As a Personal Trainer (and I would venture to say most trainers will agree), the most common concern from our female clients is whether or not lifting weights will make them bulky. While there are various factors to consider, the short answer is: NO.

In this article, we will take a closer look at why strength training for women is not only incredibly beneficial for many reasons, but also extremely important and effective in achieving long term weight loss goals and developing long, lean muscles. We will also learn some basic strength based exercises to get started.

So, Will Strength Training Make Me Bulky?

Let’s get into the nitty gritty. While the short answer is a resounding ‘no,’ lifting weights, as a female athlete will not bulk you up, there are several individual factors to consider.

The first is all about hormones. On average, women have about one tenth the amount of testosterone as men, and this is the hormone that signals our body to put on muscle. For this reason, females can do the same types of strength training exercises as the guy on the bench right next to us, and the results will be drastically different. Men bulk up, and women (typically) do not.

The second factor to consider is genetics. Depending on the specific genetic make-up for any individual, our response to all types of exercise will vary. Some women are predisposed to build more muscle mass than others, this is certain. However, it is still rare for women to develop bulky muscles.

Instead, when women lift weights and develop a regular strength training routine, we develop longer, leaner muscles. And this is usually the goal, right?

Strength Training and Weight Loss

A commonly heard statement in the exercise world is that “muscle weighs more than fat.” However, this is oversimplified and isn’t exactly true, nor how it works. Obviously, one pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat (we’re talking basic science), however, the key difference is that muscle is about 18% dense than fat, so it takes up far less space in the body.

Getting into the fun stuff, muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and burns far more calories than fat while in a resting state. While many women with the goal of weight loss focus their workout routine solely on cardio, this is actually hugely misguided. Of course, cardiovascular exercise is important for a myriad of reasons, such as increased cardiovascular health. If we take a moment to think of basic calories in/calories out rule, we realize that it is extremely unlikely to burn enough calories for effective, sustained weight loss focusing just on cardio activity alone. Instead of being shortsighted, it is key to understand how to mold our bodies into calorie burning machines, and this is where strength training comes in.

You do typically burn more calories while doing cardio exercise (however this also depends on the type of cardio). But, once you get home from your run or step a foot off the elliptical, your body quickly returns to its’ normal metabolic rate. When you engage in strength training, you are actually changing your bodies’ metabolic rate, which means you will burn more calories outside of your workouts, in all of your daily tasks and activities. And this is the strategy that is truly effective for weight loss.

Aside from weight loss, resistance (strength) training provides many more important health benefits such as lower risk of breast cancer, reduced PMS symptoms, stress management, immune system support, and lowered blood pressure. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, strength training also works to lower pressure.[1]

Another Key Player: Nutrition

Really, we can’t talk about weight loss without at least touching on the role of nutrition going hand in hand with any exercise routine. Many professionals believe that 70% of weight loss comes down to diet and nutrition. So, you can put in hours in the gym fully committed to a well planned exercise routine, it’s a very real possibility that you’ll see few results if you aren’t eating a balanced diet for meeting your bodies’ micro and macronutrient needs, and supporting your workouts.

 

Quick and Easy At-Home Strength Training Routine

Don’t let weight lifting overwhelm you! Here is a simple yet effective resistance routine that you can do at home, without any equipment. As with any exercise, correct form is of utmost importance to target the proper muscle groups and prevent injury.

Repeat circuit of 5 exercises 3 times. Allow yourself 2-3 minutes rest in between circuits. Rest in between individual exercises as needed, but try to go relatively quickly from one to the next.

  • 10 Push-ups
  • 10 Reverse Alternating Lunges
  • 6 Inchworms (standing to plank and back to standing)
  • 10 body weight squats
  • 30 plank
  1. Push-ups: these can be done on your knees or toes, and your focus should be on keeping your shoulders down (away from your ears), and core tight, pulling your bellybutton towards your spine.
  2. Reverse Alternating Lunges: Slow and controlled, keep weight on your front heel, feeling the burn primarily in the glute of your front leg. Take a wide step back.
  3. Inchworms: Begin in a standing position, reach hands to the floor and walk out to plank position. Push back to downward dog, now walking hands back towards the feet and rolling up back to standing.
  4. Squats: Begin with feet just past shoulder width apart, core tucked in tight. Leading with your glutes and weight firmly on the heels, sit back to almost parallel to the floor, being sure your knees don’t go way out over your toes. Now, press up through your heels back to standing position. Repeat.
  5. Plank: Core tight, low back not arching down to the floor, hands or forearms are fine.

[1] http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/2/1/e004473.full

 

*Disclaimer: This info is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. Please consult with your doctor before starting a new workout or diet plan. 

Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California, and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel works with clients individually via skype, focusing on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes. Consultations include diet journal analysis, individualized menu planning, and herbal/supplementation protocols.