Attention Ladies: Strength Training Will Not Make You Big And Bulky...

Attention Ladies: Strength Training Will Not Make You Big And Bulky (But It Might Make You Sexy As Hell!)

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Strength training for women

I can still hear it from some of my old female clients when I introduce the squat,  “I don’t want my thighs to get big.”

And what I usually tell them is that the body will go where it is supposed to go.  Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, and it’s certainly possible that squats will add a bit of size to a lady’s legs.  But not in a bulky or unattractive way.  Your leg size is usually more a problem with your diet than with lifting weights.

Strength Training For Women

If you lift weights + have a clean healthy diet you’ll get that “lean and toned” look that all women seem to be looking for.

Let me get one thing, clear ladies…Females do not have the requisite testosterone to build bulky unattractive muscles.  Unless you’re popping needles in your ass or pumping testosterone in your body some other way, you will not get big and bulky.  Instead, strength training will lead to a sleek sexy physique.  Think Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2.  Or Jessica Biel (hot!) in Blade.

hot-girls-lifting

So fear not the weights, Junkettes.  And purple vinyl covered 6-pound dumbbells are not weights.  Keep the following tips in mind as you travel the path of strength training:

Lift just like a guy would. Women should use the exact same movements as men.  Deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses should be staples in anyone’s fitness regimen.  Adjustments made to poundages and other indicators of intensity should be made for fitness level, not gender.

Upper body strength is often an issue, but can be improved with training. Push ups and pull ups are the bane of many a female client when they start training with me.  Yes, on average men are noticeably stronger in the upper body movements.

But there are plenty of exceptions to this that show women can build phenomenal strength through their upper body.  Damned near any 15-year-old girl gymnast will crush my ass in a pull-up contest.

Weight fluctuation and “the girls”. I’ve seen it time and time again if a client has her weekly weigh-in and its that time of the month a 1 to 3-pound swing upward is common.  Another common scenario I’ve seen from female weight loss clients is dropping a cup size in the breasts.  This occasionally causes some concern.  And when it does, I point out that there has also been a noticeable reduction in the waist and hips.  Spot reducing is a myth.  When fat loss occurs, it happens everywhere.  And yes, even from “the girls”.

Instead of just focusing on the scale, you’d be wise to take pictures every 2 weeks of your body, and also make note of how your clothes are fitting.  If your clothes are getting baggier, and your pictures look better every week then that’s the best anyone can ask for!  And when the guys start to notice, you’ve hit the holy grail 🙂

So there you have it, ladies.  Don’t buy into that “weaker sex” crap for a minute. Grab a barbell, feel the iron in your hands, and get ready to lift heavy!

For a good workout + nutrition, you can check out my article on here or if you’re interested in purely strength training check out the strength training workout

– Vic

P.S. – Ladies leave me a comment below and let me know the types of workouts you are doing…  Do you lift weights?  Do you use bodyweight exercises (still very good)?  I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.. leave me a little note below 🙂

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51 COMMENTS

  1. Vic you rock!! Well said and so true! I get so frustrated hearing this from my female clients over and over again. Even my Mom who is a 57 year old pot-menopausal woman is worried she might get big and bulky…so frustrating (sorry Mom)! I lift heavy weights 4 times a week and focus on big moves like Squats, DL, Pull ups, Dips etc and I am 118 pounds at 5’4″. Hardly ‘big and bilky’, but I will say one thing, I have a superb ass! lol!

  2. Damn straight VIC. I was saying the exact same thing in my bodysculpt class I teach this morning. If you are not huffing and blowing out in the last 3 reps of your set… YOU ARE NOT LIFTING HEAVY ENOUGH! Do you know what happened? It was GREAT.. next set… required a short break while every girl in my class headed over the stack of weights to pick up heavier weights~! It was so exciting VIC. Finally..maybe the message is sinking in. We are NOT going to look like BOYS because WE ARE NOT BOYS! duh! there was not 1 girl in the room after that with less than a 10 lb DB. we were actually doing my ‘drill’ from my CHALLENGE this morning… the Push Press/DL Suitcase COMBO. I actually had a few girls with 12.5 and 15# DBs..and you know what? I heard some heavy breathing going on finally~ It was so amazing… This in turn of course only inspired me to go as heavy as I possibly could when it was time for me to challenge myself with my workout. I am proud to say I finished 5 rounds of 8 reps using a 25# DB for my pushpress and 35# on my DL Suitcase… not tooo bad for an almost 52 year old lady..hahaha… No stopping me… I have muscles..and they are GORGEOUS and I AM SO PROUD OF THEM~ i CAN’T WAIT TO THE do ‘drill’ again when it cycles thru.. i’m ready to go heavier on my DL… I was really pushing a few of the pushpresses on my left side with the 25#..but it is supposed to be CHALLENGING and INTENSE..that’s what makes it WORK!.. but heck…it’s only 8 reps… I knew I could ‘push” those out! Thanks VIC as always for the great INFO and inspiration…not to mention the BEST DEMOS on the whole NET~
    xoLisa 🙂

