Attention Ladies: Here’s PROOF that Lifting Heavy Weights will NOT make you Big and Bulky

By JC Deen



Well over a month ago, I revealed the deception and some of the misleading information within the fitness magazines and media, specifically the publications directed toward women in my article I Don’t Want to Get Big and Bulky – Fitness Marketing and its Effect on Women.

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In fact, as a result of publishing the article, I’ve discovered many women didn’t know anything more than what they’ve been told by the media.  It’s no surprise, either.  When the majority of our expert information is coming from trainers to the stars, it’s hard to imagine the information could be lacking or misleading.

However, as I mentioned in the previous article, these publications exist for one reason – to make a profit.  I suppose their research suggests Americans (and the entire human race) are inherently lazy and that a quick-fix headline is sure to keep the revenue up.

Just looking at any other product being sold, especially those within the health/fitness/exercise niches, it all rings true – no one wants to work for the results if a shortcut is available.

If you can attain the body of a Greek goddess in 3 weeks without having to lift weights and while eating anything you want, why would you do anything different?  The problem is the promises don’t deliver.

Month after month, women (and men) continue reading with hopes of the next best piece of information that will lead them to similar results of the cover model of their favorite publication.

Shortly after publishing the article, it was spread all over Facebook, as well as Reddit and questions continued to pour in.

The most common questions were

  • “What if we’re just beginners?  Are the 5 pound dumbbells okay to get started with?”
  • “How would you suggest a lady get started in the weight room using free weights and machines?”

The answer to the first question, of course, is yes.  It’s okay if you’re beginning weight training to start with the lightest weight available. You just don’t want to continue with these weights forever.  If you do, you’ll never make the adaptations responsible for producing a lean, sculpted physique.

So while the light dumbbells are fine for a short period, the goal is progressive overload (lifting more weight) over time.  If you aren’t getting stronger over the long-term, you are spinning your wheels, my lady friends.

Before I get to the second question, I want to make a quick point and then elaborate with some guest contributions from some ladies who’ve been strength training for some time with respectable physiques to show for it.

The number one concern I’ve come across online, and in casual conversation with women who are interested in fitness, is this fear of getting big and bulky.  In case you’re unfamiliar with how the male and female bodies differ hormonally, the primary difference is the levels of testosterone between the sexes.

I know I stated this in the last article, but it bears repeating.  Men are naturally leaner, stronger and can carry more muscle mass than their counterparts.  The reason why is due to the levels of testosterone within their system.

So for all the females reading today, have no fear – I can assure you with all certainty that you’ll never, ever look like a male as a result of training for strength with heavy weights.

Don’t just take my word for it, though.  Today I’ve pulled from some ladies I highly respect in this fitness game to contribute their thoughts, ideas and to PROVE that proper strength training can be a great way to build a lean, attractive physique and never become bulky.

— — — — —

Meet Neghar Fonooni

Age: 29

Neghar Fanooni

Occupation: General Manager and Personal Trainer at Optimum Performance Training Institute, single mom to a prodigious five-year-old boy.

While Neghar’s formal education is in Arabic, the past 4 years have been completely dedicated to her passion for strength and conditioning.  Neghar also enjoys writing and ties her interests together at her blog,

Training Experience: 11 years experience as an athlete and trainer, working with clients of all demographics including competitive athletes, injury-ridden former athletes, rehabilitation patients, moms and grandmas.

She attributes much of her confidence and sense of self to her success in her personal training schedule.

How She Got Started: As an athlete growing up, she played softball and eventually developed an interest for the iron.  Shortly after high school, she got a job at a commercial gym as a trainer and eventually joined the U.S. Air Force pursuing a career as a linguist.  She eventually landed in Baltimore, and after finishing her enlistment, returned to training part-time at a local gym and met Joe Sansalone, her current mentor and business partner.

She attributes much of her success in building her lean, athletic physique to working under his guidance.

What her current training looks like and how it’s changed over time:  Neghar trains primarily for performance, and the aesthetics portion is merely a by-product.

Here is what she told me about her training:

“I train 3-4 days per week, including strength training, conditioning, power development and movement skills. I almost always lift full body and end with some type of interval based training or metabolic circuit.

I have a pretty organized and comprehensive program, based on “movements” as opposed to “muscles” and I train almost purely for the performance benefits. The aesthetic benefits of training are just a fortunate side effect of a sound training program and smart nutritional regimen.

Some of the lifts I perform include barbell snatches (I LOVE Olympic Weightlifting and hope to be good enough to compete sometime soon), Turkish get ups, front squats, deadlifts, one leg squats and deadlifts, pull-ups, overhead presses, pushups and rows.

Kettlebells have a great deal of relevance in my program both as a strength tool and as a means of achieving a metabolic disturbance. Two out of four of my metabolic routines (“cardio” if you will) are kettlebell based, including snatches, swings, jerks and push presses.

The other two are sprint, slide-board and sled-based. While I do fluctuate my training intensity, volume and load to account for CNS adaptation and avoid overtraining, I never “lift light” so to speak. Training heavy and seriously is what got me to the point where I actually like my body and feel comfortable in my skin.

