Getting Bulky from Strength Training [Myths and Truths]

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Lauryn 2016 Lauryn 2016 0061 1080X675 1 | Getting Bulky From Strength Training [Myths And Truths]

Suns out, guns out. The temps are rising, which means the tank tops and bikinis are coming out. Here’s a new workout routine to throw into your mix, plus clearing up the myth that strength training makes women bulky.

You’ve heard it before: Strength training is great (not only for building lean muscle, but strengthening your bones and feeling good in your own skin).

But you don’t believe it…fully.

“It makes me bulky,” you say. Or, “I’m scared of getting bulky.”

What about the cardio?

Especially with bikini season among us, perhaps you’ve vowed to ramp up your exercise efforts, which of course, means: the fat-burning cardio, right?

Talk to most any trainer in the gym or consult an old-school training book, and it will tell you, obviously, if you want to get fitter, leaner and meaner, you, of course, should “do more cardio.”

This is the absolute worst advice!!!

“I just want to lean out and feel good,” client Sarah* said.

Sarah had been CrossFitting for over a year, and while she had seen some results and loved being a part of the community, she still wanted to feel good in her own skin.

“I just hold onto weight differently, I bulk up when I lift heavy and do those workouts,” she said.

Unfortunately, her class coach told her if she wanted to “fix it”, she should just do more cardio.

“I have been trying to run or do Stairs most days per week,” she said, adding, “But no results yet…what should I do?!” she asked.

 Sarah JUST WANTED TO FEEL good in her own skin, and lean out and tone up—just a little bit.

So why wasn’t all the extra cardio working?!

Sure, cardio is a great way to break a sweat and may seem like “the way” to get the “body you want” (hello, burn calories, right?)—but cardio (chronic cardio) can actually have the opposite effect that you want for fitness improvement…Unfit.

Unfit?! From cardio?!


I’m talking…Stress.

Running alone is not innately “bad”—but hitting the pavement every day for that same 3-6 mile loop that you “have to do”; ellipticizing hours away on the elliptical; ramping up the StairMaster to Level 20; or doing CrossFit AMRAP after AMRAP after AMRAP, stresses out your body.

And when your bod is stressed (or over-stressed) from repetitive pounding, OR the monotony of doing the same things, day in and day out, it gets burned out, often resulting in things like:

  • Plateaus
  • Lean muscle, tone and fat loss stalls
  • “Skinny fat”
  • Increased thoughts about food, exercise, the body and/or calories
  • Exercise begins to feel like a checklist or checkbox rather than a new adventure
  • Boredom
  • Period loss or infertility
  • Blunted appetite, or insatiable cravings and appetite.

The answer to actually getting more fit?

Get off the hamster wheel and mix it up: It’s all about balance (Weight training included).

You are not going to build lean, pretty muscle running your butt off on the treadmill alone.

Get over the intimidation of the weight zone, or your reservations that weightlifting equals bulking and give the below workout a try this week to get started.

In addition, here are three essentials for guaranteed results:

Do what you love, love what you do.

“Mixing it up” also means doing things that light you up, be it: Yoga, dance, bootcamp, hiking, climbing, swimming, walking—the world is your oyster. When you are doing things you genuinely love (rather than pushing yourself to run to burn off that slice or pizza, or obsessing over your next meal while you kill yourself on the elliptical) naturally leads to less stress, leading to more results.

Build a foundation with nutrition.

No matter what you do for fitness, you cannot out train a “poor diet”, nor can you improve or get more fit without good nutrition. Nutrition is 80% of your results in the gym—and your body needs fuel and deserves fuel from a balance of foods (protein, carbs and fats included) in order to thrive. The reason you may “bulk” when you train could be diet related (perhaps you’re restricting your carbs that your bdoy is extra stressed, and naturally adds more “weight”; or perhaps you are using exercise to “justify” indulging in your favorite sweet every night after dinner). Nutrition is the driver of your results, and a healthy balance (and allowance) of real foods plus lots of water is a win, win, win.

Fear vs. Love.

Fitness is a way to love the body you’ve been given. Not to idolize it. Not to hate it. Not to fear what will happen if you don’t workout or if you don’t do as much cardio. But instead to love the body you’ve been given by taking care of yourself. Build it up to be fitter, stronger, more vibrant and whole for the life you lead outside the gym. Remind yourself of this daily.

Suns Out Guns Out Routine


Note: No need to choose 2 lbs. pink dumbbells or think, “more reps, less weight is the trick.” In fact: No overthinking necessary! Simply choose a weight that is challenging enough for you to perform 8-12 reps of the following exercise circuit, back to back. Rest as needed after each round is complete.

Superset 1:

  • 10 Seated Dumbbell Presses
  • 10 Upright Kettlebell or Dumbbell Rows
  • 10 Bent Over Reverse Flys
    x 4-5 Rounds

Superset 2:

  • 10 Bench Dips
  • 10 Alternated Dumbbell Curls
    x 4-5 Rounds

Superset 3:

  • 5-7 Assisted Strict Pull-ups (hold for 3 seconds at the top)
  • 5-7 Perfect Push-ups (start in plank position, lower slowly to the ground for 5 seconds)
    x 4-5 Rounds
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