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I recently had a reader question, and rather than respond directly I have decided to post the response here to help anyone in the same situation.

I’ve split my answer into five parts as it became rather long. This post is part four.

Q. I’m getting married soon and I’d like to lose weight for my wedding. I’ve been going to the gym now regularly since January.

My goal is to lose about 10lbs and move more because I have a sedentary job.

I do 20 min of bike or elliptical then usually do rowing for 10 15 minThen I do some planks and some mat workout, abs, then stretch. Once in a while, I will finish with 5 minutes on the stairs.

That’s on average what I do, with some variation.

I’d like to use more weights but don’t know what to target to get lean and not bulky.

I have toned up nicely using the rowing machine and I do HIIT workouts at home, but I don’t have a schedule. I work out randomly.

I’m going to break these questions down and answer them independently in each of this five part blog series.

From the initial question, I will cover the following topics:

  • Achieving Weight Loss – (part 1)
  • Moving More – (part 2)
  • The best exercises to Lose Weight – (part 3)
  • How Not to Get Bulky – (part 4)
  • Getting the schedule right – (part 5)

How Not to Get Bulky if You’re a Girl Lifting Weights?

First of all, it’s a myth that girls will get bulky from lifting heavy weights.

1. Hormones

One of the main factors is hormones. Females just don’t have the anabolic hormones than men do, allowing males to gain muscle faster. Even then, gaining muscle isn’t just a happy accident. It takes months and years of consistent training.

Even the women who compete in natural bodybuilding don’t really look like that. They go through a week of salt and water manipulation which dries out their body to reveal their muscle striations. After that, they use fake tans and stage lighting to make their physique stand out more. They also flex to show off their muscle more.


The same woman flexing and relaxing.

When you see the bikini models with firm, toned skin, that’s because of the muscle mass they have which gives their body shape. Models like Kate Upton lift huge amounts of weight and don’t look bulky – in fact, she looks very slim!

kate-upton-hip thrust

Kate Upton lifting lots of weight on a hip thrust exercise.

If you follow the magazine workouts that advise low weight and lots of reps, unless you have really special genetics that respond to anything, this type of training isn’t really gonna cut it for you.

The truth is, training with heavy weights is what you need to improve your body composition. Remember though that “heavy” is relative. When you are starting out, most weights will probably be heavy for you.

2. Energy Balance

Females who are worried about getting bulky from lifting weights are ignoring the science behind putting on muscle. Just like gaining fat, to gain muscle, you have to be in a positive energy balance – i.e. you have to be consuming more calories than you are burning. Energy can’t be created from nothing. It’s impossible to grow if you don’t have the extra energy to do it.

So, it’s not the training that makes people “bulky”, but the amount of “fuel” they consume. Two people lifting the same amount of weight for a month, but eating different amounts will have big differences in their body compositions! It’s even a common problem for men that they aren’t eating enough to put on muscle.

3. Muscle Volume

Muscle is actually a lot more dense than fat, so a lot less voluminous. This means that it for the same weight, it takes up less space – roughly 20%!

So, if you put on muscle and lose fat, there’s no way you can look bulky as muscle is smaller than fat.

One of the reasons that you shouldn’t just use the scale to measure your weight loss progress is that you don’t really want to lose weight – you want to look smaller. If you lose fat and put on muscle by training hard, you may remain the same weight. However, because the muscle you’ve put on is much denser than the fat you’ve lost, you’ll look at lot slimmer and more toned.

Because of this, it’s useful to take waist, hip and tricep measurements with a tape measure as well – these are three common places in which body fat levels will drop first in women.

Benefits of Lifting Heavy Weights

Lifting weights is hugely beneficial to your health. The following are some reasons to make sure you weight-train at least twice a week.

  • You’ll look better.
  • You’ll have more energy.
  • You’ll feel stronger.
  • You’ll develop a better posture.
  • You’ll develop stronger bones and ligaments.

The latter is of huge significance as osteoporosis and weak bones are prevalent in later life. Over 35% of adults over 65 have a fall each year, 25% of hospital admissions in seniors are due to falls, and about 25% of these people die within a year due to fall-related complications.

  • Achieving Weight Loss – (part 1)
  • Moving More – (part 2)
  • The best exercises to Lose Weight – (part 3)
  • How Not to Get Bulky – (part 4)
  • Getting the schedule right – (part 5)