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If I Lift Weights, Will I Bulk Up?

Yiwen Lu, MS, RD, CPT
September 22, 2023
September 22, 2023

As a dietitian and a certified personal trainer, I get this question quite often: “I’m a woman. If I lift weights, will I bulk up?” Based on scientific evidence, bulking up is not easy, especially for women. It takes a lot of time, discipline, consistency, and a specific diet.

Keep reading, or watch the video to learn how your muscles and hormones work!

Why Is It Hard for Women to Bulk Up?

A common misconception about women who lift weights is that they will become “bulky.” Lifting weights will increase muscle mass, but it will not create a “bulky” look, for 2 main reasons.

Reason 1: In order to build muscle, you need to be in a caloric surplus

A caloric surplus is when the number of calories that we consume (calories in) is higher than the number of calories we burn (calories out). When we want to build muscle, not only do we need to eat extra foods for more “calories in,” these calories need to come from nutrient dense foods that are higher in protein and carbohydrate, and lower in fat. A diet that is high in alcohol, added sugars, and fried foods will not achieve the same muscle building effects.

Body builders expend a lot of energy during their strenuous weight training routine (calories out), so in order to meet caloric surplus, some might express they even need to slightly “force” themselves to eat more.

Reason 2: Women don’t have enough testosterone to get bulky

Testosterone is the hormone that is primarily responsible for muscle growth, and men have way more testosterone compared to women.

  • Normal testosterone level for men: 270 to 1,070 ng/dL
  • Normal testosterone level for women: 15 to 70 ng/dL

It is very difficult for women to gain enough muscle mass to look “bulky.”

Women Lifting Weights…What Are the Benefits?

Women who lift weights may see some increase in muscle size, but these increase are typically much smaller than those seen in men.

Lifting weights can help women tone their muscles and improve their strength and overall fitness.


The current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests that each week adults perform 2 days of muscle strengthening activity. So make it part of your routine!