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Years of experience with female clientele has often brought with it this statement - “I want to tone up but not be bulky”.

Through the power of Instagram and other media, women in general seem to be moving toward and more positive relationship with getting strong and lifting weights (as proven by the popular ‘Strong Not Skinny’ hashtag). However, in my field I still regularly see an air of confusion around women lifting weights, which more often than not is cultivated by a fear of “getting too bulky”. This blog aims to highlight the many reasons why lifting weights will not make you “too bulky”, and rather will only help toward optimising your health.


Before diving into the science around lifting weights, it’s important to address that the term “bulky” itself is subjective. A common goal for women (and men alike) is to “tone up.” The problem with these generalised terms is that one persons idea of “bulky” may be a far contrast from another persons.

The term also suggests that the prime goal is aesthetic. While popular, we must remember that there is a great deal more to building muscle and exercising than simply the aesthetic goal. (See my blog: “Working Out For More Than A Six Pack” for more on this).



Building a shed ton of muscle takes not months but years of consistent hard work. Bodybuilders and female athletes that lift weights don’t do so for a month and see enormous muscles. They live by a strict fitness and nutrition program consistently for years to get to that stage. By incorporating weights into your program, you won’t suddenly develop huge muscles.


To gain the level of muscle mass that we’re likely envisioning as “too bulky” is the outcome of just one style of training – and a bloody hard one at that. If one is training for a bodybuilding competition or as a powerlifter, then getting “bulky” might (in ones view) be the result. However, lifting weights is not solely used for this purpose. There are many variations of weightlifting, and programming for your goals will therefore make all the difference. There are hundreds of programs out there that can be used to strengthen and shape your body rather than to add a load of mass. If, like many of my clients you’re looking to “tone” rather than build, the correct weight-lifting program can therefore give you a strong and muscular base without the “bulk”. Moral of this? Strength does not equal mass!


While a cardio-only workout will, generally, burn more calories at the time, when programmed correctly, lifting weights will lead to a higher fat-burn rate over time. This is because the more lean muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will become. To put it simply, lifting weights and building lean muscle will result in a higher calorie burn at rest. So rather than stick to the treadmill, try incorporating some light lifts into your regime to reach those goals!


Testosterone is one of the key factors in increasing muscle mass. This is the main reason men generally look “bulkier” than women. On average, men have 7-8 times as much testosterone as women. With a lack of this in our bodies, building muscle mass is far greater a task. So I promise ladies, lifting weights will not make you look like Arnie Schwarts.


Food pays a far bigger part in getting “bulky” than many assume. We all know that to lose fat, we must reduce our calorie intake. The same works with muscle. To lose or gain muscle requires specifically tailoring your nutrition. To achieve the “bulk” that many women fear, one must not only lift heavy, but must eat in a calorie surplus too. With a seriously heavy focus on increased calories and protein intake, it is therefore highly unlikely that you will eat and train enough to get “too bulky”.


It would take a specifically tailored program and a lot of hard work to create a shape that you might personally find “too bulky”. Lifting weights should be celebrated for all the good it can do for us, and as such I will soon be releasing a blog on “THE BENEFITS OF LIFTING WEIGHTS”. But for now just know that your fear is unnecessary and I assure you that if you bite the bullet and give a well-tailored lifting program a go, you will not be disappointed. You’ve got this!

Abbie x

PS: Can I just take a sec to say I personally admire female bodybuilders and weightlifters? This blog merely stems from a question I get asked on the regular, but as I stated at the start, the term “too bulky” is entirely subjective. Huge appreciation to all who make exercise part of their life – be it for bulk or no bulk!

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