One of the most common objections that women have to weight training is the fear of getting “bulky” preferring a more “toned” look. This terminology can be confusing and misleading to female clients.
First, let’s look at the benefits to be had from weight training. First of all, increasing muscle mass increases basal metabolic rate (BMR); essentially, the amount of energy that the body uses at rest. This increase in BMR can have huge implications for weight loss goals—especially in the long run. An increase in muscle mass will also bring a decrease in body fat percentage. Another positive result of weight training is an increase in bone density (Weir & Brown, 2012). This fact can be a huge selling point for older females who are nearing menopause and concerned about the risks of osteoporosis. Perhaps the most important benefit of weight training is the psychological impact it can cause. Resistance training has been shown to help reduce stress, fight off depression, and increase self-esteem (Hatfield & Kaplan, 2012).
The concept of training for a “toned” appearance is largely misunderstood and misleading. The “toned” look that most people think of is a result of low body fat percentages producing a clearer, visible definition of the muscle body.
The concern that many women share of getting “bulky” can be debunked very easily; however, it is first important to understand what the term “bulk” is usually referring. Muscular hypertrophy is the expansion or growth of new muscle tissue. The typical example of muscular hypertrophy is an enormous, muscle bound bodybuilder. While the hesitation from most women to build mountains of muscle like the typical bodybuilder is understandable, their concerns can be eased with a couple of facts.
One of the primary hormones regulating muscle hypertrophy is testosterone. Testosterone works as an anabolic hormone, along with insulin, insulin-like growth factors, and human growth hormone (HGH). In addition to having higher baseline levels of testosterone, acute testosterone response of men to weight training is much higher than women (Faigenbaum, 2008). These hormonal differences mean that a very concentrated effort would be required for women to build the kind of “bulk” or muscle thickness that they often fear.
Muscular hypertrophy can also be caused by specific training strategies. If a client wishes to avoid hypertrophy, a simple way to do so is to avoid training in ways that are effective in creating hypertrophy. High-volume training, moderate intensities, and moderate rest times have been shown to be very effective for creating muscular hypertrophy (Schoenfeld, 2010). To avoid large amounts of hypertrophy, spend more time training in strength and muscular endurance ranges.
1. Faigenbaum, A. (2008). Age- and Sex-Related Differences and Their Implications for Resistance Exercise. In T. Baechle, & R. Earle, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd ed., p. 151). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
2. Hatfield, B., & Kaplan, P. (2012). Exercise Psychology for the Personal Trainer. In J. Coburn, & M. Malek, NSCA’s Essentials of personal Training (2nd ed., pp. 126-128). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
3. Schoenfeld, B. (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. J Strength and Cond Res, 24(10), 2857-2872.
4. Singh, N., & al, e. (2005). A Randomized Controlled Trial of High Versus Low Intensity Weight Training Versus General Practitioner Care for Clinical Depression in Older Adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 60(6), 768-776.
5. Weir, J., & Brown, L. (2012). Resistance Training Adaptations. In J. Coburn, & M. Malek, NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training (2nd ed., p. 77). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.