The question: You always suggest weight training, but as a female I am afraid of getting too muscular. Are there ways I can weight-train without bulking up?
The answer: Absolutely! (You can stop stressing now.)
Three main factors affect hypertrophy, or muscle bulk:
1. Genetics. Most women, unless they really try, don't have the genetics to "bulk up." Even many men find that it takes dedication to elicit a hypertrophic response.
2. Calorie consumption. You need to eat enough food to build muscle, and most women don't eat enough to gain significant muscle. The caveat: Sometimes when people start working out, their appetites increase or they feel they "deserve" more treats. Either way, they eat more, gain weight and then blame the unwanted increase on "muscle." Most of the time the muscle they have built is negligible. It's their nutrition, not weight-training, that is to blame for the weight gain.
3. Ideal reps. In general, to create a hypertrophic response you need to do four-plus sets of an exercise with an appropriate weight for six to 12 repetitions. It is the combination of the repetition range and the proper load that results in hypertrophy. If you do 10 reps of an exercise with a weight you can actually do 20 reps with (as many woman do) you will not get a hypertrophic response.
The main takeaway: If you believe your genetics predispose your body to easily developing muscle, watch your nutrition and aim for three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions of each exercise you do.
Working out is not just about how you look, it is about how you feel and your quality of life. Regardless of how you aesthetically react to exercise, moving will make you feel better. Plus, being strong will help you do everyday activities with ease, prevent injuries, promote proper posture and strengthen your bones.
Trainer's tip: Still nervous? Take measurements. Often when people start to lose body fat due to weight-training, they see muscle they are not used it. This causes an illusion of "gaining bulk," when in reality their measurements have not increased, but actually decreased. Measurements give you concrete data so that you won't have to rely on guesswork to know how your body is reacting to the weights.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.
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