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‘Weight Training Will Make Me Bulky’: Myths Debunked by Sports Science and Nutrition Expert

woman squats with weights

A health and fitness goal for many females is to lose weight, gain lean muscle or tone up. With the hashtag #weighttrainingforwomen on TikTok reaching over 20.5M views and google searches around the keyword ‘lifting weights to lose weight’ surging by 120% in the past three months; women are searching for information about weight training so they can move away from the cardio machines and dominate the free weights area to tone up and lose weight, without becoming ‘bulky’. 

With a background in sports science and human performance, Head Nutritionist at Maximuscle, Gareth Nicholas, outlines the truths about weight training and why it is a more efficient way to burn fat and lose weight compared to traditional cardio training:

Lifting weights burns fat

Whilst cardio does reduce body fat and is vital for the heart, lungs and general physical wellbeing, traditional means of cardio such as running on a treadmill can be boring and fills many people with dread. However, lifting weights also burns fat.

Lifting weights improves muscle tone, and a weight-related workout keeps burning calories and fat in the hours after training – more so than traditional cardio training.

Lifting weights also enhances the resting metabolic rate, meaning training time can be reduced but with a greater physical effect. 

‘Toned’ not ‘Bulky’

For some, bulking may be their goal. Whatever the goal, bulking or not bulking, toning up or weight loss or any other health and fitness goals are all achieved through a bespoke training regime and nutrition plan. Therefore, the very act of lifting weights will not make someone bulky. 

Building muscle (Hypertrophy) is typically achieved by lifting heavy weights over a number of repetitions and sets – something like 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps.

This provides the body with the appropriate stressor to force the muscles to grow. This is then facilitated by having the right diet, one that is protein-packed, which then provides the right environment to help your muscles grow.

So, if you’re looking to tone up rather than bulk up, then weight training with slightly lighter weights and more repetitions and fewer sets will help you achieve more toned muscles. 

For example, 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps. You would still improve your strength, but the stressor is different than building muscle and therefore the result would be different.

You would effectively build the efficiency of your existing muscle, rather than requiring it to grow to meet the lifting demand.

Key Takeaways: Lifting Weights Versus Cardio:

  • Training time can be significantly reduced.
  • Burn more calories and fat in the hours after training.
  • Greater muscular tone and an enhanced resting metabolic rate increase the total daily energy expenditure.
  • Your protein requirements should be goal-focused:
    • Health and wellbeing 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
    • Toning and weight-loss 1-1.4g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
    • Muscle building 1.6-2g of protein per kg of body weight.
  • Balance your macronutrient requirement based on the goal:
    • Health and wellbeing – 50-60% Carbs, 15-20% Protein, 15-20% Fat
    • Toning and weight-loss – 40% Carbs, 30% Protein, 30% Fat
    • Muscle building – 40-50% Carbs, 20-30% protein, 20-30% Fat