PSA: Weights Will Not Make Women Bulky

PSA: Weights Will Not Make Women Bulky

We live in a day and age where equality is an ever-driving force in our day to day interactions and consciousness.  Whether or not you choose to believe the societal equalitarian philosophy, one thing is a fact: men and women both have the right to (and should) lift weights.

Okay, so as corny as that first paragraph sounds, women really should be lifting weights.  I don’t just mean heading into the group room alone and picking up the rubber coated 2.5 pound dumbbells.  I am talking about picking up some heavy ass weight.  Heavy weight is a relative term, as heavy weight to me is not the same as heavy weight to the next person.  Those 2.5 pound dumbbells could truly be heavy to you, but it’s all about progressing to become stronger.  Pushing yourself to full intensity is the key to getting the most out of a weight training session. 

There are a few negative stigmas associated with women lifting weights.  The main one: “lifting weights will make women big and bulky.”  Let’s put this incorrect misnomer to bed once and for all.  Listen, if this were true I would be a much larger human than I am right now….and I am a man.  Putting on considerable muscle mass is hard. Actually, it’s damn near impossible for a lot of us.  Women do not possess the hormone profile needed to look like a top-level bodybuilder.  Naturally, women can put on lean muscle tissue, but it’s not the mass that they are afraid of gaining.  Women have 10 to 30 times less testosterone than men, and that is the differential for a man that possesses natural testosterone levels. 

I can almost guarantee that if you have fitness goals or physique aspirations, lifting weights will surely get you closer to reaching those goals than if you did not lift weights.  Let’s look at the reasons why women should be lifting weights.

You Can Not Tone

Every female I have ever worked with in the past has said, “I don’t want to get too big, but I want to lose some fat and tone.”  The harsh truth is that you cannot tone.  It just is not possible and there is no such thing.  You can either burn body fat, gain muscle mass, or do a combination of the two (and even that last part is pretty hard to do).  As you lose body fat and gain muscle mass you will achieve a more “toned” look to your physique.  As body fat is lost around muscle tissue that muscle becomes more visible, making the appearance of the muscle more defined.

Lifting weights is the only way to achieve this particular look.  Cardio and diet alone will only make you lean and “skinny-fat.”  The term “skinny-fat” is a phenomenon where you lose body fat and get skinnier, but there is no musculature under that body fat. 

Lifting weights and gaining muscle tissue is the only way to achieve a physique that looks lean, muscular, and toned.  Countless times you will hear women say, “I want to get a bigger more firm butt.”  Well guess what will get you a bigger more muscular butt?  Lifting weights.  You can ride the stationary bike or walk on the stair stepper as much as you want, but nothing will build bigger glutes like squats, glute bridges, stiff legged deadlifts, and lunges. 

Burn More Fat

Weight training with intensity will burn more calories and fat than cardio, and it does it much more efficiently.  When compared head to head with cardio, weight training came out on top when it came to overall calorie expenditure. 

The interesting thing about resistance training is the caloric burn following the actual workout.  Cardio burns a lot of calories during the act of exercise, but weight training will burn more following exercise, causing the overall calorie expenditure to be higher than cardio itself. 

Muscle mass is metabolically active, meaning even just your base metabolic rate will be higher.  This is the calorie burn you get from just resting.  Workouts in moderate length with high intensity cause the most amount of excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).  EPOC is great for burning extra calories long after the workout has ended.  The effects of EPOC can last as long as 72 hours, meaning you are burning calories up to three days after the workout took place!

Bone Health

As a woman, you are more susceptible to things like osteoporosis and other bone degenerative diseases.  As women age their overall bone density tends to decline, especially post-menopausal. 

Weight training over time not only delays and prevents bone loss, but can also encourage growth of new bone mass.  This is pretty incredible when you think about how bones are structured.  Not only is their potentiation for bone growth and a decreased likelihood of bone loss, but weight training also increases the strength of existing bone mass.  More importantly is the acquisition of more bone density in those that weight train.  Weight training also has an impact on vitamin D conversion in the body, which in turn may lead to an increase in bone density, strength, and overall health.

Hormone Levels

While women do not possess the same hormones as men to put on considerable amounts of muscle mass, having healthy hormone levels is just as important.  Estrogen is the female equivalent to testosterone for males, but with worse effects.  Estrogen makes a woman a woman, but it can also play havoc on your physique goals and body fat assumption.  Studies have shown a strong correlation between high estrogen levels and body fat accrual. 

Balance is necessary for women to have the right amount of estrogen without it being too high or too low.  Weight training has been shown to promote healthy hormone balances for women.  By increasing muscle mass, the body reduces the amount of aromatase, the mechanism responsible for converting testosterone to estrogen.  A healthy balance of testosterone to estrogen is paramount to burning fat, gaining muscle, and overall wellbeing and mood.  Yes, women also need a fair amount of testosterone to remain healthy.

Lowers Stress

Ever dread going to the gym, but the second you step out of the gym you feel so much better?  There is a quote “the only bad workout is the one you didn’t do,” and that could not be more true.  Exercise reduces stress in a few different ways.  Those who exercise tend to manage stress more efficiently and the gym gives them an escape from the real world for a period of time. 

Exercise induces the body to release endorphins; hormones responsible for giving you that “high” feeling.  These are natural pain killers; physically and mentally.  Endorphins are responsible for all of the good emotions and feelings you have in life, so it’s easy to see why weight training can reduce stress. 

Weight training (done the correct way) can also help with adrenal fatigue.  Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome that occurs when the body is over stressed.  This is the feeling of soreness, tiredness, lethargy, and cognitive inefficiency you may feel even when exercise or physical exertion is not present.  Weight training can actually help reverse the effects of adrenal fatigue by putting the body in a more conducive state to deal with stressors.  It’s important to understand how to weight train, as over training is hard on the central nervous system.  Training in a way that allows for recovery is beneficial to the CNS and adrenals. 

Improves Sleep

Ever wonder why you sleep so much better after a strenuous workout?  It has a lot more to do with just being worn out from exercise.  Effective exercise has been shown to promote more restful sleep, and on occasion even curing insomnia.

Weight training makes the body produce and release more growth hormone.  Growth hormone promotes a deeper and more restful sleep, as natural growth hormone release pulses through the night.

Without all the wonders of growth hormone release, a good, hard workout will leave your body starving for a restful night’s sleep.   

Boosts Confidence and Self-Esteem

Each time you go to the gym and pick up weights you become stronger.  The stronger you get the more confident you become.  Strength gains come on much quicker than overall fat loss, meaning you will see the benefits much faster.  There is something to be said about seeing progress in the gym and how it can affect your psyche. 

Lifting weights also has an impact on energy levels, which has been linked to self-esteem.  A more energized person is a more confident person.  Weight training has been shown to help those with depression and anxiety by gaining self-confidence and reducing self-doubt.  Weight training has been shown to be a better coping medicine for depression and anxiety than running and other cardiovascular activities. 


Get into the gym and pick up some heavy weight!  Reap all the benefits of weight training and see your body and confidence grow.  Ignore the negative stereotypes and stigmas associated with lifting weights.  You will never get big and bulky, believe me.  If that were the case there would be a lot more muscle wielding men on the streets. 

- Daniel Henigsmith