The One About My Weight Gain & the “Bulk” Fear of Women vs Weights

15 Fri, 2011 § 12 Comments

Do you have a number?  There is not necessarily a good reason it exists in your mind at all.  It is likely arbitrary, but there it is: the number you envision slim, attractive women weigh.  Or perhaps strong, masculine men, if you are a guy.

I have my own number.  Even now, though I rarely step on the scale & am not even worried about being at this number, it still floats around in my head.  Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever really been at this weight; at times I have been far too under it or uncomfortably over it.

I do not own a scale.  I stopped weighing myself in high school.  Actually, it was in jr. high I learned weight is relative, dependent on muscle gain & such.  I began to gauge my…body composition (though I didn’t know to call it that then)…by how my clothes fit.  Usually I only learn my weight when I visit the doctor’s office.

When I was in Albuquerque in February, I spotted a scale at the gym.  I was curious.  I stepped on.  Honestly, my first thought: “huh, must be muscle gain.”  I weighed a good ten pounds over “my number”.  I had gained a few pounds since my last weigh in.  I was ok with it.

I was feeling my best, my clothes still fit — if anything, they were looser — & I was maxing out on pull ups, chin ups, push ups, etc.  I knew I was strong.  Maybe the scale wasn’t showing my “ideal” weight or even my happiest weight.  This was a temporary price required as my body was subtly changing & becoming stronger.

That moment on the scale, there was no judgment & no criticism.  I was excited to see where my body was taking me; I was enjoying the ride.

[photo by David Finch]

Lifting weights makes women bulky.  At least that is what I hear over & over again.  Many women are terrified of weight training.  They all say the same thing: “my body is different; I bulk up.”  Maybe initially this is true, but even during my weight gain, I wasn’t actually bigger.  I’ll be honest: sometimes I feel like my arms are “bulky”; I want more “tone”.  Dave is often my grounding force to reason, almost rolling his eyes as he assures me they are not bulky.  Maybe as women, we have this I-look-like-a-dude panic whenever we build a little muscle.

If you have more body fat, you might experience initial bulk.  Usually women succumb to the panic & stop all strength training.  DON’T.

You have to push through…because it’s about to get so good.

When you gain muscle, your resting metabolic rate goes up; though by how much is debated [source].  Does it really matter?  Your body is getting stronger & healthier.  If your goal is to slim down, you’ll reach it more quickly by gaining muscle.  Now, my goal isn’t to lose weight but to change my body composition.  I am training to gain strength, & honestly, build lean muscle.  I always think “build lean muscle” sounds kind of weird.  What I’ve really done is build muscle — perhaps even a little “bulk” — & gain strength, then let me body find its balance through all of the other activities I love like climbing, cycling, swimming, interval training, etc.  I’m no expert, but this seems to be working for me.

Curious again, I stepped on the scale at our gym recently.  Without trying, I have lost 6 pounds since Albuquerque.  Because I have added more muscle, definition & strength since then, I know it’s the kind of loss I want.

I do not obsess over the number on the scale, but I don’t mind seeing it go down right now as long as I stay strong & energized.  If I weigh less while maintaining — no, increasing — strength (& stamina), my weight-to-strength ratio will be in my favor.  As a climber, pulling myself up the wall or boulder, this is optimal.

I am trying not to dwell on where I want to be but just embrace the process as it is happening.  I do this by climbing harder & tracking progress in the gym with a workout journal.  Like I said, I’m just enjoying the ride.  Of course I want to be stronger & use my passions to challenge myself & push farther, but I don’t let the little hater inside tell me I am not good enough yet.

I am.  You are too.

If you only take a few things away from here, I hope you’ll believe the following:

  • The ### on the scale is relative.  I weigh more than many of my friends who are similar in size.  Muscle does not weigh more than fat.  A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat; but a pound of muscle takes up less space.  I won’t be weighing myself regularly.  It works for some people, but I prefer to gauge my progress by how I feel, how my clothes fit & how I perform.
  • Girls have muscles too.  Some might not like the way this looks.  To each his/her own, but I don’t get it.  I love strong women — I love strong people.  Being able to do a pull up or even a push up is empowering.  I would rather be motivated by strong people than torture myself & get sucked into the realm of “thinspiration”.
  • Make it about more than the number.  I know I progress not because the number says so but by my performance.  Am I climbing harder?  Running farther?  Biking faster?  Squeezing out one more rep?  Adding another plate to the rack?  Find something you love, make your body good for something (not just pretty) & treat it like it is.


FEEDBACK!  I want to know what you think about women lifting weights, muscle gain & the scale.  As you can tell, I’m a little passionate about this — I know you are out there, so please share your insights!!!

