Many people who aspire to good health and a sleek physique, particularly women, eschew weight training because they fear it will make them big and muscular. Many others, particularly men, embrace it for precisely the same reason. So what are the facts? Does weight training, or weight lifting, make you bulky?
Genetics and gender can define the extent to which that happens, as can age. Women have far less testosterone – essential to the process of gaining lean muscle mass – than men, and the process of growth slows considerably with age, although some growth is still possible at more or less any age.
Eat Up, Rest Up and Bulk Up
The received wisdom is that performing limited repetitions with a heavy weight is best for bulking up, whilst increasing the “reps” and reducing the weight is the preferred method for “cutting”, or definition. For many gym users the intention is to tone rather than to grow, and to gain strength without becoming bulky or excessively muscular.
And up to a point that is sound, but it overlooks some essential truths. First off, weight or resistance training is only part of the deal if the object of the exercise, if you’ll pardon the pun, is to pack on lean mass. Over-stressing the muscle causes it to break down, but it needs to be nourished and replaced if it is to grow. This is where diet comes in or, more specifically protein. Protein is the foundation stone of muscle and without sufficient protein intake the muscle will not expand no matter how hard it is punished. This is one of the reasons why you will see guys in the gym who have been training all their lives and pump impressive weights but still look like the sand-in-the-face man from the Bullworker adverts of old.
On top of this, the recovery process is only made possible when the muscles are given sufficient time to rest. It is a well-established truism that failure to allow the body enough time in which to rest and recover will always lead to failure in the process of muscle development.
Grow With Gravity
This doesn’t at all mean that there are not ways of inducing muscle growth which do not involve barbells and dumbbells and clunking slabs of heavy metal. There is increasing enthusiasm for bodyweight exercises, that is using the natural weight of our bodies and the simple force of gravity to provide the resistance needed to stimulate muscle growth. It adopts the same principle and is usually a lot cheaper, but the range of available movements can be limited.
So the answer to the question is that lifting heavy weights can make you bulky, but only if this is what you desire and you stick to the plan. By embracing proven scientific principles and adopting a regime which includes consuming the right foods in the right quantities and taking enough rest, working out with weights which are heavy and become progressively heavier will result in muscle gain.
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