Defining Bulky, Once and For All

 

(I wasn’t going to write an introduction to this article, but it hit me that there is no way I can get around it, due to the nature of the content below. Before you read this article, you need to understand that no “look” or body type that you desire to carry is wrong. This article is not about knocking the “skinny girl” or “bulky lifters.” The purpose of this article is to, finally, provide a definition of what the average population believes to be bulky.  What you choose from there is your personal journey.)

In 1909, in New York, there was a women only weight lifting group. They met in private in a rundown gym after closing hours. The janitor would let them in, and they would train with tremendous intensity and passion. They would leave and return to their families and husbands, never saying a word about what they did in their off time.

It is no secret, in 1909, that weight lifting for women was not only unpopular, but severely looked down upon by society.

100 years later, and the world has new (and not so new) perspectives.

Does heavy equal bulk?

Women lift weights all the time now, that isn’t overly abnormal. The amount of weights they lift is the subject of interest and controversy. Often we see women lifting 3-5lb weights or preforming non-weighted floor exercises that are at an extremely low challenge level. Challenge meaning the difference between a one armed body weight push-up and those “ab flutter” things.

When it comes to gaining in strength or hypertrophy there is one undeniable fact, you need an extreme amount of resistance. You do not achieve a 500lb deadlift just because you decided to pick it up that day. You must steadily increase in the load amount of the weight you are lifting. This is irrefutable.

What is questionable, what is not defined, is what determines “bulky.” When a woman moves out of the 5lb dumbbell range, she internally asks the question, “Will lifting this heavy weight make me bulky?”

What defines bulky?

When I got into the health and fitness industry, and more specifically my job now, I started off like most people when looking at bodybuilders and figure competitors. I am not going to lie, at first I was massively uninterested in looking at any of them and was turned off.  I didn’t quite understand why a man wanted that many veins on his body, or why a woman wanted no tits and large biceps. As time went by, and I looked at these bodies more and more, trained them, and helped people achieve those bodies, my view changed.

My perception of what fat, lean, large mass, and small mass is, is completely different now. I have a broader view of what is attractive, strong, and pretty to me. You can get so comfortable seeing a certain type of look and style that it starts to alter your perception. Thankfully I have a decent head on my shoulders because, due to my job, I have to be highly critical of body fat levels, muscle build, etc. I could be so easily screwed, like so many others are.

The Poll

I took it to a poll of 2000 women online. I asked the following questions…

(Participants were of college education, between 21-45, and of moderate to higher income. It included both single and married women. Some statics vary for being skipped over.)

How many times a week do you exercise?

None-23%
1-2-11%
3-4-34%
4-5-11%
5+-21%

Do you lift weights that you consider to be heavy?

Yes-21%
No-79%

Do you think that muscles on women are attractive?

No, never-41%
Sometimes, in small amounts-26%
Sometimes, depends on the body-15%
Yes, most of the time-14%
Yes, always-4%

Do you think that men like muscle on a women?

Yes-18%
No-72%

Do you think that women like muscles on other women?

Yes-13%
No-77%

Of the listed women, whose body do you like looking at the most?

Paris Hilton-12%
Angelina Jolie-19%
Jessica Alba-35%
Jessica Biel-12%
Kate Winslet-22%

Of these women who do you feel defines muscular/bulky on the terms that you are thinking for this survey?

Jessica Alba-2%
Jessica Biel-36%
Madonna-19%
Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)-43%

Would you rather appear to be…

Too Thin-71%
Too Muscular-11%
Too Fat-18%

If you thought that lifting heavy weights wouldn’t make you bulky/muscular, would you lift them?

Yes-34%
No-66%

The Results

 

Bulky

bulky-women-muscles

 

 

Not Bulky

non-bulky-muscles-female

Below are a few interesting bullet points that we can take away from this survey:

  • The majority of women don’t like the look of muscle on themselves or others.
  • The majority of women think that men prefer the look of a lack  of muscle on a woman’s body.
  • The majority felt that Jessica Biel and Hilary Swank (in MDB) define “bulky.”
  • The majority of the women expressed little interest in lifting weight, even if it didn’t result in a “bulking” effect.
  • A large majority of women would rather be too thin than either too fat or too muscular.
  • More women choose to be fat over muscular.
  • Based on the actress looks, women prefer softer and trim over too lean or too muscular.

