Does Lifting Cause Women to Bulk Up?

Does Lifting Cause Women to Bulk Up?

Listen up ladies, this blog is for you! Do you avoid weight training because you’re afraid of “bulking up” and becoming man-like? It’s not uncommon for women to think this way, as many are looking to tone their muscles rather than put on muscle mass. Let’s look into this way of thinking and see if it has any validity.

“I’m Afraid of Bulking Up”

So can women bulk up when they work out? The short answer is, yes they can, BUT it’s not easy. Therefore, this misconception should not be of concern for any female member of Elite if that’s what’s detracting you from weight training. Although women can indeed put on significant amounts of natural muscle by lifting weights (as seen with bodybuilders), there are factors that are in place which make increasing muscle incredibly difficult for either gender, with women being at a significant disadvantage.

These factors include (but are not limited to):

  • Commitment in the kitchen
  • Commitment in the weight room
  • Knowledge of what to eat
  • Knowledge of the ideal workout routine
  • Genetics

The biggest factor, dictated by genetics, is testosterone concentrations between men and women. It is well-known that testosterone has a role in building muscle (1).

Below is an easy-to-view table that displays the differences in total testosterone concentrations between genders and ages, which would help explain why women are at a significant disadvantage. These values were determined by the Mayo Clinic (2).

Age Male Female
10-11 yr 7-130 ng/dl 7-44 ng/dl
12-13 yr 7-800 ng/dl 7-75 ng/dl
14 yr 7-1200 ng/dl 7-75 ng/dl
15-16 yr 100-1200 ng/dl 7-75 ng/dl
17-18 yr 300-1200 ng/dl 20-75 ng/dl
19+ yr 240-950 ng/dl 8-60 ng/dl
Decreases by 1% after 30 yr (3).

Notice that, on average, women’s peak testosterone levels reach 75 ng/dl, while the average male will reach 1200 ng/dl at his peak. This is 16x more than the average female!

Worry Not, Ladies

Please note that I am not saying that women are physically incapable of developing muscular bodies. There are millions of women in existence that have done so. The women that have achieved respectable levels of muscle have years of training experience and follow programs/diets specifically aimed at building muscle. This is why it should be of no concern for the adult woman who just follows a general fitness regime.

Go Ahead and Start Lifting!

So what happens when women set aside their fears of bulking up and, instead, pick up some weights? Well, they get stronger, they drop body fat, they add a little muscle, they boost their confidence, they increase their longevity on this planet, and their overall health improves (especially if they start to view working out as a lifestyle, instead of a seasonal hobby when they have the time).

If you are reading this and I have convinced you to expand your exercise horizons in the weight room, I would be happy to show you the ropes to a happier and healthier lifestyle, as well as overcome the phobia of becoming bulky.

Set up a Free Fitness Consultation

Written by Alex Tran, Certified Personal Trainer at Elite Sports Club-Brookfield.


1) Herbst, K and Bhasin, s. Testosterone action on skeletal muscle. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 7(3): 271-7, 2004.



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