It’s a no-brainer we exercise for health, and to make our bodies look better. There’s no shame in saying that. However, the type of workouts you do impact how you look.
We’ve all heard myths of cardio making you leaner and weightlifting makes you…bigger? Well, that’s not necessarily the case.
Let’s define what “bulky” is. Yes, it’s subjective, but looking in the dictionary, it’s defined as, “taking up too much space, typically inconveniently large.” Referring to a person, “heavily built, massive, huge.”
"Bulky refers to people who are usually muscular, but also carrying quite a bit of body fat,” said Dr. Layne Norton, a powerlifter and bodybuilding coach, with a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences.
According to Norton, gaining an exponential amount of muscle would require the use of an anabolic steroid.
Despite the science, the myth persists and has for decades. He said that’s for two reasons.
First, powerlifting wasn’t a sport with many lean women when it originated. People thought the more you ate, the stronger you’d be, so most women competing were carrying more body fat.
Norton said another reason is some men may feel emasculated by women lifting heavier than them.
"It gives you a sense of empowerment. It makes you feel capable. It makes you feel strong,” said Brittany Greisen, a fitness and nutrition coach.
Greisen has lost fifty pounds transitioning from cardio to weightlifting, discussing the days she would do hours of cardio – all to get to her “dream” body.
"I turned into a cardio bunny. I feel like a lot of women opt for cardio because they feel like that is the answer if you want to look lean and fit,” she said.
It wasn’t until she transitioned to bodybuilding and weight training that she saw results.
"There's a stigma that if you lift weights as a female, you're going to look bulky. You're going to look manly. You're going to look bigger than you should look,” Greisen.
Now, let’s not shy from the fact you’ll gain muscle mass. However, Norton said there’s a limit to how much muscle you’ll gain from weight training, especially for women training naturally.
Norton conducted a study on muscle gain in young women who had no experience lifting. One group performed higher reps with lower weight to failure. The other group lifted low reps with heavy weight to failure.
Both groups lost the same amount of weight, and gained the same amount of muscle.
It’s not just what you’re lifting, but how much you’re eating plays a role in “bulking”. Norton said if you are restricting calories and eating at your maintenance or below, gaining muscle will be minimal.
“If you're restricted, your body isn't going to have the extra energy to build that muscle mass,” he said.
Norton said it’s simple. Just go with science.
"Go with the science. The science says train heavy. Strength train. Do some cardio to stay fit. If you're worried about getting too bulky, don't eat in a caloric surplus and don't train to failure, and you'll be fine."
There you have it. We can verify lifting weights does not make you bulky.