The Great Debate: Will Lifting Make Women Bulky?
It's the greatest fear of a woman stepping into a gym with the intention of losing weight that she will instead turn into a she-hulk, with bulging biceps and veins mapping every route under her skin. The instant her trainer steps over to the free weight section, she imagines her first beach appearance rapidly switching from an episode of Baywatch to a terrifying scene of Godzilla. And you know what? I understand where those thoughts are coming from, and they ARE reasonable fears to have. Only, of course, before they voice their concerns. Any trainer worth their salt should be able to explain why weight lifting is beneficial, and how they can guarantee that no woman will come close to being mistaken for Arnold Schwarzenegger without wanting it more than anything else in the world.
Here's the truth: lifting weights can make a woman bulky. However, it takes several key ingredients: she must eat at a caloric surplus, in order to fuel the muscle growth. She must use increasingly heavy weights, in order to constantly stress and tear her muscles. Finally, she must do these things over an extended period of time (because nothing worth having comes instantly).
If a 135lb female lifts weights with a vigorous effort for 60 minutes, she will burn approximately 386 calories. That's not as impressive as if she spent that hour running, but consider this: lifting weights speeds up your metabolism, and that speed is maintained for an estimated 39 hours after you've finished. Cardio also increased your metabolic rate, but the raise is not as significant and it only lasts for approximately 2-3 hours post-workout. If your diet is in check, you'll reap the rewards of using weights (consider what could happen if you ran AFTER your metabolism was raised from lifting!).
The body can do amazing things if you treat it right. Fat cannot turn into muscle, regardless of what supplement advertisements claim. However, lifting will reduce the amount of fat stored on your body, and build lean muscle mass. This lean muscle in turn burns more calories than fat, helping to reduce the amount of fat stored on your body. It's a nice cycle: start treating your body well, lift moderately, and your body will start helping you along!
Instead of getting big and muscular, women who lift weights will experience body recomposition. It's a simple concept, really: regardless of whether or not the number on the scale goes down, they begin to fit into smaller dresses. They notice that their underarms don't keep waving after the rest of their arm has stopped. Their butts lift up firmly, instead of sagging sadly. These changes are due to the muscle growth that they so vehemently feared. The number on the scale stays the same, because that small amount of muscle weighs the same as the large amount of fat. But their appearance is changed enough to warrant hordes of friends and family to wonder how much weight they've lost. The muscle is lean, not bulging. It is tight and smooth, not floppy and pocked.
There are women in the world who want to be as muscular as possible. They work hard for that body, and they have been working hard for quite some time. If you don't want that, you won't have it. Eat at a caloric deficit, don't pound protein shakes every other hour, and use weights that you can effectively hit for 10-15 reps.
In the end, it comes down to experience and time. Give those dumbbell curls a try. If you start seeing some more gains than you like on yourself, lower the weights or try something else. Muscle is nowhere close to permanent. I can almost guarantee you that no one will hate the results of squatting or deadlifting.
Give it a shot. What have you got to lose, except a few pounds?