Will weights bulk me up? We ask the experts 

Nike Ankle Weights 2.5k, £30, Nike, This Works in transit muscle therapy, £18 for 50ml, This Works, Sweaty Betty Weight Training Gloves, £25, Sweaty Betty
Nike Ankle Weights 2.5k, £30, Nike, This Works in transit muscle therapy, £18 for 50ml, This Works, Sweaty Betty Weight Training Gloves, £25, Sweaty Betty

The weights section in the gym was once the domain of beefcakes in vests. In recent times, women have been getting ever more involved in weight-lifting – the hashtag #girlswholift has almost seven million posts on Instagram – but some of us are still worried that lifting weights could see our bodies bulk up more than we want them to. We spoke to three experts to find out whether our fears were a legitimate cause for concern.

Take it slowly

“The talk about weight training making women big and bulky is physiologically impossible,” says Pete Williams, IFM-certified functional medicine practitioner. “Your body’s hormonal make‑up will not allow you to do so. After several weeks of lifting weights, some women report feeling bigger, but this is a misconception. It has been proven that most changes in the first few months are how the brain tells the muscles to work. In other words, brain and muscles get better at talking to each other and this increases the strength gains that you will see. It also means you 'feel’ your muscles more, giving you the perception that your muscles are bigger.”

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Work to a programme

“Lifting weights won’t lead to an immediate and massive gain of muscles,” says Ed Loveday, senior trainer at Six3nine personal training. “Gaining muscle is a slow process and generally requires a surplus of calories to achieve. The muscle-building process also requires testosterone, which is why generally males have the ability to build more muscle, as they produce testosterone in much higher quantities than females. For women, a sensible weight-training programme, combined with a diet that maintains a slight caloric deficit, will ensure that muscle definition and fat loss is prioritised. Lifting weights can offer a host of benefits, such as improved strength and posture, as well as resistance to undesirable health conditions such as osteoporosis and sarcopenia. Don’t fear building a bit of muscle, they won’t get bulky and will potentially unlock a range of health benefits.”

Cast Iron Kettlebell from BLK BOX Fitness, £18.40, Blk Box Fitness

Set achievable goals

“Women will gain muscle through weight training” says Jean-Claude Vacassin from W10 Performance Gym. “Most women are not going to add a significant amount of muscle mass unless they eat and train with the specific intention of doing so. You need to factor in specific body types and genetic predispositions. It’s much harder than simply picking up a dumbbell a few times, especially after the first couple of months in the gym. The definition of bulking is also highly subjective and the benefits of resistance training are widely agreed. The trick is to do the right amount to suit you, your goals and your body type.”

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