"I want to start lifting weights... but I don't want to get too big". This is something I hear a lot - mostly from ladies, but from guys too. Let's address it straight up - you won't get too big. Well, unless you're on steroids or you're a genetic anomaly. But as long as you resist the 'roids, I can assure you, you won't turn in to the Hulk.
Most women want to be "toned". Well guess what? To be toned you need two things - a low body fat % and muscle. So, a decent diet and resistance/weight training then.
Thankfully, as general fitness becomes more and more popular, people are finding their way in to the gyms and, with advances in studies & research, realising the benefits of resistance training. Squatting has had it's veil of mystery removed - it's not just for the musclemen of Venice Beach, regular 9-5ers are embracing the squat too! Women like Nikki Blacketter, Gemma Atkinson & Jazmine Garcia are inspiring women the world over; showing that you don't need to jog for 2 hours a day to look great, and proving that the weights area isn't reserved for grunting, testosterone-jacked gorillas.
Muscle needs a very deliberate environment in order to develop and grow. It's an anabolic process and so requires energy. In your body, energy is provided by calories. If you don't eat surplus calories (energy) then the anabolic process of muscle growth can't happen. Calories aside, your body needs protein to grow muscle, so unless you eat specifically to grow muscle, you won't. Beginners, who have very little muscle mass, may see some "newbie" gains", but this will be short lived and you won't continue to "accidentally" grow muscle - it'll need to be cultivated!
When lifting weights, muscle fibres undergo stress and are damaged. These damaged fibres adapt and grow back stronger. Muscle cannot be created unless you create a stress that is greater than the previous threshold your body has already adapted to. "Progressive overload" is the process of lifting more weight as you progress, and is the cornerstone of muscle growth. You might start by doing 5 sets of 10 squats at 40kg. As you progress you might soon be doing 5 sets of 10 squats at 45kg, or 5 sets of 12 squats at 40kg. Unless you progressively lift more, you're highly unlikely to build muscle.
Testosterone is one of the key hormones when it comes to building muscle. Whilst it's seen as a male hormone, women do produce it - albeit in much smaller quantities. Lack of testosterone is one of the primary reasons why women will not get "too bulky", not matter how hard they train. Look at Mattie Rogers - Olympic lifter who dedicates her life to training & lifting the heaviest possible weights. Some female athletes do attempt to gain an advantage over their peers by introducing testosterone. Unfortunately, these are the ones who gain the headlines & put folk off lifting weights. For the vast majority of ladies out there, don't inject hormones into yourself and you won't turn in to Dana Linn Bailey.
Like Mattie above, there are professional athletes and bobybuilders who dedicate their entire lives to gaining muscle. They train religiously and follow strict nutrition plans. They deliberately control cortisol levels, have de-stress strategies and specific sleep plans. These people live 24/7 to develop muscle & power. Rest assured girls, the 4-6 hours a week you spend in the gym won't have you have you bulging out of your bikini, even if you are downing a protein shake every now and again.
Give it a go...
What you will find with weight training is your physical and mental health will improve. Your bone density will increase, you'll lower your risk of heart disease & diabetes. You'll look and feel better. And great news if, like me, you love food... you can eat a lot more! Muscle is a "hungrier" tissue than fat, meaning the more of you have, the more food you can eat.
With the right diet, you'll gain lean muscle and burn any excess fat. The average male can, in his first year of training & in optimal settings, add 1/4-1/2 kilo of muscle in a month. That's around 250g. A month. My picture (right - don't confuse me with Chris Jones!) is the result of a year of lifting weights & being conscious of my nutrition. So please don't let the fear of waking up one morning suddenly being "too muscley" put you off hitting the gym. Work hard, progressively overload your lifts and eat right and you'll add muscle to your frame. If you feel like you've got enough muscle, simply refocus your training & make some dietary changes.
Get in touch if you have any questions about training or nutrition