Myth Busting | Lifting Weights Makes You Bulky

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Okay, ladies. It’s time for a little #realtalk #toughlove from yours truly. There’s a myth circulating in your gyms, in your conversations with your girlfriends, and in the back (or front) of your minds that needs to be addressed, and I feel like it’s my job to bring it all out in the open! Since it’s such an important (and misunderstood!) topic, this post is going to be a little long because I’m going to dive deep and do it justice. So grab your water and settle in!

I get told ALL of the time from women just like me and you that they’re freaked out about weightlifting because they don’t want to build “too much muscle.” They’re afraid that if they lift weights, they’ll get too bulky and end up looking “manly.”

So what happens? They tend to avoid weights altogether and become cardio bunnies. They run and run and run…and they never stop running with the goal in mind to “get toned but not build muscle.”

Strong Does Not Equal Bulky

Ladies. It’s not possible, okay? YES, you can tone and lean out your body, but in order to do so, you have to build muscle first. And let’s get something straight?”building muscle” does not equate to “bulking up.” As women, it’s NOT physically possible for our bodies to bulk up the way men are able to, we simply do not have the genetic make up or the amount of testosterone needed to build that kind of muscle.

FACT: The more lean muscle we have, the more fat we?re going to burn consistently throughout the day.

Lifting weights and building muscle boosts our metabolism so much so that it gets us to a point where our bodies actually become fat-burning machines. It helps our bodies become capable of burning fat even during periods of rest. So in essence, “building muscle” actually equates to leaning out and toning up.

Strong Is Sexy

Before I go any further though, I must hit on the most important lesson to be learned from all of this, and that is this: STRONG IS SEXY. Sexy does not have a size. Sexy does not have a certain look.

Outfit Details:

Armour Crossback Sports Bra, HeatGear Armour Ankle Crop Edgelit Leggings, UA Breathe Trainers, and Phenom No-Show Socks

Sexy is confidence in who you are. Sexy is how you feel.

No amount of lifting or toning will ever get you to where you want to be or to how you want to feel until you make the decision to love and appreciate who you are NOW. Exactly as you are.

This is why I love Under Armour as much as I do. I love their initiative to empower women through strength, and I am kind of obsessed with their new line of clothes and shoes (I?m wearing in these pics here) that help me FEEL strong and FEEL confident just by putting them on.

I FEEL beautiful and sexy. And it is true that the better we feel when we step foot in the gym, the harder we work. And the harder we work, the better we feel. The cycle goes on?

Resistance Training 101: How to Tone

Outfit Details:?

Armour Crossback Sports Bra, HeatGear Armour Ankle Crop Edgelit Leggings, UA Breathe Trainers, and Phenom No-Show Socks

I?ve said it once, and I?ll say it again. Bulking up is a very conscious decision, and unless that?s your goal and that?s what you?re working toward, it?s just not going to happen. Do some people have a genetically ?gifted? part of their body the tends to get larger faster? Of course. But we can totally work around that by not focusing on that single area, and instead, by working on surrounding muscle groups to achieve the results we want?ie. thinner appearing thighs can be achieved by building the glutes.

Let?s talk benefits. Lifting weights and resistance training has so many benefits as a result of making your body a ?fat-burning machine.? Here are just a few:

  • Lose More Body Fat: Since muscle burns around THREE times more calories than fat, adding as little as 2-4 pounds of muscle can equal an extra 100 calories burned EVERY day. Plus, a high-intensity resistance routine can pump up your metabolism by 20% for several hours AFTER you’re done working out. MORE FAT BURNED!
  • Look Leaner & Fitter:?Muscle has a denser volume than fat, so you can look leaner EVEN if the scale doesn?t budge and even if it goes up! A word of caution here: As you start lifting weights, you probably will?see that number on the scale go up. In order to build muscles and make them leaner, they first get broken down and then have to build back up. As they’re broken down, they actually retain fluid, which is totally normal. This is the body’s way of healing those muscle fibers. Instead of focusing on that number on the scale, look ahead to the long-term benefits of how you’re feeling, the quality of your workouts, and how your clothes are fitting. **More about the scale at the end of this post!!**
  • Overall Health:?Lifting weights has the ability to actually help you decrease your risk of injury and can affect your overall health by improving blood pressure, lowering bad cholesterol, raising good cholesterol, preventing back issues/pain, decreasing the risk of getting sick, fighting the aging process, improving your body’s response to processing sugar (which can reduce the risk of diabetes), increasing bone density, and decreasing your risk of osteoporosis! Did I mention it fights the aging process?!