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§ 12 Responses to The One About My Weight Gain & the “Bulk” Fear of Women vs Weights

  • Christine says:

    I completely agree. I learned long ago not to focus on the number, because according to the charts, my “ideal” weight is about 15 pounds lower than it should be for me and my body type. Although I do check my number regularly just to keep a tally in my mind of how it’s moving up or down, I gauge my fitness and health (or lack thereof) more by how I feel or look or fit into clothes. I have huge issues about how we, as a society, are focused more on weight than on health. I even fall victim to that occasionally myself, and have to remind myself what’s really important. If we could turn that around, I think it would be a huge step toward conquering obesity and many health problems we have in our country and elsewhere. Great post – and I love the “Friends” reference… 😉

    • Allie says:

      I’m not surprised you appreciate the Friends reference — it just came out. Kind of sad they come out so easily. 😛
      I agree we could make huge strides as a society in conquering health issues (E.D.s included) if we shifted the primary focus from weight.

  • Dave says:

    Without substance, people become marshmallows – all candy coating (looks) and no substance (inner beauty & purpose).
    It is not just enough to be good, you need to be good for SOMETHING.
    Still, heath is not everyone’s concern. If your only goal is play video games till you die, the only point of health is to live longer to play more games. If you have no hobbies, interests or passions, you might feel like life is just a waiting game for either death or a perceived life after; you are just counting down till you die. If, however, you enjoy living and the experiences you accumulate, health is what will either magnify or prolong your ability to experience.
    I fit in the “enjoyment” category. Your body can be a temple, a dump, or an amusement park. Where do YOU have the most fun…?

    • Allie says:

      I really like how you bring up “gamers” & people who aren’t necessarily concerned about being “active” or improving “athletic performance”. This is something I’ve had in mind – exercise & general health (improved cardio function, etc) – but I’d never really put it in the perspective you pinned down here. Health generally equates to longer life expectancy, which is something ALL people can benefit from having because it means you can do what you enjoy longer. 🙂

  • cory says:

    First i want to give you kudos for the friends reference as well. Also, we deal with this mythical concept a lot at our crossfit gym. It’s pretty tough trying to convince a woman that its actually not beneficial to spend hours on the treadmill as opposed to lifting weights. If you want to look into the subject a little more there are tons of articles out there to read. Thanks for sharing this, and I’ll share it on my wall as well.

  • cory says:

    this is my favorite article concerning the topic

    • Allie says:

      Thanks for the link. I’ve never done Crossfit specifically. He brings up a lot of good points in this article; I’ll keep it on hand for reference. The comments are interesting. One person actually said he thought the Crossfit female athletes looked “manly” & could easily be mistaken for a “bro” from behind. Seriously? Even the female boulderers we come across who have massive arms — toned but not overly defined — would NEVER be mistaken for a man.
      Thanks again for your comment. Aw, yes, the treadmill & the elliptical… I’m not opposed to running or cardio work, but it’s not my primary or sole means of training. I like to remind women that weights are also beneficial for developing bone density. osteoporosis anyone?

  • Natalie says:


    I know for a fact that muscle takes up less space than fat…and when people can stop looking at a specific weight and even measure by body fat or the way clothes fit, they are more successful in achieving goals.

    One of my clients lost 1 pound in 4 months but 6% body fat! She’s dropped two sizes and looks/feels fantastic. If you look at it purely from weight, she’d look like a *failure*. Clearly that is NOT the truth!

    I, personally, think strong is way more beautiful than thin. But that’s me…and it’s taken a long time for me to get there!

  • Aubrey says:

    I totally agree with this! I bought a scale for the first time a few months back and I’ve had to be intentional about *not* weighing myself all the time. It is so much better for me to gauge my body composition based on how my clothes fit.

    This post totally makes me crave cross training. I was just talking to my boyfriend about this the other day – I’m currently training for a half marathon and while the distance running is amazing and meditative and my fitness is great, I am not nearly as cut as I was when I was just doing Crossfit a few years back. I really miss the weight training, actually. I’ll get back to it – for now it’s barefoot running coupled with Bikram yoga until the marathon.

    Also – Natalie is right – strong is WAY more beautiful than thin 🙂

    • Allie Finch says:

      Thanks for the comment! It’s just about finding balance. Right now you have specific goals in mind for your race. Soon enough you can switch it up again & focus on Crossfit. Keep in mind though, strength training can complement your running to maintain balance. With all that forward/backward movement, lateral muscles like the abductors & adductors can be neglected. ITBS is no fun.
      I just started doing Bikram & really enjoy it. 🙂
      Which half marathon are you running? I thought about doing a tri in San Fran in August, but the reg. fee was a bit outrageous.

  • cory says:

    incorporate some of the deadlifts and kb swings from your crossfit days. that will improve your running immensely.

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