While exercise can do wonders for your mind, body, immune system, mood, and longevity, we’d be remiss to ignore that many people turn to exercise as a way to achieve a certain physique too. And while we’re on the subject, one of the top myths we want to bust — that lifting heavy weights will make you “bulky.”
For starters, it’s important to point out that adding muscle mass isn’t a bad thing. All bodies are beautiful, and a body that shows signs of strength and hard work should very much be celebrated. That said, everyone has different goals, and it’s SO important to feel comfortable in your own skin.
So why do so many people believe lifting heavy weights makes us bulky? While yes, bodybuilders lift weights, lifting weights doesn’t make you a bodybuilder. We all have friends who can eat pints of ice cream seemingly every day and still be extremely fit and never gain a pound. Does that mean we need to inhale pints of Ben & Jerry’s to achieve the same physique? Of course not (if only!).
This myth has been perpetuated for a number of reasons, particularly among women (that’s another story to unpack on another day), but here’s the deal: weight training is for everyone, regardless of body type and goals. It’s a powerful tool to help you get fit, lean, and healthy — the “bulk” that some people are concerned about is much more about what you eat rather than how you exercise.
Let’s get into what weight training will actually do (including improve your skin — yes, we’re serious!).
3 Reasons Why Strength Training Won’t Automatically Make You Bulky
Bulky Muscles Don’t Happen Overnight
Let’s clear this up first, in case you weren’t totally convinced — myth-busting time!
“Bulking up” is actually a pretty significant task requiring a substantial commitment and rigorous program — people work hard to gain that extra muscle mass. The program typically comprises a heavy weight lifting routine (several days per week, with targeted recovery) and a specific “bulking diet” (we’ll touch on that momentarily) — so simply adding a handful of strength workouts to your schedule doesn’t equate to an instant-bulk.
You Would Need to Ramp up Your Calories A LOT
If you actually wanted to bulk up, you would work with a coach who’d have you start pairing a heavy weight lifting routine (like we said: a specific, targeted program) with a radical diet shift, ramping up your caloric intake and protein. This is often referred to as a bulking diet (the opposite of “cutting”), and the goal is to feed your body with extra building blocks to create more cells (hence, more mass). Every person’s body is different, but if you keep your caloric intake roughly the same while you’re adding in some resistance training, chances are you will actually lose some inches.
Hormones Play a Role Too
Perhaps the clincher of all clinchers, this one’s for you ladies: hormones account for the most important factor when it comes to building muscle and “bulking.” Specifically, testosterone.
Male bodies have higher levels of testosterone, which essentially “codes” their bodies to create more muscle mass. Because of the hormonal differences between biologically male and female bodies and hormone levels, women’s bodies respond very differently to the same routine. Women who want to body-build and bulk have to make extreme changes in their exercise and diet program in order to achieve those kinds of effects.
What Strength Training Will Do
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s what strength training actually does — and why you’ll want to add some new workouts to your own regime.
You’ll Burn Calories
For starters, it’s a killer calorie burner. If physique changes are on your list of goals, look no further.
You’ll Shape & Tone
Your body will change, but more so in terms of composition — think: burning fat while toning muscle. Lean strength without adding inches. Again, this comes down to what your physical goals are, what makes you feel comfortable, and what program you’re on.
You’ll Strengthen Bones
One of the best reasons to add strength training to your workouts is its impact on your bone density (specifically for women who inherently struggle with this in later years). So while you’re building strength and healthier muscles, you’ll also be building strong bones. It also helps that many strength training programs are low-impact, meaning you’ll be extra kind to your joints and prevent bone and cartilage injuries.
You’ll Age Well and Live Longer
If you’re investing in anti-aging creams (hello, retinol) and eating a Blue Zone diet in hopes of aging well and living a long life, you should be strength training, too. Studies have shown that adding in some weight work can add years to your life.
You’ll Improve Heart Health
Another miraculous benefit of adding in some strength training? You’ll protect your heart. Studies have also shown that strength training and weightlifting are cardioprotective, meaning you can reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke!
You May Sleep Better
Struggling to get some sleep? Hit the deck! It’s time for push-ups. A 2017 medical review found that “resistance exercise may be an effective intervention to improve sleep quality,” and that’s not the only study that showed improved Zzzs after a little bit of muscle training.
You’ll Support Your Cognitive Function
While you’re building strong, lean muscles (not bulk!), you’ll also be building a healthier brain! Improved cognitive function and mental health is yet another benefit of lifting heavy weights (and may even help with dementia and neurodegeneration).
Your Skin Will Be Glowing
We know we just talked about retinol a second ago, but seriously — if you’re looking for a glow, look no further. When you exercise and work your muscles, they create a special protein (called IL-15, or interleukin-15, if you’re down to get nerdy with us); that activate the mitochondria of your skin cells — this keeps your skin looking youthful. According to researchers at McMaster University, at a microscopic level, the result can be skin cells that look 25 years younger (!!).
Getting Started With Strength Training
You don’t need to hit the weight racks at a super intense gym to reap the benefits of weightlifting and strength training. In fact, you can get started without equipment! Resistance, lifting weights, and bodyweight workouts all count as “strength training.”
The key is to strengthen your muscles, whether that’s through Pilates, climbing stairs, doing push-ups, or using wine bottles as dumbbells for some arm work. And many strengthening workouts also improve your cardiovascular health and get you a little winded — two birds, one stone!
To get started, try some no-equipment strength workouts using your own body weight as resistance. Keep trying different types of exercises to see what works for you and gets you most excited. From there, you can kick it up a notch and try something with weights!
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to add strength training to your workout plan — starting… right now, perhaps? You can improve your health in so many areas, give yourself a glow-up, boost your mood… all without feeling ‘bulky’ or out of sorts with your body. Sounds good, yeah?
Try some of our favorites, and mix it up to keep things interesting while you’re getting started. If you haven’t joined our community yet, sign up for free and get access to unlimited free workouts, including a whole strength training category!
Remember, it’s your body: how you feel in your skin is most important. If you want to bulk up and show off big strong muscles, then heck yes! We are here to support you on that journey. If you’d rather keep things lean, power to you — and you have nothing to worry about when it comes to lifting weights (only strong bones, a healthy brain, a protected heart, and glowing skin to gain).