Does Lifting Weights Make You Bulky?

Do Girls Get Bulky From Lifting Weights

Do Girls Get Bulky From Lifting Weights
I have been a long distance runner for most of my life.  I started running when I was in fifth grade because my best friend's parents were making her join the cross country team and she didn't want to go by herself.  I remember the day vividly because the only tennis shoes I owned were those old school white Keds, so that is what I showed up in for my first day of practice.  I think I ran in those shoes for a good three weeks until my mom got paid and was able to get me a pair of real tennis shoes that didn't cause blisters to form on my Achilles.  Anyways, my friend didn't stick with long distance running and ended up playing volleyball, but because I have absolutely no coordination whatsoever I stuck with running.  Side note: when I was in 10th grade I somehow made the JV basketball team, I think just because I am kind of tall and could play a whole game without getting tired.  I was so bad at the game though, that I accidentally scored one time for the opposing team.  In tenth grade!  Yeah, that was pretty embarrassing and the last year I ever played.

I ended up running throughout high school and then ran on scholarship throughout college.  I competed at Nationals in the marathon event and ran a 3:24 marathon (about a 7:48 mile pace).  I've qualified for Boston a few times since and have run probably 15 half marathons and over 100 10k's.  I love running.  There is something about lacing your shoes and hitting the pavement that brings back so many fond memories to me.  The problem I always had when I was running a lot, however, was that I could always lose weight while running, but I never was able to get that nice, toned look that I always wanted.  I naturally have kind of skinny arms and thicker thighs/calves.  When I was marathon running my legs and rear would get smaller, but were still pretty jiggly and never looked very toned.

Here are some fun blast from the past pictures from when I was running in college.  This was before the days of digital cameras, so the quality isn't great as most of these are scanned photos.

Center bottom

Center bottom

Albertson College of Idaho Cross Country2

(In the center) at Regionals for outdoor track, waiting for my event (10k) to come up.

Albertson College of Idaho Cross Country3

That is me on the right

Albertson College of Idaho Cross Country4

Third from the left. 2006 (or maybe 2007) Albertson College of Idaho girls cross country team.

Albertson College of Idaho Cross Country5

Center, at the start line for a cross country 5k race

I lifted a little while I was running, but I didn't really know what I was doing, and would mostly just lift really light weights in the 15-20 rep range.  It wasn't until I did Jamie Eason's LiveFit Trainer (a free online 12-week trainer) in 2011 that I really started to understand how lifting weights could shape your body in such a different way.  In her program, you aren't allowed to do any cardio for the first four weeks.  Trust me when I say that it scared the heck out of me to completely cut out training.  I was a marathon runner!  I loved running!  That is what I knew and was good at.  But, I put my faith in the program and did as she said.  I was amazed that for once in my life I was actually starting to get some shape to my (normally pancake-flat) butt, and my arms were starting to look toned.  I was surprised that I didn't get big and bulky like I thought I was going to, my body was actually starting to take on a shape that I had always wanted, I just never knew how to get.

I finished her training program in the best shape of my life (my son had just turned two when I finished it):
LiveFit Results
Since then, I've continued a similar style of training where I mostly focus on lifting heavy weights and I really limit the amount of cardio I do.  Typically I lift to failure, meaning I lift a weight that is heavy enough that the last 1-3 reps are too difficult for me to complete with good form.  I do cardio 1-2 times a week and only for around 20 minutes.  I usually do HIIT style training (click here for a few examples of the HIIT workouts I do).  My workouts now usually take 45-60 minutes, which is usually less time then I was taking when I was marathon training.  I'm sure at some point I will get the itch to do another marathon.  Although I've qualified for Boston quite a few times, I've never actually ran it, and that is on my bucket list to do one day.  But, until then, I am really happy with the bodybuilding style of training I have adapted.  It gives me the results I want, and I have never, ever felt like I was getting too bulky with this style of training.  Here is a video I made a while back talking about my thoughts on lifting heavy, and showing off what my husband calls, "hulk mode".

What are your thoughts here?  Have you ever switched from doing a lot of cardio to lifting heavier weights?  I would love to hear your experience!  Leave a comment with your thoughts and opinion below.

