A common exercise concern is that strength training and using heavy weights will automatically make people “bulk up”. In reality, incorporating serious strength training into your workout routine is a fabulous way to achieve better fitness levels, tone your body and activate your metabolism. Today we dispel the “weights lead to bulk” misconception and share study findings that will compel you to opt for those bigger dumbbells next time you’re sweating it out.


The misplaced fear about strength training (ST) with weights heavier than 10 pounds does many people a disservice. Numerous studies demonstrate the positive impact working out with larger weights can have on physique, mood, athletic performance and metabolic efficiency. ST is not a panacea but when paired with regular cardiovascular exercise and a smart diet, you can get great mental and physical results. Here are the facts:

  • Beyond building more capable and powerful muscles, strength training (ST) delivers many benefits, including: improved bone density; injury prevention; positive mental state; and lowered risks for type 2 diabetescancer, and other diseases.
  • Women getting bulky from lifting heavy weights is very unlikely and actually takes a lot of work – Your body will not become that of an olympic bodybuilder just from incorporating heavy weight training into your workout plan. Women simply do not have the same hormones that men so, which enables them to bulk up. And even then, to “bulk up” one must do a combination of lifting heavy weights almost every day, eliminating cardio exercise and eating an excess of calories each day. It takes methodical and sustained effort to get a bulky body, so unless you’ve moved into Gold’s Gym, please let go of this concern!
  • Heavy weight work creates leaner bodies and better confidence – studies show that “women who practice the same well-designed strength training programs as men benefit from bone and soft-tissue modeling, increased lean body mass, decreased fat, and enhanced self-confidence”.
  • Muscles burn more calories that fat when resting – Even when our  bodies are resting, our metabolisms have to work harder to maintain our muscle tissue because they require more energy. A pound of muscle burns approximately 3x as many calories as a pound of fat, meaning the more muscle on your body, the more overall calories you can burn. Other factors that impact the speed our bodies burn calories are genetics, hormones, sleep, and diet, so keep in mind that this is one piece of a larger equation.
  • More muscle allows you to burn more calories during workouts – Having more muscle allows you to push yourself more intensely and for a longer period of time, which translates to burning extra calories every time you are active.
  • ST helps counter the negative effects that aging has on our muscles and metabolism –  Beginning as early as 30 years old, we begin to lose muscle mass “with women losing up to 15 percent of their total-body muscle per decade by age 50”. This goes along with a slower metabolism, thus it behooves us to focus on ST as a way to maintain muscle and elevate metabolic activity as we get older.
  • ST keeps your metabolism elevated after the workout – Once we finish a workout, our bodies get to work repairing the muscles we used. This calorie intensive activity known as “the afterburn” or excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is greater after a weight workout than a low-impact or cardio sweat session. The bigger afterburn occurs because heavy weight sessions cause more physiological stress to the body, especially intensive moves that engage multiple muscles at once and our large muscles groups like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.


  • Personal Training – Seriously consider signing up for a session or two with a certified trainer at your gym. It’s worth the investment and you may find a promotion offer if you ask! Trainers can conduct a physical assessment to give you personalized feedback, workout suggestions and exercise demonstrations that will be helpful for years to come. This level of one-on-one attention is also useful for experienced exercisers – I just had one and it was very informative about where I am holding tension and what muscles groups are underdeveloped and thus causing me some undue tightness.
  • HIIT Classes / BootcampsThese classes are defined by high-intensity cardio movements and compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. Accordingly, you get an excellent heart pumping workout in a group setting with fun music that tends to feel less intimidating than a solo session in the weight room at your gym.
  • Start low and slow (1-2 times per week) – To prevent injury and perfect your form, start with modest weights and use a training guide. As you get comfortable, remember that strong and lean muscles come when you work to exhaustion, so opt for whatever weight will make you feel that way after 15-20 repetitions. If you stay consistent with your workouts, that weight will begin to feel easier and easier. Once the 20 repetitions stop pushing your muscles to exhaustion, you know it’s time to add another 2-5 lbs onto your weight set.

Images by Andrea Posadas for HonestlyFIT