Do these 2000 women make up a piece of what speaks for the world? I personally think it does, and it is almost what I would predict in this situation. The question is…

DOES IT MATTER?

Are these women wrong about what makes you bulky? What does this mean for women who have even more muscle and more definition than the women above? Will lifting heavy weights equal bigger muscles? If these women state that bulky muscles is considered to be Jessica Biel or Hilary Swank, then the answer is yes, they do. To throw in an additional note Jessica Biel has since that picture atrophied to a lesser size for her career.

The Outback Jack Conclusion

Maybe I was lucky, or maybe it was fate that brought the “Outback Jack” marathon to my door on a Sunday afternoon. To give you a brief summary, “Outback Jack” was one of many dating shows. The premise was a group of girls were dropped off in the middle of the Outback to endure nature and meet the man of their dreams. If that isn’t entertainment, I don’t know what is.

During the course of these episodes, a challenge was brought forth to the remaining 5 girls. 5 new girls were brought on the show to race against them on an obstacle course. These girls were nicknamed the “Amazons” due to their “bulging muscles” and “butch” bodies.

I hit the record button on my DVR and highlighted a reel of some of the best comments. It is safe to say that the view that these “Amazon” women given are the standard view of most women in America and goes right again along with the poll. If you take a look at what most of the “butch” women look like, it’s quite fascinating.

The Conflicting Advice

The problem with most trainers is they don’t make any sense. They tell you that “lifting heavy won’t make you bulky,” but then say the magical phrase “don’t worry that the scale hasn’t dropped, you’ve had fat loss, you’ve just had some muscle gain too!”  They say “Women can’t gain muscle! They don’t have the testosterone or genetics,” but then say “On my programs women can make great gains in muscle and strength!”

My favorite contradiction is that the majority of the male trainers telling you to lift heavy and not be afraid of weights, are the same guys putting up pictures of models and actresses that are “smokin,” when most have never touched a real weight in their life.  Just a little something for you to think about there.

The Muscle Building Limit?

Most women can gain a certain amount of muscle, but there is a tapping point. After that point, it takes a long time of effort, eating, and dedication, to achieve that next level of gain. Beyond that, it takes drugs. The problem is that years of training can lead to more muscle than some women want, especially if their diet isn’t what it should be. The body fat underneath didn’t allow them to see what they were gaining. If this is the “look” you want,  great; however, if this isn’t the body  you  want, you probably will not be happy.

The Body Fat Factor

The majority of women are not suffering from the bulky muscles they think they are. A lot of women never get lean enough to see the what is actually there. This is because your body fat levels are too high to show any definition. Mix that with a lifting program and you end up looking fatter, but firmer. I should note that some like this look. Remember nothing is “wrong” here.

Take the “Amazon” women on our “Outback Jack” video, the majority of them are just higher body fat levels and have tight traps. This is what the majority of women think of when they are “bulking up” on their own bodies. They may or may not be bulking up, but they are “plumping” up. Word to the wise if you train women, most don’t like to look plump.

Instead of avoiding the issue you need to confront it. If you are a trainer or the trainee, you need to clearly explain what is happening instead of feeding yourself, or your client, a bunch of hot air. The majority of the time the fix is in less body fat overall. Madonna, for example, has a decent amount of muscle for her age but has lower body fat. She was still considered less bulky than bodies  Biel and Swank. Why? Likely because their muscle was under a larger layer of body fat, giving a less desired look to the survey participants.

Before you accuse the muscle of being the culprit, take a look at the body fat.

What do we do now? Where do we go from here?