Let?s focus on that last one for a bit because I don?t think a lot of us really have any idea how important our bone health is not just for today, but for 20, 30, 50+ years from now. It?s so easy to get caught up in what’s going on right now that we lose sight of the fact that a lot of the things we are doing now (or things we’re not doing now) will affect our quality of life years, and even decades, from now.

Muscle and bone density/bone loss is a real thing that affects everyone as they age, especially women. They say it all starts to go ?downhill? in our 30s….and they’re not entirely wrong (whoever “they” may be!). In our mid-30s, our bone development reaches its “peak bone mass”?the stage where our bones have reached their maximum strength and density. We then start to lose 5-10% of our muscle strength and 3-5% of our muscle mass each decade.

Once we hit menopause, our bone loss becomes more rapid, which can lead to osteopenia, and then to osteoporosis. I know for some of us, menopause seems soooo far away! But I have several friends who have gone through surgical menopause earlier than they expected (in their 30s and 40s), so their stage of rapid bone loss comes much sooner than planned.

Where does that muscle strength and mass go? Well…it’s replaced by fat, and usually by a decline in our functional ability in our daily lives. Even if we’re active, we can still be losing muscle. Muscle is like a coat of armor: Our muscles protect and support our bones as we age, and with regular exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise (like walking, running, resistance training, hiking, dancing, walking, climbing stairs, etc.), that armor continues to strengthen, protect, and support our bones even better.

Think of it this way: Regular resistance training, in addition to all the benefits I’ve already mentioned, will help us be able to do all of the things we want to do once we reach our 80s and beyond! And that?s what we all want, right? To still be active and able to experience life and all the things we love for decades to come!

Weight Training Principles Made Easy

Now that we all understand the importance of resistance training, here are some general recommendations for setting up your own resistance training program if you?re not already following one. Before starting any new exercise program, it’s always important to discuss it with your healthcare team first; especially if you have any pre-existing health issues!

Lift the Right Amount of Weight:
Here?s another MYTH that needs busting: Lifting light weights will help you tone and keep you from getting bulky. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Lifting with too little weight is really a waste of time because it’s not going to challenge your muscles enough to help them get healthier and stronger. On the flip side, how do you know if you?re lifting too much weight? Here’s a trick I recommend: Brace your core during every exercise, and if you find yourself losing that tight core, you need to reduce the amount of weight you?re lifting.

Train Multiple Muscle Groups, Strategically:
When you do begin, you should train both your lower and your upper muscle groups. Ignoring any muscle group can lead to muscle imbalances?a sure-fire way to get injured! And always give your muscle groups 48-72 hours of rest in between sessions. Those muscles need time to heal, repair, and get stronger before you work them out again.

Sets, Reps, and Rest Periods:

  • General muscles fitness: 1-2 sets, 8-16 reps, 30-90 seconds of rest between sets
    Muscular endurance (so you can do activities for longer periods of time): 2-3 sets, less than 12 reps, less than 30 seconds rest between sets
  • Muscular hypertrophy (to get those shapely muscles you want): 3-6 sets, 6-12 reps, 30-90 seconds of rest between sets
  • Muscular strength (so you have the strength to do the activities you want to do): 2-6 sets, less than 6 reps, 2-5 minutes of rest between sets

Tip: If you?re new to resistance training, start slowly with the general muscle fitness guidelines, and then slowly add in the other recommendations as you feel confident in your form and fitness level. In fact, incorporating all four types into your workout routine can help you get the all-round fitness, endurance, shape, and strength you want, which is so important!

