Will Lifting Weights Make You Look Like a Man?

Will Lifting Weights Make You Look Like a Man?

I was convinced that I would look like “Helga” if I started to lift weights. Helga - to me - was a 6-foot amazon lady that would slay anyone in her way. Kind of like a PMS superhero.

Helga scared me. I was afraid to lift weights because I knew I would totally look like that. That scary five-pound pink dumbbell was basically of the devil.

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Since that time, and knowing what I know now, it's almost laughable that we women even have that concept in our head. Where did it come from?

To look at this, we have to look back in history.

In the 1930s women were not supposed to be strong. They also were not supposed to look... Streamlined. Most of the pinup girls at the time were rounded and soft.

So, looking “muscular” was not cool back in the day. So, of course, it makes perfect sense that a couple of outcasts from the circus would be the mothers of female bodybuilding.

Josephine Blatt (her stage name was Minerva) reportedly lifted a platform of 23 men, weighing 3564 pounds collectively. Another woman (yes, another circus act) Known as Charmion (Laverie Vallee) was known for her trapeze disrobing act.

Most of the early “muscular” women actually came from the circus or had an acrobatic background. It wasn’t until the early 70’s that Female bodybuilding was even a thing.

Abbye Stockton burst on to the scene in the 1940s. She was short (5’1") and had the nickname pudgy. I am not sure why - she was 115 pounds. My idea of pudgy is not someone that is 115 pounds, but anyway...

Abbye was a gymnast. Duh. Not surprising.

She was named “Miss Physical Culture Venus” and could lift her 185-pound husband up over her head!

Fast forward to the 70s when most of us thought that female bodybuilding was born. In the 70s the culture still wasn’t too hip with our sex having muscle - women were supposed to be soft and willowy.

The first Ms Olympia was Rachel McLish. She was known for her sleek and toned physique.

She looked exotic and beautiful and women wanted to look like her. It was probably the first time that women actually wanted to look like a woman who lifted weights.

As bodybuilding progressed, the women became more muscular. Other women were not as pleased with this look and slowly but surely bodybuilding for women has become more and more categorized.

There are now many categories of female bodybuilding - from least to most muscle:

  • Bikini-competitors have definition but no striation. Emphasis is on having good gluteal muscles.
  • Figure-Competitors have more muscle and more definition. Some bikini competitors can even cross over to this category.
  • Physique-muscle striations are ok, definition even more important with some muscle separation. Plus, they get to do a cool dance routine.
  • Bodybuilding-increased muscle striation and muscle separation. They look dry and hard more than any other division. It takes years to get to this division because mature muscle takes time.

So now that we know all this, why are we still scaredy cats in the gym? Why are we still so afraid we are going to look “like a man?”

My hypothesis is that we are a product of what we see in magazine ads, television, and social media. We are a bit vain, so us women take those images and decide that we want to look like them.

We actually think it’s our idea; however, media manipulation is very powerful and can mold how we think without us even knowing it.

It's funny how now bikini is the fastest growing part of bodybuilding contests. I can totally understand the appeal. You get to basically act sexually on stage.

Calm down, all you bikini competitors. What I am saying is we feel hot. We feel desired. Most men like the look of a bikini competitor. What we see on TV is the bikini look.

You don’t see a female bodybuilder in lingerie ads. You don’t see a female bodybuilder in a bikini in a Wendy's commercial rubbing certain body parts on the windshield during a car wash (one of their most popular ads) or eating a hamburger all sexy-like. Media doesn’t feel there is any appeal to a “muscle-bound” woman unless she looks sexy.

My, how opinions change...

Media is slowly changing, though. Look at Rachel McLish and her 1980s win for Miss Olympia. She is what a bikini girl looks like now.

The girls are looking harder, more striated and separated. I am not sure if it’s a good or bad thing. Don’t get me started on the posing. I am sorry, but I hate the mechanical posing of Figure and above. It's not... Pretty.

OK, back to opinions... They are like... OK, you know what I am going to say. However, muscles on females is not the taboo it once was. Now more than ever bodybuilding is making its way to the mainstream.

Those pink dumbbells aren’t as scary as they once were. Women are getting schooled-some from media some from actual science.

Here are some tips to look hot and make muscles. Just like Helga.

How to Build a Better Body

Tip #1 - Drop the Pinkies

Your pink 5-pound dumbbells will do crap to make real muscle. You need to lift heavier in order to tear your muscle fibers in order to make more.

Your little baby dumbbells make no sense unless you are a 95-year old that is training to pick up her cockapoo.

Tip #2 - You Don't Have the Test

You don’t have enough testosterone to look all manly. Well, unless you are taking enhancements. Otherwise, we females actually have a hard time making muscle.

It's a lot of hard work to get strong and make muscle, as well it should be. Mature muscle takes time to make - like freaking years.

Working with those pink dumbbells for a month will not have you looking like the female wrestler, China. It will likely have you looking the exact same as you did before you picked them up in the first place.

Tip #3 - Muscle is Dense

Contrary to popular belief muscle does NOT weigh more than fat. It weighs the same.

It's denser, though. So you may weigh in higher and be in a smaller size. Wow, doesn’t that suck...

Tip #4 - Kill the Cardio

Stop doing so much cardio. Hours of cardio is not better for muscle building.

If you see a toned (I freaking hate that word but I am using it for a reason) woman on a magazine it's likely they didn’t get that way doing cardio. Now, they may have done a combination of cardio, but if you see a long distance runner, look at how emaciated they look.

They “run off” their muscle. Now, look at a sprinter. They have defined muscles and look like the epitome of health. They don’t run off their muscles.

Tip #5 - Metabolic Muscle!

Muscle is more metabolically active. Basically, you have to feed muscle for it to grow.

I eat more now (like a lot more) than I did when I was running 40 miles a week and in 3 sizes more than now. I also weighed less back then. Crazy, right?

Tip #6 - Muscle Helps Joints and Bone

Muscles help keep joints and bones protected. I know I ran my face off and had terrible knee issues.

I started slowly squatting and making muscle to my legs and honestly, I have no knee pain anymore. If I squat heavy, I wear my knee sleeves, warm up my knees and joints well, but it has never been more painful than when I was running and pounding them to death.


Unfortunately, us women have been feed a lot of BS when it comes to muscle building. From the media to other well-meaning females who just regurgitate and perpetuate the myth about females and muscle building.

I for one want to look like a Helga. I want to be strong, independent, and able to do a lot of stuff that an emaciated, calorie deficient tiny female can’t do.

I want to not only be strong, I want to feel strong and confident.

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Julie Smith - January 11, 2019

Ugh! I get the same thing. My clients don’t believe me, either. Its hard to change a mindset that has been brainwashed over a long period of time to do the exact opposite to what they have seen in magazines and TV—less cardio and more weights.

Damon Harrison - January 11, 2019

I get told all the time by ladies that ask me about working out….“I don’t want to get all big and muscular, so can you just build me a cardio program? I don’t want to look like a man” I try not to laugh, but they have in their head that is what is going to happen as soon as they pick up a weight and no matter what I say or try to explain, they don’t believe me most of the time. Great article.

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