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Does Lifting Heavy Weights Make You Bulky?

Lift Heavier Weights to Lose the Weight

Weight training is a slippery slope for a lot of women. Many are afraid of bulking up and skip it altogether, while others — including actress Kristen Bell — use lighter weights to avoid looking too muscular. The accepted logic is that heavier weights equal big muscles and using lighter weights is the best way to slim down and maintain "womanly" tone. Not so, says a recent article in the New York Times: using heavier weights is more slimming than you think.

First things first. The article challenges the notion that lifting big weights means you're going to get big muscles. There is a reason that bodybuilders are so fond of those mega-calorie extreme protein shakes; if you want to go big, you have to eat big. Those bulked up folks you see now and again are probably eating an excess of 2,000 calories a day.

To find out what weights you should be lifting to lose body fat,


If you want to be stronger and toned but still look slim, the suggestion is to challenge yourself with heavier weights and fewer repetitions. A 2002 study that looked at women doing both low- and high-intensity resistance exercises found that those who lifted heavier weights with fewer repetitions burned more calories and had a bigger metabolic boost than the women who lifted lighter weights with increased repetitions. When deciding how much weight you should be lifting, the women with the greatest success in the study did two sets of eight repetitions at 85-percent of their maximum ability. Using this measure, you should pick a weight that you can lift eight times without straining, and whichever muscle you are working should feel tired (but not exhausted) upon your final rep of the first set.

Additional evidence supports this claim: in a study published last year, scientists followed 122 women for six years and found that those who did less repetitions with heavier weights lost the most body fat. If you need physical evidence, look at Cameron Diaz. Cameron uses 20-pound weights in her everyday workouts — I challenge anyone to compare her svelte frame to that of the Incredible Hulk!

Join The Conversation
Keri14757070 Keri14757070 4 years
I should add, as a heavy weight lifter who trains for MASS (size) - I am 5'2, weight 160 pounds and wear an adult size 8 or a JUNIOR size 13. And at 46 years old - I'm thrilled to be able to shop junior jeans. I like the bling bling.
Keri14757070 Keri14757070 4 years
The "long and lean thing ...." folks that is all GENETICS. In fact, "Long and lean" doesn't really exist..... it's your DNA / your genetic make up. Look it up if you don't believe me. I am 5'2 and I am a heavy lifter. And guess what - I'll never be "long and lean' - I look like a sprinter and my body adapts to muscle mass so fast, I have outpaced in one year women (and smaller sized men) at the gym in my muscular development. The reason people like sarsnake (nothing personal here) do not like the "muscular look .... a bit too harsh" is because magazines for YEARS raise girls to see ONE image: skinny. The rags say LIFT HEAVY but what do they show? Usually a skinny (dare I say often times white) girl holding a 5 - or gasp - 10 pound dumbbell (DB). Lift heavy .... holding a 10lb weight - This gives the audience a very MIXED message: (1) Heavy weights equals 5 to 10 pounds - 15 at VERY best. (2) The muscular look on women is undesired and that's why you only see "skinny" girls on the front of magazines (3) women are NOT used to or trained to see / accept the muscular look on a woman. I am what some women might refer to as "bulky" - I have muscle mass. I have a very V shaped body (uh huh - like a weight lifter) and I a as feminine as it gets. I shop at juicy / wear Pink and love perfume. And when I'm in my "regular" clothes, except for my super short shorts - you can't tell I lift weights. And until other women stop down grading those women who are muscular - most skinny women will continue taking their water pills / obsessing over calories and wondering what the latest diet is. People who lift HEAVY weights and gets muscular like I do - we eat just about anything we want. Oh - and heavy lifting for MASS is typically 8-12 reps and 6-8 SETS (none of this 2 set business thank you) Just my two cents.
sarsnake sarsnake 4 years
I think it really depends what look one is going for. Weight loss is just part of the equation, another part is the measurements. All women that lift have that muscular look that is a bit too harsh I think. They are toned and fit, but somehow that easthetics don't appeal to me. It is true, that weight lifting will increase your metabolic rate (and so will High Intensity cardio, especially interval training). So really, one needs to pick what they want to achieve. I, personally love ballet dancers bodies, they are long and lean and graceful. You can't get that with heavy weight lifting.
heathbar6 heathbar6 7 years
I have nothing against lifting weights, I just tend to prefer resistance training because I am using my own body weight to tone up.
bethinabox bethinabox 7 years
I wish more women would accept this! Explaining it to people over and over again that women ARE NOT built for bulk is tiring! :P That said, man I really need to start doing weights again! It's been so long.
Dbaby Dbaby 7 years
I love it. But instead of using weights, I am a huge fan of TRX and functional training. You don't need weights to lift 100 lbs :)
ella1978 ella1978 7 years
One of Gunnar Peterson's favorite phrases is "you have to eat big, to get big".. so funny to hear it coming from someone else. I guess I should be upping my weights now. That's fine with me.. cause it will allow me to do so many more exercises in the 15 - 20 minutes a day I have allotted for weight training..
imLissy imLissy 7 years
I'm teeny and I lift 8-15 pound weights. I could go heavier, but the heavier weights are more expensive, lol. I'll eventually invest in some good weights, but I gotta work with what I have for now.
kimmieb124 kimmieb124 7 years
I agree with Chelsea. I love lifting, but some women do bulk up easier than others regardless of lifting intensity and/or diet.
Chelsea25 Chelsea25 7 years
Isn't it just possible some women bulk easier than others? Personally speaking I bulk pretty easily especially around the neck shoulders and arms. I still lift weights but not as frequently as I used to and stick to lighter weights. It works for me. The 'myth' that you bulk may be wrong for alot of women but not all.
RunnerLeash1 RunnerLeash1 7 years
Ditto! I'm a runner so I want to stay slim and I lift pretty darn heavy and I have not gotten big at all!... I have gotten faster though :)
danakscully64 danakscully64 7 years
I've been weight lifting a lot lately, trying to burn fat and get nice, sculpted muscles.
DivaDivine DivaDivine 7 years
So true. I'm a size 4/6 at 150 lbs because I strength train on the heavier side. I know tons of women who weigh 20 lbs less than me who are 4/6's. Don't be afraid to lift heavy!
Spectra Spectra 7 years
Tell Tracy Anderson to stick this in her pipe and smoke it. Haha! Yeah, I lift heavy weights and I'm pretty small. I do pull ups, full pushups, squats with a 60-70 lb bar, and curls with 10-15 lb weights. It doesn't make me huge, that's for sure!
tlsgirl tlsgirl 7 years
Finally! I'm so sick of that ridiculous argument that women make to avoid lifting weights. You're not going to look like a meathead. Calm down.
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