Frequency (and this depends on your goals):

  • General muscular fitness: 2-3 times/week.
  • Muscle building and toning: 3-6 times/week

Wear the Right Gear: Not only does having the right (ahem, cute!) gear make you feel like you can take on the gym with a whole new attitude, it?s actually important to invest in the right gear for weight training to give you the best results possible and avoid injuries?especially when it comes to SHOES! Here?s what you?ll want to consider for your resistance training gear to keep you both motivated and safe on your weight training program:

Footwear Faves:? TriBase Reign Training Shoes and Breathe Trainer

When you?re weight training, you need to feel stable, grounded, and as connected to the floor as possible. Every lift starts from the GROUND UP. Under Armour?s new technology maximizes ground control with three points of contact for a low, stable base that still allows natural foot flexibility.

Sports Bra Fave: Armour Crossback Sports Bra

As you guys know from my recent sports bra blog, support is everything, and this medium-impact bra delivers. It’s super breathable, and the HeatGear? not only wicks away sweat, but it gives you a great next-to-skin feel (aka, like you’re wearing nothing and somehow supported…because magic ?).

Compression Gear Fave: HeatGear Armour Ankle Crop Edgelit Leggings

Whether you’re lifting, jogging, or even doing yoga, having good compression gear is important. You want full range of motion without feeling weighed down, and UA’s compression gear checks all of the boxes. Plus, its super fast sweat wick means this Arizona girl is comfortable and dry. Bonus: These booty hugging leggings will make you look and feel like a million bucks!

A Few Last Things..

So one more thing, ladies. We need to talk about the dreaded scale. I know how easy it is to become emotionally tied to that number on the scale! But here?s the thing…and I’ll be honest, it?s taken me MANY, many years to learn this: That darn number on the scale can LIE to you and is NOT a true reflection of progress?especially when you?re building muscle.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I?ll put this one out there. The me on the right is 20 pounds heavier than the me on the left. Which one looks healthier and happier? I encourage you to take those before photos! Take your measurements! Those are far, far FAR better methods than paying attention to the changes and transformations in your body than the number on the scale!

And look at that?two myths busted in one post! #winwin What other commonly-held beliefs are you wondering about? Leave ?em below, and maybe I?ll do a future post on them with all of the facts!

xo,
Heidi

**Thank you, Under Armour, for sponsoring this post! The opinions shared and?discussed in this post are my own.**

Related reading:

Transform App FAQ: HELP!!! I?ve been working my butt off, following my meal plan, and the scale?s not moving! What do I do?
Transform App FAQ: Which program should I choose?
My 5 Gym (and Home Gym) Must-Haves
Life Hacks: 5 Flat Belly Secrets Revealed!
A Weight Loss Win: It?s More Than That Number on the Scale

48 Responses

  1. WOW!wow. great bod! I’m workin’ out and following a certain diet my trainer gave me at the same time and it works really well for me.. Hope to have such a great bod soon πŸ˜‰

    1. What do you do when you upper body develops so much faster than your lower body. My lower body has about 75% less muscle than my lower body. Can you suggest any good exercises to build muscles in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes? Thank you

    2. Hi Sharon: If your upper body develops faster than your lower body, then do more lower body workouts during the week. So if you do 3 strength training workouts a week, do a lower body one day, an upper body another day, then another lower body workout (or something like that). The important thing to remember is to have at least 48 hours inbetween the same workout for the same muscle group. And Heidi has some great lower body workouts on her blog: https://heidipowell.net/?s=glutes Hope that helps!

  2. Hi
    What is best time of day to lift weights? What do eat to lift weights
    And loose about 10 pounds?
    Please respond To Me.
    Roselynn

    1. Hi Roselynn: The best time to do any workouts is when it works best for you. The main thing is to do them! And here’s a post about nutrition, and I hope it helps: https://heidipowell.net/2713. We also have an amazing and customized nutrition program in our app that adjusts as you get closer to your goal, so that might be an option for you too. http://thetransformapp.com You can do this! πŸ™‚

  3. Love this Heidi!! I do have a question on how do I get sculpted lean thighs? I do ur transform app n loving it! Just wondered on wat moves to target outer thigh fat more so??