I didn’t always train intelligently and with such diligence. I always enjoyed exercise, but I was dedicated to yoga and the elliptical machine. I would mess around on some of the circuit machines lift a few 15-pound dumbbells here and there, and call it a day.

There wasn’t really a plan or a purpose, other than to lose weight and change the look of my body. Once I started to lift intentionally, with an actual program geared towards strength and power, everything changed. I still think yoga has a lot of tremendous benefits, but strength gains is not one of them. Now when I train, I train with purpose.

Professional Affiliations: Certified personal trainer for 11 years, RKC level two instructor, and Functional Movement Specialist.

Check out this awesome deadlift of hers!

And one of her favorite exercises, the Turkish Get-Up

— — — — —

Meet Christine Beauchamp

Age: 18

Occupation: Public Relations for Infinite Labs, and part-time personal trainer and plans to pursue her collegiate studies in psychology, and possibly, physical

Christine Beauchamp


Training Experience: Christine was active playing soccer growing up and made the decision in 2006 to get in better shape.  Her journey began with hours of cardio on a daily basis for a few years until she began resistance training in 2008.

She began training at home, using body weight movements and dumbbells.   In October 2009, she got her first gym membership and competed in her first figure competition on June 5th 2010.

Shortly thereafter, she took up powerlifting and has since competed in two powerlifting meets.  She will be competing in figure again come June 2012. While she is young and hasn’t been training a long time, her accomplishments are a testament to what proper strength training can do for your physique.

How She Got Started: She used to struggle with eating disorders and a negative self-image.  After getting her crap together and setting her sights on major change, she leaned on a solid diet and strength training to improve the way she felt about herself.

What her current training looks like and how it’s changed over time:  She currently follows the popular Westside Powerlifting template which is an upper/lower split consisting of 2 heavy days and 2 lighter days per week.  For more information on such a routine, check out this article.

Here’s a non-competitive shot – hardly big and bulky

Over her short training history, she went from 3-hour cardio sessions to body weight training, and then to bodybuilding workouts and now to her powerlifting set up.

Professional Affiliations: She will be certified this year as a personal trainer.  She’s lifted with the CPF and 100% RAW powerlifting federations and has competed in the UFE for figure.

Christine is one of my favorite online personalities.  She blogs about strength training, and other funny stuff at Munchies, Muscles, and Mischief.  If you’re looking for great information and some good laughs, please check out her writing!

Here’s a video of Christine box-squatting 260 pounds.

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Meet Nia Shanks

Age: 26

Occupation: Strength coach in western Kentucky with an Exercise Science degree from the University of Louisville.   Nia writes about her training philosophy at and loves to be outdoors hiking, bouldering and doing various other physical activities when not training.

I’ve been a fan of Nia’s for some time – mainly because she is a female trainer and strength coach who actually gets it.  Many trainers are stuck in the pump and tone category but thankfully, Nia loves the heavy, low-rep ranges.

Directly from Nia:

My main priority in the fitness field is to educate women on the simple ways to build a better, stronger, leaner, and healthier body through proper strength training and nutrition. It’s not as complicated, stressful, or time consuming as some would lead them to believe.

I also want to continue providing examples of women who lift heavy weights, and as a result, are strong AND feminine. That is what my program and the “movement” of Beautiful Badass is all about. Women can lift weights, even very heavy weights and look feminine.

More often than not, when my female clients start lifting weights and their strength improves, they not only love the physical changes that result, but their confidence skyrockets.

The last bit is my favorite – it’s amazing how much our confidence can improve as a result of a sound strength training routine.

Training Experience: Nia has been strength training well over ten years and training others for 8 years.  Her typical clients are everyday women with professional lives that do not revolve around their exercise routine.  She loves helping women with an already hectic schedule incorporate efficient, effective training into their exercise routines.

Most of her training revolves around basic barbell and body weight movements – the usual deadlift, squats, lunges, glute bridges, push-ups, overhead presses, dips, chins and rows.

Nia and I both agree that consistent effort with these types of movements will never fail to produce incredible results.

How She Got Started: She sort of fell into the fitness field on accident as her mother was the first female personal trainer in the area.

At the age of 13, she was introduced to the weight room, and never looked back.  Over time, she began seeing personal success and eventually started helping her friends for free.  Once she gained the confidence to produce results in her friends, she began taking paying clients.

What her current training looks like and how it’s changed over time: I’ve just copied/pasted Nia’s response below:

I’ve done various types of training programs throughout my weight lifting career, and after many years of trial and error I know what my body responds best to, training and nutrition wise. I thrive on the basics mentioned above. If I deviate too much and incorporate too many different exercises, my performance suffers.

Right now I am not following any set training program. My main goal is to increase my deadlift and so that is what my training is focused on – I want to pull three times my bodyweight; I’m currently 50 pounds shy of this goal.

