If You Lift Weights, Will You Get Bigger Muscles?

As more and more fitness trainers and blog articles describe the many benefits of strength training, many ­­people who never tried it before are now curious about lifting weights. Unfortunately, some folks worry about "bulking up," so they refrain from it.

In my professional experience, women tend to be the most concerned about getting "bulky," but I've also encountered men who worry about this. (I don't blame women for this -- we are constantly bombarded with media messages that tell us to be smaller and frailer, but that's a soapbox message for another article.) They are afraid that if they lift weights, their arms will get too big for all their shirts, their legs will look like tree trunks, and their midsections will grossly thicken. So instead of benefiting from weightlifting, they revert back to the same old cardio-centric program that has never worked before and probably never will.  Then they wonder why they're still gaining or can't lose fat. 

You may think that lifting weights will turn you into the Hulk, but the concept of gaining bigger muscles isn’t so black and white...or green. It is WAY harder than you think to get those giant muscles that you fear. Instead of getting bigger, weightlifting (done right) is the best way to get those long, lean muscles or smooth, toned look that you crave.  

Unless you're dumped in a bucket of radioactive ooze or whatever, it's gonna be REALLY hard to look like one of these guys. 

Unless you're dumped in a bucket of radioactive ooze or whatever, it's gonna be REALLY hard to look like one of these guys. 

Of course, weightlifting CAN make you bigger, if you train and eat in a way to support that growth. Here are some things to consider, whether you ARE or are NOT interested in making your muscles grow larger. 

What is your gender?

Women don’t have nearly as much testosterone as men. This means that unless their bodies are very unusual (like some Olympians this year) or take steroids, they can't bulk up at the same rate as men, according to Tipton. Testosterone and a few other sex hormones help in the production of proteins that build muscle. And in the process called hypertrophy, these hormones go overboard and muscle fibers are created. 

So ladies, if you’re afraid of getting as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger, don’t be. It’s genetically impossible.

Regardless of gender, if you want to make a difference in your health, one of the best ways to do that is through strength training. And if you want bigger muscles, hypertrophy should be your goal. In order to reach hypertrophy, you’ve got to lift. Heavy.

One way to do this is by finding your one-repetition maximum (the maximum amount of weight you can lift in one rep, or 1RM) and then lifting in a strategic range of reps, sets, and percentages of that weight (to learn more about lifting on your own, check out the Science and Practice of Strength Training -- but a good personal trainer is the best person to talk to about this).  Now, I don’t recommend you going to the gym and piling a bunch of weights on a bar; there’s an easier (and safer) way to do this.

There are several calculators online that can help you calculate your 1RM. Here’s a calculator from Bodybuilding.com, or if you’re really up for the challenge, you can calculate it yourself using Brzycki’s formula (hint: use the calculators).

Of course, these calculators won’t always be accurate. It’s because they give you your 1RM free of conditions and situations you may be in. For instance, it doesn’t account for if you’re not used to lifting every day. or if it’s even your first time in the gym and you’re feeling nervous.

The more accurate route is to test out your max with yourself AND a personal trainer to prevent injuries. 

To summarize, if you don’t want to get too bulky, your chances of that happening are slim if you’re a woman. And even if you're a dude, you're going to have to work hard to bulk up. But there are two other factors that play a hand in the muscle-building process.

What do your genes say?

The type of muscle fibers that your body predominately uses is determined by your genetics. There are two main types: fast- and slow-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers contract fast and make it easier to gain muscle.

Slow-twitch fibers do have their perks, though; they’re ideal for activities involving endurance, and they fatigue a lot slower. You can research which types of fibers your body is mostly comprised of following this guide.

How intensely are you training?

Regardless of your gender and genetics, you have to push yourself if you’re interested in gaining more muscle. Doing the same number of reps with the same weight will engage your muscles, but it won’t make them any larger. If you want to see change, you’ve got to make a change! That's one thing that a certified personal trainer like me can help you with. We can put together a plan that varies the intensity and techniques of your workout in the right way to  fit your body and your goals -- whether or not they include growing massive muscles. 

Do you lift? Do you want to learn how to make lifting fit your goals? Just get in touch with me today to set up a complimentary consultation. We'll get you started safely and successfully.