Can women get too big lifting heavy weights?
There are a ton of articles going around the internet these days on women and weightlifting. Most of these articles are focused on reassuring women that if they lift weights they won’t end up getting “too big” or “too bulky”. They like to throw around numbers about women’s testosterone levels vs. men’s and how its literally impossible for women to get too big and too muscular lifting weights. Then they usually show some image of a very fit women in what looks like her underwear to show, hey look at her she’s muscular, lifts heavy weights and she looks awesome…if you lift heavy weights you could look just like her!
Before I get into my take on this issue I should mention that I love heavy lifting. I also make sure most of my clients are lifting heavy as well…even the women. I’ve also NEVER had a client get too “bulky” lifting weights in all my 16 years as a Coach.
I believe everyone can lift heavy without having to worry about getting too big or too bulky. My issue isn’t with lifting in general…it’s with the total generalization that’s happening. “Everyone should be Olympic Lifting and as heavy as possible”, “You will never get too big and you will always look good if you lift”, “If you’re not lifting you’re not working out”. That kind of crap.
This kind of mentality is very narrow-minded and tends to come mostly from strength coaches who have been solely focusing on helping people get strong over the years and not working with clients who have other types of goals. They live in a strength and weightlifting bubble. There is nothing wrong with that bubble as it helps them be amazing at what they do. BUT there are other types of training and there are other types of individuals out there with goals other than just getting big and strong!! Shocker I know :)
Ok so can women actually get “too big” or “too bulky” lifting heavy weights?
First up you should know that it is extremely hard for both men or women to get too big or too bulky just by lifting weights…especially if we don’t eat enough food to go with our heavy training. Most of us are just not meant to put on and hang on to large amounts of weight…this includes fat or muscle!
It’s important to understand that women do not produce as much testosterone as most males…but some produce more than others. Most women do not put on much muscle when they hit the heavy weights…but some do, especially in certain areas. So to totally generalize women and say they’ll never gain too much muscle lifting heavy weights is not actually true.
Over the years I’ve worked with lots of women who can easily put on too much muscle for their personal goals. That part must be understood, so let me explain…
I’ve worked with many past professional athletes who put on muscle extremely fast in their quads when they train their legs too often or too heavy. Years of being a pro ice skater or gymnast have given them the ability to put on muscle in their thighs very quickly. Personally, I’m attracted to fit women and muscular thighs so I don’t see this as a problem…BUT I’m not the one who has to fit into skinny jeans and wear skirts every day. So when I get a client who tells me “hey Jade I put on muscle really easy in my arms or really easy in my thighs and I currently don’t want huge muscular thighs” I better pay attention! If I don’t and I just run with the theory that all women should lift heavy and CAN NEVER put on too much muscle I’d be an idiot…I would also get fired.
The truth is, some men put on muscle really easy while some men will struggle their whole lives to put on 5-10 pounds of lean muscle. The same goes for women. Some women will always be the Gwyneth Paltrow types and never get too big from lifting weights….but then you have some women who are just built more to be an athlete and they gain muscle much easier than other women. Some women love that they put on muscle easily and some women do not.
It’s not up to you or me to decide how someone should look or how they should train. We are all different and we all have different ideas of how we want to look and feel. Some of it is personal preference and some of it is for professional reasons. If I get an actress who needs to fit into a tight leather outfit for a specific movie role and I know her legs could easily get too big to fit into that outfit why would I do lots of heavy squats with her? If I get a model who needs to look lean and toned for her upcoming swimsuit shoot and I know she builds upper body muscle fast why would I do tons of heavy overhead presses and pull-ups with her?
I think more than ever people are generalizing how we “should eat” and “should train” and they are doing it from a very narrow minded viewpoint.
If you’ve chosen to be a vegetarian who loves to run and do yoga for your exercise then all the power to you. Who the hell am I to say “you should be eating paleo and olympic lifting as everything else is irrelevant.” Once you start to embrace the fact that we are all different, have different genetics, different tastes and goals it becomes much easier to not only help people but also encourage each other and love people for their differences. We are all unique and that’s what’s amazing about us!
Ok so this is the part of my writing where I have to summarize why I’ve taken the time to totally contradict what mainstream fitness is telling you as a women, which is: you are exactly the same as every other woman on this planet…you will never get too big training with heavy weights because having big muscular thighs is sexier than skinny toned legs, being able to squat huge poundages makes you a better person than someone else, Crossfit bodies are more functional that everyone else’s and everything you think about your body is totally wrong as someone with a blog tells you so ;)
Most of us (men and women) won’t ever get too big or too bulky lifting heavy weights, but some people just have the gift of muscle and depending on their personal goals they might not want to train a specific way…even if it’s currently popular.