Other than that, I go by feel most days. The two main barbell exercises I have been doing are standing presses and deadlifts. I’ve also been doing a lot of body weight exercises (pistols, push-ups, chins, single leg hip thrust, inverted rows, etc) and sprinting a few days per week. I feel really good with this current set up, my body composition is improving, and my deadlift is improving. In fact, I set a 10 pound PR just the other day.

I’m a firm believer in having some type of plan, that way you can gauge progress. I’ll definitely go back to a structured routine in the future, but I’ve been having so much fun and great success training by “feel” at this time.

Here’s the video of her 325 pound deadlift.  Holy Cow!

JC’s note:  Nia is experienced and an advanced trainee.  I, nor she, would ever recommend a beginner to go by feel alone.  A beginner needs some structure.

Professional Affiliations: BS in Exercise Physiology from University of Louisville.  She continues her education through the reading of various strength and conditioning journals, books, articles and websites.

Nia is also the author of an awesome resource called Beautiful Badass.  I actually have the product and it’s full of great information for the lady who already has some experience training but needs some guidance or programming.

A few years ago, she competed (Southern Powerlifting Federation) at a body weight of 122 pounds and set the record for her division with a 145-pound bench press and 300 pound deadlift.

Most of the males in my commercial gym can’t pull 300 pounds!

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Meet Erika Laine

Age: 43

Erika Laine

Occupation: ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, single mother of 5 kids.

Training Experience: Erika has been weight training for 6 years and has competed in 4 figure competitions and has places either 1st or 2nd in each one.

I think Erika’s story is pretty inspiring, so I’ve copied/pasted her responses below:

I’m tall, (about 6 foot) and although I enjoy being tall, there is always a voice in my head saying “but you don’t want to be BIG and tall” as I visualize a big-boned, rancher-woman.  I have been listening to that inner voice since I was 12 years old, tearing out articles from women’s magazines on how to shape your booty and arms while staying thin.

“Never too rich or too skinny” was my motto!

I’ve always been active – volleyball & track in school, hiking, biking in the summer.  I started my family at age 19, but still toted my little ones on the bike or in a backpack.  Also went to Jazzercise classes, sometimes exercised with Gilad on TV.  In spite of being reasonably active, and always on some sort of “diet”, I was what is classified as “skinny-fat.”

After having my baby #5, and becoming a single mom along the way, I desperately needed some “me time,” as well as some more serious exercise!  I joined a local Curves Gym for women for a 3-month trial membership.

It was an easy (read: safe) place to start, but I outgrew it quickly.  Do you know they only permit you to exercise for 30 minutes?  I kept getting “in trouble” for jogging in place; they were worried that my heart rate would go up too high.

Having had a teeny taste of weighted machines at Curves, I knew I needed to join a gym, but YIKES!!  Have I mentioned how shy I am???

After 5 kids and being a stay-at-home mom, I kind of hid behind my kids. When I went to sign up at the gym, I felt very out-of-place, but thankfully a guy-buddy of mine from high school came over to say hello and I felt a lot less insecure.

After joining, I went to an orientation tour where I distinctly remember saying, “I am looking to get toned, not get muscles. It’s so funny looking back.

A few months in, I was blow-drying my hair one day and said, “Hey, I have biceps!”  I had always kind of liked my thin arms and shoulders as they made me feel skinnier.  However, I really liked the shape of my arms.
I got back in touch with the bodybuilder guy who led the orientations, asking for advice on how to maintain my progress, and he offered to lift with me a few days a week.  I was very nervous; I didn’t want to lift like a light-weight and let him down.  We are still lifting together 5 years later (and now we’re sweethearts).  He’s been lifting since his teens, so his training style is very old-school.

I do a lot of reading/ research, so we’ll add in exercises I learn, (like the weighted barbell hip thrust a la Bret Conteras, & various 1-legged exercises like Ben Bruno).

Here are some things that have made the biggest difference for me:

  • I started out with struggling to eat 100g per day, working up to a little less than my bodyweight.  I can’t stress the importance of an adequate protein intake.
  • Lifting heavy weights is key to building a shapely physique.  Adding weight to the bar is what matters and most people can do so much more than they think.
  • The ladies who stay on the treadmills for their workout routines look the same year after year.  I wanted to change my shape, so I knew this wasn’t for me.
  • The figure/fitness models in the magazines don’t always lift with those little bitty weights they show in the pictures.  Those are smaller so they can hold the pose for the photo shoot. Anything you can do a lot of reps can be considered aerobic training.

What my current training looks like: 4-6 days per week training splits, 1 hour per day.  On off days I like to hit the trails for hiking and various other outdoor activities.

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Meet Rebecca Rausch

Age: 23

Occupation: Certified Personal Trainer at Imprint Fitness, graphic designer at Licorice Moon Studios.

Rebecca Rausch

I met Rebecca as a result of my original article, I Don’t Want to Get Big and Bulky – Fitness Marketing and its Effect on Women and as a result of a few email exchanges, I was very interested in her story as I’m sure many other females can relate very well.  So thanks to Rebecca and here’s her take on the topic:

I grew up in Buffalo, NY and was always athletic despite being a chubby child and struggling with my weight throughout middle school. In high school I went on and off fad diets week to week. I thought I knew everything about dieting. I became fascinated with nutrition, although I, myself, was embarrassed to eat lunch at school and starved myself most of the day. I was miserable. I began to have trouble sleeping, panic attacks and my social anxiety suffocated me.

