Does Strength Training Make You Bulky!?

This is a question I get asked at least once a week. Usually it's from girls with little to no lifting experience who are shit scared of touching a barbell because they think it will make them look like a She-Hulk.

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I assume this is the first image that pops into most women's heads when they think of weight lifting and that's why they are so petrified of it! But it couldn't be further from the truth. All we seem to see on social media these days are girls doing frog pumps and donkey kicks so naturally that's what women think they have to do to get their "dream body"- whatever that is. Don't get me wrong, these movements can be great if you're looking for some accessory work or an active warm up, but that's about all they're good for.

I've had the conversation 100 times, where I explain exactly why it's harder for women to build muscle. Our bodies don't produce nearly enough testosterone to support muscle growth to the extent everyone is scared of. Most women could train every day for their whole life trying hard to put on muscle, but without steroids, they still can't get bulky! Everyone always nods their head and smiles in agreeance when I say this but I know deep down they don't believe me so I thought I'd offer a more visual example.

Below are some before and after shots, I'll let you draw your own conclusion..

Meet my friend, Helen...

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Helen was the OG string bean. She was lanky, uncoordinated and had zero muscle tone. Sure, she 'trained' but her training consisted of yoga, the occasional pump class and lots of running in combination with a low calorie diet. Three years ago she came to me and said "Nic, I wanna be strong. Do you think one day I'll be able to squat 100kgs?" I looked straight into her puppy dog eyes and lied through my teeth, knowing that how she was currently training would never allow someone to squat that heavy. I said "Yeah girl, of course you can!" Did I feel bad for lying to my friend? Yes. But it would crush her to know what I really thought.

Fast Forward 2.5 years ...

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Helen was passionate about wanting to be strong, to feel strong and to look strong. Fast forward 2.5 years, and she has been following a powerlifting program religiously and (much to my surprise) I had to eat my own words because she did it! She squatted the shit out of 100kgs and made it look easy!
During this time her training consisted of 6 days a week of purely lifting. Some heavy days, some light days.. but ZERO cardio days. She didn't count her calories, but without even realising it, she had doubled her caloric intake due to listening to her body and eaten when she needed to.

Here's Me for example ...

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This pic was taken when my training consisted of squatting at least 3 times per week, a tonne of deadlifts and olympic lifting, 1-2 metcons per day with loads of accessory work on top. A crazy training schedule that for me, wasn't maintainable for very long after competing at Regionals in CrossFit, but it was what had to be done to be remotely competitive at that level.

Fast Forward 3 years...

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In this pic my training was a lot more inconsistent. I wasn't on a program, my food wasn't a priority and my training consisted of 2-3 cardio based metcon sessions a week with practically zero strength. All of this resulted in a 10kg weight gain. Don't get me wrong! I love my body! And I made a conscious decision to prioritise my work and personal life after putting my training first for so long so some extra weight is a byproduct of that. But if we look at what type of training made me 'bulky' and what type made me 'lean', the strength training wins every time.

So what can we conclude ... 

I've shown you two completely different girls, both training full time, going over and above what an "average" person would do and yet still, neither of them took on the bulky Hulk-like figure that so many women are scared of. How strange, right!?

Most women who strength train will work their asses off to build 1kg of muscle in a YEAR (and that would be considered a significant improvement) ... and yet women are afraid the second they pick up a heavy barbell their biceps are going to blow up like a balloon. We wish it was that easy!

The truth is, lifting weights is Awesome! And despite the fact women think they're built for bosu balls and 5kg dumbbells - the body is stronger than you know, and capable of some pretty amazing things. And not only does building strength make you feel empowered and confident in your body ... but all those physical traits you've always chased (lean arms, flat tummy, defined legs) come as a By-Product! How cool is that!?


Melanie Corlett