Fitness & Nutrition Tips

Ask a Coach Q & A: Will Strength Training Make Me Bulky?


Question: Will Strength Training Make Me Bulky?

Answer: By Katy Jercich, Head Health Coach

It is extremely unlikely for regular strength training to have a Hulkish effect on most people, especially women. Let’s get to the bottom of this highly misconstrued question.

Myth: Strength training makes women bulky

The ratio of muscle to fat you have is dependent on a few key factors, some you have no control over (like genetic predetermination) and some you do (like nutrition and exercise).

Women have a distinct disadvantage if the goal is to put on mass. They have about one-tenth the testosterone of men, and testosterone is key in the muscle building process. So women, even if you’re working out just as hard as your male counterpart, lifting the same amount of weight meanwhile packin’ in meals every chance you get, you still won’t see the same results with regard to muscle building. I know, I know, it’s a shame…

But, women can and should build muscles- especially since they don’t have to worry about looking bulky. Instead of seeing large, rounded muscles develop, most women will experience a sleeker, longer, flatter muscle under the skin. However this is not the case 100% of the time. As mentioned earlier, your genetics still play a significant role in how your body responds to strength training.

Myth: Strength training doesn’t burn fat

Far too many people are focused on how many calories they burn while they’re in the gym, but this is shortsighted. Instead, what if you focused on how your body expends calories outside the gym during everyday life activities? You burn calories throughout the day regardless of what you are doing- that’s the nature of metabolism. Exercise helps increase the rate at which you burn those calories. With most forms of traditional steady-state cardio, you expend calories while you’re exercising, but once you stop, you quickly go back to your normal metabolic rate.

Strength training, however, builds muscle and more muscle helps you burn more calories even when you’re kickin’ back on your couch.

Alwyn Cosgrove co-authored the book The New Rules of Lifting and is one of the most trusted authorities in fitness, strength training and athletic conditioning. Something worth taking note of, Alwyn says, “Strength training is a critical component of any program that emphasizes long-term fat loss.”

Think of it this way: Muscles are “hungry” from a metabolic perspective. The more muscle you have, the more fuel you are constantly burning. This is the advantage strength training offers if your goal is to decrease body fat.

Treadmills and ellipticals are often seen as a quick fix to rev metabolism, and they are certainly useful if your goal is to improve cardiovascular health, endurance or simply to burn some extra calories, but strength training is a powerful ally. There are many different ways to get into shape, and while steady-state cardio has its benefits, there are limitations to using it as a sole form of exercise to lose weight.

So, where do I start?

If you’re new to strength training, hiring a trainer or coach who can teach you how to squat, deadlift, overhead press, and do a chin up safely and effectively may be the first logical step. Once you have a grasp on basic proper mechanics, you’ll activate the right muscles and get much more out of your workouts. You’ll also be able to apply what you’ve learned during classes at the gym such as our awesome options like Strength + Conditioning, Build,  TRX and Cross Mix just to name a few.

If you want newer (and possibly more exciting) variations, consider Kettlebells, Bulgarian Bags, medicine ball or barbell circuits, sled pushes, or battling rope variations- the options are endless!

Strength training can help you lose body fat and is likely a quicker ticket to better fitness than just plain cardio exercises. It also won’t limit your athleticism (it will more likely improve it), and women can derive tremendous benefit from resistance training without getting bulky. However as with any program, you’ll have to put in the work. Get to the gym, lift something heavy and reap the benefits.

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