Weight and Resistance Training - Bulking up? I know it is not supposed to happen...

09-30-2008, 08:50 AM
Experts say that bulking up when strength-training is not possible to women simply due to lack of testosterone. Well, I don't know what is wrong with me, but I do seem to bulk up rather easily. For example, after lifting weights regularly for three months I noticed that I had actually developed some visible biceps and shoulder muscles. I got scared because I definitely do not aim at big, defined muscles, and decided to bring down the amount of strength-training in my exercise program. It is a pity, though, because strength-training is what I like the most.

At the moment I feel like trusting my own feelings and perceptions more than experts' sayings, but it is still puzzling. Am I having abnormal levels of testosterone (would be rather surprising as I am not unusually hairy and my body shape is very feminine) or what? Could it affect that I began strength-training already at the age of 12?

09-30-2008, 09:44 AM
Everybody is different and we all having varying levels of hormones.
If strength training is making you bulky and you don't want to get bulky, then don't do it.
I *want* to have nice arms and shoulders, and have to work pretty hard at it. I wish I had your problem-lol!!

Best wishes :)

09-30-2008, 10:19 AM
Are we talking Ah-nold bulky here, or are you just seeing some nice muscle definition? Being that you started lifting at 12, you probably know the difference. I get bulky at first when I start a weight training routine and then I level off and just maintain tone. I think it's because my muscles aren't used to being trained so there's a boost at first. I would lighten your weights to those that are effective, but not lifting to failure so that you tone rather than build.

09-30-2008, 12:53 PM
In general, you can't bulk up but that doesn't mean you wouldn't be able to see your muscles. Do you not want muscle definition at all?

09-30-2008, 01:11 PM
I would like to point out that some medical conditions (or just strong genetic factors) can make women produce more androgens than typical. In this case, it IS possible for women to "bulk up" in more male-type patterns. I have PCOS and one of the hormones that was ridiculously out of whack in my system was, essentially, an anabolic steroid. So, naturally, I was building muscle like I was on steroids. I went on birth control and the hormones leveled out, and I lost some of that bulk.

Bulkiness is different, though, than just plain ol' visible muscle. Muscular women generally just have normal amounts of muscle and low body fat..the combination means visible muscles.

09-30-2008, 01:31 PM
What Mandalinn and Nelie and owlmonkey said.

There's a HUGE difference between "bulking up" and having visible defined muscle. I hope to have lots of visible, defined muscle as I continue to lose more fat. :)

It is possible that you might have some kind of hormonal issue, as Mandalinn pointed out ... but based on what you're describing, it sounds like you're just building standard muscle development.


10-01-2008, 10:31 AM
Thanks for the replies! I am not talking about just muscle definition, but really a bulk-up, the kind that men have - well, my muscles are definitely not that big, but the bulk-up is similar. I may sound a bit confusing but I don't know how else to describe this...

I do have hormonal issues, that's true. I have two autoimmune diseases, diabetes type 1 and hypothyroidism, but I don't think they have the effect... Or could they affect?

10-01-2008, 10:41 AM
While reading this thread, my overwelming impression is that perception can be deceptive.

What do you think of ddc's arm in her avatar?

10-01-2008, 11:03 AM
So you have a definite size increase? Like your arms gained size? I don't know metric system very well but if you measured your arms before lifting heavy, then lifted heavy, the size difference would be substantial?

10-01-2008, 11:18 AM
Moonlit - Susan's comments make me wonder as well. Can you find images online of what you consider "bulky" vs. what you consider "normal". Or photos of what you'd like to look like?

For example, for me (and I posted this just recently) Shellie Blanks has an amazing body and I'd love to look like her - especially that middle image where her arms have such great definition. To me she still looks feminine, but in amazing shape.

OTOH, *this* is "bulked" to me and something that I don't want to achieve. :)


10-01-2008, 11:29 AM
I do have hormonal issues, that's true. I have two autoimmune diseases, diabetes type 1 and hypothyroidism, but I don't think they have the effect... Or could they affect?

This is something I'll be interested to find out too as I also have both of these. I do notice my muscles are more defined which I'm perfectly happy with but I'm still holding onto the bulk fear.

10-01-2008, 11:31 AM
Honestly, I don't think anyone should fear bulk. If true muscle bulk happens, then it is easy to lose bulk. You have to do a lot of lifting, with the right hormones in order to achieve true muscle bulk. I had a friend who 'bulked up' due to lifting. Well it wasn't muscle bulk, but she was eating too many calories and started gaining fat instead which made her look bulky. Once she adjusted her calories, she was fine.