    a true GYMJUNKIE GIRL and DAMN PROUD OF IT~

  3. hey Vic-I lift weights! I lift heavy (for me) and I love it. I am currently working on a 135 bench press and can push 540 on a decline leg press. I am not big and bulky. I am working on getting lean and defined.

    Fear not the free weights ladies! They can be very liberating.

    • You absolutely GET IT! You have to lift heavy, and what constitutes “heavy” will be different for each individual. Lift as much as YOU can lift. Great work!

  4. Good form Vic. But you must also think about what some women perceive as “too bulky”, and the aforementioned women fit that description for some.

    Check out this interesting post by Leigh Peele:
    http://www.leighpeele.com/bulky-muscles-and-training-females-the-definition

    But I honestly hypothesize that women should lift challenging weights, but at a slightly lower volume than men. Like instead of 5 sets of heavy squats or deadlifts, 2 should do just fine. Basically Pavel Tsatsouille’s basic “Power to the People” workout is something women should aim for, IF they want as little bulk as possible. Bulk, in this case, like Jessica Biel.

    • Interesting comment by JE Gonzalez there (and an interesting article that he/she linked to). What is “bulky” is a complex issue and varies wildly from woman to woman. However, I don’t agree with JE Gonzalez that women should do lower volume. The same rules apply to women as men: if you want to bodybuild, use bodybuilding sets and reps; if you want to get stronger, use max strength set and rep protocols. I’ve not read any evidence as to why women should do less volume than men and I’ve certainly never applied this to myself.

      It’s good that you are raising the issue with your clients, Vic, and reinforcing the message. However I do wish that more women talked about this issue as it’s not quite the same when male trainers write about it (as many do).

      That Leigh Peele post, while I don’t necessarily agree with all the points, does approach the ‘too bulky’ issue head on. The more that debate is played out, the better the chance that minds might start to change.

      • I agree completely that some issues will be better received by a woman when they come from a woman – especially in regards to their body. When I teach self defense seminars at my martial arts school, I always try to have a female instructor on hand just for this reason. So keep spreading the word! Thanks!

    • They say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I suppose bulk is in the eye of the beholder too. My contention is that the body is designed and intended to lift heavy objects. It’s also designed for short intense bursts of activity (sprinting, jumping, etc.). When those two forms of exercise are combined with a solid diet of fruits, vegetables, meats, and nuts the body goes where it is supposed go. How aesthetically pleasing that is will certainly vary from person to person.

    • Wow…interesting article. I can’t BELIEVE that people think Jessica Biel et al are BULKY! They simply look healthy and toned to me. Maybe Sir Mix Alot needs to make a comeback…

  5. When I first started lifting I really wondered to what exactly I was aspiring to.

    Then I found this fabulous picture of Linda Hamilton and I put it up on the wall of my exercise room.

    Whenever I feel like giving up (and I think about it every single day) I just look at that picture and think, “I want to to look just like HER.”

    And then I try for 20 more push-ups 🙂

    • Finding a good source of motivation is the key to maintaining consistency. It sounds like that picture of Linda Hamilton has helped you quite a bit. Keep it up!

  6. “Adjustments made to poundages and other indicators of intensity should be made for fitness level, not gender.”

    I love you. I am so weary of trainers and fitness pros who tell women to grab an 8 pound dumbbell.

    I do push-ups, kettlebells, squats, planks (side and front), deadlifts, good mornings, and I’m a Spin Instructor. I just mix in a little of something on top of every single Spin class that I teach (for myself, not with my students).

  7. YEAH BABY!! I don’t know HOW MANY TIMES I SAY the same things to my chick friends … c’mon ladies… stop the insanity. Lift!! and lift as bloody heavy as you can!! you won’t look like Arnold, but you WILL look insanely toned!!

    get with the program, then get ON a good lifting program!

    this post rocks!
    thanks
    GWNN

  8. Hi,

    I’m doing Cathe Freidrich’s STS program. Pretty
    tough stuff.