The summer of my sophomore year I knew I had to get serious. I wanted to be thin. I did not care what it took to get there. I made terrible decisions, fasting for 3 days straight and bingeing on the fourth.

I did this for several months and dropped 50 lbs. I have no clue how I ever did that, but these are the types of decisions I want to help young people avoid. After losing more weight over the next few months, I was diagnosed as anorexic.

Hearing that was somewhat surreal – I thought, “this is impossible!” It was my wake-up call. I had gone from 200 lbs to 108 in 16 months and I still thought I wasn’t thin enough! My hipbones had bruises on them from bumping into things and from sitting too long. My hair was falling out and the panic attacks had started again.

When I started college in 2006, I majored in graphic design. It was a different world from high school. I felt confident. I began eating again. I found a subject I was good at and I started reading and applying what I learned from many self-help books and fitness and nutrition articles, believing I could be happy if I continued to improve my knowledge. I became obsessed with learning in general. I was getting all A’s and my weight returned to a “healthy” range.

I found graphic design to be a natural talent, but still had an overwhelming passion for nutrition and fitness. I learned so much about dieting and what it was like to be overweight and miserable and the extremes people go through to get the weight off, I knew I had to help others avoid the horrible path I had gone down! I feel it’s my calling.

Two years ago at World Gym, I met my fiancé who has been a huge inspiration to me. He believed in me and introduced me to weight training. He was extremely patient with me as I was resistant to lifting heavy for the same reasons I now hear from women day in and day out.

With his guidance, I began seeing real changes in my physique, giving me more drive than I ever thought I could have. It has helped me grow so much in strength and as a person. I feel sexiest when lifting heavy and pushing my body past what the average girl will do. Resistance training has allowed me to see food as fuel, which allows me to easily make the right choices to power through my workouts. We have little and sometimes no processed food in our house, except for a weekly cheat day (which does benefit you, by the way.)

We are very passionate people and believe a healthy lifestyle is extremely important. I now value life a great deal and strive to live long and healthy. It is my dream to inspire young men and women who are feeling poorly about their self-image, educating them on balanced nutrition and a good weight-training program, which enhances confidence and boosts energy! I especially have a strong desire to educate women on the basic principles of resistance training and that lifting heavy does not equal mass and bulk. I know this is my one chance and must make the most of every life I have the ability to touch!

What my current training looks like and how it’s changed over time: When we first started weight training together, I was unfamiliar with many concepts. I started with very low weight. I was just pressing the bar. I had no idea how important it was to challenge yourself and push past your mental and physical sticking point.

It wasn’t until I started increasing weight and incorporating more power-lifting moves that I gained inner strength and saw and felt muscles I didn’t even know I had. I now bench press 115 lbs for 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps without a problem. Besides benching, I love Romanian dead-lifts and barbell squats. These three are my favorite because I can go heavy!

And girls, going heavy does not equal “big and bulky.” In fact, my body is harder, more sculpted and leaner than it has ever been before.

Our current training split is 3 days on, one day off, two days on, one day off. We are fans of Hany Rambod and are following an FST-7 (7 finishing sets) for 2 body parts per split weekly. It is tough, but SO empowering!

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I want to say thanks to all of the ladies who contributed.  I think you can surely agree now through picture proof, as well as testimonials, that lifting like a man will not make you resemble one.

Here are a few videos of Sharon Paoletta, (trains in the same gym as I), whom I got to demonstrate some beginner body weight movements – you can clearly see in the video, she is far from bulky with a very respectable, attractive physique.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Modified Push-ups

Hyperextensions (she is using a plate, but these a great body weight movement for beginners.

But now, let’s tackle the second question:

“How would you suggest a lady get started in the weight room using free weights and machines?”

Ideally, if you’re a complete beginner, the best way to get started is to seek out a qualified personal trainer or strength coach in your area who trains in a private studio.

Why a private studio?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Less Crowded – Private studios won’t be packed like the typical commercial gym.  In a commercial gym, we oftentimes have to wait for equipment or work in with others.
  • Personal Attention – Since trainers working in private studios are typically self-employed, you’re the only one they’re working with at the given time frame.  If you schedule and hour or two with them – they are yours for the time you paid for. When working with a professional in a 1-on-1-type setting, your confidence is easily built as you learn the proper form and movements.
  • It’s Private – You don’t have to worry about a bunch of folks staring at your from afar when you’re learning how to do a proper hip thrust or deadlift.  It’s much easier to learn something when you can put all of your focus on the task at hand without worry or fears of what others are doing around you.

What should I look for in a trainer?

This is a great question, but not always easily answered.  If you know anything about the industry, the paper credentials you gain as a result of passing your certified personal training exam are hardly anything to brag about.  Alan Aragon gives great insight as to what I mean with this article.