10-01-2008, 11:37 AM
I think you've greatly put my mind at risk nelie. But it does scare me because as much as I've tried, the burning fat/gaining muscles/burning calories just doesn't make sense to me. Maybe further into weight lifting I'll get it.

10-01-2008, 11:45 AM
Spoz - Well our muscles have the ability to gain incredible amount of strength without gaining bulk. So you have muscles and if you put those muscles to work. The muscles start going to their full potential. They also start burning more calories because muscle that is active needs calories. The calories have to come from somewhere so they come from your body fat and the foods you eat.

IF you happen to have the right type of hormones and you have been lifting very heavy for a very long period of time, your muscles can increase in size to accommodate for the increased weight load. This is where you can get bulk. If you stop lifting heavy, your muscle will atrophy, stop burning as many calories and decrease in size. Very bulky men and women (with the right hormones) work out hours every day to achieve the size that they do and they do it for many years.

Edited to add - I also just thought of a good comparison. When you watch an olympic athlete (gymastics for example), you don't think that if you went outside and attempted a couple flips that you'd be ready to compete in the olympics would you? Why do women think that picking up a 5lb dumbbell will make them look like a competitive weight lifter overnight?

10-02-2008, 10:18 AM
Surely I do not think that the size of my muscles could be compared to those of true athletes, that was not my point (otherwise I would suffer from a serious body dysmorphia). What I meant was that knowing my own body, I know when my muscles are growing at a rate that I don't want them to be growing. I'm just comparing the bulk with my own body, before and after.
See, the facts are that my weight has dropped a little but my arms are considerably larger than they were before (several inches). Wouldn't that mean that I have gained muscles in them, especially as I have lost inches form my waist and hips? I have lost some weight and inches from allover except from my arms, and I believe that is because of the bulk.

10-02-2008, 10:24 AM
What about that business of body types?? mesomorph, endomorph etc?

10-02-2008, 10:45 AM
Edited to add - I also just thought of a good comparison. When you watch an olympic athlete (gymastics for example), you don't think that if you went outside and attempted a couple flips that you'd be ready to compete in the olympics would you? Why do women think that picking up a 5lb dumbbell will make them look like a competitive weight lifter overnight?

Not at all! put I really enjoy weight lifting and include it in most of my workouts, but in the long run I don't want to bulk out. Of course I realize now that isn't going to happen. (Thank you for all of the information)

10-02-2008, 11:05 AM
Spoz - You would be amazed at the people who show up around here and are afraid of picking up a dumbbell and they use examples of things they don't want, most of which are professional competition body builders. Its a bit crazy :)

10-02-2008, 11:18 AM
The chicks here turned me on to a great website, www.stumptuous.com I think it's talked about a lot in this forum, so I'm not sharing anything new. I thought I'd share it, though, because I think the woman who runs the site, Krista, has a wonderful set of defined muscles without being bulky or extreme. You can find before and after pics of her here (http://www.stumptuous.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=8343).

Here's my favorite:

I'd be curious, too, if this is an issue of perception. :chin:

She also has this to say about bulking up, though I know it's not new news:

muscle mass takes a long time to build

In other articles on this site, I discuss the myth that women will "bulk up" from weight training. You will not get huge from weight training unless you have an unusual amount of testosterone in your body from... ohh... say... perhaps a syringe full of androgens that you "accidentally" sat on. But the other reason that it's unlikely that you'll end up looking like The Thing from the Fantastic Four is that it takes a really, really long time to create muscle. Building muscle is like prying each meaty cell loose from the jaws of a slobbery dog that likes the taste of steak. It doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen in a week. You may see it in a month... or three.

Here's another quote that she posted on her lies in the gym (http://www.stumptuous.com/cms/displayarticle.php?aid=45)page:
The great objection to women exercising—namely, the fear of becoming muscular—is quite without foundation. It cannot be too often repeated that woman is not simply a weaker man: she is physically an entirely different being ... In women the muscles simply become firm, close-knit, and well-rounded, and show under the layer of fatty tissue intervening between muscle and skin only in soft, hardly discernible masses, just sufficiently to give a delicate moulding to the form.

Eugen Sandow, Sydney Mail, October 22, 1902.

This is me, several years ago, after 7.5 weeks of really intense strength training. I'd lost a lot of weight, but you can see that there's still a very decent layer of fat. Still, I don't think this is even good muscle definition (in terms of what my goal is) and it's definitely not bulking up. What do you think?

