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Fitness Myth #2: Lifting Heavy Weights Will Make You “Bulky”

Fitness Myth #2: Lifting Heavy Weights Will Make You “Bulky”

By Madison Hawks, CPT and Scott Smith, CSCS

If you’ve ever been afraid of looking like this from lifting heavy weights …

image2…fear no more!

Over the last few years, we as fitness professionals have been trying to instill in our clients that simply lifting “heavy” weights or working with “low rep ranges” will not make you bulky. For those individuals that have worked hard to add muscle mass, it’s almost offensive to hear these claims of women or men doing 3 sets of heavy leg presses and seeing there legs explode in size. There’s more to it than that…

But first off, why should you lift heavy (relative to your fitness level of course) weights in the first place?

Because higher intensity or higher loads offer some of the best adaptations exercise has to offer. Including…

  • Increased bone density
  • Increased muscle recruitment (strength/force)
  • Increased power (rate AND strength/force combined)
  • Increased metabolic rate
  • Increased core stabilization requirements
  • Increased confidence
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Increased energy through optimal hormone responses
  • It’s fun! duh.


“Ok, but I don’t want to get bulky remember? You’re saying I can still lift heavy and not get bigger.”

Well, if you want to look like you have pencils for arms and legs, then weight training may not be for you. If you want to have shape to your body; defined arms, small waist, a nice butt and toned legs, then at some point you are going to have to throw some weights around. And to be honest, your genetics will determine what type of shape you ultimately can achieve. Most of us do not have the genetic potential to get bulky without the following three factors in place.

1. Energy Surplus: You have to consume a considerable amount more calories than you expend on a daily basis. And alcohol doesn’t count. We are talking about nutrient dense foods (loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients).

That’s not an easy thing to do on a regular basis. If you are someone who does not want to get “bigger,” then DO NOT eat more than you burn off and we can assure you that you will NEVER get bulky.

image12. High Training Intensity AND Volume: It’s not just enough to do heavy compound lifts. It requires a substantial amount of training volume as well (sets, reps, and workout frequency). And to get to the level of volume we’re talking about takes years of practice. Doing 3 sets of heavy deadlifts once every other week is not enough to demand your body to grow substantially.

3. Hormones: We are talking primarily about the anabolic hormone testosterone here. Men and women both have it, but guys in MUCH higher quantities. And even then it’s often not enough for guys to be competitive in the sports and body-building worlds. One of the biggest differences between the average fitness enthusiast and the professional athlete / body-builder is the use of different substances to drastically alter hormone balances in order to train / recover better and subsequently synthesize those “unnatural”, “bulging muscles.” Solely lifting heavy and eating right do not achieve the physiques you often associate with being “grossly bulky.”

So please do not fear working with challenging weights in those dreaded 1-6 “rep” ranges. Sure, take your time perfecting your technique doing those lifts at lower loads for higher reputations but don’t associate lifting light dumb bells 30 times with getting “cut.” What we know to be true is that a combination of heavy, medium, and light weights worked in a variety of set and rep ranges signal the best adaptations that we mentioned earlier.

Now, anyone reading this who still thinks they get bulky the minute they start lifting (temporary swelling aside), we insist you message us today, because you are a lucky, lottery winning genetic anomaly that we need to study and clone. And we are very jealous of you.

Scott Interview Feature

Scott Smith, CSCS


Madison Hawks, CPT












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