Women and the Myth of Bulking Up

By PJ Glassey, CSCS

If you are a woman, it simply isn’t possible to “bulk up” with two 20 minute sessions per week. It’s just not enough time and you don’t have the hormones necessary for it anyway. Testosterone is the main hormone responsible for muscle mass and girth increase[i]. Men have this in abundance so it’s easier for them. Some men are bulky and strong without even lifting weights because they have such high levels, but that gift usually comes at the expense of hair loss-another effect of high testosterone.

Women have about the same testosterone levels as a 10 year old boy, so “bulking” is obviously not a possibility[ii]. Even women who want to bulk cannot do so without the aid of bulking supplements, drugs, steroids, excessive supplementation, and hours per day of heavy conventional weight lifting

Women who do spend hours working out and lifting weights without the drugs and steroids, end up looking like world fitness champion Suzie Curry pictured at the bottom of this page. She told me that her workouts were a “full time job”. Exercise is her occupation. Suzie lifts weights more than 20 hours a week and trains with cardio another 10-15 hours on top of that! As you can see, all this exercise has not made her a giant bulky woman. She stands 5′ 2″, weighs 110 lbs. and has a 24 inch waist. Her muscle definition is obvious but her arms measure only 10.5 inches in circumference. You can also hopefully understand that if she can’t bulk up with great genetics and 30+ hours of exercise a week, no X Gym member can on just 42 minutes a week.

Every woman who has ever come to us feeling as though they were “bulking up” was also dealing with excess weight they needed to lose. They mistakenly assumed their clothes were getting tighter because of muscle increase. Women who gain weight at the X Gym are doing so because their food intake is increasing (whether it be conscious or not) at a higher rate than their activity is

All exercise burns fat and should make you lighter and leaner[iii]. Working out at the X Gym will not make you fatter or heavier! If you are gaining weight or your clothes are getting tighter, your eating habits need to be addressed. The X Gym protocols are specifically designed to improve strength without bulk or weight gain[iv]. The constant variation in exercises and protocols encourages renewing muscle innervation improvements but cuts short the time and repetition necessary for hypertrophy and effectively skips this phase. This is the whole purpose of our system.

I have had bodybuilders come to me on occasion to try to put on more mass with the X Gym protocols and have turned them away because it’s simply not possible. They need the hypertrophy phase and our protocols are specifically designed to avoid it. To achieve bulk, they need more time and longer durations with the same routine to take advantage of the hypertrophy process. I tell them I can cut their workout time down from 8 hours a day to 3 hours, but 21 minutes, twice a week is just not enough for anyone to bulk up.

Staying out of the hypertrophy phase is not the only way X Gym protocols avoid muscle bulk. Another way is due to the time under tension. Since each exercise takes 2-3 minutes, endurance is required. When a muscle cell has to adapt for endurance, it wants to shrink down to become more efficient. This is why marathon runners look so skinny. Muscles don’t shrink with the X Gym workout however, because strength improvements are also demanded of them. What actually happens is the muscle just becomes more dense, compact and harder. Isn’t this what most people want? Indeed, 95% of the men polled would rather look fit and toned over bulky like a bodybuilder, and 99.7% of the women would prefer to look toned over huge.

When I was trying to bulk up, my scale weight went up only 3 pounds in 7 months but my measurements didn’t. I traded fat for muscle. My arms and chest looked bigger because of definition improvement, but the girth measurements were the same. My testosterone levels are right in the middle of the normal range for males, so I have enough to grow a beard, but not so much that I am balding. If you’re worried your testosterone levels, you can Boost low testosterone with Skinny2Fit.

If you are a woman who you feels like you’re “bulking up” then your testosterone levels would have to be much higher than an average male’s and unless you’re growing hair on your palms and could sing bass for the Oakridge boys, that’s just not the case.

It’s easier to blame weight gain on an external factor than to make the necessary changes to a nutrition program. The question I ask women who are gaining weight at the X Gym is, “do you think exercise is fattening?” They of course answer “no.” My next question is, “then what in your life is fattening?” If you are gaining weight or feeling like you are bulking, ask yourself the same question because it is certainly not due to muscle size increase.

I have also talked with women who feel they have bulked up in the past and are afraid of it happening again. Again, in every case, each individual was dealing with a weight issue at the time and misinterpreted their spot-bulking as muscle when it was really fat tissue. Yes, traditional weight training is the best technique for bulking up. In fact, that is the whole puropse for its invention back in 1891.Even with this method however, women can’t bulk up without drugs and LOTS of time. The X Gym methods are different though. They are backed by research and founded in the principles that tone and strengthen without the bulk.

Not all women store fat in the same places. Some gain in the arms and shoulders before the hips and thighs and attribute it to muscle bulk. Others gain in the upper back and neck and feel their “traps are bulking up”. In my 15 years as a personal trainer, I have yet to hear a complaint from a lean woman who feels she’s bulking up, but have heard the complaint from dozens of women who have excess weight they are trying to lose. I have worked with so many women liked this and managed to help them lose weight dramatically! They were ever so grateful, and I have even been given some lovely gifts for my work. Some of my clients have researched “ideas for my trainer” and managed to find me the perfect gift. Some of these ladies have been so thoughtful in repaying me for what I have done for them and how I’ve managed to change their lives!

The last woman I consulted with was eating a certain food item that was contributing and extra 50 grams of carbs and 30 grams of fat each day without her realizing it because she had read the label wrong. As soon as she cut it out of her diet, she lost weight at a rate of about 2 lbs. a week! Another woman was doing most of the things right except water consumption. She was chronically dehydrated without knowing it. As soon as she got up to her required intake, she lost the weight and also cured her daily headaches! This shows how important diet really is to your training process. You will not experience the desired effects from your hard work in the gym if you don’t have the right nutritional habits. Many people subscribe to programs like Fitness Muscle Meals for their nutrition, getting a helpful selection of food delivered to their door regularly. You can check them out at fitnessmusclemeals.com.au if this sounds like a nutritional program that could interest you. If you can’t figure out what is fattening in your life, please sit down with your trainer or schedule a time with Sharmon or PJ so we can get to the bottom of it. It may even be a habit or practice that you are completely unaware of that is the problem!

[i] Bossco C, et al. (2000). Monitoring strength training: neuromuscular and hormonal profile. Med. & Sci.

in Sports and Exer. 32:202-208.

[ii] De Vries, H.A. Physiology of Exercise for PE and Athletics. Dubuque, IA: Brown. 1974.

[iii] Flynn, M.G., et al. (1990). Int J Sports Med. 11:433-440.

[iv] 1.) Berger, R. (1972, August). Strength & Health, pp. 44-45, 70-71.

2.) Human Bioenergetics and its applications. Exercise Physiology. New York: Wiley. 1984

3.) Hass, C.J. et al. (2000). Single vs. Multiple Sets in long-term recreational weightlifters.

Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 32:235-242.