-----
Natalie Hodson is a mom of two showing how to balance family, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle.  www.nataliehodson.com

23 Comments

  1. Me! I used to do only cardio! I would run daily, sometimes twice a day. I didn’t have any muscle tone really at that point. My then boyfriend, now husband, suggested to start heavy lifting and follow a muscle and fitness routine that combined heavy strength training and HIIT (which I had never heard of prior). Anyways, the results were AMAZING. Fast forward 2 years and 2 kids later, I have dropped 30 lbs and am 12 below my prepregnancy weight. I have been doing a mixture of heavy lifts and HIIT training daily and at 3 months post partum I am so happy with the results. I do not look bulky in the slightest! I swear by heavy lifting and intervals!

    Reply
    • Yay! Jessica that is awesome!! Great job mama 🙂

      Reply
  2. I have been inspired by many ladies sending the same message you are about heavy lifting. I do want to be toned as I get in shape. My sister is meeting me at the gym tonight to teach me about lifting. She has been in body building competitions. While I have now desire to compete I would like to be toned. 🙂 so, I am excited to give it a try. 🙂

    Reply
    • Awesome Mary!! I hope it goes really well tonight! That is exciting!

      Reply
  3. Did you follow the meal plan when you did Jamie Eason’s LiveFit Trainer?

    Reply
    • Hey Heather! Yes I did follow the meal plan pretty much to a ‘t’. I think the largest part of my results came from following the meal plan actually.

      Reply
  4. Hi Natalie! Thanks for a great post. How in the world did you turn off the “need” to run mentally and emotionally? I am also a distance runner and I just love it. I need it to function. Nothing feels better than being drenched in sweat after a long, hard run. But, I also just had my 3rd baby and and I don’t get the weight loss I need from running (I’m sure my body has totally adapted to it), or of course the muscle definition. I know logically I need to lift more and lift heavy, but I can’t bring myself to stop running. How did you flip the switch mentally not to run anymore? I don’t think I can do it!

    Reply
  5. I, too, was a runner, cardio queen and found the benefits of lifting heavy weights after having my first child in 2007. I was over 200 pounds then! Now I’m at about 130 and actually can see the beginnings of a six pack (in the right lighting lol). I have two more kids now, and weights definitely shape your body more than running ever could. I actually have not been able to run since this past fall, when I was in a car accident and suffered a disc injury. I have been able to continue lifting (no deadlifts and not too heavy on overhead presses) and have continued to drop bodyfat, so its doable without running! I must admit though, I miss the therepuetic aspects of running. I used to be able to receive a bad piece of news and just go crank out a 5 mile tempo run, come back sweaty and heart aching in a good way, with whatever issue I was facing seeming much more manageable. I miss that feeling. I haven’t been able to really recreate that therapy with weights.

    Reply
  6. Yeah… I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be offended when a trainer at the gym saw me working 80# lat pull downs and asked if I was bulking! I was like… ummm… are you just asking b/c it’s heavy or are you saying I LOOK bulky?! I am totally with you! Still working JW’s program and lifting heavy… recovering from my formerly heavy cardio days where I got thinner but didn’t gain muscle. Plus, I felt like a hamster running in a wheel because it was such a slippery slope… it felt like if I slowed down or ate off for a hot minute I was losing ground again. I love lifting because the muscle works for me much more. Still trying to lose the extra body fat so my muscles can pop more!

    Reply
  7. I have been running for a year completing several 5k’s, one 10k, and one half marshal all in 2013. Unfortunately, training for the half caused a knee injury and I have not been able to run in over a month. I am now on week 5 of Jamie Eason’s LiveFit trainer. It’s been years since I’ve done weight training and can definitely see results. I’m a busy mom of 3 so I have to go to the gym at 5 AM. Running caused me to lose a good bit of weight and I was pretty small and petite to begin with. I’ve put some weight back on and I’m loving the definition in my arms/shoulders/back. It was nice to find a new workout program completely different than training for races. I was so sad not being able to run so this program has helped lift my spirit. The results are amazing!

    Reply
  8. Natalie – great post and I agree with you! I used to be in great shape before kids. I even got super lean and competed. Ever since I have had my kids and don’t have the three hours to devote to working out 6 days/week I have struggled to get lean again. I recently came across your website and read most of your posts. I started the LiveFit Trainer today. I am so excited and so pumped! I really like how it is something I know I can make my lifestyle again. Keep posting all the great information! I hope to be as lean as you soon!!!

