Why Lifting Weights Makes You Bulky: Myths & 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.

Think Again Copy 1 1 | Why Lifting Weights Makes You Bulky: Myths &Amp; Truths

“I don’t want to get big and bulky. I just want to lean and tone my muscles, and look like her (on that magazine)”-Lauryn, B.R. 2011 (Before Recovery) 

“Lifting weights makes me bulky (and I don’t want to get bulky),” #saidmostwomen when it comes to lifting heavy things.

“I know they say that women can’t get big lifting weights, but they don’t know me,” these women also say.

When it comes to strength training, you know weight lifting is good for you. It prevents osteoporosis, boosts your metabolism and equips you to lift your own suitcase into the overhead bin on the airplane (thankyou very much). But, these reasons alone are still not enough to counter the belief that weight training will make you look like the Hulk or a ripped CrossFit stud on ESPN.

I hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong.

Weights Make You Bulky

Strength training alone does not make you bulky, but here’s what can…

1. Not eating enough.

Yup. You heard me right. When we undereat, we stress out or body, consequently, raising cortisol levels, which, in turn, slows down our metabolism and makes our body retain (or gain) weight or “bulk” easier.

2. Not eating fat.

Low fat diets leave our bodies and brains feeling deprived. And when our bodies and brains feel deprived, a few things happen: We crave sugar and carbs more, and therefore reach for these things to ‘fill us’—leaving us with imbalances in our diets (i.e. more carbs, than the balance of protein, fat and veggies). And when we have imbalances, our body gets stressed. Stress works against us (not for us), often resulting in that ‘bulked’ feeling when it comes to lifting weights (See point 1).

3. Not eating enough carbs.

Wait a second…I thought carbs made me gain weight?! Nope. We all need carbs. Veggies, some fruit and some starch all do a body good. When we go into uber-restriction mode, we send our body back into point 1: Underfed…leading to heightened cortisol (stress)…leading to an easier retention of ‘bulk’ and weight.

4. Not varying up movements or training styles.

There is more than one way to skin a cat, and the same thing goes for weight training. There are hundreds of movements out there when it comes to gaining strength and pretty lean muscles (without bulking). When we get stuck in a rut—doing the same thing and expecting different results, of course we are going to see the same ol’ results we always see (rather than the ones we want to see). Challenge your body and your muscles with a variety of movements to keep from getting stuck in a rut. Check out Central Athlete’s video library for hundreds of videos of different movements to incorporate.

5. Not lifting heavy enough.

You don’t have to deadlift 400-lbs. but challenge yourself girl. Talk about a metabolic booster when you actually break a sweat (with good form) while picking up a heavy barbell or bench-pressing a heavy three reps. Don’t fear the barbell.

6. Lifting too heavy—all the time.

Oh gosh…this is getting confusing. You say to lift heavy…and then not to lift heavy?! I say…not do the same thing all the time. Every BODY is different and some body types are going to benefit from more hypertrophy training (10-20 rep range), where as others are going to benefit from more strength (8-12 rep range), and still others, more pure strength (1-5 rep) range is what they need for their goals. If you find that “you bulk every time you lift”—perhaps it’s because you’ve been lifting in one way? Try another.

7. You do too much cardio.

Wait!!! I thought cardio burns more calories. Not necessarily. In fact, when we do too much cardio for our bodies or do the same cardio most days, we burn less calories. When you’re body gets stressed from repetitive movement, it fights with all its might to hold on to whatcha got and a shift in your metabolism also can happen. It burns fuel less efficiently. In addition, when we do the same 30-60 minute StairMaster or Elliptical routine most days, your body goes into “auto-pilot” mode—lacking variety and intensity. Lastly, when we do too much intensity, your body goes into “I am running from a bear at all times” mode (i.e. stress)—leading back to point 1 (elevated cortisol)—which works against you. Geez Louise! It is a fine line.

8. You’re focused too much on calories.

Speaking of calories. What is a calorie? Something bad? Something that makes us gain weight? Something that makes us bulk? Nope. It’s just energy units. And we actually need more quality calories, rather than less to keep our metabolic fire humming and alive. If you find that you “bulk” every time you lift weights…perhaps you aren’t eating enough (again, back to point 1)—calories included.

9. Inflammation.

Ever stubbed your toe only to have it swell up? Inflammation. When our body is inflamed (I’m talking poor digestion and gut health, stress,

10. Over-compensating.

Workout done? Check. Meal time? Check. Often times, women view working out as their golden ticket to earning their food. Once exercise is complete, then they have permission to chow down on the treat or cheat they’ve had their minds on (all workout long). Regardless of what type of workout you do, if a primary reason you workout is to justify what it is that goes into your mouth (or not), you set yourself up for a ball-and-chain struggle with food, fitness and constantly measuring up your body. And when we view food as a reward we earn through exercise, we can easily become disconnected with eating an appropriate amount of fuel for our body.

The bottom line? 

Weight lifting does not make you bulky—but there are a variety of outside factors and stressors that can make it seem that way.

Not sure where to even start?

Thrive Coaching was created for you.

Coaching includes:

  • Someone to help you take the thought out of food rules, the gym and nagging perfectionist in your head
  • Finding the key to freedom (and peace) with your body
  • 1-2 support sessions per month (phone, Skype or in-person)
  • A customized Thrive Life Blueprint with a meal template and fitness program with your health and goals in mind
  • Ongoing e-mail support
  • Your own therapist, nutritionist, trainer and coach-in your back pocket and arm’s reach

Book a free Spark Session with me today to find out more.

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