    Question: What happens to the weight training peri- menopausal woman. All that friggin hormonal imbalance. Can women build bigger muscles at that point in their lives.

    • One of my longest standing female clients is 60 years old. She deadlifts(160lb max at 120lb bodyweight), she squats, hell she even does power cleans and snatches.

      Her strength has gone up. Indicators of osteoporosis have disappeared. But has she gotten bigger? No, just healthier.

  9. Lifting heavy has helped me immensely, I am a 27 year old female. In the past 18 months it has allowed me to drop over 60lbs of fat and put on muscle. I’ve lost over 30 inches total from my bust, waist, and hips. Of course eating properly has greatly assisted me in my journey but so has my lifting. I have about 40lbs more that I want to loose and know that lifting will help me get there and help me look fantastic when I do. I’m currently 215lbs and I lift 3X a week, on a 2 day split, my numbers are as follows:
    Day 1:
    Back squats: 167lbs
    Bench: 135lbs
    Press: 89lbs

    Day 2:
    Deadlift: 247lbs
    Dumbbell Rows: 60lbs
    Good mornings: 90lbs
    Calf Raises: 225lbs

  10. Just another girl throwing her LOUD voice of support behind lifting heavy! As a Spin instructor, as much as I love it, it’s only going to do so much for me and the facets of being FIT are way more than cardio. I lift heavy twice a week currently, have a ‘conditioning’ day of bodyweight exercises, single leg work and some high(er) rep stuff that I just love and then throw in teaching a class or two a week, some Triathlon training and call it an excellent busy, active week. Come winter I will add one more heavy day and spend the dark months trying to increase strength a bit.
    I really think all those ladies with the pink dumbells are doing a disservice to themselves and wish I could convert them all – and I see a lot of them at the gym!

    • If we keep spreading the word about women getting great results with heavy training, perhaps there will be a day without vinyl covered 4 lb. dumbbells. I can dream can’t I?

  11. hey Vic

    Thanks for the shout on women 🙂

    I don’t weight lift as I train at home. But I bodyweight – push ups, squats, body rows, abstraps, burpees! – and have seen massive improvements in my shape/strength/endurance even though I could still lose 20lbs of fat! I LOVE my new defined shoulder/back/thigh/ab muscles and carry myself in a much stronger and healthier frame. I can just feel it!

    Christine – I’m sure you’ll find that a lot of women in their 40’s, 50’s & 60’s are weight training in SPITE of the darn menopause! The point is to maintain muscles at this point in life is the best thing you can do! (I’m 45) I never want to be a frail old lady! And the main reason you become frail? by depleting muscle mass!

    Build those muscles girls! 😉

    Tusc 😀

    • Hey TS. WHY don’t you weight train just cuz you train at home? I train at home and I get HEAVY (feel free to check my blog, its about getting ripped at home).. I have a small selection of heavy DBs & heavy weight fitness bands (and a pullup bar installed) and TRUST ME, its doable… and no I don’t live in a big house or train out a garage. I live in a teensy apartment on the 16th floor of a highrise in the middle of the city… floor space is about 7ft x 7ft. Its totally doable girl!!! Go buy a set of adjustable DBs… anything you can do with a BB you can modify to be done with DBs.

      that’s it. my 2 cents!! LOL

      Jackie
      ps. I’m 44… please don’t use the M word yet! LOL

      • Thanks, Jackie. I agree that just about any exercise you can do with a barbell can be modified and done with dumbbells. And often the dumbbell equivalent is actually HARDER to do. Thanks again.

  12. If I did not have this information I would still be stuck in the dark ages of only cardio! Thanks once again Vic. I mean I love going for long walks and jogs but I have to admit they have yielded moderate results. This is what I was missing out on. Thanks to your incessant hammering I have accepted the importance of weights. I was going to the gym before but now I know the importance. Thanks!

  13. I used to cardio until I was blue in the face, but I never saw significant changes in the way my body looked until I started seriously lifting. I thrill when I am next to a guy at the gym and can move more weight than him. I set incremental goals for myself (add another 5lbs to my bicep curl, for example) and have a few larger goals that I’m working towards as well. I am dying to complete an unassisted pull-up and can currently heft about 90% of my body weight– so close! I also like when my boyfriend compliments me on my “guns”. I do not feel bulky, but leaner than ever before.

