Will I Bulk Up if I Start Lifting Weights?

bulk up

You have heard that lifting weights is good for you, but eeek – you don’t want to turn into one of those Glamourzons you see in glossy magazines! Won’t lifting weights make you bulk up?

Truth bomb: I wish it was that easy!

As a woman, the cards are stacks against muscle growth. Unless we are lifting big weights multiple times per week, PLUS eating more calories than we expend every day, there is no chance of building guns bigger than Arnie. Lifting weights will not make you bulk up.

Bodybuilding women have to work really, really hard to get comp-ready bodies, and these results often come at excruciating costs (mentally, socially and physically). This level of muscle gain and shredding (which further exposes muscles) is also not sustainable – once the competition is over, they need to revert to a more balanced approach to protect their long-term health.

Men can gain muscle much easier than women due to naturally higher levels of testosterone, plus they usually keep muscle mass better than women too. That’s not to say any guy who picks up a barbell is going to get huge – gaining muscle for anyone takes some effort.

Building big muscles takes a lot of dedication, careful coaching, and grit that most of us recreational athletes and weekend warriors just do not possess – nor do we need to! However, I am a firm advocate for weight training (or resistance training) for both men and women due to the incredible benefits it has on our bodies and minds. 

Resistance training preserves muscle mass

Resistance training is important to preserve muscle mass and encourage growth and repair, particularly as we age. The adage, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ is certainly true here. Working your muscles regularly helps maintain muscle tissue, which from a daily functional point of view means you can move better, perform daily tasks easier and be less likely to sustain an injury.

In younger people, resistance training is just as important to set your body up for a healthy life ahead. Not only do you reap the immediate benefits, but you fall into healthy exercise habits that mean looking after yourself becomes second nature as the years go on.

Resistance training boosts our self-esteem
Being fit and strong is great for self-confidence at any age too, and body composition is one of the key reasons many people start lifting weights in the first place. Men want to look good with their shirt off (no spindly arms or chicken legs!) and women want to look ‘toned’ (ie have muscle definition) in their cute summer dresses or shorts.

Feeling strong is a real boost to self-esteem and confidence, and knowing you can move your body with ease fills you with a sense of comfort and pride every time you step out the door.

As an added psychological benefit, there is nothing quite as good for destressing than picking up a heavy barbell and smashing out a PB in my book, and a good old slam ball is a fantastic anger management tool!

Resistance training keeps our bones healthy
Resistance training not only preserves valuable muscle but also assists with maintaining bone density, another reason to give resistance training a go at any age. This is because any stress on the bones (within reason!) kickstarts the bone cells into action. Osteoporosis Australia recommends weight-bearing activities and progressive resistance training for at least 30 minutes, 3-5 times per week for healthy adults to keep our bones strong. Have a read of their information sheet for more on exercise and bone health here. 

Resistance training helps with weight loss
In terms of weight loss, cardio alone is not the answer – lifting weights is! By only focusing on cardio, you run the risk of burning muscle, not fat. Your body will use the stored sugars in your blood first to fuel your workout, then will look for alternative means of energy. Fat is last on the list of fuel sources as it is much more difficult to break down into useable energy, meaning those tasty muscles will be broken down first to fuel your run. This may mean the dial shifts on the scales, but it is not necessarily due to fat loss.

Lifting weights also burns more calories per session than cardio alone, plus has the added benefit of using more calories AFTER your workout for muscle repair – that’s a double win! One study reported in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women burned an average of 100 additional calories in the 24 hours after their training session. Another study reported in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Metabolism found that the resting metabolic rate of young women participants increased by 4.2% after a 100-minute strength training session. This study also found some positive benefits to fat oxidation, which is the body’s process for breaking down fatty acids for use as energy. 

How to start resistance training
If all of these benefits sound amazing (which they are) don’t be afraid to give it a go. Weight training does not have to mean big barbells surrounded by meatheads – you can get the incredible benefits with smaller, simple weights and an appropriate class or program. Starting in a group fitness environment is a great way to meet like-minded people and help spur on your motivation. There are many PTs around offering group fitness, or you can check out your local rec centre for their timetable.

Another option is 1:1 training with a PT. Again, there are many qualified PTs around who can help you out, both as private businesses as well as through local gyms.  I also offer personalised fitness plans and home workouts through my nutrition coaching program, which gives you a great starting point or add-on to your current workout routine. For more information, visit my coaching page or drop me a message.

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