Bulky or Not? You decide.





I wanna get bulky!…said no woman ever…..at least not any of the women I know.

I wanna get bulky!…said no woman ever…..at least not any of the women I know.

What I usually hear when I encourage my clients or friends or family to strength train is more along the lines of “I don’t want to get bulky, I just want to get toned”, or “I want long lean muscles not big fat ones” I even get those who say I don’t want muscles, I just want to lose weight and look good.

For those of us who absolutely love to strength train and lift heavy weights, maybe our knee jerk reaction is to say something along the lines of “Well, I’ve got good news for you then!  It will not happen!  Women can’t get bulky.  

But here is the thing, how do we define what “bulky” is to the person that we are talking to?  The dictionary has the definition of bulky as taking up much space, typically inconveniently; large and unwieldy.  Also, (of a person) heavily built. 

But, does that mean that the person we are speaking to or anyone else for that matter has the same idea as to what the word bulky means when talking about physique?  Nope.  What one person thinks is bulky may be very desirable to another. What I consider toned may be bulky for someone else.  Many of us who are involved in the health and fitness industry in any way whether it be as a coach, trainer, athlete or client, have a very different view as to what bulky is compared to the general public.  Many of us like to see muscle definition and a more athletic physique and don’t think of it as bulky at all because it is actually a look we like and specifically train for.  

There are however, many people in the general public that view any muscle definition at all as “bulky”  For example, I have seen the meme below and other similar ones on the internet several times.  Maybe you have as well if you are “into fitness”.  Maybe you see this meme and you you think oh hell I would love to look like either Dana or Jamie!  Or maybe you are in the camp that looks at this meme and wants to say EXACTLY! about this meme.   

So, would you be surprised if I told that there are many women out there who would look at the photo of Jamie Eason (on the left) and while she is no where near as defined as Dana Bailey (photo on the right) they may think she is bulky? Some men will as well.  There are actually many women who do not want to see any kind of muscle definition at all.  To the vast majority of women who already lift weights, the word toned means showing some muscle definition and being able to proudly flex those muscles. (how many pump pics have you posted on FB or IG?)  To others that muscle definition we are so proud of means bulky to them.  There are women to whom getting toned means they do not want to have sagging or jiggly skin and they do not want to have any hint of muscles showing at all.  Over the last few years without even realizing it as research, I have had conversations with friends and acquaintances where we discussed photos of fitness pros and models and competitors that we saw on the internet and in magazines and what we each perceive as bulky or fit or toned or whatever when we looked at them. I was surprised at how many women were actually adverse to seeing muscle definition.  Now my random conversations have been nothing compared to what Leigh Peele did when she polled 2000 women in 2009.  She wrote a really great blog about defining bulky herself and one of the statistics that stuck with me from that blog was that she found that 71% of the women she polled would rather be too thin and 18% of them would rather be too fat than be too muscular.  This is pretty darn close to what I found myself in my random conversations, even lately when fitness and being muscular is soo much more the norm than a few years ago, so if we did not before, now maybe we can see how the word bulky is seriously subjective.

To those reading this who are worried about getting bulky if you lift weights, I want for you to know the truth.  Both of these women in the meme above train often and hard to achieve the look they have. Both of those women lift weights.  The “look” they have is not something that happens overnight and it is not something that comes easily either.  It is not likely that it will just happen if we start lifting unless we train and eat specifically for a particular physique look.  Our body type will also come into play as to how easily or difficult it is for each of us to put muscle on, how much, how fast and where we can get the most definition if it is something we are looking for.

And now the question that everyone asks…  Can women get bulky lifting weights?  Well, yes, and no, and it depends.  Real helpful I know.  But true.  There are lots of variables at play here. I am going to focus on two today.

  • One – It depends on what our individual definition of bulky is.

For example.  A friend of mine who began her weight loss/fitness journey just a little over a year ago and has been doing crossfit 5-6 days a week does not look bulky at all to me.  She looks trim and toned! She also lifts some heavy shit. 🏋  Her nutrition is fairly sound and the crossfit workouts she does are metabolic resistance training circuits with a strength component so she gets both strong and is able to lean out. (it also helps tremendously that she began her fitness journey as a newbie lifter.  It is much easier to lose weight/fat and get strong quickly when you are brand spanking new.)   And BTW, you cannot see them in this front facing after pic, but she has some hella awesome quads that I would LOVE to have and drool over!

  • Two – It depends on what we are training for. Another example :  Me – I actually consider myself to be bulky right now.  I have some muscle definition, but I also carry a nice layer of fat covering that muscle.  I am also pretty damn firm underneath that layer of fat.  To me, that is the definition of bulky.  If I want to lean out and have more muscle definition, I will need to tighten up on my nutrition a bit and change my workouts to more of a fat loss type of workout instead of focusing on more strength based workouts and walking on a fine line of eating for maintenance and at a caloric surplus.

To someone else, this look may be considered something completely different.  And that is perfectly fine 🙂

Now, go back to the top of this post and look at the photo at the beginning.  The photo is a screen grab of where I googled the words “bulky women”  Can you see what all popped up in the first two rows of photos?  Amazing differences in what some consider bulky is it not?

No matter what any of us consider to be bulky or not, we need to strength train!  There are numerous emotional and physical health benefits to strength training that I will discuss in another blog post as this one has gotten a tad long.

MY Final words on Bulky or Not?  The proper nutrition plan and the proper strength training program can and will help you achieve whatever look you are looking for… strong, toned, lean, muscular, athletic or as close to that look as your body type will let you.

Now here is a couple of questions for you.  What do you consider bulky? Toned? Slim? Muscular, healthy, fit, athletic, or whatever.  Also, which type of look are you partial to? Is there any particular reason why?  Please comment below!

I will answer first, on what I am partial to?  If I did not love my food quite soo much, I would definitely love to eat and train to look strong and lean and have muscle definition like any of these photos that were featured on Leigh Peele’s blog as being bulky!

I mean seriously, Sarah Connor was tough as nails in Terminator 2, and I heck I wanted a bod like Tina Turner even back when I was in high school over 30 years ago!  Hilary Swank looked great in Million Dollar Baby for sure and personally, I consider Jessica Biel as as more along what I consider the slender side than muscular, but again, that is MY opinion and how I think, not to say I would complain if I had a physique similar to hers at all.  I definitely would not 🙂

If you enjoyed this blog and or are interested in receiving more exclusive content that ONLY goes out to my tribe, please sign up for my newsletter.

If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at me@suannarae.com


Till next time,