The real truth about lifting and bulking

Muscle is beautiful. Muscle is powerful. And muscle is darn right magical when you think about it!

A muscle contracts or releases in order to pull our bones closer or farther together, which creates movement. But muscle also makes us look hot as hell and enables us to do really cool things at the gym. And carry our bottles of wine home from Trader Joe's.

Muscle gives us a fit, lean look especially when eating a fit, lean diet.

Yet, so many women still cringe at the word "muscle". While I do believe the conversation is changing drastically for the better and lifting is thankfully becoming less taboo, many women are still terrified by the common misconception that lifting weights will make them look "bulky" or "man-like". And even worse, I think there is a bit of shaming going on when fitness professionals quickly retort, "Lifting won't make you bulk, that's impossible. You're a woman, you don't have enough testosterone for that. Stop whining and go lift." So now we have a population of women who are not only afraid to lift, but afraid to admit they are afraid to lift. Womp womp.

I think the best way to remedy this fear is to educate: teach women how muscle is built, ways to maximize their training for lean goals, and how to eat for lean goals. This is something I am dedicated to as a trainer myself, and hopefully this blog post can serve as a tipping point for any woman who's questioned the efficacy of lifting, woman to woman.

Lean vs Toned

Yes, it is true that lifting weights is scientifically proven to be one of the most efficient ways to promote fat loss while retaining muscle, which is a critical combination to looking lean or..."toned". Adding resistance to our workouts imposes (good) stress on the muscle, forcing it to adapt to the stress or load. The more we force our body to adapt, the stronger and fitter we get in the process. And, the leaner we can also get, when supported by a healthy lean diet.

Now, I say "toned" in quotations because “toned” is a phrase that the media/fitness industry made up as a catchier synonym to actually mean "lean". Tone, or muscle tonus as per the textbook definition, actually describes the muscle fibers and the rate of muscle contraction at an internal, nearly microscopic level, and has little to nothing to do directly with your six pack.

If someone says they want a “toned” look, what they most often mean is they want to be lean. When you are lean, you have a lower body fat percentage. A lower body fat percentage implies that you've removed the excess layer of fat that sits on top of the muscle, exposing the beautiful musculature underneath. Including making visible that highly coveted six-pack! After all, we are all already born with a six pack: it's called the rectus abdominus. It's just a matter of getting lean enough to unveil it.

Now, when I said musculature, did that word scare anyone? If it did, you’re not alone. We fear what we don’t know. This is why some women have a hard time trusting that lifting won't create Hulk-like muscles, and it isn't their fault! This misconception is due to MISINFORMATION, LACK OF INFORMATION, DISMISSAL and PERCEPTION.

Debunking the Myth

She’s heard in the past that lifting makes you bulky.

Is it possible for some people put on muscle mass faster than others? Yes! These body types are classified as "mesomorphs", meaning that genetically they are predisposed to building muscle faster and easier than others. The other two types or ectomorph (thin build, difficult to acquire and maintain mass) and endomorph (those who naturally tend to hold on to more body fat and have trouble losing). But before you immediately dive into classifying yourself as a meso, I want you to understand some things about muscle mass first to avoid misinformation.