Poll: Are You Afraid of Bulking Up?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Sometimes, I'm almost amazed at how often the questions come up. Women are always asking me about whether certain exercises will (or won't) make their muscles big or bulky. Some even question cardio activities like running or cycling and fear that these activities will make their thighs bigger (to which I always respond, "Have you ever seen a professional runner or cyclist with bulky thighs?") So I'm wondering: Do you fear bulking up?

Now I realize that our society's standards of female beauty include words like small, thin, lean, long, skinny, toned, and not words like muscular, strong, or solid. I also realize that for many women, looking good (often synonymous with "being skinny") is more important than being healthy and fit. And yes, we all have different body types that we can't really change—some people build muscle more easily than others, and other can't build muscle no matter how hard they try.

Personally, I choose strong over skinny. I've chosen strong my whole life. I've been lifting weights since I was about 14 years old and have never stopped. And I've always lifted the heaviest weights my body could handle, and have continued to progress my strength level by lifting heavier weights over time. You won't see me doing squats in the gym with 5-pound dumbbells (although there's no shame in that if you're starting out). But you will see me pressing 140 pounds or more on the leg press, lifting 70 pounds on the chest press, and sometimes—on a good day—even curling 20-pound dumbbells with my biceps. All the while, my body has never gotten bigger. In fact, the more I lift weights, the better my body looks and the better I feel about myself. I've never bought into the myth of bulking up. In fact, if it were possible, I'd probably choose to look more muscular if I had any say in the matter.

How about you: Are you afraid of bulking up? Does your fear keep you from lifting heavier weights or trying certain activities?

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I just laugh when people blame my broad shoulders on playing softball starting at age 6 and volleyball around 12. I still play both (recreationally) today at 27. Guess what? My shoulders aren't overly muscle-y, although my shoulders, back and arms are well defined. My shoulders are broad because I'm built that way, same as my BOTH parents. I'm about 15 lbs heavier than I want to be, all in my midsection, but every time I work out (and I love lifting weights) it's the same - definition and more definition, not size! Report
Oh YES! I have always been an active, athletic girl... I know what certain things do to me.. My arms and legs are monsters... lol... My sister finds it halarious and I dont... Any little thing to my arms and it starts cutting and forming in like a day and this is no overexaggeration. I DONT WANT TO LOOK LIKE A BODY BUILDER... So I just stick to not lifting with my arms! Simply running everyday already has my arms forming... Report
Until recently, I only ever did cardio. I have only just started including some strength training in my work outs but my husband doesn't like to see me work out with weights, he's the one who's afraid I might bulk up! Report
I guess I'm the odd woman out cause, yeah I've worried about that. I want some definition. Especially in my legs and arms and a little bit in the abs. But, I don't want to be "Bulky". Just a little definition and no jiggle for me, please!

When I lifted weights with a personal trainer I actually did gain so much muscle on my legs, thighs, and butt, that I couldn't fit into my pants, but way waist became smaller. I didn't like the way I looked being so buff on my legs that I stopped lifting with legs and only do arms. I guess its my body type. Report
There's a difference between definition and bulk. Some people confuse the two and don't like the look of either on women. I personally love the muscle definition and more proportioned body I get from heavy lifting. Report
I definitely have more tone- and it freaks me out! I always wanted to look waife-like, and I have at times. Now I have more tone and it does make me self-conscious, but my husband says its sexy. And I think at the end of the day I want to find it sexy, too. After all, what motivated me to start lifting years ago was seeing Trinity in the Matrix pull back the throttle on the helicopter and I thought "I wonder if my arms could have that look?" So I know that when I was younger, and a little less over-run with waife-like model images, that I thought muscle on women was beautiful. Report
This myth always cracks me up. See, my VERY FIRST fitness idol was a female bodybuilder (a friend of my father's). And even as a small child I REMEMBER what she had to do to achieve that look. She didn't only bench press more than my Dad. She bench pressed more than my dad WEIGHED (granted, he was a skinny little guy, and still is! But that's still a LOT of weight for a little woman like her!). Her party trick was to pick up--with ease!--the biggest man in the room.

