Weight Training for Women: Does it Make You "Bulky"?
Alright, ladies, we all know the classic gym scene: all the cardio equipment occupied by women, all free weights and bench press occupied by the men, with the occasional adventurous woman attempting to use the squat rack.
Many women are afraid of the dumbbell rack or barbells because of the dreaded notion that they will get “too bulky.” Because of this, they rely on the stair climber, treadmill, or elliptical.
Related - Beginner Workouts for Women
There is nothing wrong with some cardio. I recently completed my 6th half marathon and personally have a love for cardio. However, I make it a point to never neglect my cross training and actually spend more time lifting than I do on the hamster wheels.
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3 Benefits of Weight Training for Women
Resistance training, lifting, strength training, etc.
#1 - Improves posture
Exercises executed with proper form, repetitively, helps to strengthen your core muscles (abdominal muscles and back muscles). This in turns helps to better align your spine and improve your overall posture.
Resistance training helps to alleviate daily back pain and also prevents injury when lifting heavy objects.
#2 - Lowers risk of osteoporosis
As we age, we undergo cycles of bone remodeling. This basically means there are cells which function in bone resorption (osteoclasts) and cells that function in bone formation (osteoblasts), which work together to release nutrients and keep bones strong.
Peak bone density is reached around the age of 30. After this age, bone resorption begins to slightly exceed bone formation. For women, bone resorption is drastically accelerated after menopause due to hormonal imbalances (decreased estrogen levels).
Weight training and activities that resist the force of gravity tell osteoblasts, “hey, we need more bone”, which leads to increased bone formation and improved bone density. This is extremely vital in preventing fractures in women as we age.
#3 - Improves weight loss
Weight training increases muscle mass which, in turn, increases the rate of your metabolism. This allows you to burn more calories throughout your day and burn more fat.
The one thing weight training has NOT done for me is make me bulky.
There are many more benefits to weight training than the ones mentioned in this article, yet it is still the most neglected form of exercise by most women because of the dreaded “bulk.” This theory is far from accurate. All you really have to do is look at the sheer difference in testosterone levels between males and females.
According to Mayo Clinic, the average adult woman has 15-70ng/dl of testosterone On the other hand, the average adult male has 270-1,070 ng/dl of testosterone. So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how testosterone actually works in regards to muscle growth.
Physiology of Testosterone and Muscle Growth
For those of you who may not know how muscle growth works, here is a brief overview.
As we exercise, we create microtears in our muscles. These microtears stimulate inflammatory responses in the body, which allow specific cells to be recruited to the site of damage.
During this process, there are a variety of signaling pathways involved with the major one being the Notch signaling pathway. Notch stimulates differentiation and proliferation of satellite cells. Satellite cells are precursors to skeletal muscle cells, essentially, they are the stem cells of your muscles.
When the Notch signaling pathway is activated, these satellite cells being to expand in number and fuse together in order to repair the damaged muscles.
Now I am sure you are wondering, “Well, where does testosterone come into play?” Great question!
Our body likes to remain in homeostasis, which is a state of equilibrium. Therefore, we have control mechanisms that regulate the processes in our bodies so that we are not producing too much of a specific substance or have an overgrowth of cells.
Muscle regeneration is regulated by a substance called myostatin. Myostatin inhibits the activation of the Notch signaling pathway that I mentioned earlier. It regulates muscle growth so that we don’t exceed normal amounts.
Testosterone inhibits the effects of myostatin, which allows for increased satellite cell fusion. This, in turn, leads to increased muscle growth.
Testosterone also inhibits muscle degradation allowing for more muscle growth to take place. Since men have exponentially more testosterone than women, they have significantly increased notch signaling. This is why they tend to put on more muscle in a shorter time span than women.
How Will Weight Training Affect My Testosterone Levels?
Yes, what you’ve heard is true. Weight training will increase testosterone levels in both genders. Research has shown that testosterone levels will increase in both genders during intense weight training.
These levels return to normal at rest and are only increased during the time of exercise or immediately after exercise.
Do women need to be concerned with this increase? Absolutely not. As mentioned previously women have about 15-70 ng/dl of testosterone compared to the 270-1070 ng/dl in men.
The increase seen during weight training is minimal at best and will not get a woman anywhere near the 270-1070 ng/dls of testosterone observed in males.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Weight training is a crucial aspect of women’s fitness. Not only is it beneficial for weight loss, but it also helps to improve posture and bone density in postmenopausal women. Weight training helps to make daily chores easier by improving strength and it also helps to prevent injury.
Many women tend to injure themselves when they try to lift objects that they are not trained to lift. Injuries also occur when they lift them with improper form.
It is impossible for a woman who trains NATURALLY (without the use of anabolic steroids or other androgenic steroids) to bulk up like a man. The difference in testosterone levels between genders is too large, making it impossible for women to achieve the bulk similar to a man.
Ladies, I strongly encourage you to step off the treadmill at least 2-3 times a week and pick up some weights!