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Can Strength Training Make Women 'Bulky' ?


One of the most positive changes in the fitness industry over the past decade has been the upswell in women interested in building stronger, fitter bodies. Tag lines such as ‘strong is the new sexy’ have grown in popularity as more and more women begin to realise what their bodies are capable of.

CrossFit has done wonders for introducing women to strength training.

But what about the significant number of women who are still unsure? After all, doesn’t training with heavy weights make women bulky? Won’t it “give me man shoulders?”.

I’m not sure where the idea that women could easily put on large amounts of muscle mass with ease came from, but I can assure the reader that science and a bit of common sense indicates that this idea is completely ridiculous.


To begin with, women have a very different hormonal profile to men. One of the key differences in this profile is the distinctly smaller proportion of testosterone in their bloodstream. In case you didn’t know, testosterone is a critical component in the muscle building process. Hence why its supplementation (in the form of anabolic steroids) has such potent effects. This means that women already have an uphill battle when it comes to gaining large amounts of muscle.


Another thing to keep in mind is that, regardless of the biological sex of the trainee, building glaringly large muscles just isn’t as easy as “whoops, I did a deadlift and now I have traps like a water buffalo!”. To build THAT kind of muscle takes a rigorous training regimen and a highly dedicated approach to diet and sleep. So unless you’re planning on living like a professional athlete, this probably isn’t something to worry about.


Finally, there is a highly important genetic component to this. The average person being average, means that they will achieve an average amount of muscle gain. This is important because the women that usually spring to mind when you think of “bulky”, not only have worked extremely hard for that look, but are also genetically predisposed to doing so (along with hell from some ‘special supplements’ in some cases).

Jennifer Thompson can bench 144 kg at a bodyweight of just 63 kg. She likely has a natural aptitude for this lifting thing.

So, yes, there is a small chance that you may be a genetically gifted woman and put on muscle fast. However you will never know this unless you try. Whether you like the lean and muscular look for your body or not is YOUR own preference. On the plus side, if you do have good genes for lifting, you could potentially achieve some pretty cool strength feats in sports like weightlifting and powerlifting.


In conclusion, the vast majority of women need not worry about putting on ‘too much’ muscle from resistance training. For a woman to become huge would require 1) a genetic predisposal to big muscles, 2) a deliberate effort to eat and recover enough to get that big, and 3) probably a bit of steroid use.

In reality, the results of a few months of consistent work at a barbell actually ends up giving women the ‘toned’ look that is so desired. Progressively increasing the weight on the bar, along with a healthy diet high in protein, results in more defined muscles and a lower body fat percentage. Not to mention a healthier body and a more enjoyable workout experience.

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