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Help! I Don’t Want to Get too Big from the Gym (Don’t Worry, You Won’t)

By Fitoru | 28 August 2018
women in yoga studio in trikonasana pose

Ever heard this before: “I want to start going to the gym, but I don’t want to get too big!” Don’t worry, you won’t—and here’s why.

The Wonders of Estrogen

Like most other things in life, when it comes to building muscle (in the gym or elsewhere), men and women do so in different ways. In men, the testosterone boost from intense workouts like those incorporating free weights can result in freakishly large proportions. Women, on the other hand, will never get as big as their male counterparts no matter how much strength training they do (even if it includes free weights).

The reason for the contrasting results all boils down to a single word: estrogen. In fact, the estrogen-based steroid hormones that are housed in women’s bodies, while beneficial to their overall muscle strength, have little to do with developing their overall muscle size.

This critical insight for women worried about losing their feminine shape through too much strength-training exercise is supported by an academic article that appeared in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. Among its other key points, the article’s researchers note that: “Evidence indicates that (natural, estrogen-based steroid hormones like estradiol do not) accomplish (increases in muscle strength) by affecting muscle size, (but) rather by improving the intrinsic quality of skeletal muscle whereby fibers are enabled to generate force.”

In short, for women, the net result of strength-training exercise appears to be an increase in the quality of their muscles, minus the He-Man bulk.

Top IG Fit Women

Perhaps there’s no better proof that strength training won’t blow up your body than to take a look at some of Instagram’s top trending female fitness models. Luckily, Cosmopolitan.com provides us with an excellent list here.

From long and lean @amandabisk to Emily Sky’s chiseled torso, what we find is worlds removed from the dense, hard muscle that distinguishes their male counterparts; rather it’s the type of tuck-and-tone that health and beauty conscious women like us strive for.

These women prove that hours of hard training will still keep you looking feminine.

Women’s Workouts that Won’t Result in Bulky Muscles

We get that you want to keep your muscles strong while still maintaining a feminine figure. While we think we’ve already done a good job of making the point that strength-training won’t result in an overly muscular physique, we’re not done yet. Here are workouts you can perform that bypass the weight rack altogether:

  • Cycling/ Spin Classes. These will keep you trim and in great cardio shape, plus they’re a great workout for your legs and glutes.
  • Yoga. This category of exercise has nothing to do with muscle gain. Instead, it focuses on flexibility, balance, and strength, while also aiding your mental clarity.
  • HIIT Training. For more fat burning in less time.
  • Bodyweight Exercises. These techniques include (but aren’t limited to) dips, pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups. Bodyweight exercises will keep you strong without bulking you up.
  • Swimming. This classic exercise can do wonders in terms of developing your muscle endurance and cardio capacity… and it has zero to do with building big, bulky muscle.

Ready to hit the gym? We’ll see you there!

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