Strength Training Myths: Lifting Makes Girls BULKY??

Strength Training Myths: Lifting Makes Girls BULKY??

Emily R Pappas, M.S.

“Lifting makes girls bulky”–We hear it ALL THE TIME. And quite frankly – we’re sick of it!

Let’s get down to the SCIENTIFIC facts, shall we?

When we lift weights, we are LITERALLY breaking our muscle down.

How our bodies REBUILD and come back STRONGER and ready for the next session depends on two factors

(1) How your HORMONES influence the rate your body is able to recover.

(2) How you FUEL the rebuilding process through nutrition



It is scientifically safe to say that women naturally DO NOT have the hormonal makeup to pack on muscle to make us “big” or “bulky” like men.  We just don’t have high enough levels of those hormones needed for that type of muscle growth!

Women that you may consider “bulky” do not get to looking that way by accident.  That takes years of dedicated work to achieve that look! (and probably some outside help…and hey thats totally OK if thats what you want! but we promise, thats not accidental!!)

With higher estrogen levels, women are actually BETTER suited for recovery than men! (1) 

 Estrogen is an antioxidant and helps us decrease our inflammation, including muscle soreness brought on by training.  

With higher amounts of estrogen compared to men, women are actually able to handle HIGHER LEVELS OF TRAINING since we are able to more quickly rebuild affected muscle tissue. (2) 

What about lifting HEAVY?

Lifting heavy will NOT make your muscles big. Higher intensity lifting is a stressor to the nervous system.  This type of stress is needed to tell your body to use MORE muscles at once.

This means heavier loads will not make your muscles BIG (hypertrophy)!  Instead, bigger loads will make your muscles STRONGER. (1)



If lifting breaks us down, and our hormones help us build back up….what else determines how we rebuild?

FOOD! Remember, food is FUEL! The type of food we eat determines what BUILDING BLOCKS our body has to work with after we lift. (3)

If your plate is full of lean protein, nutritious fats, complex carbs, and veggies, you are on the fast track to that firm athletic look you are after!

If your plate is full of bagels, donuts, pizza, and the occasional salad…we may have a problem.

Remember, its not the barbell that is making you bulky, but what is on your plate that determines how you pack on muscle (or fat….)


IN CONCLUSION:  Lifting + Women’s Hormonal Make Up + Proper Fueling = LEAN, FIRM, STRONG MUSCLE.


Afraid of getting “big” or “bulky”?

Its time we stop shying away from the barbell, and shy away from that extra donut instead:)



(1) Eija K. Laakkonen, Rabah Soliymani, Sira Karvinen, Jaakko Kaprio, Urho M. Kujala, Marc Baumann, Sarianna Sipilä, Vuokko Kovanen, Maciej Lalowski. (2017). Estrogenic regulation of skeletal muscle proteome: a study of premenopausal women and postmenopausal MZ cotwins discordant for hormonal therapy. Aging Cell.  DOI: 10.1111/acel.12661

(2) Vincent, K., & Tracey, I. (2008). Hormones and their Interaction with the Pain Experience. Reviews in pain2(2), 20-

(3) Beck, K. L., Thomson, J. S., Swift, R. J., & von Hurst, P. R. (2015). Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recovery. Open access journal of sports medicine6, 259-67. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S33605