There have been a few questions lately at the gym about women being concerned with CrossFit making them “bulky”. I apologize for not providing an answer to those concerns sooner. I want you to put your trust in me as your coach that if you listen to everything I say, you will be in the best shape of your life. However, if you believe other people, fads or what you want to hear at the same time then you are really never listening to anybody. Simply because you are not committing 100% of your efforts to achieving your goals through the one path that works. I know what it takes and it’s not easy. It’s also not typically what you want to hear.
I could have sat down and typed up an extensive post, but I found one from a local CrossFit affiliate who took the time to put together a great post. Thank you for sharing this on your site, Cody at CrossFit South Bay. He had a few members with the same concerns. Valid concerns. And, this should satisfactorily answer yours, too. – WW
“Disclaimer: I have been getting a ton of questions about this topic from both
inside and outside the gym, from lots of different people, so this isn’t
directed at anyone in particular. Although, if this topic resonates with you,
take the time to read it. This post is more a psychological and analytical
approach to body image, Sean has the scientific approach in the comments.
One of the most difficult things to fight as a coach is the thought that
“Lifting weights is going to make me ‘bulk up’” from women. My first response
is to shake my head and contemplate shoving my hand in a toaster to cure the
frustration… Yet, when I stop and think about it, I honestly like the way
CrossFit makes my body look. And I know there are many of us in the gym that
wouldn’t be as enamored with CrossFit if we didn’t see aesthetic results in
combination with fitness results, so I do think it is a valuable question that
needs to be answered.
The first thing you need to do is look around the gym at girls that have been
CrossFitting for a long time. If we created “bulky bodies”, you would see them
at CFSB. All the above are CrossFitters that have been with us a long time…
Strong, not bulky, don’t you agree?? (Sorry for not including all our awesome
girls, but I only went back three pages on flickr).
To begin, we need to address some misconceptions about how the body
- You cannot “tone” a certain portion of your body. Your
body will not lose fat in one spot at a time, it will only lose fat. Thus, you
must reduce your overall body fat percentage to see results in the area you
want. This is why the “ab-(insert attention-grabbing verb)” you see on TV won’t
work to help you get a better midsection.
- Lean – having little to no surplus fat – Thus, to look “lean”, you need to
have low levels of body fat.
- Toned – seeing muscle definition on a human body – Thus, to look “toned”,
you need to have low levels of body fat combined with having enough muscular
development that you can see the shape of the muscle under the skin. This is
usually accomplished at below 20% body fat on women, and below 10% on men.
- You will never “bulk up” overnight, except from maybe an ice cream and beer
binge (guilty). You will never wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and
realize that you just built bulky muscles in your sleep.
First, I want to establish that
having muscle doesn’t mean being bulky…
The first thing you need to do is compare these two women:
For reference, the girl on the left is a runway model and the girl on the
right is an elite CrossFit athlete. Both have approximately 12-15% body fat.
Both are doing something they love, and the bodies they have created help them
On the left, we have a runway model who has almost zero muscular development
while also having almost zero fat deposits. She has enough essential muscle to
not fall over walking, but not much more. If you want to look like the woman on
the left, sorry, but we cannot help you get there. Although, if you have an
apple and a cigarette a day for about a year, you could get close. It
supposedly worked for Christian Bale in the Machinist. However, CrossFit South
Bay will not help you create that type of body.
The female on the right has spent years developing her strength and muscle.
She has battled heavy weights and pushed herself to the limit to squat,
deadlift, and lunge heavier weights every time she comes into the gym. She
weighs approximately 35-40 lbs more than the runway model due to the large
amount of muscle that she has acquired. She is likely approaching her genetic
limits in the amount of muscle she can develop without going on a bodybuilding
routine. Between her and the runway model, there is likely very
little difference genetically, yet there is a huge difference in
training and diet (more on this shortly).
Thus, you can have a large amount of muscle without ever looking “bulky”.
Don’t you agree??
that we know that muscle doesn’t make you “bulky”, what
Well, the answer is fat. Excess adipose tissue will result in less than
satisfactory aesthetics. This is regardless of the amount of muscle you have.
This is easily seen in the image below:
The image at left shows a female figure that has a
large amount of fat, while having a very small amount of muscle. This is
described in the fitness community as “skinny fat”. While not overly “bulky”
she doesn’t have the aesthetics that most of us work so hard to attain. The
woman in this image is likely at a level close to 30% body fat and likely has a
similar amount of muscle as the runway model. So even though she may look fine
wearing a sweater, it is a different story at the beach.