I’ll sum it up.  You could have a 4-year-degree in basket weaving, have never lifted a weight in your life, buy the NSCA-CSCS book, study, pass the test, and then be a CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist).

In saying that, many of the trainers I know have no formal education (other than their studies for training certifications and personal, self-study) in the field.  My best friend, who is a great strength coach, actually has his undergrad in mathematics and an MBA.

So don’t go looking for someone who has a bunch of letters behind their name, because it’s not always going to mean they’re a great trainer.

Before I go into what to look for in a coach, there’s something you should know.  Paying for their service is hardly ever inexpensive.  When and if you seek out a trainer, you should never go bargain shopping.

Why?  Simply because you typically get what you pay for, and as cliché as that sounds, it’s absolutely true.

For those of you who go to a commercial gym, I will let you in on a little secret.  Most of the trainers who are employed by the gym don’t get paid very much per hour.  As a result, the turnover for trainers is usually very high.

So when you sign up for a training package through the sales team at $80 per session, the trainer is receiving a very small part of that.  As a result, you might go through 3-4 (or more) trainers during your training commitment due to the attrition rate of trainers at these commercial gyms.

I’ve had training directors approach me in the commercial gyms to train for them, and I won’t even consider rolling out of bed for the hourly rate they offer.  I realize my time is worth more and that in order for a client to get the results they want, an investment must be made.

Anyway – here is what I suggest you seek out when looking for a quality trainer.

  • Knowledge – This is an easy one but let me expand.  In the health and fitness world, we rely (or should, at least) heavily on science, as opposed to folklore.  In saying that, many trainers and even certified nutritionists get caught up in old dogmas, often suggesting ideas and methods without any real reason behind it.  Don’t believe me?  Read this piece: 6 Meals A Day: Stoke the Metabolic Fire.  It’s important that your trainer be open-minded and forever expanding their knowledge base.
  • ResultsOriented – Your trainer should be willing to set you up on a plan that focuses on progression toward a specific goal.  If they aren’t willing to help you set clear, thought-out goals, they don’t have your best interest in mind.  I never, ever want to keep a client longer than I need to.  Why?  After a certain period, they’ve learned all they need to from me to continue on their own.  There’s no point in them to continue paying me and it keeps me from being able to work with new clients.
  • They must have a sound training/dieting philosophy – I am a middle-of-the-road (read: moderate) kind of guy.  I don’t go for fad diets or the latest and greatest workout schemes.  Why?  Simply because the basics work, and have worked for many years.  There’s no use in fixing what isn’t broken and no need to turn to extremes that can often leave you injured (some of the newer, popular programs call for high-rep Olympic lifts, and other various, not-so-safe practices).
  • Personable/Approachable – If you hire a coach, you’re going to be spending an ample amount of time with them, at least first.  So, it’s important your personalities do not clash and that you can build a pleasant, professional relationship with them.

As you can see – there’s a lot to think about when you decide to hire a professional for help.  Make sure you do your research and get to know whom you’ll be working with.

Train With A Buddy

Lastly, if you don’t have the luxury of hiring a professional or getting into a private studio, I suggest befriending another lady (or a male, if a lady is not available) who is training efficiently and effectively in the gym.  Look for the one who is doing what you want to do (using barbells, dummbbells, body weight training, etc.) and then work on building a relationship with them.

Most people enjoy having someone to go to the gym with – I know I do on occasion.  Plus, training with a partner is challenging and competitive.  You can also aim to keep each other’s form in check and provide a spot when needed.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this piece has done two things.  I hope it’s proven to you just how powerful and effective strength training can be for building the physique you’re looking to attain, and that I’ve given some insight on how to get started if you need some ideas.

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66 thoughts on “Attention Ladies: Here’s PROOF that Lifting Heavy Weights will NOT make you Big and Bulky”

  1. In my opinion, many of those women are too bulky. So to me, it just kind of contradicts this article.

    I love the lean and toned look but when it starts to get into the competition level, I think it’s too much.

    I’m not saying these aren’t beatiful ladies with amazing and strong bodies, but it’s just more muscular than I’d like my body.

    I want to lift heavier because I believe in this but at what point do I know it’s too much?

    • Hey Rach,

      It’s your opinion, which you’re entitled to.

      So if it’s too muscular for you, that’s okay.

      Hard to answer your question about being too much. That’s for you to decide. ;)

      Thanks for reading.


  2. Hi,

    I have been lifting heavy for about 10 months now. I am generally chubby, a little overweight. I have recently started doing a lot more cardio and I am seeing results in my scale number however,
    1) my arms keep getting bigger
    2) I have not been able to lose stomach fat

    I do ab exercises 3 days a week and arms once a week. For arms, I usually do bicep curls, a little bit for triceps and shoulders with medium heavy weights.

    Am I doing something wrong? Should I wait until I lose more fat to start working on arms? (so that it won’t get bigger?)

  3. I’m one of those aberrations that don’t gain muscle. Been lifting on and off for 40 years with no results, so if you CAN gain muscle, I don’t know why you wouldn’t go for it! Why would anyone want to be soft and saggy? Bulky? How silly!