  • Train for the look you want. That is what you do, period. If you don’t want to look like you lift heavy weights, don’t lift heavy weights. Don’t mistake this as this being the answer to your body problems, it isn’t. My point is, the only people that look like they lift or train aggressively are those who lift and train aggressively.
  • Don’t be afraid to be strong, if you want to be. Don’t suppress what is inside because of society. No ones judgment is worth your dream, and the more that people get used to seeing change, the faster change happens.
  • Don’t judge others for what they want to do. I am just as tired of those who lift bashing those who don’t. No one HAS to deadlift to be healthy.
  • Be crystal clear about what you want from your training and how you are going to get it.
  • Realize that no training will make you look like someone you want to look like. You have to look like the best version of yourself
  • If you want to say screw it to the world and go for it anyway then be prepared for a very long and hard journey. Be prepared to eat a lot of food and lift heavy weights. Be prepared to have to face scrutiny and judgment based on these decisions.

Always remember that “normal” isn’t normal anyway, and everyone can have their world view changed when their world does.

I do have plans in the future of releasing a program that provides everyone, “bulky” or not, the results and answers they need for these problems and questions. In the meantime, I hope this helps you be able to communicate better with others and yourself.

To read my follow up article “Bulky Muscles and Women -  Part Deux” click here

Before starting any new diet and exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise and/or diet changes with them before beginning. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. I do not claim to cure any cause, condition or disease. I do not provide medical aid or nutrition for the purpose of health or disease and claim to be a doctor or dietitian. This is merely an opinion blog. Read full disclaimer here - http://www.leighpeele.com/disclaimer

163 Comments

  1. Katie
    Reply

    Leigh I am so blown away with this article. It was definitely worth the wait to read.

  2. James
    Reply

    Leigh I like this article. Here is my concern.

    Don’t you think an article like this is going to discourage women from wanting to lift weights or becoming stronger?

  3. Cassandra (Cass)
    Reply

    Wow. That TV show blew my mind… but you’re right, it does capture much of what women think like. But, then again, I’m one of those women… I’d rather be an Amazonian.
    Thanks Leigh, this was a great post.

  4. Leigh Peele
    Reply

    Katie-I know I have been teasing you with that for sometime now. What 2 months?

    James-I did/do worry about that. That being said I think that the more you put the truth of the situations out there, the more clear the communication.  That is all the article is about, trying to make the communication clear as possible.

     

     

  5. Leigh Peele
    Reply

    Cass-I think that the best we can do is put positive images up as much as possible of the other side. This would be a good time to link to that facebook group you have that I just found out about.

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=44695763763

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=6318148415

  6. Josh Aronovitch
    Reply

    Why not have a survey of what men think of women with muscle?

    I’m a very small sample size, but this man thinks the “bulky” women are much hotter than the others pictured above…

    • Rob
      Reply

      You’re not alone.

      • Cliff
        Reply

        Amen, Josh and Rob

    • Patrick
      Reply

      Agreed.

    • Nick
      Reply

      Agreed. Sorry 79% of ladies. You are all wrong and you ain’t gonna have the final word this time. NO-GO for skin’n-boneys.

  7. Smith "just"
    Reply

    Speaking as a guy, I can say that most of my friends feel the same way as that poll. Even the dudes that lift. They like really small girls.

    Myself I have dated a varity of women but I have never dated a girl that has a lot of muscle to her. I think Jessica biel is okay, but the rest are a bit much for my liking.

  8. Smith "just"
    Reply

    Leigh what kind of look do you like to carry?

  9. Sarah
    Reply

    This is such an interesting topic and one that I have been trying to learn more about. I love that you are not afraid to speak the truth and that you have this remarkable ability to keep such an unbiased perspective.
    When I first started training and trying to educate myself, I was “sucked into” the whole dogma of woman can’t gain too much muscle, lift heavy to lose fat, and too much cardio(especially steady state–that is instant death!) will kill you. All of the work I read, made this seem to be the absolute and only truth. And well, I have found out through personal experience and thankfully, finding people like yourself to learn from, that a woman put on more mass than they would like. And there is no one training style that fits everyone’s specific needs.
    I have friends and clients that defy what is touted by so many. I have a female marathoner who carries quite a bit of muscle and is very lean. According to many, she should be a waif and have a high % of body fat due to her 50-70+ miles of running a week.
    I’ve had a client get upset (not fun)because her pants got tighter and that her shoulders were not as delicate as they once were. I had her lifting some decent weights to rid those last few pounds. While she enjoyed the workouts and I thought I was doing the right thing, I found out the hard way.. maybe not.
    I haven’t been in the industry nearly long enough to give a professional opinion, But I can say that I agree with everything you wrote and that I get the same feedback from both males and females in regards to your survey.

