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Build, To Last: Why Strength Training WON'T make you bulky but WILL improve muscle tone!

Build, To Last: Why Strength Training WON'T make you bulky but WILL improve muscle tone!


One of the hesitations of a lot of women when it comes to doing resistance training or lifting any sort of heavy weights, is that they're concerned about bulking up and looking bulky. I just wanted to talk a little bit today about how that's not a very likely outcome, I guess, from doing resistance training.

And that resistance training is really important for women as well as for men, obviously, particularly as we get older and some of the effects that happen on the body as we age. So as we do get older with every decade, we will lose between 3 to 8% of our muscle mass.

So every ten years you're losing quite a lot of muscle. So what we need to be doing, even from young to middle age, is we want to be doing resistance training to counteract that loss of muscle mass.

You're very unlikely to bulk up a huge amount from doing a resistance based class. So if you are wanting to really build a lot of muscle people like bodybuilders and weightlifters, they need to do a lot of exercises where they're working with just about their maximum weight.

So they will have an extremely heavy weight and they can maybe do the exercise one, two or three times before they've reached the absolute limit. Whereas with our classes, we're working with slightly lower weights and doing more repetitions.

So while the weights are going to be more challenging than your 1 kilo dumbbells that you might be used to in barre, we are not going to the extreme where you're only going to be able to do five squats before you're exhausted.

So you'll choose a weight of 5 kilos, maybe 10 kilos for those of you who are stronger. And you're going to do between 20 and 40 repetitions of the exercise with some different variations in there. So while you will notice changes in your muscle tone and you will feel stronger, it is not going to be in an excessive way.

We're just simply not using heavy enough weights to induce those kind of changes. Another thing is that strength training is also a really good way to improve your cardiovascular fitness and improve your resting metabolic rate.

So as you're getting fitter and your metabolism is burning through more energy, the more muscle you have. That also helps to facilitate maintaining a healthy weight as well. So in fact, you might find there's a less bulky appearance as you're doing more strength exercise.


Key Take Aways:

  • We lose muscle mass and strength as we age - 3-8% per decade. This is associated with disability, frailty and falls in the older population.
  • We also accumulate more body fat, especially abdominal fat, and experience a decrease in resting metabolic rate.
  • Resistance training has been shown to counter the muscle loss and weight gain associated with aging, and increase the resting metabolic rate.
  • Strength training has been shown to have benefits to flexibility and cardiovascular fitness.
    • Building muscle strength and mass improves bone mineral density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
    • It also helps to prevent and/or manage health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression, PCOS, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
    • Faster, higher intensity resistance training leads to more improvements in power compared to slow training. This increase in power directly relates to more functional independence in older adults.
    • Australian govt health guidelines recommend at least 2 sessions of strengthening exercise per week, as part of your 5 weekly workouts.

    References & Sources:

    Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8. PMID: 22777332.

    O’Connor PJ, Herring MP, Caravalho A. Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2010;4(5):377-396. doi:10.1177/1559827610368771

    Santos, Elisa1; Rhea, Matthew R2; Simão, Roberto3; Dias, Ingrid3; de Salles, Belmiro Freitas3; Novaes, Jefferson3; Leite, Thalita3; Blair, Jeff C2; Bunker, Derek J2 Influence of Moderately Intense Strength Training on Flexibility in Sedentary Young Women, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 11 - p 3144-3149

    doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e38027

    Kathryn H Schmitz, Peter J Hannan, Steven D Stovitz, Cathy J Bryan, Meghan Warren, Michael D Jensen, Strength training and adiposity in premenopausal women: Strong, Healthy, and Empowered study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 86, Issue 3, September 2007, Pages 566–572,

    Cheema, B.S., Vizza, L. & Swaraj, S. Progressive Resistance Training in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Can Pumping Iron Improve Clinical Outcomes?. Sports Med 44, 1197–1207 (2014).

    Kelley, George A. DA; Kelley, Kristi S. MEd; Tran, Zung Vu PhD Resistance Training and Bone Mineral Density in Women, American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation: January 2001 - Volume 80 - Issue 1 - p 65-77

    Rodrigo Ramírez-Campillo, Angélica Castillo, Carlos I. de la Fuente, Christian Campos-Jara, David C. Andrade, Cristian Álvarez, Cristian Martínez, Mauricio Castro-Sepúlveda, Ana Pereira, Mário C. Marques, Mikel Izquierdo,

    High-speed resistance training is more effective than low-speed resistance training to increase functional capacity and muscle performance in older women, Experimental Gerontology, Volume 58, 2014, Pages 51-57.

    Roger A. Fielding PhD, Nathan K. LeBrasseur MSPT, Anthony Cuoco MS, Jonathan Bean MD, MS, Kelly Mizer BS, Maria A. Fiatarone Singh MD, High-Velocity Resistance Training Increases Skeletal Muscle Peak Power in Older Women:

    May 2002 - Volume 50 - issue 4,

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