The trick is how to fix this. Well, option 1 is to
eat less and do tons of cardio, surviving on a diet heavy with running and light
on food, and you will end up looking more like the runway model above. Option 2
is to develop muscle to burn away the excess fat while doing cardio, resulting
in looking more like the elite CrossFitter above.
Ok, so we have started to establish that building
muscle isn’t a bad thing, right?? Yet, you are afraid that by squatting and
deadlifting, you are making your legs and butt bigger, thus getting more
Here is the kicker, the reason your legs (and
shoulders and arms and back) are getting a little bigger is that you have now
started to add some muscle to them. Now, that muscle will burn more calories,
starting to help whittle away at the amount of fat you have on your body, even
while you sleep. You now are able to achieve that “lean” and “toned” look, as
your body fat levels have decreased, and your muscle is starting to show, giving
the “toned” look.
Bad cardio and worse cardio…
Some people keep saying to be leaner they just need
more cardio and less strength. Well, yes, if you just do “more cardio”, you
will lose more fat, but you would also lose muscle because without strength
training, your body burns muscle as well as fat. So, instead of looking more
like a Victoria Secret model, you start to look more like a runway model. Then,
once you stop doing “more cardio” you will gain fat even faster now that you
don’t have the muscle to burn the extra calories, resulting in the “skinny fat”
look. You can see this in ex-athletes that have tried to “get leaner” by doing
“more cardio” only to result in having more fat with less muscle.
This can also happens as we age, as the muscle we
built by running, jumping, and playing in our childhood and teens atrophies due
to under-use with a more sedentary life, so people in their early twenties are
seen as having “high metabolisms”, supposedly not having to work to maintain
lean body shapes. This “high metabolism” is because the muscle they built in
their teen years is burning excess calories and fat, and with the low body fat
levels, you can see their “toned” muscle underneath. However, as they take day
jobs and do not stimulate their bodies, their muscles atrophy, burning less
calories and thereby lowering their “high metabolism” and leading to increased
body fat as they age. Usually, people try to do “more cardio” to regain their
lean, toned bodies that they had when they were younger. However, since they do
nothing to build new muscle or maintain their current muscle, they slowly
transition to a thin, but “skinny fat”, look as they age.
Train like an athlete…. Look like an
Most people can agree that they want to get “toned”
and “lean”, but have you ever asked someone that was “toned” and “lean” what
they have done to get that way?? You should, because almost every athlete I
know that looks “toned” and “lean” has spent years working to develop strength,
power, speed, endurance, and stamina for a sport. They move HEAVY weights
Lastly, you will never be
able to create muscles like a man lifting weights.
A WOMEN THAT LOOKS LIKE SHE HAS MUSCLES LIKE A MAN HAS LIKELY TAKEN
STEROIDS!! This is the defined truth, a woman’s muscle development is much
different than a man’s. Unless a woman has a very different genetic make-up (a
very, very small portion of the population), or does bodybuilding type workouts,
specifically designed to increase the size of the muscles, it is almost
impossible to build muscle like a man. (And, as much as you might think it is
true, you only have a 1 in a million chance of being the 1 in a million that has
the different genetics, so stop saying, and believing, it)
This is because males have 20-30 times the testosterone of women, resulting
in deeper voices, more body hair, and more muscle development. Women just
physically cannot build muscle like men can, sorry but it is a scientific fact.
Some of the maximal amounts of muscle you can put on a female frame with
CrossFit training can be seen below. These are women that built their bodies
using sports and strength training.
An extremely high level of muscle on a female will look like the pictures
above, but again, only with many YEARS of weights training and a focus on a
So, lastly, just to clarify, “bulky” means fat.
Which does not happen when you work hard at CrossFit South Bay!!”
Starting tomorrow, every Tuesday during the month of October will be “Max Effort Day”. We will be testing your capacities with three new movements per week. There will be one movement from each element, 1) weightlifting, 2) gymnastics ,and, 3) endurance. Make sure you don’t miss Tuesdays for this reason. This is your chance to get your name on the “Leader Board” (which will be up soon).
Tuesday’s Max Effort tests:
Test 1 – 5 minutes to do as many unbroken double unders in one set as possible (not cumulative)
Test 2 – Max height box jump
Test 3 – 1RM Overhead Squat
*Remember all CrossFit style workouts are scalable and modifiable to each individuals fitness level
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