Do Women “Bulk Up”?

Question of the Week: When is it ok to stop serving?

Nugget of the Day:  Women don’t “bulk up” from strength training.

I’d like to speak to the ladies with this particular fact.  The average man would love to add a couple inches to his biceps.  But one of the most common fears when women are told they should begin a strength training program is that they are going to get bigger.  Most women engaged in an exercise program are trying to get smaller, or drop some amount of body fat.  So when told that they need to start “lifting weights”, immediately images of Zena the Warrior Princess or Eastern European power lifters come to mind.  Let me set your mind at ease.  If you are the typical woman, there are two main reasons why you don’t need to worry about  “bulking up” from strength training.

The main hormone responsible for muscle mass gain is testosterone.  This hormone is produced in the testes of men, and in the ovaries and adrenal glands of women.  On the average, men are shown to produce 15-20 times more testosterone than women.  This relatively small amount of testosterone compared to men greatly reduces the anabolic (building up) effects of resistance training.  The result: men will tend to put on significant amounts of muscle mass when resistance training, women will tend to see smaller increases in muscle mass and will achieve the more “toned” look that most desire.

In order to “bulk up”, the calorie intake needs to be higher than what is being expended due to exercise.  The typical exercise program that calls for a decrease in body fat will involve a calorie intake below what is expended throughout the average day.  This kind of nutrition plan greatly reduces the body’s ability to put on large amounts of muscle mass.  Obviously some muscle mass is being created due to the stimulus that strength training provides.  But it is significantly limited by the food intake because it takes extra energy and supplies to bulk up, and the body is not getting either.

Are there differences between women?  Yes, it is true that some women put on muscle mass more easily than others.  Most women know where they fit on this spectrum.  Program your exercise according to your body type.  Significantly increased muscle mass is more readily achieved by engaging in a strength training program that involves large amounts of weight and low repetitions.  If you are more prone to putting on mass, engaging in a more circuit-style exercise program will still stimulate metabolism and muscle growth, but not in the “bulking up” fashion.   But no matter where you fit on the spectrum, you can rest assured that engaging in a strength training program will not leave you like the Incredible Hulk, ripping through your clothes when you flex.


Increasing Resting Metabolic Rate

Question of the Week:  What is the purpose of your journey?

Nugget of the Day:  Increasing muscle mass through strength training is the best way to raise resting metabolic rate (RMR).

The major factors in increasing resting metabolic rate (RMR) are an increase in lean body tissue (muscle mass), being young, genetics, or some hormonal change such as hyperthyroidism or monthly cycle.  Scroll through this list and tell me which ones you actually have some control over.  “Being young”?  It would sure be nice to have some control in this area, but unfortunately the clock keeps ticking.  “Genetics”?  Again, while some of us wish we could have chosen our pedigree, our chromosomes are what they are.  And genetics can even account for a 10-20% difference in RMR.  Some engines just run a little more “hot” than others.  “Hormonal changes” are also largely out of our control, so the only remaining factor that we can influence is lean body tissue, or muscle mass.

A few post back I mentioned that excessive amounts of cardiovascular exercise can decrease muscle mass, thereby decreasing number of calories burned, both at rest and during exercise.  Have any of you ever participated in a cardio-heavy exercise routine and wondered why you plateaued after a few months?  One of the prevailing factors leading to this plateau is a decrease in metabolism associated with loss of muscle mass.  Strength training stimulates the body to both retain present muscle and to add additional muscle mass to what you already have.  The benefits gained pertaining to metabolism are in effect for the entire day.  Not only does the body burn more calories during exercise when there is more muscle mass present, but the RMR also goes up and you burn more calories at rest as well.  RMR is important, whether you are trying to shed body fat, or just seeking to maintain your current level of fitness.  And a proper strength training program performed a couple times a week is just the thing your body needs.  I have some workouts that you can use to get started, and keep checking back as I am adding more each week!

“I’m afraid of ‘bulking up’ by doing strength training” is a concern I often hear, and I will address this in the next “Nugget of the Day”, so check back soon!