“I’m worried that if I work out with weights, I will become too bulky.”
This statement and others like it are the source of a lot of frustration in the world of fitness.
Trainers become frustrated because they think they “know better” and that their client should just try what they tell them to.
Clients become frustrated because they think their trainer isn’t taking them seriously.
I think there is a serious miscommunication here. Both sides have the best intent, but also often fail to understand the perspective of the other.
What the Trainer is (Probably) Thinking
The fact is that the vast majority of females (discounting some very uncommon physiology and hormonal discrepancies) will NOT put on “a lot” of muscle quickly. Most of them won’t put on “a lot” of muscle at all!
The big underlying point here is that muscle building is a bodily process that is highly dependant on testosterone to take place. That’s the reason why anabolic steroids are so focussed on increasing the amount of free testosterone in the body; and why they are so effective at what they are designed to do.
A sometimes troublingly high amount of males seem to turn to steroids as the answer when they are trying to put on muscle; most of the time it delivers (at least in a limited sense). So even with the comparative abundance of testosterone in a male compared to a female; males that desire a high amount of muscular mass often benefit from increasing their testosterone even further…
“On average, an adult human male body produces about ten times more testosterone than an adult human female body, but females are more sensitive to the hormone.”
Most trainers become pretty familiar with this relationship between testosterone and muscle mass. It’s one reason why males at all ages put on muscle mass much more easily than females. The second part of that statement from Wikipedia may bear some relation to those pictures of highly muscular (and likely often photoshopped) women floating around the Internet and freaking out your average viewer; with higher sensitivity to testosterone (likely due to its usually low presence) and the right bone structure some females could display astounding adaption to weight training when dosed with extra Test from outside their system.
If you’re a regular female looking to “get in shape” and you’re seeing a regular (or just reasonable) trainer, it is HIGHLY unlikely that you are on any kind of steroid; especially if you would make the statement of concern that began this article. In this scenario, your trainer would probably love for you to “just chill out” and give the weight room the shot that it deserves. The most likely outcome is that you will burn significant amounts of body fat, gain significant strength and put on enough muscle to increase in toned appearance (just like most women would like to). The closest “real world” analogue to the concept of “toning a muscle” that I know of is simply strength work that tends to increase muscle density and resistance (weight) work is fantastic for that…
So it’s simple, right? Clients need to “get over it” and just start training with weights; pretty straight forward. Or maybe not…
What the Client is (Probably) Thinking
So the client has sat through their trainer’s spiel (much like what I’ve written above; maybe like this or this) and been shown “evidence” that training with weights won’t make them bulky, especially overnight. There’s just one problem that many trainers don’t expect; one thought in their client’s mind that they don’t think is possible anymore (as shown by the comments and responses on that last “evidence” link…)
“All these examples that my trainer is showing me… I don’t know if I’m any happier with those.”
Whether we like it or not, we are all exposed to marketing day in and day out that tells us how we should look, act and relate to each other (amongst other things). We respond differently, we are exposed to different parts and we have limited ability to understand the viewpoints of others.
So the evidence that is so irrefuteable to a trainer may be worth exactly zero to a client.
The fact is that the client probably knows how she wants to look. Is it how you think she “should” look? Does it involve a “healthy level” of muscle mass?
My own wife (who agrees that females would benefit significantly from weight-based training and is not adverse to a bit herself when time permits) made INSTANT comment on the shoulders of Michelle Bridges of The Biggest Lost Australia when she saw her on TV…
Now I am no big fan of Ms. Bridges, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority of trainers (and possibly men in general) do not see her shoulders as offendingly or unattractively large. Yet all it takes is the right moment/camera angle/viewer for them to become bulging monstrosities of overly masculine quality.
The Take Away (and My 2 Cents)
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – Everyone, ever.
I am a firm believer in weight training for females and I believe that most females could carry a little more muscle mass than they think and only look all the more attractive for it.
However, the client isn’t training for me; she’s training for herself. Or her partner. Or what she THINKS other people see when they look at her.
The image she has in mind could be worlds apart from what I think it “should” (there’s that word again) be.
I think it is constructive to accept that the trainer may have to align their training closer to what could soothe the client’s fears in the beginning and allow it to expand (or not) from there. For instance, all weight based moves could be chosen initially to be specifically targeting areas that are less likely to be a “bulking” concern; movements that are likely to promote strength and muscle growth in the back and abdomen. Who knows where it could progress to? Maybe when the client sees some cosmetic changes in these areas and how a little bit of muscle can enhance her physique; she may decide that she would be more willing to experiment with other movements she wouldn’t have before.
Trainers; your client’s view may not agree with yours and they’re the one paying the bills, so work with it.
Clients; try not to let your fears prevent you from experimenting. Most processes of the body are relatively slow; very little happens overnight. Experiment, assess; adjust course if necessary.