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for the article, but is that not a bulky buddy? I respect those women and their preferences, but the body types that are pictured in this article are not necessarily what I want. I train 4-5 times a week with heavy lifts for 5 years already, and my body looks more like the ones in these pictures, which I’m not happy with.

    My goal is having a lean figure that doesn’t make me look like an athlete in a dress, but it’s also hard to go back to lighter weights once I’ve reached to this point.

    I’m happy to change my routine if you have any recommendations for me.


  5. It’s a fact that lifting heavier weights is the only way to change your shape. I did the whole “light weight many reps” thing for years with no results. In the 3 months that I’ve been lifting heavier weights I’ve seen a dramatic change in my body shape for the better and I haven’t bulked out – despite the dire warnings of many people who warned me I’d look like a body builder. I’m British so the moment I mention the word “weights” I get the Jodie Marsh thrown at me. To my mind there is a difference between professional body builders and people like me who want to make significant improvement to their overall body shape. It’s other people’s perception and lack of knowledge which is the problem. Unfortunately, we tend to worry about what our friends and colleagues tell us. At the end of the day it’s about what you want your body to look like.

  6. Thank you for this article. I mean, it’s what I’ve known all along of course, but it continually amazes me that women STILL believe this ridiculous myth about lifting any weights that aren’t pink or over 5 lbs.So this being the age of information, I’d wondered, aren’t there any articles that prove the truth about weights,& there’s this one & many others. This all started when I saw this infomercial about this trainer named Tracy Anderson, who says you can defy genetics & have whatever body you want. I did a bit more research,& so many of her methods just don’t make sense. On the FB page for her stuff,her devotees are almost like a cult.I did a bit of trolling (not mean trolling, but just ‘asking questions’ in an ‘innocent’ way),& said I was interested in her DVDs,but was confused about the part that said women should never do cycling, spinning, or lift anymore than 3 lb weights or it’ll bulk you up. I mentioned that I’ve done hour long sessions w/heavy weights every other day for years,& I’ve never bulked up,as being that I’m a woman I don’t have the testosterone to do that. Right away this one lady gets defensive ‘If you’re so happy with what you’re doing then why are you asking about her DVDs’, & I said I simply like to look for ways to mix it up occasionally. Another said, ‘if that were true,there’d be no female bodybuilders’. Um, most of the really big ones are on steroids,hun. Duh. Didn’t say that,but I think the reason they see results is that they’re (obvioulsy) newbs,& probably didn’t really work out before. Of course doing any physical activity will give you some results,plus buying an expensive system will often motivate you to eat better.But they’ll soon stop seeing them if they don’t increase the weight, but you can’t tell them that. They’re to afraid of getting ‘man muscles’. I mean, I really was shocked that people still thought this, & figured that w/articles like these & the many others on the net that everyone knew the truth. I just feel kind of bad for them because they’re missing out soooo much! I mean, I get leaner, & therefore smaller the more muscle I build, plus I burn more calories even when doing nothing. I just wonder what it will take to finally convince women to stop believing this lie.

  7. Thanks for the great article! I’ve recently gotten into lifting again, despite a trainer at my local gym telling me to “go easy on the weights” so I don’t “bulk up” and slow down my weight loss – I couldn’t have been more disappointed! I ignored him, and while I’ve only lost a couple pounds, I’ve lost 3.5 inches off my waist in a month. I have gained 3/4 inch on my arm, but I think it’s a fair trade off. :)

  8. Hi JC

    I have just read your article for women and lifting heavy weights. It was extremely informative. I would only say I have one question but I am a woman and one question will always lead to another. I am overweight and I do want to lose it and simple exercise videos just doesn’t hold any interest for me. I like to cycle and go hiking which takes care of some of the cardio element. However I would like to start using the weights I have here at home. However I do have a back complaint from working in the care industry for many years which can hinder my mobility sometimes. Can you suggest a beginners routine that would help with the weight loss but also help strengthen my lower back. I only have dumbbells and a barbell but no bench, so I am limited to what exercises I can perform. I have checked with the doctor and he just wants me to lose weight, so he is happy with any choice I make.

    Please help


  9. I was hesitant to try lifting but then I realized it’s the best workout!. I’ve already formulated my program. I’ve been starting to lift light weights first as I’m still focusing on the forms. once I master it, ill be increasing the weights. Thanks for motivating me. i hope women would understand this :)

  10. Thanks so much for this post! Earlier this year I ran into a woman who had the most beautiful cut arms and I asked her what she did. She said, “Lift real weights.” So I picked up a pair of 12 lb weights (ok, ok a girls gotta start somewhere), started a consistent program, and along with a high protein, low cal diet: BAM! in just 2 weeks I had definition in my arms that I had never been able to achieve before.
    I will admit though that I often prefer training with men because of some of the same sort of attitudes displayed by the women in the comments section of the article. These are the same women who have no real interest in “fitness” or “health” and will spend their whole lives chasing after an unrealistic, photo-shopped (and often starved and weak) ideal, and disparaging anyone that doesn’t fit the mold. I’ll take a dedicated, encouraging work-out buddy over a shallow, obsessive one any day.

