One of the greatest barriers to resistance training women face is misinformation. The online fitness space is riddled with extreme claims, fads, and misinformation that, unfortunately, becomes commonplace in society. One false claim that circulates to this day is the idea that women can get “bulky” with resistance training. This brief article will discuss why this will not be the case for 99% of women and also how adding resistance training to your workout routine will provide many health and fitness benefits.
#1 Sex Differences
The number one reason why women will not get bulky following a resistance training program is sex characteristic differences after puberty. Prepubescent boys and girls show virtually no differences in muscular strength and size due to having the same levels of testosterone. Testosterone is a sex hormone that influences muscle size, strength, and power levels. Following puberty, men have a significantly greater amount of testosterone than women which is why the average man is stronger, bigger, and more powerful (physically) than the average woman.
According to observational data observed in this study, women on average have “50%-60% of men’s upper arm muscle cross-sectional area and 65%-70% of men’s thigh muscle cross-sectional area.” Women also have “50%-60% of men’s upper limb strength and 60%-80% of men’s leg strength.” This study also observed that young men on average have 12kg (~26 lbs) more muscle mass than women at the same age at any given body weight. The study claims that while environmental factors may contribute to this data (i.e. genetics, physical activity, and nutrition), the main factor causing these differences in muscle mass and strength is circulating testosterone levels.
#2 Getting Bulky is HARD
The second reason why women won’t get bulky with added strength training is because getting bulky is not something that a) happens easily/overnight and b) happens without a dedicated, very intense, and progressive lifting program. This is not to say that the average woman who lifts does not train hard enough, however, for the average woman who trains 2-3x per week for 45-60 minutes, it will not be enough stimulus to create the extreme bulky looks seen in male and female bodybuilders. These lifters go through rigorous training that often entails being at the gym for 1-2+ hours minimum, 4+ days per week and lifting to intensities that the average lifter does not have to endure in order to see results.
Another factor to consider in bodybuilders’ massive size is the possibility of exogenous hormonal steroids. These steroids act similar to the hormone testosterone and increase muscle size, strength, and power in both men and women. It also changes characteristics like deepening the voice in women and increasing breast tissue in men. So unless you’re training at very high intensities while taking steroids, the possibility of becoming bulky as a woman is very unlikely.
Listed above are the two main reasons why most women will not become “bulky” while adding resistance training to their workout routine. Instead, women get stronger, more physically powerful, and typically “feminize” their frame by adding curves and reducing total body fat. There are also many benefits to strength training that have nothing to do with aesthetics. Read my previous blog post titled “Why Women Should Lift Weights” to read more about why women should strength train irrespective of aesthetics. You can also read this article on how you should structure your training if your goal is to build an hourglass physique through training and nutrition. 🙂
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