10-02-2008, 11:34 AM
My arms are bigger, some of which I attribute to loose skin - but this is me flexing (taken just the other day). I know what you mean about getting bigger, because I think my body type is just more muscular - and I am not power lifting or anything.

Now keep in mind that I don't look like this just walking around, since I don't pose all day LOL! But I am pretty proud of those muscles!

10-02-2008, 11:50 AM
See, the facts are that my weight has dropped a little but my arms are considerably larger than they were before (several inches). Wouldn't that mean that I have gained muscles in them, especially as I have lost inches form my waist and hips? I have lost some weight and inches from allover except from my arms, and I believe that is because of the bulk.
Ok, two thoughts here:

As Susan pointed out, we all have different definitions of "bulk". I think gaining muscle in the arms, shoulders, back, etc. are good things. I want to look cut/fit/defined ... like the first photo, not the second. :)

But is it possible that you're not training properly? Are you perhaps overtraining one muscle group and undertraining another? I know that women who do squats and *nothing else* to balance out that quad growth, often have mis-proportionate thighs because they're not working out the hams and glutes as well. (Mind you this is a guess on my part, because again, your definition of "bulk" and mine may be different.) Is it possible that you're seeing the result of not properly working opposing muscle groups?

Are you working more than just your arms? Or are you concentrating on arm/upper body stuff and not so much on the lower body?

I dunno. Just throwing ideas out there.

Honestly it would really help if you could find some photos of what you consider "bulk" vs. normal so that we have some kind of baseline to realate to you with.


10-02-2008, 11:52 AM
Wow. I love her back and shoulders. That's what I want to look like! :)

And this is just inspirational. I swear I'm going to print these out and post them on my bathroom mirror to keep myself motivated:


10-03-2008, 03:59 AM
To Photochick: I have a train programme made by a professional trainer, in addition I attend to bodypump classes so I'm pretty confident that all my muscles get equal exercise. Although lately I've been concentrating more to my legs and left some upper body exercises out...

I thought about this yesterday: if only I ate less calories, I could go on with strength-training with no worries. It is obvious that eating as much as I do now will contribute to my muscle-growth - instead, if dropping weight, weight lifting would be necessary in order not to lose my muscle tissue but fat. But there could be no way of bulking if my muscles weren't provided enough energy. Right?

10-03-2008, 12:14 PM
Well, how much are you eating and how much would you cut back?
I know when guys want to "bulk up" they'll eat more, especially protein.

Maybe cutting back on the exercise is the answer.
Body pump is pretty intense. How many times per week are you doing that??

It just sounds like to me that your muscles are very responsive to weight training.

10-03-2008, 03:57 PM
I'll also add that muscle growth is not linear, and your rate of muscle growth now isn't necessarily indicative of your rate of muscle growth in a few months. Of course, if it is, then you're truly lucky, and you should revel in your ability to grow muscle quickly.

In my opinion, of course.
Be strong,

10-03-2008, 04:31 PM
Along these lines, Tony Gentilcore's recent blog post:


10-03-2008, 04:37 PM
Thanks for the link, Depalma. Just read it with my 15 yo dd.

10-03-2008, 10:17 PM
OMG. Oh, My freaking G! Okay, I couldn't even really read the whole article I'm so fumed. How incredibly irresponsible of Oprah to have this kind of crappy information shared with her audience. Okay. Maybe I should just calm down and actually read the whole thing but I just can't. NO WOMAN SHOULD EVER LIFT MORE THAN THREE POUNDS. (Insert primal scream from over here) This kind of attitude/psuedo information is exactly the reason why so many women have concerns the moment they bodies begin to develop a little healthy definition. For crying out loud. Who do these people think they are to set the "standard" of what beauty should or shouldn't be. Okay. Someone needs to calm me down because I am freaking insulted over here. How dare "they" tell me that I have no business lifting.

Let me tell them a little about lifting heavy. It saved my life. It brought me back to my family and widened my circle of friends. I do things today and have experiences that I would never have given myself permission to do in the past all because I was able to move outside of my comfort zone. I had to walk into a real gym. I had to walk into a male dominated area of this gym and pick up my own weights, bench my own presses without a spotter and learn to squat all on my own. I LOVE IT! I love to hear the solid sound of the iron hitting the stays after a really good set. I love the feel of that weight on my back and the drive back up out of the hole in a squat. As a side effect I developed a little muscle mass as my diet cleaned up I got some definition and no, I don't look like most of my peers. During the first year I was so focused upon the movement and actions of what I was accomplishing that I didn't notice the physical changes that were occurring. I saw myself but didn't really "see" myself yet. One day a switch was flipped and then suddenly I saw everyone else and they didn't look like me. People who previously would have looked thin to me as the industry standard of beauty looked weak and soft to me. Suddenly I realized that I have stepped outside of yet another comfort zone and needed to accept that what the body I was developing as a result of my quest for health and fitness was also beautiful.

