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  • Writer's pictureClaire M. Burnett

The "Bulk" Controversy

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

Let's shut it down.

I can't tell you how many times I've talked to a "gal-pal" that has horrible preconceived notions of what it means to be a Crossfitter or someone that lifts weights. As much as I love these girls, they're usually largely misinformed and frankly…just "intimidated" or scared. That's not a great excuse, and let's talk about a few reasons why the weight room should be your long term homie.

Wary of Weights

"I've never stuck with a regular weight routine long enough to see big changes, whereas when I go for a run or a swim, I feel better right away. I know lifting weights is good for me, but I just can't make myself do it on a consistent basis. It's hard enough to find the time to exercise let alone fit something into my routine that doesn't seem to have a quicker payoff."

More than six million women who regularly work out share these sentiments. Despite the universally acknowledged health benefits of resistance training (and there are several, from reducing blood pressure to warding off arthritis and strengthening bones, muscle, and connective tissue [check for yourself]), "of the 12.7 million women who belonged to a commercial health club last year, only about half used weight machines and only one-third lifted free wights." Although those numbers are up slightly from four years ago, they're still pretty low.

That's why experts now want to get the message out that weight training -- even just two times a week -- is an essential part of the total wellness package.

Strength Training is Functional

Resistance training helps women fight the aging process by maintaining lean muscle tissue. Other researchers have found weight training improves the way the body processes sugar, also reducing the risk of diabetes.

For women who want to lose weight or prevent weight gain (and most of us fall into one camp or the other), strength training is key: In our mid-30s, we begin to lose 5 to 10 percent of muscle strength each decade. Since muscle burns an estimated three times more calories than fat, adding two to four pounds of muscle can translate into an extra 100 calories burned each day. A high-intensity strength routine has been shown to bump metabolism by 20 percent for several hours post-workout.

If you combine weight training with cardio, the benefits are incredible. One study found that women who did 25 minutes of step classes plus a total-body resistance routine for 12 weeks significantly reduced their resting heart rate, body-fat percentage, and blood pressure, and increased their strength and endurance significantly more than those who only did aerobics.

Finally, there's the reality that when you have more strength, many of the daily demands of life -- from picking up a child to carrying armloads of groceries -- are simply easier. It's one reason many trainers today emphasize "functional fitness." It's not just about isolating one muscle, like your biceps or glutes. In real life, your body acts as a whole unit, engaging multiple muscles simultaneously.

The "Bulk" Controversy

Even with all these benefits, many women still resist strength training for one reason: fear of getting bulky. Women don't necessarily want to look like a pro - wrestler.

The reality, however, is that it's nearly physically impossible to build bulky muscles like a guy. While yes, you CAN bulk up, you also have the option to choose NOT to while weight training. In fact, studies show that combining resistance training with regular cardio will only help you to look leaner as you become stronger.

Worried about time!?: Resistance training doesn't even have to be a big time commitment. Majority of my Crossfit workouts are less than 30 minutes. SURPRISE!

Does Yoga Count?

What if your strength training comes in a less traditional form than dumbbells or machines? Devotees of disciplines like yoga and Pilates say they get all the lean muscle they need from their chosen disciplines. But experts disagree.

You will build some muscle with yoga poses that have you supporting your body weight against gravity, but eventually you'll reach a plateau and will need to add weights or some other form of resistance." Pilates mat classes present the same limitations, and while spring-loaded machines like the Reformer do offer a progressive resistance, they at least partially support your body weight, so you won't get the same weight-bearing benefits of many standing strength poses.

Sculpting classes like Yoga Sculpt offered by CP Yoga can be a great introduction to resistance training for many women. If you do take sculpting classes, make sure you're working at the right intensity, or you'll stop seeing results.

Either Way…

GRAB SOME WEIGHTS sis! As long as you're fully fatiguing the muscles, it doesn't matter what is providing resistance.

Got a question I didn't answer? Email me at


Coach B


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