Dear Ladies: Don’t Fear Heavy Weights. Lifting Them Alone Won’t Bulk You Up

It’s time we dispel the myth once and for all.

Possibly the biggest misconception, mostly among women, that I have coached is a belief that lifting weights will give them a bodybuilder body composition, complete with giant muscles that protrude for days.

These fearful women point to elite CrossFit athletes—incredibly strong, lean women with big muscles, like Kara Saunders or Brooke Wells or Tia-Clair Toomey—to prove their fears correct.

I had one client who was so scared of getting big lats that she refused to do strict pull-ups unless she used a supinated grip, because she knew a supinated grip would allow her to use more biceps and less of her lats.

Here’s the thing: These muscular CrossFit women, like Saunders, Wells and Toomey, have spent years and years training way more hours than most people could ever imagine, and definitely eating way more food than most women eat. Not only that, they’re likely taking additional protein powders and maybe some supplements, such as creatine, to help their bodies develop more muscles.

It goes back to the old, but true saying, You are what you eat.

Strength training will help you increase testosterone and human growth hormone in your body, as well as speed up your metabolism. This means you’ll be able to burn more calories as you increase your lean muscle.

In this sense, a faster metabolism might allow you to eat more food without gaining weight, but strength training alone won’t lead to massive muscle growth.

To truly increase muscle mass, you would also need to bulk up your diet considerably. Ask any bodybuilder. Or ask the 2018 World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson, who eats 8,000 calories a day: Exercise alone doesn’t get you big.

Or take 2019 CrossFit Games athlete Emily Rolfe. She is 5-foot-7 and now 150 lb. Her goal was, in fact, to bulk up, and despite lifting heavy weights nearly every day, she didn’t get big.

“It was super hard for me to gain muscle,” Rolfe admitted. It took increasing her macronutrients for her to truly build strength, and some size, though she’s still quite petite, albeit incredibly lean.

Rolfe consumes 3,100 calories each day. Specifically, she eats 175 grams of protein each day, 387 grams of carbohydrates and 93 grams of fat.

To put that protein into meal form, that would roughly mean 3 eggs for breakfast, half a pound of chicken for lunch and a pound of salmon for dinner, which is quite a bit of food for most women.

Meanwhile, 387 grams of carbohydrates is equivalent to 5 lb. of potatoes or 55 cups of cooked spinach.

“I used to be a twig. It’s still a work in progress, but the nutrition has definitely helped as I was not eating nearly enough before,” added the 30-year-old Rolfe.

The point is: Actually bulking up, for most women, is a conscious, deliberate effort and is actually very challenging to do. So don’t fear lifting weights, ladies: It will help speed up your metabolism, become leaner, increase your strength, protect your bone density and help you be just an overall healthier human being.

Featured image from Emily Rolfe on Instagram, original photo by @mikeystevensonphotos