Myth Busting Series – Part Two: Lifting Weights Makes Women “Bulky”

Today is the second segment of the Female Fitness Formula’s 3-part myth busting blog series. If you missed the first segment by Coach Lauren, “Cardio for Fat Loss”, you can read it HERE. The common fitness myth that I, Coach Artemis, will address today is the “Bulking Myth”, that lifting weights makes women big and bulky.

MYTH: Lifting weights will make women’s bodies big and bulky.

FACT:  Lifting weights will make women’s bodies strong, fit and beautiful, and increases a woman’s lean body mass (muscle) to fat ratio thereby increasing metabolism, and thereby makes women’s bodies more lean, muscular, and shapely.


The media and certain groups within the Fitness Industry have fooled women to believe that they can get “big and bulky” from lifting weights.

There is no such thing as getting “bulky”. This is a term that the media and certain groups within the Fitness Industry, invented to lead women to believe that they need to train differently than men in order to avoid this so-called “bulk”.

As Tony Gentilcore’s girlfriend, Dr. Lisa Lewis, wrote:

“Women’s fitness is controversial. Women’s fitness is confusing. Women’s fitness may or may not even exist. Learning that women and men should be doing the same basic movements to be fit, healthy, and in shape is the same as being unplugged from the “Matrix”, if you will.”

Read more of her post, Unplugged from the MatrixHERE.

What exactly does this mean anyway, “big and BULKY”? This “bulk” that you always hear about is just your muscles getting shape and showing because of proper exercise and diet. If you do not have “bulk” then you do not have muscles.

IMG_1025Women are deceived to believe that in order to achieve the “toned” arms and lifted, firm backsides they desire that they need to train differently from men and do things like pole dancing class, zumba, barre classes, or the Tracy Anderson Method – WHO by the way thinks that women shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 3 pounds. If 3-pound weights “toned” your arms, you’d already look like Arnold Schwartzenegger from carrying around your purse! Dean Somerset wrote a great post about the Tracy Anderson Method, “A Logical Argument Against The Tracy Anderson Method”, that may help to clarify why it is a waste of your time and money.

In reality women need to do the same things that men do – hinge, squat, pull, push. Women should move loads around in this manner in their training so that they can do these fundamental movement patterns with ease in real life.

In what world do you spend your day on demi-point in a half plie pulsing until your quadriceps and calves are on fire??? NEVER!! Or donkey kicks with a ball held behind your knee?? NEVER! How are these movements going to help you to carry your groceries or your child?? Take it from me, a former dancer (23 years of my life!) who used to take REAL ballet barre classes that are nothing like the hyped-up, gimmick driven, barre classes in existence today. The original ballet barre classes indeed had a purpose to focus on technique and to prepare dancers for the more complicated movements that dancers do in dance class, away from the barre, and for their training for performances. Current barre classes are a fad geared towards women to drive them to believe that they need to take these “special” classes in order to get “long, lean, sculpted, toned, muscles” (terminology that I will also address in this post…).

Clifton Harski’s post Marketing Words and Half Truths hits the nail on the head when it comes to the deceptive marketing of these classes:

“ “This total body workout serves to strengthen, lengthen, and stretch the body from top to bottom, from inside out. The end result is a long and lean physique… without added bulk.” That quote comes from a popular franchise aimed at women. The program itself is not bad, per se, but I find the marketing to be bordering on dishonest and well past predatory. Let’s take a look at this finely crafted phrase that preys on ladies’ insecurities…”

You can read more of his post Marketing Words and Half Truths HERE.

Subsequently, many women are afraid to lift weights for the reasons of either that they will get hurt (because they don’t know what they are doing and don’t want to learn how to lift properly), and/or because they will get “big and bulky” and look like a man.

If you lift weights, you will not look like a man, because you are not a man. You will look like a woman, but with lean muscle and shape to your body from this lean muscle. As women, we do not have enough testosterone to build muscle like men. It takes A LOT of work for women to build muscle mass. As a woman, in order to gain this so-called “bulky” muscle mass, you have to follow a specific weight training program to build muscle mass, follow a specific diet (this means eat enough calories and the RIGHT KIND of calories), and even genetics play a part in how much muscle you build and how your body takes shape as you lift weights. Truth be told, you are not going to gain an excess amount of muscle mass from a standard weight-training program. You are going to build the body you want. You are going to build your best self, your sexiest self! I REPEAT: we do not have enough testosterone to put on muscle the way men do.

It is possible to lift weights and still be feminine. Coach Lauren and I are living, breathing, LIFTING, proof.

We both lift weights, and not just any weights, HEAVY WEIGHTS. Lauren can do a Turkish Get-up with 36kg (~80lbs) and I can do a pull-up with a 24kg (~53lbs) kettlebell hanging off my waist. Do we look big and bulky?


I didn’t think so.

Below is a picture of me next to the girlfriend of my friend, colleague, and Owner of Pharaoh’s Army Fitness in Queens, Ari Harris. Ari’s girlfriend is named Maria, she is Greek-American like me and incredibly strong. When I took class with her that day, she selected a 32kg (~70lbs) kettlebell as her two-handed swing size kettlebell to warm-up with AND when we moved onto a kettlebell complex following warm-up, she selected a 20kg (44lbs) kettlebell with which to do the complex. This woman does NOT mess around and CLEARLY she is not afraid to lift weights. 

