Strength Training Does Not Make Women Bulk Up!


Several weeks ago we had a female client comment that she didn’t want to finish her last set of a deadlift because she was worried she would “bulk up.”  At first we thought she was joking and then as we spoke to her about it,  we realized this was a real concern of hers. She expressed concern that if she continued lifting heavier weights she would bulk up like a man. The good news is, unless you are taking synthetic steroid’s or drugs to increase your testosterone levels you will NOT bulk up.  I am here to tell you why.

Concerns that women will bulk up from lifting is a very popular myth that exists despite the fact that women do not have the needed hormones (testosterone) to build large, bulky muscles.   The idea that women will bulk up from weight training is from the pictures of women on bodybuilding magazine covers. The majority of these women are more than likely taking a form of anabolic sterioids (synthetic testosterone) and are not a true representation of what happens to a women’s body with weight training.

“Muscle bulk is dependent largely upon testosterone production,” says Dr. Sue Pedersen, a specialist in endocrinology and metabolism in Calgary. “But no woman makes nearly as much testosterone as a man. It really is a hormonal issue. Men have an average of 15-20 times more testosterone than women.”

For post-menopausal women, whose testosterone levels are even lower, it’s even harder to develop muscular size, Dr. Pedersen explains, “And if you do gain some bulk it means you’re doing good things for your health. It’s beneficial from a weight management perspective as well.”

Dr. Pedersen explains that having extra muscle mass also helps with injury prevention because the added strength reduces your risk of accidents or falls. And even if you do fall, heavier weightlifting is proven to dramatically increase bone strength to reduce the risk of fractures.

“There are metabolic benefits as well. Heavier weightlifting improves insulin sensitivity so you’re less likely to get type two diabetes,” and it’s good for blood pressure control, she says.

Remember that muscle takes up much less space than fat in the body. When you add muscle, that helps you lose fat by improving metabolism.  Amazingly, one pound of muscle burns approximately 35-75 calories daily and stores 450 calories of energy. Conversely, body fat is a storehouse for calories. One pound of fat burns approximately 8 calories daily and stores 3500 calories of energy.  You can easily become a calorie burning machine just by resistance training and adding some lean muscle to your body!  This will help you become leaner and more defined. Weight training in women promotes strength, and with that will come changes in muscle structure and size.  Women also need to train with weights to promote positive development in the bones and connective tissues.  Strength training builds bone density and prevents osteoporosis and can even help build new bone, as mentioned above.

What and how much to lift – 
Don’t be afraid to lift with heavier weights.  You can ease your way into it slowly, but start trying to lift heavier weights in the lower repetition ranges.  Using large, multi-joint exercises (squatting, deadlifting and lunging variations) in the 6-12 rep range is going to develop more muscular size and strength.   When you start to get into the  1-5 rep range this will develop more maximal strength and some size.  Don’t be afraid of the word “size”, because your lower testosterone levels (compared to a man’s) means it’s going to be a slow and challenging process to build appreciable muscle volume.

It’s important to note that when lifting in these lower repetition ranges at the end of a set you should be able to lift another rep or two with perfect form and technique. The weight has to be heavy enough so you will need to take a rest period of 60-90 seconds. The heavier the weight, and the fewer amount of reps, the longer the rest period between sets needs to be.

Think of some of the things that you do on a daily basis that will be much improved when you start a regular resistance training program.  You can lift children up easier, open your own jars, shovel more snow, pick up heavy furniture — there are myriad everyday benefits from training your muscles towards getting more out of them.

To learn more about the programs we develop, especially for women check it out at

Enjoy being confident and strong in a body with lean muscle attached to it!  Your body will thank you.