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Training Myths – Can Women Get Bulky?


When it comes to training, men and women are often looking for different things regarding how they want their body to look. It’s common knowledge that everyone, regardless of gender, wants to move and feel great but from there men and women tend to go in different directions.

When it comes to training, men say things like ‘I want to build muscle’ and while in today’s society with the fanfare surrounding body building it’s not unusual to hear a woman say this, women are typically still looking for a physique that enhances their feminine attributes. Women typically want their body to look toned, lean, and athletic and report fearing looking ‘bulky’.

I often see coaches respond to a woman’s fear of ‘bulk by saying that it’s impossible for women to get bulky because their genetic makeup means they don’t produce the testosterone that a man does, but this comparison is often misleading. If we are comparing women to men only in terms of building muscle this is typically correct; a man will almost always be able to build more muscle than the opposite sex. However what I have learnt is this is failing to listen to what the woman is actually saying regarding how she wants her body to look. 

Some women build muscle relatively easy in comparison to other women and this may not not fit with how they want their body to look. If we look at societal norms we start to get a better understanding of what many women are looking to achieve with regards to how they want their body to look. A study which asked women and men to choose the attributes they prioritise in the opposite sex showed that while women choose attributes that relate to personality like sense of humour, intelligence, and sensitivity. Men often prioritise physical attributes which places high societal expectations on how women should look. Along with this expectation by men you only need to look at marketing for womens fashion and beauty products to get an understanding of what society says is beautiful for a women’s physique.

Many things are changing in 2020 for women (and rightly so in my opinion). Many more women enjoy and even feel empowered through performing strength training, loving how it makes them look and feel, but the overwhelming consensus is that they want to feel strong by being toned as opposed to having excessive amounts of muscle. When we have asked what ‘toned’ actually means almost all women identify this as having small amounts of muscle along with lower amounts of body fat, or an ‘athletic’ body. So with achieving a ‘toned’ body in mind, strength training is still an integral training modality for women even having a multitude of other benefits including improved muscle balance (posture), athletic development  and improvements to health and wellbeing. To see these benefits we recommend all women, regardless of age, incorporate at least 2 days of strength training per week in their training, with many being able to incorporate a third without fear of building excessive amounts of muscle that could detract from how they view a feminine looking body.

There are many ways women can set up their training regarding frequency. We recommend that women perform 2-3 sessions per week and break their strength sessions up with other activities such as high intensity training, walking, running, yoga, or pilates in between. When training 2-3 times per week our recommendation is to utilise full body programming where you can hit each body part a minimum of twice per week and for body parts you wish to build more muscle and strength aim to target 3 times per week. 

Please note that this article is by no means saying that women should look a certain way and was not written for women who compete or like a bodybuilding physique. Authentic Health believe in respecting women for who they are as people, no matter their physique preferences. This article was written to let women know that while we are hearing their concerns regarding strength training there is considerable benefit for almost all women and that getting the correct frequency and prescription for their training is often the key.

Yours In Health & Fitness,


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