    Thanks for the great article.

  10. Jules
    Reply

    Great article. I’m one of those women who ended up looking “fatter but firmer”. I’m pretty pissed at the misinformation out there from well-meaning weigh-training enthousiasts. Before I started training, I was at a happy weight. Now I’m going to have to lose a bit more before I’m happy with my looks again. Don’t get me wrong, firmer is great, but I wish fitness folk would be a bit more honest in their “come lift weights” sales pitches.

  11. Butch Woman
    Reply

    As always, great post, Leigh!
    “More women choose to be fat over muscular”…this is so sad :(
     

  12. Laura
    Reply

    Great article! Really loved it. I am really looking forward to reading more when you release the new program. Hopefully soon? ;-) But I think you hit the nail on head too with the conflicting information out there…..And it really always comes down to doing what’s best for ‘you’ whatever that may be not just in training but life too. Have a great day!

  13. shari
    Reply

    thanks for another great article-
    i love to lift weights and would never be happy being a cardio bunny…but that is just me…however at the same time i dont want to be “fatter but firmer” either.
    hopefully there is some middle ground to be had.
    Shari

  14. Sinead
    Reply

    Damg. where did my response go? I posted last night… oh well…

    Great article! I’ll admit that I had no clue that “bulky” would have been defined by most women as the women in the pictures above. In my mind, “bulky” looks more like the female bodybuilder (big and well defined muscles, lots of popped veins–that look). I’d give my eye teeth to look like most of those “bulky” pics in your post (except maybe the Tina Turner one–that might be a bit too close to my own personal opinion of bulky)…one day, hopefully. :)

    I don’t think that this article would discourage women from lifting heavy, but it might serve to give people a better idea of the vocabulary. No wonder there’s confusion out there when “bulky” is defined as having any visible muscle!

  15. Richie
    Reply

    Great article, I think that the women in the video were just intimidated by the look of the “Amazonians”, and used make up and jewelery to try to match up to them!!   Personally I like women to have some muscle mass and when my clients start to get arm and shoulder definition they get really pumped and just want more…………..
    The have nots will always pick fault with the ones who have worked hard to achieve a look they like, and in my experience women who have achieved there goals  have more confidence in all aspects of there lives.

  16. mary
    Reply

    Were the multiple choice options for who defines bulky the only ones?  Was there an “other” option? Because if I was taking that survey I would have answered a female bodybuilder = bulky, not any of those women.  But, if constrainted to just those choices, I probably would have selected Jessica Biel, whose body type is the one I look to for my own personal body goals (so perhaps I’m not the right demographic for this survey). Anyway, I think the fear of “bulky” is carried over by women who saw images of the roided-up female bodybuilders when that craze hit its zenith. And fear, once it takes hold, doesn’t subside any time soon. But hopefully the word is getting out there now.

  17. Terri
    Reply

    Awesome article!  I too went through an evolution in what I thought was attractive in others AND myself.  Once, being skinny was the goal and enough for me.  When I seriously started to pick up the weights that was it, I was hooked – to the point where my friend warned he was going to buy me a t-shirt that had “Do my biceps look bigger today?” written on it.  :)   When I see muscular women my firt impressions are healthy, dedicated, DRIVEN.  All attractive qualities in my book.  I went out with a guy a couple of months ago that actually told me (and I’m quoting here) that my “arms were huge” and that I needed to “lose some muscle” and why didn’t I “just run on the treadmill instead”.  To each his own, but this was completely disrespectful to me.  I told him to f**k off. 

    • Allerious
      Reply

      So you dated, I’m guessing, a jock, thus perpetuating the stereotype of the dumb female who chooses a male “bad boy” for a partner who ends up hurting her feelings. How do you feel about that?

