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Will lifting weights make women look bulky?

Q: Hey Mark, I don’t like lifting weights because I don’t want to look bulky. What sort of exercise should I do?  

A: Rolls eyes and then starts…

I hear this statement a lot. Often a pointing finger accompanies it, directed at the portraits hung from my studio walls. Nose scrunched in disgust, they tell me ‘I just want to tone up, not get bulky.’

They use the word ‘bulky’ like it is some sort of insult. It’s like ‘bulky’ is something that women ‘should’ just not be.

Most of the time this question comes from someone who attends Body Pump once a week. Now, I have no problem with Body Pump (except I don’t classify it as training but ‘social exercise’), I just find it slightly amusing that one might compare a weekly Les Mills class to Janet Kane’s training program.

My team and I have trained a truckload of female competitors in both fitness, figure and physique divisions. I can tell you, YES- there are women who can put on muscle much easier than other women, but they are the lucky ones and the exceptions to the rule (1 out of 20 clients in my experience), not the overwhelming majority. You know who these women are; they are the ‘bitches’ that look amazing (toned and fit) all year round, seemingly without trying.

Mark and Belinda back stage after Belinda winning the INBA All Female Novice Fitness model title. Belinda lifts!
Mark and Belinda back stage after Belinda winning the INBA All Female Novice Fitness model title. Belinda lifts!

Now, much to your utter disbelief, when someone chooses to train with me I do not wave a magic wand, or sprinkle some fairy dust to have them wake the next morning with fifteen extra kilos of muscle mass.

No. I am not Jesus, and champion physiques are in fact not built by me. Rather, they are created, sculpted and fine tuned by the clients whose programs I write and nutrition I guide.

With time, the women I train may become strong, skillful and masters of their craft.  But if they want to get muscular, they will still have to work their arses off. And if they want to win, it will take months or even years of discipline and training with the ultimate of intent. 

A stage-worthy physique certainly doesn’t happen in a couple of weeks. If it did, my job would be much easier, and I wouldn’t be spending endless hours of my own time researching the most effective ways for females to gain strength and muscle. 

Take home; it takes both time and intent for a female to get muscular. 

Many of the time when women look at the portraits of my Champions Wall, with the athletes all tanned up and oiled, they say ‘I don’t want to look like that’.  Newsflash, the picture you see of the tanned, ripped lady holding the trophy is a snapshot in time, a photograph of them at their absolute leanest. To some it might seem obvious, but this is NOT a real indicator of how they look day to day.

Additionally, if you compare when they actually see these women without the tan and oil, I have heard some go to the extent of saying “I would turn lesbian for her”.  I’m not kidding! Its happened on multiple occasions when I was a trainer in bigger gyms. In other words, these women are smoking hot when you see them in their regular day-to-day get-up.

Regardless of the way that they look, the women that hang from my wall- I admire and hold close to my heart. They had a goal in mind, and because of that goal they found me. They took my knowledge and ran with it. Heck, who am I kidding? They didn’t just run, they sprinted, crawled and kicked with every last bit of their energy. 

They didn’t look back at who they were, and they didn’t look around at the disapproving stares from our at times, small-minded society. No. They believed in themselves and stayed true to who they wanted to be.

That ‘bulk’ that seems to turn the nose of so many, is in fact heart-felt work embodied in human flesh. It is accumulated through many months, or even years of dedication and focus.

Final take home: A Champion Physique doesn’t happen by accident. Your delusional if you think lifting weights as a woman will make you look ‘bulky’.

OR we just might have different definitions of what ‘bulk’ is.

INBA female comps
Enterprise Fitness client Veronica and Mark laughing about weights making women bulky

Maximus Mark Ottobre

Owner and Director of Enterprise Fitness

Did you like this post, or know of someone else who might? Please share it with your friends, family and any athletic women that you admire.

Would you like to learn our methods for getting females into world-class shape? Check out two-day How to Train the Female Competitor Internship 

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