will just change shape all together. And hopefully most parts will get a whole lot stronger. But isn’t that part of the reason why we do a fitness routine in the first place? Besides health reasons, most people work out for one reason: to look good. So if you’ve been riding the elliptical for years and your body hasn’t changed, why does it scare you that your body will change from lifting weights? Isn’t that what you want?
Wait, things might get bigger?
Yes, some things might get bigger, but don’t let that scare you. When you start lifting weights, your muscles will get stronger, if you’re doing it right. What happens when muscles get stronger? They get a little bit bigger. They gain shape and size, but when you strip away a layer of body fat over those muscles, you may not actually gain any size over all.
If you are someone with a lot of body fat to lose, you will lose that body fat and become smaller over all. But if you are someone with just a little bit of body fat to lose, you very well may notice a few things feeling bigger before you start to notice your overall size decreasing.
With regular strength training, your glutes will get bigger, giving you the appearance of a lovely, perky round bum. Your quads will probably get a little bit bigger, but with a loss of body fat surrounding your quads, your legs may actually stay the same size or even end up a little bit smaller. The muscles in your shoulders and upper back will develop, and depending on where you’re starting from, dedicated strength training may make it a little bit difficult for dress shirts to fit correctly. But to be totally honest, while your glutes get a little bit bigger, and your shoulders and upper back also become more defined, your midsection will most likely get a little bit smaller — with the correct formula of nutrition and exercise.
It’s also worth noting that maybe your goal is to gain size and mass. And if that’s the case, bravo for you! And no, that wasn’t sarcastic. I see nothing wrong with women wanting to get not only strong, but big and strong, if that’s what they want. Just know that as a female, unfortunately you will have to work very hard to put on large amounts of muscle mass, and your food intake will play a big part in this as well. Again, know your goals, and do work accordingly!
So what does all of this mean?
Change isn’t always bad. If it’s strength, health, and fitness you’re after, strength training is a no brainer. If it’s physique goals you’re after, don’t be afraid of the muscle growth. Increasing the size and muscular definition of your shoulders actually creates the appearance of a smaller waist, which is what many people want. So what if your dress shirts are a little bit tighter up top? You may need to buy a few new shirts, but chances are, your body will look better (both in clothes and out of them) with a little bit of muscle.
How much bigger is bigger?
Don’t worry. Like I said above, you’re not going to all of a sudden bust out of your clothes. It takes most people, especially women, years of a very specific dedicated and focused program to put on any appreciable muscle mass. Your muscles will grow, but not into the hulked out strong-man visions that you’re imagining. They will grow millimeters, centimeters maybe, but even that will take time and focus. But that doesn’t mean that your overall size will increase. Like I mentioned above, when you decrease the layer of fat over your newly developed muscles, you’ll most likely appear smaller than before you started lifting. If not smaller, than just… different (in the best way possible).
There are many women out there who struggle to put on muscle mass, and those who build muscle easily are an exception to the rule, not the rule itself. I’ve been lifting for about 5 years, but I’ve only been seriously lifting for about three. I bench, squat, and deadlift every week, and I am far from hulking out of my clothes. Yes, my muscles have grown, but I’m still wearing the same pants and shirts I was three years ago, they just fit a little bit differently now (better, for the most part).
To give you a little bit more perspective, I’ve been a pear shape my whole life. I was blessed with the genes to give me a bigger back side and bottom half, but I’ve always been very small on top. For instance, last time I got measured for a bridesmaid dress a couple of years ago, I was a size 4 in the bust, 2 in the waist, and 8 across the hips. And to be quite honest, that 8 was a little bit snug — I probably could have ordered a 10. Talk about disproportionate!! At this point in my life, I had been strength training for about a year, but had not made any significant gains in my upper body, as I was focused more on learning the mechanics of squats and deadlifts.
Now, two years later, with a much stronger and more muscular upper body, my proportions are finally beginning to even out. My lower body has changed shape, growing in some areas and shrinking in others, and my shoulders and upper back have increased in size, not dramatically, but enough to make some dress shirts snug across the shoulders and a couple of dresses difficult to zip at the top. So, yes, I’m getting “bigger” in some senses, but those bigger shoulders actually make me look better physically, in my opinion, balancing my top and bottom halves.
Now, am I physically perfect? No, far from it. But I can tell you with 100% honesty, that weight lifting has made all the difference in my physique, and it has made changes that I never would have seen with my old fitness habits (elliptical for life!). As a girl who has spent most of her life trying not to be the “big” girl, I understand the psychological impact of starting something that could potentially make parts of me bigger. But the best part about strength training is this: not only will your muscles get stronger, but your body will become much better at fat burning as well. So, as said above, while your muscles are increasing in size, the layer of fat around them will be shrinking, thus revealing the physique that you’ve been after.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post, because all people would be working out and training for health reasons, not for vanity. But the reality is, most of us want to look good. Most of us want to do everything we can to look as good as we can, and I can assure you that strength training is one of the very best things you can do to help yourself reach that goal.
But if your goal is to be healthier, stronger, and look great naked, I urge you to strongly consider strength training, even if you’re terrified of some of your parts becoming a little bit bigger. Even if you don’t have a goal to compete in a strong man competition, that doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from a little bit of strength. I strongly believe that all people who are physically able (thin, large, and anywhere in between) should strive for a basic level of strength in order to be able to complete tasks such as lifting your own suitcase, shoveling snow, and carrying a couple of heavy grocery bags home. Beyond that, it’s up to you how strong you want to get, and don’t worry, you won’t get too bulky.
Readers: If you follow a weight lifting program, were you afraid to at first with fear of getting bulky? Have you gained size with weight lifting or just changed shape? If you don’t do any weight lifting, would you consider starting?