When it comes to female fitness, a phrase I often hear is, “I don’t want to bulk up.” Many females have the fear that lifting weights will cause them to “get big”. This concept could not be further from the truth. It is more difficult to bulk up than one might imagine, even for most men. Growing in muscle size depends on genetics, the female fitness status, exercise protocol, nutrition and hormonal response.

Most females do not increase in muscle size as a result of resistance training and actually may decrease in body circumference due to a loss in body fat. A research study involved a 20-week heavy resistance training program for the lower body testing the results on female fitness. Female participants were assessed prior to the study including body fat analysis and circumference measurements. At the conclusion of the study, participants had a decrease in body fat and an increase in muscle tissue, with no overall change in thigh circumference. Changes in muscle fibers as a result of heavy resistance training begin to take place within just a few workouts. Noticeable gains in muscle growth, however, take at least 8 weeks to several months, and only if the training and nutrition protocols are for the purpose of gaining in size.

Females tend to increase in strength not size because of their genetic makeup and hormonal differences. Women naturally carry more fat than men due to the needs during childbearing years. Also, females have much lower concentration levels of testosterone which has a muscle building stimulus. Another muscle building hormone is Growth hormone released from the pituitary gland. The production of GH responds differently in female fitness than it does in males. Studies show that only a specific type of training protocol will stimulate GH in females.

In addition, females generally have a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers, whereas males have a greater ratio of fast-twitch fibers. This is important because slow-twitch fibers have long endurance and lack the potential for growth in size.

In conclusion, to grow in muscle size, a female would need to follow specific training protocols and adhere to a high caloric intake of the right kinds of foods, not to mention supplements. Rest assured, women in the female fitness world; it is safe to lift weights without the fear of getting big! Women can feel confident that an increase in strength and power is achievable without large increases in circumference area.

By:  Sharon Powell


Burger, M.E., Burger, T.A. (2002). Neuromuscular and Hormonal Adaptations to Resistance Training:  Implications for Strength Development in Female Athletes. The Strength and Conditioning Journal:  National Strength And Conditioning Association, Volume 24, 51-59.

Charge, S. B. P., and Rudnicki, M.A. (2004). Cellular and molecular regulation of muscle regeneration. Physiological Reviews, Volume 84, 209-238


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  3. If you are an athlete who wants to improve your sports performance or just increase your strength, resistance training is a popular option. Contrary to common misconceptions, women cannot become bulky the way men can from lifting weights. Professional female bodybuilders achieve their impressive physiques from years of heavy lifting and strict diets. Be injury free and have a foundation of cardio fitness before adding weightlifting to your exercise program.

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