Here's Why Lifting Heavy Weights Won't Make You Bulk Up

Shutting down that argument, once and for all — with science.

person deadlifting a barbell at a gym
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The weightlifting revolution has long been building momentum; more and more folks are picking up barbells and dumbbells, increasing their strength and power, and banding together because of it. But even with its increasing popularity, there's still a camp of firm believers in the whole "weightlifting will make me bulky" concept.

Well, it's time to crush that argument once and for all. Lifting heavy weights is an excellent tool to help you build lean muscle, reduce fat, and enhance your athletic performance, according to Jacque Crockford, D.H.Sc., C.S.C.S., spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. And, no, pumping major iron will not make you bulk up if that isn't your goal.

Below, Crockford shares five specific reasons why you shouldn't shy away from lifting heavy and why strength training is for everyone.

Building Muscle Takes a Long Time

While there's no doubt that the immediate aftermath will make you feel empowered and give you an instant mood boost, long-term results from working out don't come overnight. Seeing results from working out largely differs from person to person. "Consistency is key when it comes to reshaping your body and making lifelong changes," says Crockford.

To reap any benefits of strength training takes dedication and hard work. But to achieve the physique of a bodybuilder or Olympic weightlifter requires an incredible amount of commitment and years of regimented exercise and nutrition. You won't end up there by accident, promise.

If you're still nervous about grabbing a pair of heavy dumbbells, your best bet is to get some personalized advice from a trainer who can tailor a strength training program that works for you and your goals, whatever they may be. Guaranteed, it'll leave you feeling stronger and more badass than ever.

Yes, You'll Change Your Overall Body Composition...

"Lifting heavy weights is a great way to get the [results] you may be seeking," says Crockford. While doing cardio will help you build endurance, the secret to changing your body composition is creating a solid muscular base. Work with a trainer to find a strength training routine that works for you and your goals, recommends Crockford. (Although, this four-week beginner plan is a great place to start.)

...But You Can Train for the Results You Actually Want

"Women can use resistance training to reach all types of health and fitness goals," says Crockford. Sure, you could use weightlifting to train for competitive powerlifting (like this badass 15-year-old powerlifter), Olympic-style weightlifting, or for a bodybuilding competition — or you can just use it to feel strong and confident (like these strong-as-hell women). There are plenty of plans to suit your needs.

"If you're simply looking to improve your body composition, then lifting weights is a very important component of a well-rounded fitness program," notes Crockford. To gain significant amounts of muscle mass, you're looking at four to six days of lifting a week, versus one to three days of lifting for general health, she adds.

Your Diet Is a Major Contributing Factor

A well-rounded, balanced diet is just as important as working out when it comes to your overall health. But contrary to popular belief, a calorie deficit isn't going to help you build muscle.

"Gaining muscle mass comes from a combination of heavy weight training and an excess in calories," says Crockford. "If you perform resistance training one to three days per week and you're not eating more calories than you expend in a day, you probably won't see a ton of muscle growth," she explains. Try using food as a way to maximize your strength training routine and deliver the results you're after.

You'll Burn More Calories In the Long Run

Lifting weights doesn't only affect your muscle tissue, it also increases the release of testosterone and human growth hormone, both of which boost your metabolism. That said, the amount of hormones released may differ based on your sex and the workouts you do, says Crockford.

"Lifting weights can increase your lean body mass, which increases the number of overall calories you burn during the day," she says. So by adding more lean muscle, you'll be burning more calories outside the gym, even when you're chillin' on the couch or typing away at work.

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