A lot of women (and some men too) don’t lift weights because they’re afraid of bulking up. For women, this is largely an unfounded fear as most women are not genetically inclined to gain muscle mass the way men do.
While women can increase the size of their muscles, the possibility of them becoming as bulky as men can is very slim (unless they resort to unnatural measures).
The good news is that there are ways to lift weights without getting bulky. This is important as weight lifting and resistance training are an excellent way to boost your metabolism and burn off lots of calories and fat.
The Two Ways To Build Muscle Tissue
The truth is that building muscle tissue can be done in two main ways. Only one of these ways can make you look bulky.
The scientific name for muscle growth is called Hypetrophy. As it turns out, there are two kinds of hypertrophy: Sarcoplasmic and Myofibrillar.
Sarcoplasmic Hypetrophy is the muscle growth that can make you look bulky. What happens during this hypetrophy is that your muscle cells fill up with a fluid called Sarcoplasm. This causes them to bulge like balloons. They simply expand which is how you may get the bulky look.
The funny thing is that Sarcoplasmic Hypetrophy doesn’t build up your strength as much as you would have expected. While your muscle cells have expanded, much of this growth is the result of the fluid in them, and not of muscle fibers. So, you can find a lot of overgrown men who are much weaker than men half their size.
The latter men may have spend their time developing the other kind of muscle growth: Myofibrillar Hypetrophy.
Myofibrillar Hypetrophy is the kind of muscle growth you want if you don’t want to get bulky. In this growth, the muscles become denser as more and more fibers are added. This also results in an increase in strength. This is a more “real” muscle growth as you’re actually adding muscle fibers and not a fluid which causes the cell to look bigger than it should be.
How do you get Each kind of Hypertrophy
It all depends on the resistance level you train with. To get Myofibrillar Hypetrophy you need to work in low rep, high weight range. For a pure Myofibrillar growth, working with very heavy weights and doing 1 – 3 reps is the best. You don’t need to work to failure, meaning that you can’t do a 4th rep. However, you do need to work with a very heavy weight, one which will not allow you to do more than 6 reps altogether.
If you don’t want to work with such heavy weights but you still don’t want to get bulky, you can work in the 3 – 6 range with a weight that won’t allow you to do more than 8 - 9 reps altogether.
Why Most People Get it Wrong
The fact is that most people assume that if you lift heavy weights that you will get bulky and if you lift light weights for many reps that you will get toned. This is a logical assumption but it’s just not the way the body works and the way our muscles grow.
You need to combine both high and low rep sets in your workouts to improve strength and, if you wish, muscle size. But, to not get bulky, low rep - heavy weights is the way to go.