Will I get bulky from lifting weights ?

A common concern for women beginning their health and fitness journey; "Will I get bulky if I lift weights?". Let's find out...

Will I get bulky from lifting weights? It’s one of the most common fears of a women starting her health and fitness journey.

The answer is “no!”

Not only will you not get bulky from lifting weights; you will feel confident and bad-ass.

When done regularly, lifting weights can provide a plethora of health benefits, including:

  • Increased bone density
  • Better joint mobility
  • More mobility, stability and coordination
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and type2 diabetes
  • Improved memory and concentration
  • Longer life expectancy

You can read more about the benefits of weight lifting here.

But from my experience with clients, even knowing all this, women still get hung up on the idea that they will end up looking like… this… if they lift weights.

World champion bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his biceps in a room with bodybuilding posters on the wall
Former world champion bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger via Shutterstock.

To help alleviate any fears, let’s dive into why it’s so hard to get bulky.

There are 2 elements crucial to growing muscle:

  • Exercise intensity & frequency
  • Recovery

Exercise intensity & frequency

For the average woman who works full time, studies or has a family, it’s highly unlikely she’ll be exercising with enough frequency or intensity to elicit large amounts of muscle growth.

The sports models and bodybuilders we see on social media every day, make their living by looking a certain way.

They are paid to spend 2.5hrs every day on training sessions, programmed by professional- expensive- coaches. They have very specific diet and supplementation protocols (also very expensive), and extreme discipline and dedication to their lifestyle. Sometimes there are even performance-enhancing drugs involved.

For most of us, it would be a very restrictive and boring life. The 2-3 x 45minute resistance sessions you do every week are not going to cause that kind of muscle growth.

Read more about training intensity here.

Muscle Protein Synthesis

Growing muscle is an energetically expensive task for our bodies, and this happens during the recovery phase.

When we weight train with enough intensity, we cause micro-damage to the muscle tissue. Sometimes this can make us feel a bit sore; known as DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness].

Depending on the level of damage caused, our bodies will spend the next 24-48 hours repairing this muscle tissue.

Not only are we repairing, but we are also creating new muscle tissue to try and stop that damage from happening if you did the same thing again!

Recovery

If training is the tip of the proverbial “muscle growth iceberg”, then recovery is the huge part hidden under the water that we don’t see.

Energy in recovery

Even if you do happen to train with enough intensity to stimulate damage; a lot of energy is needed to synthesise new muscle. We get this energy from the food we eat.

Certain types of food are better energy sources for muscle repair and growth:

  • Proteins like meat, seafood, eggs and tofu
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Legumes, nuts and grains
A breakfast omelette with a side salad laid on a plate

Not only is the type of food important; but also the amount we eat each day.

Many women chronically under eat, given society’s insistence that we be slim in order to be considered attractive.

An under-fed body will certainly heal any muscle damage, but is unlikely to build new muscle. Breathing, organ function, fidgeting and digesting food will always take priority over building extra muscle.

So unless you’re eating more good quality food than usual, you’re unlikely to pack on any bulk from weights.

Hydration

Like food, adequate hydration is really important for recovery. Many women aren’t getting their 2-3L per day, which can make our blood pressure drop and affects the way our lymphatic system (toxin removal) and blood stream functions.

Inadequate hydration can have a negative affect on muscle growth.

Adequate hydration is an important part of growing muscle

Sleep

The majority of bodily repairs and changes happen while we sleep. Sometimes, getting 6-8hrs isn’t enough because the quality of that sleep also counts.

Irregular sleep patterns, screen time before bed, stimulants like caffeine or alcohol, stress and some medications can have a negative effect on the quality of sleep.

A woman in a white bed sleeping on her side with her hands tucked under her head
Not only is sleep quantity important, but quality is too! Switch off electronics before bed time and avoid alcohol and caffeine close to sleep time.

So you can see the amount of effort required to get “bulky” is significant.

If you’re anything like me, maintaining a realistic standard of living does not revolve around “perfect recovery” or constantly exercising.

Rest assured that your 2-5 weight sessions per week and a moderately healthy diet and sleep routine is not enough to elicit a bulky muscle growth, but will give you all the benefits of having a decent amount of lean muscle mass.

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Jess Neill

Jess Neill

I'm a Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor and Pre and Post Natal Training specialist. I'm also a mother of two, and I live on the beautiful Northern beaches of Sydney. If you liked this post, don't forget to leave a comment and share! Subscribe to my monthly newsletter for the latest health and fitness news.

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