  14. When I met my girlfriend she add lost almost 80 lbs by herself by dieting alone. I knew she still wanted to lose some more fat and get fit. I helped her set up a workout program based around strenght training and after a month she loved the results she had gotten.

    Now she loves lifting and she’s lifting heavy.

  15. Whether someone is going to look bulky is not only in the eye of the beholder, but in the person’s personal genetic make-up. Leigh’s article is really good.

    e.g. I am a 30-year-old woman, 5’5”, 130 pounds, and I have short, solid legs. 26” waist, 20” thigh. Divine ass. Strength training makes me look better, not bulkier; all the cardio in the world isn’t going to make my legs longer. Someone whose build is naturally longer and leaner-looking isn’t going to look like me from lifting heavy things.

    • Agreed. Genetics are a big factor in how a person’s physique looks as a result of training and proper nutrition. And that’s really what I mean when I say the body will go where it is supposed to go. As far as the beholder thing. . . I happen to think Jessica Biel is HOT! Others apparently think she is bulky. To each their own!

  16. Hey Vic,

    love this post. I am currently competing in a body transformation contest and i know ill have to lift heavy to have a chance at winning. Did Lindsey learn how to do the cleans and presses just from the summer competition? she makes them look easy! Anyway I’m pumped about lifting and how its changing my body. Rock on all you women that lift heavy!

    Steph

    • I wish I could take credit for Lyndsey’s technique on that lift. She’s actually doing a clean and jerk, which is harder from a technique stand point for most folks (including myself). I believe she took a weight lifting class in college and that is where she learned the movement.

  17. Great post Vic! I find myself explaining this same thing to clients all the time, over and over again.

    They are freaked out when I start most of them out with 15lb dumbells instead of the little tiny ones that weight less than their own hand.

    I do a lot of body weight exercises along with heavy weights. I am one of those people who build quicker on my lower body, but just keep in mind how much better my legs look with some muscle on them instead of being all flabby and fat!

    Again..good stuff…

  18. Wow. I wish I *had* big, bulky thighs. At the moment, I have thighs that appear to be made of cottage cheese. (They’re changing, due to going to the gym on a regular basis and doing squats and running, but it’s slow going.) It’s beyond me why any woman in her right mind would *want* the flabby look in the thigh area. I thought most women wanted to get rid of the flab there.

    And anyway, the only time I’ve EVER seen ‘bulky thighs’ on any woman has been of the Olympic speed skater variety. And they train harder than any of the massive guys in the gym. A few squats are certainly not going to do that!

    I just roll my eyes every time I hear complaints from women scared of ‘becoming bulky’ with weights. I know three of them personally: two at my workplace and my sister-in-law. Part of my motivation in weight training is to prove them wrong. 😉

    Thanks for your article!

  19. Very intriguing conversation. I think it’s all relative. If I’m tiny and like it, I’m going to think a woman with solid muscle is big. If I’m overweight, I’m going to wish I was the skinniest person on the block, so I’m probably going to desire a body that’s rail thin. The word bulky is interesting in and of itself. When I think of bulky, I think of being overweight, or a big meathead guy in the gym with muscle and a large layer of fat over it or a round belly. I certainly don’t think of a lean, muscular woman as being bulky. I’ll be glad when we start focusing on things like balance, flexibility, strength, and functionality instead of being as thin as a starving movie star. Truth is, when my quads make my jeans too tight, it’s always my nutrition that needs to be cleaned up, not my heavy weight lifting regime.

    • Very well put, it really is all relative. And I agree, nutrition is usually the culprit and not the training when things are a bit off track. I like your style! I’m going to check out your blog right now! 🙂

  20. Thanks for the tips, I’ve been coming to this realization that I have to get those weights out. I have a dumbell set that is adjustable so I’ll start there. I’m struggling with a push up so will do the “from the knees” type until I get stronger.

    I got a small notebook yesterday for a food log and one for my husband. He has about 30 lbs to lose and I’ve got about 10lbs. I’m not overweight but I’m flabby and I’m tired of being “just a little pudgy”. Appreciate your stressing that “fuel” aka diet is 80% of the battle. I’ve been exercising (jogging, walking) then EATING MORE. AAACK. I’d like to get lean and toned.

    I believe you said you work out HARD for about 15 minutes lifting? I like that aspect too.
    I’ll update you in a couple of week 🙂

    • Keep us posted, Nancy. And yes, my personal workouts rarely last longer than 15 minutes. Some are under 10 minutes even.

      Track your diet and training and get back to us with your results.

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