Five years ago, I shared a workout routine featured in the New York Times to a co-worker who was starting to hop on the health trend too. When she saw that the trainer was a guy, she said, “Wait, am I going to end up looking like him??” She was worried that she was gonna end up looking as bulky and as manly as the trainer in the photos. I didn’t know the answer to her question then. Will training with a male trainer result in a mannish physical form? Will lifting weights automatically make a woman bulk up? My instincts said no, but I had no sources to corroborate it, so I let the topic drop.
You see, five years ago, I was also just starting on my wellness journey. Back then, in fact, I called myself a “health buff wannabe” (I call myself a “wellness enthusiast” now). All I knew about fitness was running. Boy, was I totally into running then! Strength training was mentioned to me several times, but – not really knowing enough about its benefits – I didn’t really pay it much mind.
Anyway, going back to my acquaintance’s query, I’ve read enough literature now to know that the answer is NO. Men and women are built differently. People only bulk up if they choose to do so.
Strength training does not necessarily mean bulking up
I trawled the Internet and got snippets of pertinent information from some of the most reliable fitness websites I trust. For starters, let’s hear what Steve Lamb of Nerd Fitness has to say about several strength training myths(boldface mine):
“You know those women bodybuilders who look really bulky? They eat, train, and take supplements specifically so they can look like that! They’ve probably been working towards that goal for years and years.
Here’s the truth: when you pick up heavy things, your muscles get STRONGER (but not necessarily bigger). If you pump yourself full of testosterone and eat way more calories than you are burning every day, you will get bigger.”
A post shared by Hilary Isaac 🇵🇭🇺🇸 (@hilaryisaac) on
Tho photo above is from former CNN Philippines anchor and bikini athlete Hilary Isaac’s Instagram account. This inspiring fit mama participated in this year’s Arnold Classic Asia Multi-Sport Festival. Needless to say, she trains and eats specifically to get into tip-top competition shape.
““Bulky” is completely subjective. When it comes to our bodies, it’s up to us to decide what level of muscularity we desire for ourselves.
Training for strength gains and training for lean mass gains are different. There is overlap of course, but it’s entirely possible to train for strength while keeping muscle gain to a minimum.“
The GGS post also says that each body is different, so – as per the real life examples shared in the link above – women who lift using the same exact weights will still end up looking different from one another. Lifting and strength training will just transform you into a strong version of your unique self.
“So you don’t want to compare biceps measurements with your husband? No problem! Your hormones won’t allow you to. Women, while superior in many ways (could not help myself), we just don’t have the levels of testosterone our gender counterparts do. Therefore, the good news is that you will only bulk up if you train to. Depending on your goal, the type of program you choose will help you create the best results.”
So if you see a woman with muscled definition, that only means one thing: that woman trained to specifically get those gains. You’re not gonna look like her if you don’t want to.
Strength training for optimal health
So there. Thank God that’s sorted out! Talking about workouts from guy trainers that won’t necessarily make you look like them, here’s a simple and quick strength workout to try if you only have 15 minutes for wellness. Get a pair of 5-pound dumbbells for this.
Do you want more defined muscles? I highly recommend that you consult a personal fitness trainer for a customized program. Do you have a medical concern? I strongly suggest that you consult a trusted healthcare professional.