Most often the answer for women is no you won't get bulky if you lift weights, however you could.
Let me delve into this topic and eloborate on all of the factors you should be aware of before heading to the weights room.
It might help if we define the term 'bulky'
BULKY - adjective
1.Taking up much space; large and unwieldy.
"a bulky carrier bag"
2.(of a person) heavily built.
"a bulky, overcoat-clad figure"
Bulky by definition seems to refer to a general widness or heaviness. However, I think bulky is somewhat subjective and if I were to term a thing or person bulky some one else may disagree. More over the term bulky could be insulting to one and a compliment to another.
I personally think everyone is beautiful in their own unique way and is allowed to exercise in which ever fashion they choose. (So long as they are looking after their health.) Everyone is uniquly made and therefore I think idealising any particular body shape or glorifying one over another doesn't do any good.
My aim in this article is to show how female bodies respond to different training and educate women on how to achieve the goals they desire while respecting the body they are given.
There are many factors that will determine how your body will look and function and some specific ways to achieve it. All of the variables I will list and explain in this point are controlled variables meaning you can control them and gear them towards the goals you desire.
How many sets and reps you perform.
How much weight you lift.
How long your rest period is.
How much time your muscle is under tension.
Eccentric and concentric loading.
Volume and frequency of training.
Use of plyometrics.
Fast twitch or slow twitch muscle fibres.
Aerobic or anerobic cardiovascular fitness.
Targetting and overloading of specific muscle groupings.
Flexibility and mobility. (Which will effect your weight lifting capabilities.)
What you eat and how much you eat.
...and this is really just skimming the surface...
This point can be explained by using the example of olympic athletes.
If you look at all of the athletes body types who compete at the olympics they all appear very different. They all train differently for an optimal outcome that is specific to their sport. While certain genetic traits and anotmical designs will be favourable for different sports, the athletes still have complete control as to how they train their bodies to become a better athlete. Athlete's conditioning coaches manipulate all of the training variables so that the athletes body becomes like a high functioning specifically engeinered piece of machinery with a specific task in mind to complete.
Athletes aren't worried how they look so much as how they function. But you can see the drastic difference between the look of a sprinter versus the look of a long distance runner.
For this reason it's possible (with a few permaeters) for an individual to determine how they want to look and design their function to achieve said goal.
A little segue way here, but physcial muscle size does not have a direct correlation to strength but this is another topic entirely which I will get into another day.
Now let's look at the factors that you have no control over,
Everything from your ethnicity to family traits will determine your physical responses. Genetically you may be hard wired toward being a better sprinter, jumper or wrestler etc. While we can make drastic chages with our bodies and athletic capacity we can't alter let's say our height or bone structure (without surjery of course.) These predetermined outcomes are hard wired into our genetic coding which we have no control over.
Three body types you should be aware of are depicted in the image below.
Ectomorph: An ectomorph are typically tall and lean with fragile bones and joints. Ecto's find it hard to put on fat and muscle and their frame is generally narrow in their shoulders and hips. Ectomorphs have a fast metabolism.
Mesomorph: A mesomorph has a wider frame and typically puts on muscle with ease. They still have fast metabolisms and don't carry much body fat. A mesomorph has an athletic look and strong bones and joints.
Endomorph: An endomorph is typically short with a wider frame. They find it easy to put on muscle and fat. Endomorphs appear more square and soft. They will still have a good baseline of strength but their metabolism is much slower than an 'ecto' or 'meso' hence why gaining fat is easier.
In this case a mesomorph would put on muscle much faster than an ectomorph and you should be aware of this as an ectomorph will need to train differently to a mesomorph to reach the same destination. You will not necesarily be one singular body type but perhaps a mixture of two.
Anatomical design / anomilies.
This obviosly ties into the factors above i.e. your genetics but every detail of your anatomical design will either help or hinder your ability to lift weights safely. For example someone who has knock knees is going to have trouble squatting without injury from the pressure loading into the knees especially on the medial ligaments. Someone with poor dorsiflextion (foot flexion) will have limited range of motion in their squat and there fore find recruiting gluteal muscles harder. Lifting weights is much more technical in relation to your own body and it's structure or limitations.
--This factor is in the grey zone as it is can be classified as both controllable and uncontrollable. I.E. You can't change what's happend in the past however you did control it at the outset and you can control your training regime in the future.--
Let's look at this in terms of what you have done in the past now being out of your control.
If you have never performed resistance training and are completly new to lifting weights you will experience 'newbie gains' meaning, once you have established good motor control and movement patterns you can expect quick muscle adaptation and a surge of strength gains. Any thing you do will have a great effect on your body composition and muscle fibre structure. However after a year these adadptations will begin to plateu and programming your weight sessions becomes a more useful tool to overcome plateus.
Men produce more testosterone than females who produce more estrogen. While both are anabolic (muscle building) they create different looks. Females will find it much harder to put on muscle because of this hormonal difference.
Further more, some males who have created a 'bulky' physique may have been injecting themselves with anabolic steroids to acheive this size. The natural body builder takes years to put on noticable muscle mass.
Perhaps the last point is somewhat obvious, however it is worth stating. A part of the undesirable 'bulky' shape may be body fat and this should be helped through nutrition and cardiovascular exercise rather than fearing weights. Depending how your body is composed i.e. muscle mass vs body fat % weight training alone may not strip away body fat and despite being stronger and growing muscle mass you may not be able to see the defined muscle until you reach a certain level of body fat %. In this case goal prioritisng will make a difference as to how you use weights to achieve the outcome of fat loss. Whether you are gaining muscle or losing weight will largely depend on how much you eat. Neither goal are more effective done simultaneouly (unless you have been in the gym less than a year.) However weights won't hinder fat loss if programmed into your weekly routine optimally. I hope every knows muscles weighs more than fat so losing 'weight' or measuring success on the scales is completly useless if you are gaining muscle and losing body fat as the scales won't be able to measure body composition - what your body is made up of.
Benifits of weight training
Some women take the fear of getting 'bulky' to far and will avoid lifting weights altogether. This is neglecting a very important aspect of your health. If you are of the mindset that lifting weights is only for men then let me politely try educate you.
Some of the benefits of engaing in resistance training are:
- Stronger muscles,
- Stronger joints and bones - reduced risk of osteoperosis.
- Increases BMR (basal metabolic rate) which helps weight management.
- Improves insulin sensitivity.
- Improved posture.
- Prevention or control of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, back pain, depression and obesity.
- Imporoved coordination and stability.
- Fall realted injury prevention.
- Safer at lifting objects on an every day basis.
- Stronger core and lower back.
- Mitagates the ill health effects from a sendentary job or lifstyle.
- Improved confidence and self esteem.
To wrap this all up I hope women are not afraid of getting 'bulky' in the gym. lifting weights in addition to other forms of exercise can really enhance your health, appearance and life. My best advice is to train for enjoyment, functionality and with a little prior edcation. Remember that you are given one body and it is unique and wonderful. Work within your own peramaters and exercise for you. Don't just copy others becuase chances are your body may respond differently.
If you are serious about your health and fitness goals inlinst the support of experts and save yourself the time and confusion.
If you have any more questions on this matter don't hesitate to reach out for help.