Dispelling the Fear of Bulking Up: Strength Training for Women
Contrary to popular belief, building significant muscle mass is a challenging feat for people with women’s physiology. The misconception that women naturally bulk up like men is far from the truth. The women we see with a “bulky” physique have worked diligently and intentionally to achieve those results – this was their desired outcome! As a coach at my gym, I understand the struggle most women face when striving to build substantial muscle mass.
At LYB we strive to teach people to measure their success at the gym by what their bodies can do and not only how it looks. We work hard to support our members in dismantling the negative views they’ve internalized about their bodies. We want to help all the people that we work with feel as strong, confident, energized, and healthy as possible. We work to be an all-gender inclusive space, but this blog will focus on women as I have yet to meet someone of another gender who worries about bulking up the same way as women do.
It’s essential to address the fears many women have about becoming bulky. Women do not accidentally bulk up; it is a result of dedicated effort and a specific approach to training and nutrition. Achieving a muscular and lean physique takes time, consistency, and a deliberate focus on muscle building goals. It does not occur overnight or by chance. Therefore, if your aim is to build muscle without reaching the level of a professional bodybuilder, rest assured that it will not happen accidentally.
Now, let’s delve into what you need to do to gain significant muscle mass:
- Caloric Surplus: Consume approximately 20-30% more calories than your current weight maintenance level. For example, if you typically consume 2000 calories per day, add an additional 400-600 calories. This surplus provides the energy required for muscle growth.
- Protein Intake: Ensure you consume significant amounts of protein. For a woman weighing 150 lbs, it is recommended to eat well over 150g of protein per day. Protein is crucial for muscle repair and growth.
- Carbohydrates, Fruits, and Veggies: Include ample amounts of healthy carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. These provide essential nutrients and support overall nutrition.
- Cardio Consideration: Reduce or eliminate cardio exercises, as excessive cardio can interfere with muscle-building goals. Instead, focus on strength training to stimulate muscle growth.
- Compound Movements: Emphasize complex movements in your strength training routine, such as push-ups, squats, deadlifts, lunges, overhead lifting, and pull-ups. Stick to low reps and high weights, aiming for 1-3 reps per set with sufficient rest between sets. If you can perform more than 4-5 reps comfortably, the weight is too light.
- Time Investment: Dedicate at least 90 minutes per day to lifting weights at the gym. Allow yourself 1-2 rest days per week for proper recovery.
At LYB, our coaches share a love for strength training and work diligently to build our muscles. While we may appear muscular during our workouts, we do not appear excessively bulky in regular clothing outside the gym, despite our best efforts. It’s worth noting that our inclusion of cardio exercises impacts our muscle-building potential. Personally, I struggle with consuming enough calories and protein, a challenge faced by many. If you worry about bulking up, run through the checklist above. If you are not consistently following these guidelines, there is no need to be concerned about becoming overly bulky. Instead, redirect your focus and energy towards becoming strong, fit, and healthy.
Now, let’s explore why everyone, especially women, should prioritize muscle building:
- Calorie Burning: Muscles burn more calories, aiding in maintaining a healthy body composition as we age. With time, we naturally lose muscle mass, up to 5% per decade after the age of 30. Building muscle helps counteract this decline.
- Disease Prevention: Maintaining a healthy body composition reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and various illnesses.
- Participation in Activities: Building strength allows you to engage in sports and activities you love or aspire to learn.
- Injury Prevention: Strong muscles help protect against injuries by providing stability and support to joints and connective tissues.
- Bone Health: Strength training helps protect against osteoporosis and maintain strong bones.
- Posture: Building muscles contributes to better posture and alignment, reducing the risk of musculoskeletal issues.
- Mental Health Benefits: Strength training reduces stress, improves mental well-being, sleep quality, mood, and body image.
- Enhanced Sex Life: Feeling confident in your body and being physically fit can improve your sex life.
Interestingly, those primarily training for aesthetics often worry about bulking up. However, building muscle mass is the most effective way to achieve a lean and toned physique. For LYB clients concerned about bulking up, please note that our program will help you build muscle, but it is not enough to make you look like a competitive CrossFit athlete.
To wrap it up, if you fear bulking up, please let go of that concern. It is not scientifically impossible unless you drastically alter your eating and training routines. Shift your mindset towards your body and exercise goals. Celebrate what your body can do and feel proud of the positive impact you make when you hit the gym. Remember, strength is beautiful, and building muscle is a journey that empowers you to be strong, fit, and healthy.