      • Donja
        Reply

        So uncool to shame someone based on your own sexist prejudices! I can’t believe you can actually shame someone for what someone who they went out with told them.. Plus, hey you asshole, it’s not because her situation looks like the stereotype that she is perpetuating it. If I like pink, do I perpetuate the stereotype that women like pink despite not liking it due to being a woman? Only in the eyes of already sexist people consciously or unconsciously aware of that stereotype. Plus, hey, when people end up with others who hurt them, it’s not because they are “dumb”, way to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about victims of abuse. How did you feel about being an hypocritical sexist piece of ****?

  18. Annette
    Reply

    Leigh, you wrote
    “the majority of them are just higher body fat levels and have tight traps”
    I am working on the body fat, but I have always had problems with the tight traps.  How does one avoid that?
    Great article btw.

  19. Kristy
    Reply

    I wonder what the votes would have been had the women been clothed meaning if they could only see the shape of the bodies and not muscle definition…..

  20. Jedi
    Reply

    Great article and totaly what I would have expected. I too would like to see 2000 guys asked the same questions :)

  21. Nia Shanks
    Reply

    Awesome post. You addressed it perfectly.

    Most women are amazed I can deadlift 300 pounds when they look at me because I weigh 125. I am muscular, but I wouldn’t consider myself “bulky” although I’m sure some would.

    I’m actually surprised that most women would rather look too fat instead of too muscular!

    That’s just they way it is, I suppose. Everyone has their own opinions. Personally, I think Jessica Biel looks amazing in that photo, but that’s just me.

    : )

    • Kelly
      Reply

      I’m with Nia Shanks on this one. I don’t think any of them look “bulky” at all. Just strong. I just started strength training using Nia’s Beautiful Badass program and I am LOVING it. I feel great, and I’m starting to get the tone and definition I’ve been looking for. I never received these results with the hundreds of reps with smaller weight. I am surprised that the polled ladies thought that Jessica Biel was bulky. Thanks for this article, though. I’ve been reading everything I could find on strength training and this was the first one that kind of hit the nail on the head with my suspicions. I will continue to strength train until I get the results I want.

  22. Melissa
    Reply

    Thanks for a fantastic article! I think sometimes people using the same words to describe the look they want, actually have different pictures in their heads. Maybe trainers should have their clients bring magazine photos of body types they want to emulate so that the trainer and the client are both working toward the same goal… or so the trainer can choose not to work with a client whose goals they can’t support.
    Personally, I’m happy to be married to a man who likes seeing some definition in my arms and is constantly encouraging me to lift heavier weights. I’m not surprised that so many respondents in your poll considered the healthy-looking women “bulky.” My mother, who has early-onset osteoporosis due to a thyroid problem, could really benefit from weight training to preserve bone and muscle mass, but she refuses to lift weights because then she would “look like a man.” My husband assures me that my “look” is 100% woman, and I’m looking forward to having the strength and stamina to enjoy old age with him someday!
    And I really liked your point about male trainers enthusing over the hot bodies of women who look more like porn stars than athletes. This seems endemic to all kinds of training articles and blogs on the internet. WTF? This gives women such a mixed message.

  23. Amanda
    Reply

    Great article–got me really thinking about what end body type I’d like after I reach my goal BF. I’m never going to be a body builder, but overall I like the look of the “bulky” women better than the “not bulky.”
    Also got me thinking about how, even aside from aesthetics, I just want to be strong enough to, well, take care of myself, e.g., if I’m ever in a situation where I have to pull myself up over a ledge or something, I want to be able to do it–not have to hope there’s someone nearby, whether man or woman, strong enough to help me.

  24. Eliana
    Reply

    Mellisa (above)

    “And I really liked your point about male trainers enthusing over the hot bodies of women who look more like porn stars than athletes. This seems endemic to all kinds of training articles and blogs on the internet. WTF? This gives women such a mixed message.”

    I couldn’t agree more!

    Leigh, this is an amazing blog post. I have to admit that I think jessica biel and hilary swank have too much muscle look to them for my liking. I think it is my body type too. Like I like how it looks in them, but I don’t like how it looks on me.