  11. I was one of those women who was of the previous mindset of ‘cardio, cardio and more cardio’. I got a good glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror recently and saw that while I was definitely leaner than ever, my muscles were almost non-existent particularly in my upper body. I still don’t wish to look like a he-woman but I’m starting to ‘get’ the whole weight lifting thing. I’m lifting heavier weights than I ever have in my life with both dumbbells and kettlebells three times a week, eating super-cleanly and upped my calories (slightly) on the days I train with an emphasis on protein. I just started this a couple of weeks ago so I don’t really notice any visible muscular differences yet but I feel more energized and am sleeping better so that’s good, right?

    I used to think that women with muscle definition were very manly-like until everyone from some actresses and celebrity fitness trainers started looking more buff. Buff is definitely the next sexy IMO. I want to feel strong and empowered for once in my life. I am realistic though, my body type is ectomorphic so I know that I will never end up looking really, really muscular like Serena Williams but everyone can benefit from lifting weights even an ecto like me, lol.

    You’ve given me a lot to chew on (so to speak) with this article. Thanks for the great info.

  12. I have another question. Why is it that some women who lift heavy can look like Neghar but others end up like Pamela MacElree?

    I know Pamela has acheived a lot in being able to do a 40kg TGU (albeit a bit wobbly) but her figure is the way mine was going when I was lifting heavier and heavier.

    The video above shows Pamela MacElree on the right and Fit Yummy Mummy on the left. They are doing the same exercises and are both capable, but one has a tight, lean body and the other doesn’t.

    The only difference I can see is that the smaller women like Neghar have a much more controlled movement whereas Pamela is a bit jumpy with hers and relies on motion.

    Is it diet that makes the difference here do you think? Or just exercise?

    If it’s diet then how comes Neghar talks about eating chocolate chip cookies on her website?

    I’m starting to think it’s all about the strength to body weight ratio and the control of the movement.

    Any more info as to why these two women are so different physically would be much appreciated as I feel it would help me get closer to my goal. Seeing Pam makes me realise that I was doing something wrong but not sure exactly what…

    • the difference is in the diet. Neghar, even when eating cookies, is staying within calorie balance for her weight – if she wasn’t, she’d be chubby.

      Controlled motions/movements are not the determinant of aesthetics in this case – it’s the diet.

      And the reason Neghar can have such an awesome physique and still eat cookies is because of what I wrote about clean eating.

  13. Ahh :'(

    I feel like crying when I see Neghar Fonooni do the turkish getup. Sigh… I’m really envious and really, really wish I could do that and look like her…

    I want this so, so badly but I just look inflated with no muscle definition. Please, please help me before I spend another 5 years leading to nothing. :'(

    I’ll fly to any country and eat to any diet plan that will help me finally get this.

    Thank you

  14. The girls featured look great! Muscle on a woman shows how tough and committed they are, considering how hard it really is to build muscle for women. The girls who think the women featured in this article are bulky need to pick up an Oxygen magazine or check out a fitness competition; they are not even close to being big nor bulky. I cannot understand why anyone would choose a skinny twig body over lean strong muscle!

    Great article!!

  15. Honestly, I agree with the women here who think these girls are big and not particularly attractive. HOWEVER, they are all professional fitness people and their job is to be ripped. I’m a small girl who works out a normal amount (4-5 days/wk). I lift weights daily (as heavy as I can), and I think my physique is what most girls are actually looking for. I also carefully moderate my nutrition. So I agree with your article, but I don’t think your choices are going to win over the “I don’t want to be big and bulky” crowd.

    • Sometimes I do think that crowd has a warped sense of “big and bulky”, most of the girls used as examples for this page are small. I think some girls fear looking too manly and that can be a function of body fat percentage. The oiled-tanned up competition phase never looks that great to me, but it would look awkward like that for any girl .

    • You can’t really speak for most women, it annoys me when women think they are in a position to do this. I personally think you look skinny.

  16. I think all the ladies featured in this post look AWESOME! and not what I would class as big or bulky at all – it shocks me that other women might think that they look bulky. There is a difference between being huge and being lean!

    Great post, thanks for sharing :)

  17. I really don’t know why you assume that when women say they don’t want to get bulky they are referring to becoming as big as a *man*. They probably aren’t. They are probably talking about not wanting to get as muscular as a very muscular WOMAN. If you want to understand the way women think (about fitness), maybe you should understand and accept that your definition of “big and bulky” is not the same as most women’s definition of “big and bulky”, and that the women whose pictures you posted (Neghar, Christine, Erika, and perhaps others) ARE EXACTLY what a lot of women are referring to when they use the term “bulky”. That is not to say, by any means, that anything about what those women do isn’t amazing or admirable or that their bodies are unattractive, but the fact is that they are more muscular (perhaps FAR more muscular) than most women would prefer to be, themselves. THAT is what is meant by a woman saying “I don’t want to get too big”.
    Sorry if this is coming across as a rant, or as if I don’t appreciate that you are working to correct the misinformation that’s out there (which is STAGGERING), but it is really frustrating to hear people (mostly men) talk on this issue without seeming to understand that “I don’t want to gain a lot of muscle mass” does not mean “I am scared that if I touch a 20 lb weight I will instantly transform into The Hulk because I know nothing whatsoever about biology”. It verges on insulting, to be honest.

