The "B" Word
“Do these squats make my legs look bulky*?”
Recently, a fitness professional friend of mine posted on social media asking “aren’t we done with the myth that weight training makes women bulky?”
As in, haven’t we slayed that damn dragon for once and for all?
No, I don’t think we have. And the reason is that “bulky” is such a subjective descriptor.
What does bulky look like to you? Is it the same as what bulky looks like to me??
I deliberately chose the picture above because I think my legs do look kind of bulky. I also happen to think they look pretty strong and kickass.
Again, totally subjective, and I imagine that some people will look at that picture and think “bulky” and others will not.
There are a couple factors that I want to talks about that might shed some light on why some women appear bulkier than others.
The simplest reason for a bulky look is excess body fat. A person who is doing consistent resistance training (and therefore has some muscle) will look bulky if they *also* have excess body fat.
But, puh-leez, do not let this keep you from lifting heavy things even if you are currently carrying some extra adipose (a.k.a. fat) tissue!
Muscle is an essential component to getting lean, and that “bulky” appearance is just a part of the process. Increasing muscle mass will actually move you much more quickly toward your ultimate goal of getting a lean and defined look (assuming that is your goal).
The other reason that some women appear bulkier than others is that we have different body types that respond differently to training. Here’s a quickie overview of the 3 types:
Ectomorph—tends to be lanky and long-limbed. Many competitive endurance athletes are ectomorphs (e.g., Olympic marathon runners). Ectomorphs may struggle to keep weight on (don’t hate!) and have a hard time building muscles and so it is rare to see a bulky looking ectomorph.
Mesomorph—tends to have a more athletic look. Mesomorphs can appear solid and compact (like the U.S. women’s gymnastics team). A lean mesomorph will look muscular and defined, whereas a mesomorph carrying some extra body fat (or one who has trained hard to create some serious muscle growth) might be considered bulky.
Endomorph—tends to have a curvier shape and struggle more to keep their weight in the healthy range. Endomorphs may have to work harder than the other two types to achieve a lean look, and, again may look bulky in the process of achieving that leanness.
These body types (or somatotypes) don’t define us—and many of us are a combination of types—but an awareness of your body type is good information to have.
All of the body types have the potential to be strong and gorgeous! And if looking bulky is a concern for you, understanding how your body type responds to training can help.
*To make reading extra fun...Every time I write bulky, you drink. Water, wine, tequila, orange juice—whatever—it’s a drinking game!