  25. Laura
    Reply

    That was an eye opener for me. I am really surprised that most people, including men, think a little muscle on a woman is bulky. I am seeing more and more women in the free weight section of the gym so I was thinking that people are starting to appreciate a hard body on eigher sex. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Tina Turner look. I am trying so hard to get there. And I am sick of seeing Jessica Beale lumped in with the “bulky” crowd. You have to look really hard to find her muscles. I hope your new program will provide info on how a working woman with kids and a limited amount of time can get closer to that what some call “bulky” and I call ripped and beautiful. Keep the info coming. I am loving your new approach and website.

  26. Pauline
    Reply

    Great article, Leigh! James, I don’t think Leigh’s article will dissuade women from lifting as much as to encourage them to define their goals ahead of time and to train for that desired result. I’ve been lifting for over a year. I know it’s entirely possible to be muscular and feminine at the same time. I don’t have to “be tough” for anyone. I love being a girl! But I also love being a fit girl!! I think some of the image issues have more to do with Amazon attiudes than Amazon bodies. Leigh’s comment sums it up, “You have to look like the best version of yourself.”

  27. Jessie
    Reply

    I typed in “Jessica Biel looks like a man” in google and was astounded by the results.

    Leigh is it safe to say that they are as “bulky” as you can get without drugs? Because that is a interesting point.

    • Cliff
      Reply

      I don’t think that is a fair thing to say at all.  Maybe they’re as “bulky” as you can get while still being skinny enough to be a movie star.  But they are all pretty skinny.  There are very attractive, normal looking women who would look fairly large next to any of them, but all of these women are professional sexy time entertainers.  It is their job, forty hours a week (or more) to look good for those few hours when they are on film.  They are not a normal range for women who (1) don’t have a particular genetic propensity and (2) have other things to do with their time.

  28. Shannon Clark
    Reply

    Wow, this is a really great article – such interesting statistics. I’ve tried to tell female clients they won’t get bulky from lifting heavy, but almost always falls on deaf ears. If only they’d realize that what you eat is the bigger part of the equation of the result of heavy lifting.

    I WISH it was easier to build muscle! :) Thanks for writing this.

  29. Stacey
    Reply

    Leigh, great article.  Certainly, bulky is in the eye of the beholder.   To me, it is the more muscular arms and broad shoulders of many of the “Amazonians” in the video that look more masculine, but if you are a more typical pear-shaped woman with thin arms and fuller hips and thighs, isn’t it going to be harder to get that look without really trying?  When you look at the Jessica Biel pics, you can see that she is just naturally broad shouldered — more of an inverted triangle than a pear.  So if your underlying shape is more like hers and you don’t want that look, aren’t you going to have to be more careful (or just get a whole lot leaner) than someone who has a smaller framed upper body?

  30. mary
    Reply

    I have to add that this is telling it like it is:
    “My favorite contradiction is that the majority of the guys telling you to lift heavy and not be afraid of weights are the same guys putting up pictures of models and actresses that are “smokin,” when most have never touched a real weight in their life.  Just a little something for you to think about there.”
    Seriously. Thanks, Leigh. I had to stop reading Tony G.’s blog for this reason, as amusing as he is…

  31. H
    Reply

    Hey there. My body fat is 39% — seriously — and I’m doing Body For Life right now. Should I NOT be increasing the weights? I like the results I’m seeing so far (starting week 3 today).

  32. Leigh Peele
    Reply

    I want to respond to a lot of the things put here. I am going to do a follow up post that will address a lot of the questions/points brought up.

    To answer a few specific questions…

    Smith-I personally like to carry a lower body fat level and have slight definition. I don’t get competition lean personally. I don’t train for a figure style myself.  I like more strength in bodyweight work overall. Personally.

    That being said I can do a pretty nice deadlift when training.

    Other Surveys-I did other surveys that showed fitness models and elite athletes and the response was overwhelms to the point to where I don’t even think there was anything to gauge.  They automatically thought that was too much.

    I do get the point about those being the only available options, but I also choose women that are very often talked about as looking to manly or carrying to much muscle.

    There were also write in options and comments that were left. Overwhelmingly women wanted “tone” but with no noticeable definition.  They just don’t want their skin to jiggle, that is about as deep as it goes for most.