So when I see women going "Oh, I could never lift more than 3 pounds/5 pounds/10 pound dumbbells, I would get bulky!" I want to laugh. MEN wouldn't get bulky lifting those kinds of weights, and they've got tons more muscle-building testosterone than we women do! Report
nope, I will never be able to lift enough to bulk up and I lift quite a bit.
nope Report
No way, I love the mental boost strength training gives me! When I had been very strong, I was always complimented on the results. Having a full time job has reduced my time in the gym but I'd never quit. Report
No I do not fear bulking up in fact I would love an athletic body. I have found my body toning and curves that I forgot I could have. I love strength training and part of it is increasing the weights as I progress with my training. Fear in my opinion is an excuse to not try something, I agree with Clevername1 the people who stand behind the Bulking Myth just don't want to put forth any more. Report
That is the least of my problems. Report
I got into the (healthy) habit of weight training last year and did "bulk" up a little more than I would have liked. I've got a full behind, hips and thighs (in comparison to my upper half). I've read that you will build muscle more easily if you have an "ample" bottom and I found this to be true. I was adding more and more weight to the bar when a squatted and over time my pants got a little too tight. I have since backed off the lower body (less weight) so that I don't "bulk" up too much and have to buy new pants!! Report
I want to be strong/bulky not skinny. I love to have muscles and working hard to achieve it with strengthen workouts and weights. Report
On the contrary: I dream of bulking up. I just wish strenght training would make me look strong and muscular, but that "I just trained a bit and gained these monstrous, huge muscles" will never happen to mee... I work hard, still no remarkable bulking. Oh, to see clearly visible muscle growth, that would be a dream come true... :D Report
The thing most women don't realize is that the average female body is not going to bulk up.
I'm not afraid of bulking up a little bit. Report
To be honest I'd rather be bulky than chunky Report
I love lifting weights and really like the way my arms and shoulders look! It has also helps with DECREASING my waist size, hip size and bust size! Report
i have been working out for the past 20 odd years, off and on. at times, when i have had time to go the gym alot, i have gotten in really good shape & been very well defined. i used to lift kinda heavy, but never bulked up. i like the way my body looks when my muscles are shapely & well cut. i like to LOOK like i weight train. i have never been afraid of bulking up, because i don't have the time it would take to do so. women don't bulk up as easily as men do. professional bodybuilders, male or female. have to devote all of their time to training, to get the bodies that they have. Report
I have been strength training for nearly a year now and I love what it has done for my body and my overall fitness. I have lost 2 clothing sizes without losing any additional weight. I can run farther and longer. I can cycle faster. I can do unassisted pull-ups (which I never imagined doing). I have a fantastic trainer that has helped me improve my strength, fitness and overall health. And for the first time in a long time I am really happy with the way my body looks - not because its perfect (not even close), but because I worked hard to get it. I wish I had started strength training earlier in my weight loss journey - its made all the difference. Report
Nope. People tell me all the time I look strong and I like that.

Skinny thin women always strike me as weak women, and that's not attractive in my opinion. Report
From what I have read about bulking up; I don't have anything to worry about. Report
Not afraid at all, the only thing I was afraid of was making the committment to actually do it. So yesterday I contacted Curves and am going to start that process. I'm feeling great about the changes I've made to date and this is the next step. Report
I've always had really big, strong, "thunder thighs" my whole life. Now that I'm working out more, they're not "slimming down" but looking more defined and sexy. I hated my thighs when I was in junior high and all my friends were really skinny, but now I love my strong, healthy thighs, and nothing's gonna stop me from biking!! Report
No, I am excited to get and look stronger! I think women who are toned are sexy. I also know that building muscle is a process. I'm not going to turn into the Hulk after doing a few curls, so no fear. Report
No way! Love doing weights, been at it for 3 years now, along with a cardio program, so I've lost the weight along with building muscle. Now I just need to lose the extra fat over the muscles to see some definition. The next stage in my weights journey begins soon, I'm joining a powerlifting gym. I'm pretty excited about this as it's a whole new training regimen compared to my gym's fitness/shaping training which I feel I've hit a wall with, I needed a new challenge and this is it. Report
Are you kidding me? I love bulking up. My clients always tease me about looking at myself in the mirror while working out. I admit, I love it when people in the gym have to stop to check me out! LOL Report
No, especially not after reading a Spark trivia that strength training actually helps women get slim!

