Almost every girl who steps into the gym for the first time has the same concern when their trainer suggests a weights program – they’re going to ‘bulk up’ and become some muscular monster with chunky veins everywhere (sound familiar??). Nothing could be further from the truth. Weight, and particularly strength, training in conjunction with mobility and conditioning work will give you that toned body which you’re after. So let’s plough on and see why you shouldn’t fear weight training…
What weights WILL do: What weights WON’T do:
1) Hormone Levels
This is the biggy. Simply put – females don’t have the right stuff to build significant amounts of muscle. To understand why, I’m going to have to give you a really quick lesson as to how muscle is created in the first place – The protein we eat is broken down to amino acids and is used to rebuild your muscles bigger and stronger after every training session (the type of tranining you do with the weights has a big impact here – all my female clients look to improve strength, not size). Your testosterone levels will dictate how much of the protein you take in goes towards this muscle building process. On a very basic level, more testosterone = more muscle.
Guys have significantly higher levels of naturally occurring testosterone than women, and that’s why they find it easier to build muscle (that being said – talk to most guys who lift weights and they’d complain they can’t build it fast enough, but that’s usually because they’re not training or eating right!!).
The super-muscled women you see in bodybuilding shows get like that by taking artificial testosterone injections (amongst other anabolic steroids) to increase the levels of the necessary hormones far in excess of what even the a normal guy would have. If they didn’t do that… well, they wouldn’t look anywhere near the same as they do.
So… women won’t build as much muscle as guys is because they lack the key ingredient in the muscle building process.
The girls you see in bodybuilding competitions are there for a reason – their body is designed for it. We all do certain things better than others, maybe you’re a fast runner, or have a talent for dancing, well those girls have a ‘talent’ for muscle building. The way their body is constructed allows them to build muscle easier than the average female.
The ones you see on the magazines and on TV are at the absolute peak of this genetic “talent” level. You’re not going to look like them because you’re not built the same way as them. It’s like going for a jog and thinking you’re magically going to turn into the next Sonia O’Sullivan. The girls you see on stage are at the top of their field and it’s taken years and decades of dedication to get there. While you may not like their look, you have to respect their dedication. They train like pro-athletes and have a near 24/7 obsession with muscle building. And then there’s the testosterone/anabolic steroid issue too…
So… there’s no reason to worry about getting big and bulky is because your body is not naturally designed to do it, you’re not training for it, and you haven’t spent 10-15 years spending every waking moment thinking about bodybuilding.
Building large amounts of muscle is hard. REALLY hard. It takes hours in the gym, serious dedication to eating correctly, adequate amounts of sleep and a whole lot of time. It DOESN’T just ‘happen’.
From a diet perspective, you need to be consuming calories at a VERY significant level, to the point where you spend almost all day uncomfortably full. If that doesn’t describe you, great – that’s good news for you!!
Good news??! Well most of my female clients want to lose fat, slim down and tone up. To do that you have to take in less calories daily than you expend, you need to shift the energy balance equation to a deficit, and, in that situation it’s very rare that any muscle building can happen. In novice trainees it can happen to an insignificant extent, but the result is a ‘toned’ and slim look, rather than big and bulky. I’m taking some liberties in my description of the physiological changes which occur, but for the purposes of this post, the description is adequate. If anyone wants a more detailed description or clarification, drop me a mail and we’ll talk further about it.
So… as with all weight loss and weight gain, controlling your calories will dictate your results. You’re not going to build a significant amount of muscle without eating massive amounts of food.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that weight training isn’t ‘bad’ and won’t make you big and bulky. There’s another blog post in the works about the benefits of strength training for women which examines all the positives and reasons you MUST do it. Make sure to subscribe, or check back, so you can give it a quick read when it’s posted because I think you’ll be pretty shocked at how effective intelligently designsed strength programs are when it comes to fat loss.