We’ve all been to dinner parties right? You hang out in a room with people you’ve never met and you get to show off your mastery of small talk. Well one of the most common things that I hear at these dinner parties once the subject of CrossFit comes up is “I could never lift weights, I don’t wanna look bulky!” As they say this looking at a 6’4″ lanky gym owner that looks more like your average obstacle course enthusiast than The Rock.
While we won’t cover the societal reasons this comment comes up, let’s put to rest the concern entirely.
What Does Weightlifting Actually Do To Your Body?
In order to move, our body contracts our muscles to move our bones into position to accomplish a task. If you have a harder time moving something (resistance), your body will send more blood flow to the muscles required and activate more muscle fibers to get the job done. When we perform tasks that are at the end of our capabilities to accomplish that task, muscle fibers start to break down as we do that task! In the time after (our recovery period), our bodies will repair and create new muscle fibers to be better prepared the next time we do that task. (Can you believe it? Exercises don’t make you stronger, it’s how your body responds to those exercises that does! I feel like someone should be chanting “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”)
It is during this recovery period that the benefits of weightlifting over standard cardio become apparent, as our bodies have to adapt more and create larger muscle fibers (type 2a and 2b for us nerds). We actually end up burning calories from our weightlifting sessions for up to 39 hours after the session! All that calorie burn can make you hungrier and this is where the concerns about getting bulky should actually arise.
How Do You Bulk Up?
Now, if you’re concerned about getting bulky, we need to acknowledge a near universal truth for nearly all humans: if you eat more calories than you burn, you will put on weight.
If you’re exercising regularly and performing strength building movements, this will cause you to put on more muscle. The composition of those meals will determine whether you look like The Rock or Brian Shaw, but you will become a larger human. If you eat as many calories as you burn, you should maintain the same weight (hence why Hugh Jackman has pretty much looked the same in every Wolverine role). And, if you eat less than you burn every day, then you should be losing weight (which is why body builders can look so lean and people lose weight if they don’t have thyroid or other medical issues).
Now, that being said. Genetics will also play a role in how you look when you exercise! Some of us naturally produce more testosterone, which is a natural hormone that releases human growth hormone that allows for more production of muscle fibers. This aids with recovery from workouts, which is why steroids (added testosterone) is so helpful for athletes trying to illegally gain an edge in their sport! And as you gain more muscle, the bulkier you look. The thing is, that you still have to eat enough food to support this growth and acknowledge that men create 10x more testosterone on average, meaning that it is gonna be harder to ladies to bulk up. It’s why in the World’s Strongest Person competitions, the women average about 250 lbs.+ and the men average 400lbs+.
Along with this, if you are looking for a certain style of physique, how your levers are proportioned (the length of your bones) and where your body prioritized the storage of fat will also play a role in how you look as you try to bulk up.
Which leads us to the most important part of bulking up:
Will I Get Bulky From Weightlifting?
Only if you want to!
It takes athletes years of intense training and dedicated nutrition to end up looking like CrossFit Games athletes. The amount of food and focus on recover is immense to be a male at 200 lbs. + w/ 8-10% body fat and female at 150 lbs + w/ 12-14% body fat respectively. To get that size, they are eating enough food to sustain 3-4 hours of training as well as their current muscle mass! That means about 3500-5000 calories per day depending on the athlete!
As an everyday athlete, the concern about getting bulky shouldn’t be a worry. If you are going to the gym to lose weight, as long as you eat less than you burn and workout regularly, you will lose weight. The only “bulking” you should expect to see is some muscle definition as your body fat lowers to the point that your muscles can be seen. Eat healthy the majority of the time, get quality rest, drink enough water to not be thirsty, and you’ll end up finding an equilibrium where you are content and able to do everything you want to do!
If you want to get bulky, now you know how! If you wanna lose weight, then eat less than you burn. If it is overwhelming and you need accountability, a nutrition coach can help immensely! If you find you are running into medical issues or something just isn’t budging, then a registered dietitian will be able to provide that appropriate level of care!
Wanna talk nutrition? Set up an appointment with one of our amazing nutrition coaches HERE!