    Reply
  9. I started doing Jamie’s 12 week workout and am starting week 3. I haven’t been able to completely kick cardio (I too was a cc runner) but I want the toned muscle results… So after reading this ill stop ill do just as she says and hope I see the results I am aiming for “)

    Reply
  10. I just finished the 12 week live fit program by Jamie Eason. I too seen some great results & it has inspired me to continue lifting. As a former cardio junkie & runner, I was a bit skeptical eating that much food & in the beginning doing NO cardio. My biggest challenge was sticking to the diet. I did great during the week, but come weekend I cheated a bit. Ok, let’s be honest- I cheated A LOT! Haha I love snack foods & have always snacked here and there with the main goal of trying to keep my daily calories & fats down. It was hard to wrap my head around eating a ton of protein, 5-6 meals a day & lifting weights. I love the tone I am seeing in my arms, legs & butt & overall just feel so much stronger. I don’t feel bulky at all. I will continue to try to create a diet that works for me & definitely sticking to weights w/ cardio mixed in a few days a week.

    Reply
  11. I am very interested in doing Jamie’s 12 week program between my spring half marathon and fall full marathon, but I’m also breastfeeding. I’m guessing I can’t follow her diet and maintain my supply. Has anyone had experience with that?

    Reply
  12. I’ve been active all my life and am naturally muscular. I’ve always incorporated some form of weight lifting in my regimen, but it wasn’t until I stopped being afraid of challenging myself with heavier weights and made weight lifting (instead of cardio: running, spin, etc) my focus, that I saw major changes. Like you, I’m a bit thicker in the legs. I was amazed that after years of battling my shape with cardio that the weight training actually made a serious impact, tightening up my legs and backside. I’m 26 weeks along with my second and can’t wait until I can get back to some more challenging workouts. First time poster, also just want to say thank you so much, Natalie, for all of the amazing, positive, real inspiration!

    Reply
  13. Greta, as long as you consume enough calories for yourself and your milk production, you should be fine. Just have a chat with a nutritionist to guide you in calculating the correct amount. I’m 4 months post baby and already in better shape than before. This program is a must! Good luck

    Reply
  14. Hi Natalie- I have just started following you and I was wondering when the best time is to start a program like Jamie’s 12 week program. My baby is 1 1/2 and I have really struggled to loose the weight. I need to loose about 45 lbs. Should I loose some of the weight before starting a weight lifting program? I really don’t know where to start?!? There is so much conflicting info out there!! Thanks!!
    Suz 😉

    Reply
  15. Do you also recommend this for people who are still trying to lose weight. I can see someone who is already in shape needing to do this to tone, but for instance I’m 220 started out 236 Jan. 1st this year. I’m worried sorta because even in the military while lean I was still thick in my lower half. I want to lose there,lean then tone. Should I wait to heavy lift or just do it now. I’m eating pretty clean for the most part way better than most Americans… Probably not as good as you though haha! Thanks!

    Reply
  16. I am starting Phase 2 of Jamie Eason’s Livefit on Monday, 2 days. I have gained 7 lbs so far and am really hoping to see this come off when adding in cardio 4 days a week. I am curious as to what your normal routine is after completing the Live Fit Trainer. You said you do cardio twice a week but Jamie does at least 4 days throughout Phase 2 and 3. I guess I’m just looking for something after I have completed the entire program. I was thinking of continuing with the Phase 3 but it doesn’t sounds like this is what you are doing. Thanks so much for sharing, you have given me hope that I can finally lose the baby weight.

    Reply
  17. Hi Natalie,

    I do not belong to a gym, and prefer doing workout at home and fitting in runs outside when I can. Is it possible to get the results with free weights and following Jamie’s diet plan???

    Reply
  18. Hi Natalie,

    I do not belong to a gym, and prefer doing workout at home and fitting in runs outside when I can. Is it possible to get the results with free weights and following Jamie’s diet plan??? Could you give me some ideas to start the heavy lifting program. Exercises that I should start with?

    Reply
  19. What do you recommend for some one trying to lose weight and tone at the same time? I have about 30 lbs to lose and I can’t seem to find my groove. I have been told that I need cardio to lose the weight.

    Reply
  20. I have been trying to get “huge” and “bulky” for about a year and a half now. I do powerlifting and fight competitively, so I lift a lot of heavy weights but I also do a lot of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
    I look muscular and strong, but I have not ever had anyone tell me that I’m “bulky” or “too muscular” or “too big”.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*