Busting the Fear of Bulking

This post is dedicated to all the ladies out there – specifically, those of you whose fitness programs are limited to cardio because you fear “bulking.” I’ve had many clients express this fear during our initial consultations, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns of my own when I was younger. (That is, before I learned the science behind muscle growth and put my body through strength training programs to experience the results first-hand.) Ladies, it’s time to get real- you’re not going to bulk up and here’s why…

First, let’s start with a short quiz. Honestly answer each question with a “yes” or “no.”

1 – Do you inject yourself with synthetic testosterone?
2 – Do you take an oral synthetic testosterone supplement?
3 – Were you born a male and subsequently became a female?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then maybe you should be concerned about bulking afterall. But if you answered “no” to all questions, your worries are unfounded. Testosterone is the primary muscle-building hormone in the body, and women simply don’t have enough of it present to dramatically increase muscle mass as a result of weight training. Why? Testosterone is primarily secreted in the testacles, which are absent in the female body. Women do secrete a much smaller amount of the hormone in the ovaries and adrenal glands, but the difference is extreme. (So, if you’ve had your ovaries removed, you produce even less testosterone.)

Now, let’s very quickly review the benefits of strength training:

1) You will lose body fat. The average woman who strength trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat. As lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolism, and you burn more calories all day long.

2) Your risk for Osteoporosis decreases. Weight training increases spinal bone density by 13 percent in six months. This, coupled with an adequate amount of dietary calcium, can be a women’s best defense against osteoporosis.

3) You will maintain your independence as you age and decrease the chances of injury. Increasing your strength will make you far less dependent upon others for assistance in daily living. Additionally, strength training builds stronger muscles AND stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury.

4) You will reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Weight training can improve cardiovascular health in several ways, including lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Weight training also improves the way the body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes. Research indicates that weight training can increase glucose utilization in the body by 23 percent in four months.

5) You will fight off depression. A Harvard study shows that weight training for just ten weeks will reduce symptoms of clinical depression with greater success than therapy or counseling.

If you are STILL concerned about bulking, don’t throw out the idea of strength training altogether. Even bodyweight exercises (i.e. push-ups, tricep dips, squats, lunges and pull-ups) can help maintain strong bones and muscles. Whatever you do, don’t paint yourself into a corner with a boring, cardio-only fitness routine. There is so much more to the fitness world than waiting in line at your local gym for the next available dreadmill.