Maria is to the right of the pic below… Does she look like a man? Is she “big and bulky”?



That woman is a mere 56kg (~123lbs) of lean, feminine, muscle power.

Now that you have seen pictures of three strong women, let’s discuss briefly how genetics play a part in body shape and how this terminology “long, lean, sculpted, toned, muscles” is a complete myth.

What is common about the three of us? We all lift weights, heavy weights at that, and therefore we are strong.

What is different about the three of us? We all have very different body shapes as a result of lifting weights. What my body looks like as a result of lifting weights is very different from what Lauren’s looks like as a result of lifting weights. I will never, no matter if I give up weight lifting for solely yoga and barre classes, I will never have “long lean muscles” because I was not born with long muscles. I was born with short muscles. You cannot “lengthen” your muscles by doing a particular exercise.   You are either born with long muscles, if you are tall and have long limbs, or you are born with short muscles, if you are short and have shorter limbs. You cannot make your muscles “long and lean” unless you were born with long muscles.

In general, we all fall into one of the three categories of body-types:

  • Endomorph (curvy)
  • Ectomorph (tall, long limbs)
  • Mesomorph (muscular)




If you lift weights, your body will ultimately take shape based upon your body type and of course diet plays a role.

If you lift weights you will also increase your lean body mass ratio to fat which means that you will build muscle, and have muscle definition (if your diet is on track!), which is this “tone” that you always hear about.

As defined by O’Sullivan, S. B. (2007). Examination of motor function: Motor control and motor learning. Physical rehabilitation (5th ed.) (pp. 233-234). “Muscle tone (residual muscle tension or tonus) is the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles, or the muscle’s resistance to passive stretch during resting state. It helps to maintain posture and declines during REM sleep.”

Whereas the media and certain groups within the Fitness Industry have defined “tone” or “muscle tone” to be muscle definition that shows as a result of lifting weights, proper exercise, and diet.

What are the benefits to lifting weights? 

Lifting weights…

  • —Increases Metabolism, Muscle Mass, and Lean Body Mass to Fat Ratio

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest, and the leaner you are!

  •  Increases Bone Density, Bone Strength, and Prevents Osteoporosis

 Did you know that we LOSE muscle as we age? Otherwise known as Sarcopenia. That’s right. This muscle loss can begin as early in life as when you are in your 20’s. Lifting weights helps to reduce the speed of muscle loss as you age.

Lifting weights also…

  • Reduces Blood Pressure
  • Better Stability
  • Better Daily Activities
  • Better Overall Health
  • Increase confidence
  • Discover a sense of independence
  • Relieve stress and anxiety levels

If you want to change your body, then you need to get out of your comfort zone, and challenge your body from lifting weights in order to make these changes happen. “Unplug Yourself From the Matrix” and Be Xena in the weight room! In the meantime, you will improve your health, gain confidence, and relieve stress.

As I wrote in my post Be Xena some of the keys to achieving the body you want and your best, sexiest self are




In the book Intervention Dan John writes about how the woman who can do 10 bodyweight pull-ups and military press half her bodyweight overhead, (this is who I referred to as Xena), has a very big “strength glass” and therefore can treat herself once in a while with dessert and cocktails without worrying about it reversing her hard work in her training…  “her entire system has to gather up resources, and then adapt and recover from the effort.”   While Edna who thinks a 5lb dumbbell is heavy isn’t going to tax her body very hard.  Edna can’t eat cake.

“Absolute strength is the glass.  Everything else is the liquid inside the glass.  The bigger the glass, the more of everything else you can do.” ~Dan John, Intervention

Xena-Warrior-Princess0013So be Xena, not Edna.

Why Xena?  Because Xena is a Warrior Princess.  Xena is both physically and mentally strong and independent but she is also a lady.  She is a princess.  Not a Disney princess, a Warrior Princess.  There is something very attractive and empowering about a woman who not only takes charge in her day-to-day, but also OWNS IT in the weight room.


Get out of your comfort zone in the weight room.  Do things, or train to do things that you never thought you might do, like a pull-up or dead-lift more than your bodyweight.  Have confidence that you ARE strong enough.  Refer back to OWN IT and then move to GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.  Do something that challenges you, be successful at it and in turn you will be empowered and motivated to do the next thing that is out of your comfort zone.



Along with challenging yourself in the weight room, do not be afraid to get strong to achieve these challenging goals.  Being strong makes everything better.  As one of my class clients said to me one day,

“Strength Training = Freedom. It means that I do not have to ask anyone for help to lift anything. It helps me to always be strong and independent and to have the ability to move freely.” Iron Body Studios Client Virginia I.

So, to all of you women out there, love your muscles, being strong and be confident with your strength and do NOT be afraid to lift weights. Be Xena, not Edna. These are some of the key solutions that will help you to achieve the body you want and your best, sexiest self! If you’re interested in hearing more about our solution and The Female Fitness Formula, then I hope that you will join us for our next workshop event at the Optimum Performance Training Institute (OPTI) on June 28, 2014 in Columbia, MD. You can register for the workshop at OPTI in Maryland HERE. We look forward to seeing you there!


Coach Artemis #BeXena




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