Will lifting weights make me “bulky”?
This is one of the most common questions that we as fitness professionals get asked, and is one of the most commonly seen questions in all sorts of online forums. Before I answer let me assume that by "bulky" you mean an excess of muscle mass, that is way above average. The short answer is "yes, lifting weights can make you bulky", but it can also make you "tone" cause isn’t that what most of us are looking for? Looking athletic but not like Arnold Schwarzenegger circa Terminator, right? Let me start by saying that it is possible to lift weights and build muscle mass, body builders do it all the time. Body Builders also lift weights for the specific purpose of muscle gain by isolating muscles, and using specific proven programs of sets and reps to achieve that goal. Think of it as a very specific way of lifting weights, for the sole purpose of aesthetic muscle gain.
But there are a million other ways to lift that focus on building strength in the muscle that you have. The frequency that you are lifting also plays a huge role. Are you lifting 5x a week, focusing on specific muscle groups each time? Let's say you are lifting 2x a week focusing on the whole body, or maybe 1 day of upper body and 1 day of lower body. Chances are if you are in the latter group then your body wouldn't be considered "bulky" by body builders or the average athlete. Here's a great way to look at it: Does throwing a football 2x a week with your nephew accidentally make you an NFL Quarterback?
Next question, how is your nutrition and recovery? There is a very specific protocol when it comes to muscle gain. Are you consuming at least your bodyweight in grams of protein every day? Are you consuming rapidly digestible protein right after your lifting session? Are you sleeping a minimum of 8 hours each night to recover from your lifting sessions? If not then you're probably not at risk for developing those "bulky muscles".
You absolutely can get bulky from lifting weights, but only if you are intent to do so. If you are following a specific regiment designed to increase muscle mass, eating right for bulking, and sleeping 8+ hours every night. If you are just a recreational weightlifter, or do some weightlifting in your group fitness class 3x a week, then you're unlikely to build those body builder muscles like you see on TV. Remember, those are professional athletes that devote their lives to increasing their physical capacity. They train 6+ days a week, for hours on end, eat a perfect diet, and maximize their recover by sleeping a minimum of 8 hours per night. Lifting weights 3x a week will build strength, increase bone density, thicken your tendons, make you overall more healthy/sturdy, create an overall more functional human body, and build self-confidence. Some might even say it can make you look better naked :)
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