Lifting Weights Without Getting Bulky

Hey. Hi. Hello!

Welcome back, and Happy Friday! This past week has had a lot of ups, and a lot of downs, but we’re in the home stretch now! I’m heading home this weekend to see my family because I have the weekend off, but more importantly to watch the Red Sox play their last games of the season! I’m a HUGE sports fan, and I got tickets right above the dugout, so I’m excited to watch the game (but also shout at the players and maybe get a date, who knows fingers crossed!!)

Today’s post is going to be more rant-y than usual, and probably not as informative, but it’s something that I think needs to be addressed, although so many people already have talked about it before me. I was talking to one of my friends a few weeks back, and she said the magic words, “I don’t want to get bulky” and I was immediately triggered.

Never have I ever met a female who’s first thought about lifting weights wasn’t, “It’s going to make be look bulky.” For so long there’s been a stigma around lifting weights that the second you touch one heavier than 5 pounds, suddenly your physique is going to change to match that of old-school Arnold Schwarzenegger with rippling muscles and whatnot.

I really don’t know what it is in the female brain that automatically triggers this reaction, but I hear it literally all the time. I hear it with my friends, with my female clients, with my coworkers. It’s an immediate response and I LITERALLY don’t understand it. So, today, I’m going to try and breakdown toning, bulking, and try and get to the bottom of why this stigma exists.

What is Bulking?

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Bulking is, in the most basic sense, an eating habit. The term most likely stems from competitive body builders, who during their off-season, will “bulk.” Basically what they’re trying to do is add muscle mass onto their body. But, simply lifting weights won’t do that. That’s why I say bulking is an eating habit.

In order to add muscle mass, your body needs excess calories. You consume a certain amount of calories on a daily basis. Some days you’ll consume more, but on average your body has a BMR (basal-metabolic rate) that it needs in caloric intake in order to survive. If you were to lift weights and maintain the same diet, your body would remain in homeostatis because you’re not adding any extra energy to fuel it.

Instead, people seeking to add/grow muscle mass have to increase their caloric intake so that they can maintain their BMR, but also so that they have excess nutrients/energy to feed their body and fuel muscle growth. However, during this eating period, a side effect is added body weight from the increased calories. As a result, people start to look more “bulky” as they’re adding both fat and muscle.

However, bulking is then offset by a period of “cutting,” wherein the individual will decerase their caloric intake, along with decrease the amount of work they’re doing (ie decreasing the weights) in order to cut the fat so that this new muscle growth is more prominent (this is when they’re preparing for their shows)!

If Bulking is about eating, then what is Toning?

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I would describe toning as being an overall desired body physique. If you ask a female what her fitness goals are (I’m guilty of this, too), they’ll say “Oh I just want to tone up xyz.”  What they’re looking for when they say this is low body fat percentage, and lean and defined muscles. Not often are they looking to achieve the appearance of a physique competitor, but they do want some defined muscularture.

However, if you ask any exercise professional, they’ll tell you that the idea of “toning” doesn’t exist. There are no perfect exericses to “tone” your arms, legs, butt, whatever. Lifting 5 pound weights is not going to help you achieve toned biceps. What they’re really looking for is, like I said before, low body fat percentage and defined muscles. And that, surprise surprise, is going to come from lifting weights.

Repeat after me: TONING IS LITERALLY STRENGTH TRAINING. In order to get tone you can’t just hop on a treadmill for an hour three days a week. Sure, that may help you cut some of the initial fat if you don’t work out regularly, but if not, you gotta lift weights sweetie.

So, What should you do?


They say that losing weight is 80% diet and 20% fitness. So, if you want to achieve this “toned” look then you need to strength train. You need to lift weights. You may want to start with the 5 pounds, but eventually you’ll need to increase that. You need to put your body under constant stress or else your muscles are just going to stay at the level they’re at.

You may also want to consult a dietician/nutritionist (THAT’S ME, ASK ME!!!!) about analyzing your diet and figuring out if it’s conducive or not to achieving this goal. Your muscles need protein to grow. My tip is to try and get protein in at every meal. You won’t need to eat an excess of calories to get to the phsyique you want, but you will most likely need to make some changes.

You don’t need a personal trainer, but that’s what they specialize in. But, if you’re looking to save some coin, go to instagram. There are so many fitness people (EXCEPT STAY AWAY FROM BBG FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IF YOU TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM THIS IT’S NOT TO DO BBG) that post great workouts on their pages/youtube channels (Whitney Simmons is literally my go-to know when I need some changes to my routines, highly recommend).

My Conclusions

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So, I think the main reason why so many women are quick to assume lifting weights leads to bulking is just lack of knowledge. A women is told she’s supposed to look defined, but not muscular. Many people also don’t know that your diet plays a huge role in how your body reacts to gaining muscle.

I’ve had to tell so many people that lifting weights is not going to make them fat. Often times I’ve literally sent them pictures of people I follow on Instagram who notoriously lift weights just so they can see that the phsyiques they’re dreaming about are literally only achievable through strength training AKA LIFTING FUCKING WEIGHTS.

This is definitely a stigma that’s going to be around forever, as long as people just remain ignorant about everything. I’ve spent a few years now studying this stuff to help educate my friends and those around me on the myths and facts behind certain workout routines. Hopefully this helped some of you, too!

Until Next Time!




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