But seriously I never worry about that. I think a woman with some muscle stands out more in a good way! My dad used to have me lifting a lot of weight, everything from moving furniture to actually doing exercise with 10-20lb dumbells and I never bulked up. My arms were just very toned. Once I stopped that I hated the way my arms looked, but im back on track thanks to Spark!

Anyways I always hear this question. I really dont know where women get it from! In my high school gym class a lot of girls didnt want to do the strength training because of this fear. But im like, really... how many in shape women look like a female Vin Diesel? where they can hardly put their hands down at their sides? lol. Please. Like you mentioned female runners dont have crazy legs and the same goes for swimmers and tennis players. They just look really healthy. Those should be our idols! Report
I'm at no risk of looking like Bev Francis, and I wouldn't want to, but I give her props for the work it took to get that body. I DO think women runners (sprinters) and gymnasts get bulky thighs, and I think they look great. Women don't get gross like male bodybuilders or weightlifters (IMHO) - even with a lot of muscle we wear it more like the muscles men get from soccer or dance and that's way hot!

A week ago I was at a workshop with another woman with biceps as big as a typical guy's. I was envious. Turns out she was on the U.S. Olympic rowing team a decade and a half ago and has kept her body in stellar condition. She was drop dead gorgeous. Report
I wish I could build more muscle! Especially now that I've lost all of the weight I want to lose, it's important to me to try and build more muscle. My strength-routine just isn't cutting it! Report
I have no fear whatsoever of "bulking up." Matter of fact, I wish I could build bigger muscle than I'm able to -- and I lift big and heavy. I think muscle is sexy and attractive, on women and men.

But I realize mostly, it's because I'm out of touch with what other people consider attractive. I was very surprised to read about a survey on Leigh Peele's blog ( www.leighpeele.com ) that said a majority of American women would rather be too fat or too skinny than too muscular.

And you know who was deemed "too bulky" in that survey? Jessica Biel. Wow. She's not even that muscular.

I honestly don't get the skinny week female ideal. My ideal would be way closer to Linda Hamilton in Terminator than today's Hollywood waifs. I want my body to reflect who I am -- a strong, independent woman and mother who can carry my own bags and balance my own checkbook and tell people what I want and defend myself and my children. Without a gun.

It IS a tired old myth that women bulk up from lifting heavy. I am a hormonal freak and have had a higher-than-average testosterone level from birth -- and even at my bulkiest, I don't look "male" or "bulky."
I'm not afraid of bulking up at all. I know from personal experience that strong muscles will help me carry myself better. I lose more inches when I do strength training exercises instead of only cardio. I do have a bit of a phobia, though, about lifting weights in front of men, I prefer to work out with my weights at home, or at a women-only gym. Report
Check my page for what happens to a girl after four years of working hard at gaining strength and muscle...the muscle shape is noticable, but far from bulky! Still able to buy most of my clothes from the children's section (admittedly, an XL for girls is roughly the same as an XS for women, but the kiddie section is cheaper, and usually matches my height better). Report
I weight train consistently. My thighs will NEVER be small, but I can leg press 180 pounds, and probably more. I am more interested in LOSING fat than worrying if my thighs are muscular. I WANT them to be muscular. There is a pic on Spark floating around that shows 5 lbs of fat vs. 5 pounds of muscle. You WON'T be bulkier!! Report
I am do strength exercises but I want to trim and firm. I am not into the bulky look. Report
I have lifted weights on and off for years. I have never had an issue with bulking up. It takes way more time at the gym and supplements to get that type of body than I have. Report
Muscle? Yes. Bulky? NO! I want some definition in my legs and arms. And I definitely want abs. Maybe I'm too shallow, but I'd much prefer to have lean, Pilates and yoga-type muscles than anything bulky! :) Report
I've been seriously strength training with free weights for about 4 months now and my instructor exclaimed, "Wow! You're really losing weight." But in fact, I'm not. I'm simply getting long and lean without the scale moving. And I don't mind that at all. My weight is not listed on my forehead but my toned and strong arms, legs and torso tell the real story. I'm not afraid to "bulk up." I look forward to and press on towards more defined muscles, more strength and most importantly, more self-confidence. Report
I wouldnt mind bulking up a little. right now just trying to make one leg match the other. Report
Nope. And I actually do want to "bulk" up a bit, mostly in the shoulder and arms area, but that would only happen if I kept a stricter eye on my diet, and followed a very particular weightlifting regimen.

