Women and Weight Training: Debunking the ‘Bulky’ Myth

Women and Weight Training: Debunking the ‘Bulky’ Myth

As more and more women take up resistance training, there is still a lingering misconception that participating in a weights-based exercise program will make women ‘bulky’ or ‘manly-looking’. There are many benefits for women to weight training, from both the perspectives of health and aesthetics. I will explain to you why weight training is a great thing for women to integrate into their exercise routines and why ‘bulking up’ should not be a concern that deters one from using weights.

To begin with, women are not predisposed to putting on muscle in the same way as men. The main reason for this is the hormonal differences between men and women; specifically, estrogen and testosterone levels. Testosterone is one of the primary anabolic hormones involved with muscle tissue and growth. Since women produce less testosterone than men (about 15-20 fold lower concentrations; Baechle and Earle, 2008), it is very difficult for women to gain muscle like men do. To look at a female body builder and think ‘that look is not my goal’ is okay. In order to obtain those extreme muscle-hardened bodies, those athletes follow very specific diet and training protocols. You will not look like them unless you take up those same regimens.

In terms of aesthetics, women are more than likely to gain a ‘toned’ look when they take up weight training. In order to see those muscles that give the coveted ‘toned’ appearance, you have to build those muscles. There is no other way around it. I found a quote that sums this all up nicely, from a blog called Sisters In Shape, that I absolutely love: “That shapely toned look you’re after is lean MUSCLE. It’s the kind of muscle that you get from…gasp…lifting weights” (Willick, 2015).

There is one other factor that aids in putting the shapeliness of that sculpted lean muscle tissue on display: maintaining a lower (but still healthy) body fat percentage. Weight lifting aids in the maintenance of lean body mass and reductions of overall body fat (Rohlo, 2013). So not only do the weights help shape the muscles, they help to create the environment to show them off! It’s kind of a win-win scenario.

Women are perfectly capable of tolerating and adapting to the stresses of resistance exercise and the benefits can be substantial (Baechle and Earle, 2008). They can include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis, to name a few. Resistance exercise also serves to reduce stress and helps keep us strong to perform the activities of daily living (lifting, carrying, bending and squatting, etc. to get things done throughout our day).

To sum everything up, weight training is not something women should shy away from for fear that they will get ‘bulky’. “It is a misperception that resistance training programs for women should be different fromm those for men or that women lose flexibility or develop ‘bulky’ muscles if they train with weights” (Baechle and Earle, 2008). What lies on the other side of picking up those weights is a stronger, leaner body, ready to take on the challenges of daily life with more ease.

By Caitlin Jones

Baechle TR & Earle RW. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. National Strength Training Association, 3rd ed. Human Kinetics. Windsor, ON. 2008.

Rohlo , Alexandra, “Women and Weight Training”. Sport Management Undergraduate. Paper 71. 2013.

Willick, Erica, “What Lean Muscle Really Looks Like”. Sisters In Shape Blog, June 17, 2015.