    1. Hi Monica: It sounds like you’re doing awesome! Unfortunately, you really can’t spot reduce. πŸ™ Any extra fat will leave our bodies in its own unique way (unfortunately), so make sure your nutrition is on point, you’re doing your workouts as recommended, and any problem areas should get better!

  4. Great article!!! Great advice!!! Love the outfits… was wondering I have big calves already and I?m only 5?2… anyway advice on how I can slim them down and tone my thighs?? I just think my calves are just four to get bigger… make me very insecure.. thanks for your time!!

    1. Hi Dawn: It’s good to strengthen your muscles overall, and if you have one group that is prone to get larger, then be sure not to focus on them over and above what’s healthy as far as strengthening them. Same thing for groups you want to tone…make sure you’re doing exercises that will strengthen them specifically. Always make sure to not work the same muscle group(s) two days in a row too. Heidi has some great workouts on this blog, and we have some great workout programs in the app that make sure that your strength training is overall, so that might be a good option too: http://thetransformapp.com Hope that helps!

  5. Love this! I do circuit training and I’m always looking for the right workout gear. Thanks for this post, you are such an inspo!

  6. Such an inspiration, Heidi! Your before and after says it ALL! Also need these leggings ASAP!

  7. Thanks so much for this article and encouraging advice, Heidi!!! I’m a slow but determined starter for improving my overall health and fitness. I am inspired by your journey and you continue to give me the push I need. Again, thanks…..you ROCK!!!

  8. Perhaps you could convince UA to make extended women?s sizes. I am a 2x and work out consistently by lifting, spinning, walking and rowing. Larger women would love UA . We like to look good too! Thanks!

  9. This is my favorite post! Why? Because this is the hardest myth to explain to ladies who have it in their mind that if they lift (or “lift heavy”), that tomorrow they are going to look like they are entering an Arnold Schwarzenegger classic bodybuilding competition.

    I’m sharing this article!

  10. Since I?ve moved to strength training with some cardio mixed in rather than mostly cardio with some strength training (or none) I have noticed lots of pluses! Body shape looks better, I can eat more and still lose weight, etc. Changed my mind about it for sure!

  11. Love this! I worry because my arms are already big and I don’t want them to get huge and look like Popeye! LOL! I already have to be careful with the shirts I buy, they are sometimes too tight around my arms and fit great everywhere else.

    I am ready to start lifting again, I loved it when I did it years ago. I’m 47 now and I know I need to gain muscle to stay active and healthy as I get older. I want to be active with my nieces and a good role model as they grow up.

    Thank you Heidi!

  12. This is my favorite blog post becuase it empowers women to be a bad ass in the gym and also maintain their feminitity. I think that so many women are afraid of lifting heavy and pushing heavy weight in the gym for fear of being “bulky” or “manly.” This article really shows women that we can do WHATEVER we want, and look HOWEVER we want without being judged by others our ourselves. So empowering.

  13. I love that you posted this! I had this conversation with my wife and how lifting weights in the gym will not add tons of muscle right away. I told her I wished it was that easy! I love the encouragement and body truth that you gave in this article!

  14. This is one of my favorite post. I used to do hours and hours of mindless cardio but not anymore. Lifting weights changed my life!

  15. Yes, yes, yes. My body had never looked this good. Post kids and no longer just cardio. Cardio and Weights!! I also enjoy training so much more now too. The variety, change and challenge.

  16. Love! I?m trying to gain muscle back. After two babies they seemed to have disappeared. Working on meeting my protein (macros). It?s much easier to eat carbs ?.

  17. As someone who is new to weightlifting, this article was very helpful and reaffirming. I have seen a total change in my body and my overall mindset. What great info!! I look forward to combing this with dietbet:)

  18. Love this! One of me new favourite blog posts!! I lifting weights is a new thing for me and I am loving it!
    Hoping to be a part of your dietbet! ??

