Amanda, the author of Fairly Extreme Blog, is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
In this article we will go a bit more in depth into the question: Does heavy lifting make you bulky? So many women avoid lifting for fear that if you lift heavy weights, then their muscles will become big and bulky. My mom tells me not to lift or climb because she thinks I will get a weird ‘V” shaped upper body. Every time we have the conversion I remind her that I have been climbing for a decade, but she is still as wary as ever! That’s moms for you! Lol. Even, one of my cross country coach in high school, back in the late 90s, said that she never lifted, because she didn’t want to get bulky. However here I am, climbing, lifting, and quite normal looking. I know a lot of athletic women who lift and climb, and they are also all very normal looking! So, if we have not bulked up? Why not? What needs to happen to bulk up with muscle?
#1 Overload Muscles Regularly
You have to find your “try hard” face.”
Overloading muscle is exactly what heavy lifting does. Climbing also overloads many of your ‘pull’ muscles, such as back muscles, trapezius muscles, and bicep muscles, as the natural movement of climbing involves pulling yourself up the wall. Overloading muscles is the only way to build muscle. When muscles are overloaded, meaning they have been stressed to near failure, the muscle protein fibers are broken down at a cellular level. When you rest, and only when you rest, these protein fibers repair themselves by building more muscle protein fibers. It is important to note here, that when muscle fibers build proteins, this does not mean building new cells. Muscle cells do not replicate, they only grow bigger through the growth of more muscle fibers. Also, it is important to stress here that muscle growth only happens when those muscles are resting and allowed time to repair.
Additionally, I want to mention how overloaded muscles get when heavy lifting. You have to find your “try hard” face. To use myself as an example, I try to lift enough weight so that the 7th and 8th rep of each set is pretty darn hard, and I struggle to complete it with good form and I make a “try hard face.” This does not mean that I am turning red and grunting to finish the last rep. I would imagine that heavy lifters who are quite bulky in addition to making a “try hard face”, also do some serious grunting and turn red from exertion.
#2 Consume Enough Protein and Calories to Sustain Muscle Growth
This is a tough one to satisfy! To build muscle, scientists recommend that a person consume at least their body weight in grams of protein everyday. For example, if a woman weighs 130 lbs, that means that to build muscle she must eat at least 130 grams of protein everyday! In Michael Matthew’s Thinner, Leaner, Stronger program, which I have been doing and loving for 5 weeks now, it recommends eating 1.2 times your body weight in grams. So a 130 lb woman would need to eat 156 grams of protein a day! Here is a link to my Thinner, Leaner, Stronger review article. Eating this much protein everyday is no easy task! This is why it is very common for athletes to gain some fat mass in addition to gaining muscle mass when bulking, because building muscle just requires so much protein that you just end up eating a lot of calories to get that protein in. So, if you are heavy lifting, you must also be consuming pretty hefty amounts of protein to support muscle growth, and most of us just don’t eat this much protein. I have changed my diet to consume a lot more protein, and I only consume around 90 grams of protein a day, so I am building muscle, but I could probably build even more if I were eating 130 grams of protein and not just 90. You really have to design your diet around protein to hit these really high numbers.
Personally, there is only one supplement I take, and I think it can barely be considered to be a supplement, and that is protein powder. I drink one low calorie protein shake everyday after lifting to up my protein intake without making my daily calories go through the roof. Aside from this, I make sure that I have had at least 20 or so grams of carbohydrates, usually in the form of a hearty brown bread, for breakfast to make sure that my muscles have glycogen stores ready to use for each day’s lifting session, and that is it. However, athletes who are truly dedicated to growing muscle most likely do much more. There are pre-workout supplements, during workout supplements, post workout supplements, and even sleep-recovery supplements that many more serious athletes take to maximize muscle performance and recovery. Again, I never take these, so I don’t know anything about them, or what they do, other than prime muscles for stress and for quick recovery.
So, there you have it. Athletes who heavy lift and have a lot of muscle to show for it put a lot of work into that muscle development. They lift harder in the gym, they are more careful with their diets, and they use supplements to maximize muscle growth and recovery. This is what it takes to get big, it does not happen easily. So, if you simply pick up a lifting routine and make a conscious effort to eat more protein, you will build toned and defined muscles. It takes much more work to really make those muscles bulk up. Now you can begin to lift without the fear of getting bulky! Just beautiful toned muscles you will enjoy flexing!