Here’s why and how women can lift weights and put on muscle without bulking up.
When it comes to physical activity, many females are afraid of lifting weights because they are worried they will put on muscle and end up looking like a bodybuilder with bulging muscles and swollen biceps. However, that can't be further from the truth.
Women's bodies only produce a fraction of the muscle-building hormone testosterone. Thus they are not able to look too masculine that easily. Female bodybuilders go through specific training and diet for years to look the way they do.
According to the
Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines, adults should do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate- or vigorous-intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.
Trainer Devina Pronolo, 28, has been lifting weights since she was 18. She started out with generic muscle-targeted gym workouts, before going into Les Mills Body Pump, strongman, kettlebells, CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting.
The petite athlete also competed in the Singapore Powerlifting Alliance Championships in 2015, in the Under 48kg category. She took the gold medal, lifting 100kg for her squat, 55kg for her bench press and 132.5kg for her deadlift.
“I was never the kind of girl who’s afraid of getting bulky. I was more concerned about lifting weight without proper guidance,” she said. After seeing more toned muscles, and feeling stronger, Pronolo said she was “hooked”.
“After 10 years of varied strength training, I still don’t look like my husband, who is a well-known physique competitor and two-time Mr Singapore. My delts are nowhere his size and neither are my legs. I think that's enough evidence that women will not get bulky from lifting.”
There are so many other variables involved for a woman to look masculine through weight training, but weight training alone certainly does not make women look masculine.
Lifting weights, especially heavy ones, will help you build strong and dense muscle to give you that toned look.
Many women also think weightlifting will lead to weight gain. Don’t obsess over the numbers on the scale because you need to take into consideration the body composition of muscle versus fat.
When you lift weights, you will gain muscle that weighs more than fat, so the numbers on the scale may rise. Instead, look for other indicators like mobility, stamina and body fat percentage to track improvements.
Lina Teo, 42, hit her heaviest of 90kg three years ago and had to undergo two knee surgeries, partly due to her weight.
Inspired by a friend who lost weight from kettlebell training, Teo starting going for strength training classes three times a week as part of her fitness regime.
After much kettlebell and other strength work later, Teo has lost over 10kg. “The most significant change is less pain on my knees when walking, especially climbing up the stairs, and now I’m able to do a 55kg bar squat. My clothes size has gone smaller and I can see more definition on my body.”
There are a lot of benefits to strength training, including increased muscle mass that burns more calories than fat and helps you get in shape better.
“Increased muscle strength also protects your joints from sustaining injuries when doing simple day to day activities such as putting your luggage into a boot or carrying your groceries home,” said physiotherapist Shern Ario Lim.
Strength training also increases bone density, reduces the risk of osteoporosis and other chronic diseases and improves your cognitive function.
Lifting weights also gives you this sense of achievement, especially when you progressively see the numbers increase.
Women need to understand that doing excessive cardiovascular exercises is not the solution to managing weight.
Doing cardio will aid you in weight loss, but mostly if you attain a caloric deficit by controlling your calorie intake for the day.
There is less Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) levels with cardio than strength training, which means you only burn calories during the cardio activity itself and not much afterwards.
With strength training, though, your muscles are broken down and then rebuilt over the next day or two. While that happens, your body uses more energy and thus burns more calories.
The best way to achieve a healthy weight is to mix your fitness regime up and have both cardio as well as some form of weights training to give you that
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1. David J H., Angelica L H., Stephane B. (2018, July). Circulating Testerone as the Hormonal Basis of Sex Differences in Atheletic Performance. [Website Article]. Retrieved June, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6391653/
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This article was last reviewed on
22 Nov 2023
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