    • you’re definitely entitled to your opinion and I respect that. However, many women are merely afraid that heavy weights are going to make them huge – which isn’t the case. So what happens? they continually parade around the gym lifting the 5lb dumbbells and never, ever making the progress they wish to make.

      I think many of my readers will agree that the article is neither insulting or misleading.

      • “many women are merely afraid that heavy weights are going to make them huge – which isn’t the case”

        I think what L is trying so is that by some womens standards the pictures you have posted above are what we mean by ‘big and bulky’.

        • Pile on a more “typical” level of body fat on top of the base of muscle you’re seeing, and I think you’d be surprised. Granted… the OP makes a very good point. “Bulky” is a relative term – for women AND men.

          However, I think a lot of people get fooled by pictures of both sexes who are carrying very low levels of body fat. Think genetic elites and contest prepped folks, like some of the women in JCs post. I appear much larger and bulkier when I’m 175 and 7% body fat than what I do when I’m 190 and 12% body fat.

          It’s the master illusion that very low body fat levels provide.

          In my experience, after working with a lot of women, I can say that the vast majority are going to need some form of progressive, heavy strength training in order to reach the goals that they have. And that plan of attack is going to make their muscles grow.

          When that newly acquired muscle is paired with very low body fat levels, most women would be turned off by the image. However, when that newly acquired muscle is paired with more normal body fat levels… it provides just the level of shape most are shooting for.

          Again, just my 2 cents from my own experiences.

    • I absolutely agree. I read the title and was like “Of course, I know that lifting is good and will do wonders for female physique.” Scrolling down to see the pictures, however… those women have arms and abs that I would never want to have. I find it unattractive. Even if men like it, I do not care. I bet there are way better examples to show women that they will not get “bulky” with weights than these women. They seem incredibly talented, hardworking, and dedicated to fitness than I will ever be but I would not trade my body for any of theirs.

    • They look muscular because they’re extremely lean, not because they have too much muscle. In that sense, the fact that you think they’re “bulky” has nothing to do with the weights, and that’s what JCD is trying to say. You’re probably just fat, to be honest.

  18. Thank you for the great article JC. I would love to share my story with you as well. I am a dancer (professional modern dancer) in the Baltimore area. In one year, I have gained more strength, endurance, flexibility and mobility as a result of my training program which includes lots of heavy lifting. I am proud of my new body and more confident than ever. I thought that my back was the cause of all if my dance issues. Turns out it was my tight hips and weak glutes..a dancer with weak glutes? There are more of us than you think. You can read my posts about my back and new found glutes via my website, Thanks again JC!! By the way, my post “Train Like a Girl,” includes a video of one of my training days along with a picture of me NOT looking big and bulky!!

  19. Hi JC, great post and great examples of women. I gotta say that I’m tired of hearing this from women. Being a fitness trainer myself, you can imagine I hear this a lot…lol. I have about 3 years of consistent strength training myself and just like the women above, I don’t see myself getting bulky at all even though I’ve practiced progressive overload over time.

    In fact, sometimes I get frustrated that I don’t get as much muscle as I want :) But, I definitely love the shape that muscles give to my womanly body. I’ve always said that muscles are sexy!

    Anna D.

  20. JC, it’s unbelievable watching women push 2kg weights in the gym. Saw two women doing lunges the other day with a 5kg barbell … what’s the point? Having said that, just six months ago I was one of those “I don’t want to get big and bulky” women and now slowly but surely my shape is changing for the better and I can’t believe I wasted all those years. I love pushing the heavy weights! Good on you for getting the message out there! :)

  21. It’s strange that here we are in 2011 and this dude name JC who has a fitness blog has himself a resource which is FAR superior to any of the crap in Muscle & Fitness.

    This would not have been possible 10 years ago, but now it is. All people care about is the truth, whether it’s in a blog or on youtube. Having a big company support you just means you’re probably paid off to sell some horizontally or vertically integrated product in some pyramid scheme (whether you realize it or not).

  22. It amazes me that myths like this still persist, but this article proves to be another bullet in bringing the beast DOWN! Thanks for the post! Great Job!

  23. Great Job JC! , now i can refer my female friends here whenever i hear the popular “big and bulky” comment.

  24. Good stuff, man! I have all my female clients lifting like this (as long as there are no injuries, issues, etc. we have to fix first) and they all love it. And good point about the credentials. I have an MBA, but I do this because this is my true passion. Keep up the good work!

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JC Deen is a nationally published fitness coach and writer from Nashville, TN. Currently living in the blistering Northeast. Follow me on X/Twitter