Anyway, it's personally more important if I can keep on lifting and apply it to my daily activities. Like today, I went to the pet store and picked up fairly heavy bags (over 20 lbs. each) of cat food and litter, and carried them to my car with no problem. Landscaping projects aren't as strenuous anymore, either. Report
I have been lifting weights for about 2.5 years (about 1-3 days a week). I also lift heavier weights. I have not bulked up (and did not want to). I think the toned, fit look is far more attractive and healthy looking than the skinny look. I'm not the least bit worried about bulking up. It hasn't happened yet! But I have lost that little wiggle under my arms :-) Report
Not at all. Those professional bodybuilders have to work soooo hard to get those big muscles, it's not something that a regular person would ever have to worry about. The only bulk I'm concerned about is the kind that comes from fat! Report
No fear of bulking up for me! When someone describes me, I would prefer they use the terms fit, athletic, muscular, etc. I don't want to be "SKINNY". I want to look like I work out using weights, etc. I work hard and I want people to see that. For me, it's not just about size. It is about health and knowing that I am fit. I like knowing that I am strong too. When I train clients or teach, I always remind my ladies that we are becoming "Strong Women" from the inside out and how sexy strong can be! It creates a different mentality for the ladies and hopefully I can help them to realize that sexy isn't about being SKINNY, it's about being fit and healthy! Report
I think a little definition in the arms and legs is really sexy. I've never been afraid of bulking up and as many other people have said I love seeing that muscle tone when I am working out Report
I use weights a good 3 to 4 times a week and it has proven to be a great way to tighten my body up. I started a while back and the inches were coming right off. Weight training with a combination of cardio is a great way to lose wieght. Report
I love the way my arms look when I'm doing strength training. I'm not afraid of bulking up as a matter of fact I want to a little bit on my arms. I think arms that are muscular and look it are sexy although that might not be everyone's opinion. When I had a gym membership, till they raised the fees $20 in 10 months and got rid of it, I was doing pulldowns at 70lbs in proper form, rows at 50lbs, curls at 30-50lbs, and leg presses at 90lbs. I wanted to see how much I could lift and most of those I could do 3 sets of 12 at least if not more. I'm one of the few women that want to look muscular but not manly, but I also want to be able to brag about what I can lift lol. Report
I agree w Mr Nitro -"ever see those girls who do nothing but cardio? they look skinny but they are soft and fat at the same time. skinny fat I call it. a little muscle on these girls would make them look so much better."

It's soooooo true. A lot of those runners or a lot of the girls who show up to just do cardio classes at the gym have a completely different look. Many of my girlfriends are that 'type' of girl. They are super skinny but still very soft. I want to look athletic, strong and fit. I sometimes get caught up in comparing myself to 'those girls' and saying to myself ohhhhh look how skinny they are....blah blah. They may be a smaller size, but I'm stronger and wouldn't trade my muscles in for anything! The other day my 5'2" size 0 (ugh kill me lol) friend told me how she was jealous I had better abs than she did and how she needed to start working out again. HA If that doesn't teach ya it isn't all about a # on a pair of jeans I don't know what will! :) Report
I too was a swimmer in high school and had a large upper body. I bulk up so fast when i work out in general. But my upper body really bulks up fast and it has become a problem when it comes to buying shirts. I have to buy all of my shirts large enough to fit my upper body and then have the bottom portion altered. obviously, I have the v-shaped upper body that is supposedly good, but it can really be an inconvenience when buying clothes. Report
When I was much younger I was actually down to a size 6. I still had relatively big arms, even though I wasn't doing serious strength training. It's just how I'm built. So I'd rather be strong and big than week and big. The feeling of satisfaction when I was able to fit in a size 6 dress is NOTHING compared to the satisfaction of bench pressing 100 lbs or making the jocks at the gym stare when I pressed over 400lbs on the incline sled. I'm working to get back there, not the size 6. Report
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