Moonlit, I have been following your posts with interest. I do not want to minimize your concern about developing bulk. It is a very real experience that you are having although it may not necessarily be masculine bulk that you are acquiring. It may be that what your are developing and unveiling is a fit, healthy and beautiful feminine form. It is different. Different because it takes discipline and real sweat and knowledge to develop it. It is another form of beauty and art and deserves to be embraced. If lifting makes you happy then explore it to your potential. You can always tweak the results as you progress. :hug:

10-03-2008, 11:23 PM

I loved what you had to say and I agree wholeheartedly...I especially relate to your second paragraph!!!

You go!,

- Elliott

10-03-2008, 11:28 PM
:bravo: Lydia.



10-04-2008, 10:20 AM
Fantastic post, Lydia! You said my thought all much more eloquently and passionately than I could have.


10-04-2008, 01:22 PM
Lydia, thank you so much! You know, you really lifted the weight off my chest by talking so aptly about weight-lifting and how it makes one feel. I agree with you on every word. Thanks for encouraging me to do what I enjoy doing. You made me rethink about the development of muscles... It is true that I enjoy weight-lifting the most. And muscle is healthy. Why couldn't I see it as beautiful, too?

10-06-2008, 05:31 PM
I just told my hubby about the article. He said "I hate to tell her but a gallon of milk weighs more than 3lbs". Ha. How ridiculous.

10-06-2008, 05:36 PM
A pint's a pound, the world around. :D

I had that drilled into my head when I was learning to fly.

Since there are 2 pints to a quart, and 4 quarts to a gallon - that makes 8 pints to a gallon. Or 8 pounds to the gallon (of anything that's about the same density as water, anyway).

[edited: This is approx - a pint is actually something like 1.02 pounds - I don't remember exactly. I could go look it up, but I'm lazy today.]


10-10-2008, 06:32 AM
Moonlit, I am in a similar situation as you. I'm 40 and did weights since 16 other than maybe 3 years whilst I gained weight and did it only sporadically. In college, I started competing with weights but a pinched sciatic nerve put a damper on that. I also skated a lot in my teens and never lost the big thigh muscles from that. I've had hormones checked and nothing irregular. Everything is in check. Interesting you mentioned autoimmune - I have an autoimmune issue myself that has materialized over the last few years - allergies, allergy induced asthma, tooth resorption, psoriasis - all from a T cell issue. (Eating clean and losing has helped things back into check, although not yet entirely.)

I started my current weight loss in June. I had done weights maybe a dozen times in the previous year. I started at 42% body fat and now at my current weight I am down to 28%. My waist has gone from 43.5 inches down to 35. I lost the first 15 lbs very fast and then plateaued for the next 2 months on the scale. I DID continue to lose fat and it was replaced with muscle+extra water due to the muscle gain. I am not doing intensive training. I do a 3 day split where I do 3-4 exercises for each muscle with light weight (although not 3 lb LOL) for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

I talked with my doc about the situation and I'm doing monthly checkins with him. Fortunately my doc is someone that really gets weight loss+ exercise and people with more athletic histories. He recommended I switch my cardio over to doing interval/HIIT training a few days a week, to get in cardio daily with one lighter day and to continue with the strength training but to do each body part once week rather than the 2x a week I'd been doing. Since my work is sedentary, he also told me to shoot for a handful of minimum exercise segments a day (I use step/wii fit for 5-10 minute shots) I also increased my calories 200 per day. It seems to be working well for me so far - I'm averaging the 3 lbs a week he said I'd hit doing what I am. My muscles are becoming definitely more visible as the fat is shedding.

10-10-2008, 11:56 AM
Lydia, that was a great post.

Moonlit, take a look at Skwigg's blog and at the pictures of her physical transformation. I drool over her pictures but I do not consider her bulky at all.
Skwigg's blog (http://www.skwigg.com)

10-10-2008, 12:23 PM
Lydia, that was a great post.

Moonlit, take a look at Skwigg's blog and at the pictures of her physical transformation. I drool over her pictures but I do not consider her bulky at all.
Skwigg's blog (http://www.skwigg.com)

Oh, looks neat! Must browse later.