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Does weight training make you "bulky"?

Updated on October 19, 2012

This is a very common question, and very common misconception as to the effects of weight training, strength training, and in particular performing heavy compound exercises.

While it is becoming a lot more common for women to utilise resistance training in pursuit of their goal body type, it is still quite common for women to fear "getting too bulky" from weight training. It's not just the women though, quite often men will also add a disclaimer of "I don't want to get as big as you" before asking my advice on training as well.

Let's clear this up here and now then, shall we?

Contrary to what most people think, training with weights does not result in an increase in body size or the dreaded "bulkiness". In actual fact, weight training makes you SMALLER, if anything.

Allow me to elaborate.

You've probably heard already that "muscle weighs more than fat". Well, that isn't actually correct. One kilogram of muscle weights one kilogram, and one kilogram of fat also weighs one kilogram. A more accurate statement would be "muscle takes up less space than fat", as illustrated in that particular image you've already seen on literally every fitness or weight loss blog that exists. I don't know who owns the picture, so I won't insert it here - but you know the one I mean.

Lets assume that we're a healthy 25 year old female, about average height at 165cm tall, and current weight right in the middle of the normal healthy BMI range at 56kg. Let's also assume that even though we are interested in fitness and trying to get into great shape for beach season, we're actually quite a sensible young lady and since we're within a healthy weight range already, we're not terribly concerned with actually losing weight.

Now. Assuming we continue to consume an amount of calories suitable to maintaining 56kg, as we progress through a full body strength training program, including compound lifts as well as isolation exercises, what result would we logically expect?

Let's work it out.

  • Body weight? Remains at 56kg.
    We have not increased calories to allow for weight gain, nor have we established a calorie deficit to lose weight.
  • Muscle mass? Increased as an adaptation to strength training.
  • Fat stores? Since we have increased muscle mass without gaining actual weight, logic dictates that this can only happen at the expense of body fat stores.
  • Since muscle takes up less space than fat, and we have increased muscle mass while reducing body fat, logic dictates this will be reflected in our body measurements.

So to reiterate in more succinct terms: no, weight training will not make you bulky. It will actually make you smaller.

UNLESS: you actually want to bulk up. In which case eat big and lift heavy! For everyone else, eat appropriately to maintain a healthy weight relevant to your height, and still lift heavy.

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