Will weight lifting make women bulky?

Does weight training make women bulky? Fitness trainers answer the most Googled questions

Posted by for Life

Does weightlifting make women bulky? Stylist Strong trainers answer the most Googled strength and fitness questions. 

Ok, first things first: there’s so much more to training that what you look like, including increased strength, declining the risk of disease, and supporting your mental health.

Right, now that’s out the way, let’s actually talk about physique? Because, despite more and more women taking up weightlifting, there’s one myth that stops some from getting involved: that it will make women bulky. And we’re here to say that the way we talk about female bodies ‘bulking up’ is outdated and untrue. 

Each week three trainers from Stylist Strong, Stylist’s fitness brand that runs strength-training classes focused on incorporating weights into fitness, explain some of the most asked questions from women who want to get into lifting.

This week they’re explaining why weight training won’t make you bulky – and why adding muscle is never a bad thing, anyway. 

Will weight training make women bulky?


“So gaining bulk is, in other words, gaining huge muscle mass, or muscle mass that’s comparatively big for us. I know that some people see bodybuilding women online or Instagram lifting weights and worry about looking like that. There’s nothing wrong with the way they look, right? But it just might not be your aim. You shouldn’t worry about it, because women that are specifically bodybuilding might be taking performance-enhancing substances that would give them a chemical edge to build the muscle. Without supplements, you will not bulk like that. Yes, you will increase muscle mass but that will improve your overall shape.”


“People think of bodybuilders’ physiques, but they’ll be taking lots of different supplements and their nutrition will be different. Some people might say “I’ve done some spin classes and now my thighs are bulky,” but that’s probably because you haven’t stretched them out properly, or you’re not doing anything on the hamstring, or there’s just a build up of lots of lactic acid. When you’re building strength you will be building muscle, which might increase ‘tone’. But it’s just muscle adaptation, not bulkiness. That’s what it is.”


“On Instagram, a lot of things are edited so people may look a little more defined or bulky than they actually are. It’s always important to bear that in mind. A lot of people who compete in bodybuilding, if they’re not using any kind of steroids, which a lot of people don’t, they have got the most restricted lifestyle. They don’t really socialize, they live out of Tupperware boxes. To look like that requires a hell of a lot of effort. To get that big you have to really, really change lots of things about your lifestyle, not just start training heavy. For the average gym-goer, there’s just there’s no need to worry about it because you’d have to be very drastic with the changes that you make to look like that.”

Why is it hard for women to gain muscle?


“‘Bulking up’ comes from a combination of heavy, heavy weight training and excess calories. Now, if we take an average woman that is just doing weights at the gym, I doubt that she will be consciously having a massive excess in calories. And I doubt that she would be also pushing the ridiculously heavy weights in combination. Secondly, and this is the more scientific reason, is simply that women have much less testosterone than men and testosterone is a human growth hormone, so if you have more of it, you’ll be able to gain more muscle. Women simply cannot biologically build big muscles like guys.”


“Women aren’t made the same as men, we have different hormonal balances, our makeup is different. While your genetics might make you slightly bulkier, that won’t be because of the weight that you’re doing. That just might be your body type. You won’t be big unless you pump yourself full of testosterone. Hormones will make you bulky, rather than what the exercise you’re doing.”

How can women increase muscle mass?


“I don’t understand why gaining muscles is such a bad thing. I would say if your aim is to increase your muscle mass you need to use the weights, right? You want to use weights that are challenging for you. You want to be having some sessions where you are lifting heavy, so 75-85% of your heaviest lift at low reps. And you also want to have a diet that supports that. So you cannot be in calorie deficit and try to build muscle. You might not want to be in excess of calories, but you want to make sure that your nutrition is supporting your training. So if you’re going for a good weight training session, you want to make sure that you have a nutritious dinner afterwards, rather than just a single banana.”


“You’ll build muscle with a progressive overload programme. You need to be overloading the muscle groups.. When you’re building muscle, your muscles have tiny little tears, and then they repair. And then that’s how you build muscle on top and you build and build and build. You also really need to be watching what you’re eating in the sense that you’re eating enough, rather than too little. You need to eat quite a lot to put on muscle. You also need adequate sleep and rest. And also you want to bring your cortisol levels down. So by not sleeping or eating properly, your cortisol levels are going to be higher. And that’s going to affect the way that your training will go.”


“So first of all, start training and use weights. The body uses something called supercompensation. That means when you finish your workout you’re a lot weaker than when you started, because the muscles are fatigued. But what happens a couple of days later is that they ‘supercompensate’, so they end up stronger than when you started. But in order to get that supercompensation effect you need to be overloading every single week, so lifting a little bit heavier or adding a couple more reps. An early night is also the best-kept secret. When you sleep, your body produces a growth hormone and that’s what helps you get strong. In terms of food, the most important thing is to have enough protein in your diet. A really simple way of achieving this is to have a palm-sized portion of protein with every meal, such as chicken, fish or eggs.”


Stylist Strong is a fitness brand specialising in strength training specifically tailored for women. Our classes are designed to build both physical and mental strength in a smart and informed way.

So, whether you’re a beginner or already have strength-training experience, Stylist Strong has a class to suit you. Come and try our strength-based classes at our own purpose-built studio at The AllBright Mayfair.

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).