  19. Love this. I?m still working on my fitness journey… I mean aren?t we all. But I can?t believe how many times I?ve had to tell this to women.

    Great read!

  20. I can honestly say I absolutely love the shape my body takes with the addition of weight training. I did CrossFit and love it but also have now added weight training and am so surprised at how much I love it! My zen!
    Thank you Heidi for telling it like it is……always ?

  21. Thank you for showing woman that they can lift and not ?get bulky? or ?look like a guy?. I love Olympic weightlifting and always encourage other woman to try it.

  22. I love how real you always are. My journey has many ups and downs like everyone?s does and I am currently trying to get out of a down after a knee injury. Will find out later this month if I have torn my meniscus in my Right knee. Had surgery on the Left knee for the same problem 4 yrs ago-unfortunately both injuries occurred while working out. Looking forward to and working at being able to change my mindset about getting healthy. Surgery or not I need to commit to my nutrition first.

    I love lifting weights and this post was great for tips and myth busting about bulking up!!

  23. My husband and I love your site and the incredible advice you both provide. Our one wish is Extreme Weight Loss to come back ON! It was so inspiring to see all the people you helped. Not only did you retrain them with new eating habits, but you changed their lives forever!

  24. Love this so informative and eye opening! You are definitely my fitness motivation it?s nice to have someone to follow that posts the truths!

  25. Love all your posts, you and Chris are so inspiring and uplifting. I would like to know about stretch marks. Long story short- a medication my doctor had put me on caused rapid weight gain in a short time leaving horrible bright red marks. (40 pounds in 3 months- off the medication now) The weight is so slow to come off, but every day trying is a win day. I’m just concerned the scars will be with me for life. Any advise to make them go away, shrink, minimize, fade, etc. will be appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Hi Sue: Congratulations on your weight loss, that is so awesome! Each person’s skin can react differently to weight loss and stretch marks, so keep doing what you’re doing to lose the weight, and please don?t get frustrated! Some people have found that a good vitamin E or coconut oil applied directly on the skin helps. And you’re totally correct – every day IS a win day! Hopefully, your skin will bounce back! πŸ™‚

  26. Heidi, is it true that working out and eating right will not get rid of cellulite??? I would love to know the answer to this since I?ve been hearing a lot of people telling me that it?s not possible. I?ve been working on myself for about a year on transform app and although I?ve seen a reduction of cellulite, it?s not completely gone. Please, please write something about cellulite because I really want to know what the truth is:(

    1. Hi Bianca: Great question! Eating healthy and working out (especially building muscle through regular resistance training) can help to decrease cellulite. Some treatments from a dermatologist and some creams can also help too. I’ll add this topic to Heidi’s blog idea list, but in the meantime, here’s an article from webmd.com that might help: https://www.webmd.com/beauty/get-rid-of-cellulite#1 Keep doing what you’re doing (yay! for you!), and it should continue to get better. πŸ™‚

  27. Heidi – I’m a 41 year old mom of 3 young children. I do strength training 4-6 times/week with HIIT mixed in. I’ve been unable to lose that layer of fat. I keep my nutrition in-check but, I’m gaining weight AND getting bigger, none of my clothes fit and, while my core is strong, I know it’s getting flabby. Help!!!

    1. Hi Diana: It sounds like you’ve got a great plan in place! Your nutrition plan might need a bit of tweaking. It can be a fine line between gaining muscle and not gaining fat, and it can be a frustrating process! Heidi and Chris count macros and carb cycle, and this is the way their app nutrition program is put together too. Here are some posts that might help: https://heidipowell.net/10990, https://heidipowell.net/3713. And here’s a link to check out the app – it offers you a totally customized nutrition and workout program: http://thetransformapp.com. One more thing: Make sure you’re drinking enough water – that can make a huge difference. We recommend 1/2 your body weight in ounces every day + some for what you sweat out during your workouts. You got this! πŸ™‚

  28. Love this!! I used to be all about cardio and very rarely lifting until my husband got me into it and now I can’t get enough. I love the changes I’ve seen in my body and have never felt better or healthier!

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