    I can also speak from working with actresses a lot recently, that it is a technique, it is not a easy one, and is not just based around genetics.

     

     

  33. Leigh Peele
    Reply

    Tight Traps-

    Check out the “Ask Leigh” manual for the posture article. There is a tennis ball and levator exercise that will help you with that. It is also on figure athlete I just don’t have the link right now and my internet at this coffee shop is being funky.

  34. Andrew Jackson
    Reply

    Leigh WTF? What is the point of an article like this? All it does is serve to make more women scared of lifting weights. Lifting does not make you bulky and if anyone thinks that Jessica biel is bulky then they are a head case anyway.

    Tell me what am I supposed to do with my female clients? Not have then lift weights anymore and tell them it is okay to look like paris hilton? This is a bullshit article, sorry.

    • Allerious
      Reply

      “Lifting does not make you bulky and if anyone thinks that Jessica biel is bulky then they are a head case anyway.”
      Then the vast majority of women are headcases.
      If the crazies run the asylum, what can you do but listen to them?

  35. Litgirl
    Reply

    Leigh, fantastic post! I do lift (moderate!) weights myself, but am always amazed that ‘lifting heavy’ is seen by so many as a panacea for fat loss. If anyone posts on a forum or a blog, ‘oh i’m trying to lose weight, what should i be doing’, the answer will invariable be very weights-dominant. the correct response imo would be “well, what are your goals?”. And for most women, it’s the girl from Lost or Greys Anatomy type picture they have as their ideal image in their mind / goal, which simply doesn’t really fit with needing to be able to squat your bodyweight.

  36. Sinead
    Reply

    Andrew Jackson, why is this bullshit when it gives the client–who, by the way is the one who is paying–what she wants? Sure, you can try to educate her on the benefits of strength/weight training, but while you’re doing that, there’s lots you can do (how about body weight stuff, for example) to improve her strength and general health if she’s not ready to jump into weights.

  37. Sarah
    Reply

    Andrew Jackson– If you are training clients and not addressing or respecting THEIR needs than you are going to have some very unhappy trainee’s. In this profession, it doesn’t matter what the trainer necessarily thinks is an ideal body composition; it is about getting your clients the result they are expecting. Who is anyone to judge what one thinks is appealing? I have not had one female client that doesn’t think Jessica Beile is a bit too muscular or “thick”. Many females DO want more of the Jessica Alba or VS look. And I guess my real question is–why does that bother you so much? Really? Someone is messed in the head if they personally think JB is what they consider “bulky”? Isn’t that a bit harsh?
    I agree with Sinead, she brings up a great point! Educate them and win them over with your knowledge and make them want more than they first thought or even imagined. Encourage them, don’t judge them

  38. H
    Reply

    I’m back again. You’re probably going to ask what my fitness goals are. I want to be around 20-22% body fat. So my goal is to lose fat. Now, should I NOT increase the weights?

  39. Chrissy
    Reply

    Really great points in this article Leigh. I am so glad that someone is finally actually talking about this stuff. I personally see nothing wrong in any of the body types you showed, I think it “depends ;) ” on what you want.

    To Andrew, you have no right to judge people on the body that they want. It is one thing if someone is doing something unhealthy with their body, but if someone is eating right and isn’t unheathly overweight why do you care. There is nothing unhealthy about Jessica Alba. I would never want to intrust my body to you, good luck to the women that do.

  40. kim
    Reply

    ok so what sort of plan would jessica biel use to atrophy her muscles to be a bit less bulky?
    what would you suggest if you have too much muscle (and not much fat) but want a smaller leaner look?
    taking the fact that you don’t
    a) want to starve yourself
    b) not turn into a flabby bum and still want to do some training?
    cheers
    kim

  41. Anna
    Reply

    Can you have skinny arms and be able to *do* anything? I want to look good (and I do like the slim look), but I also want strong bones and the ability to carry heavy things, pull myself up while climbing, etc. Are those two things at odds with each other? It seems that if I get body fat % low enough, my muscls shouldn’t make me look bulky–is this right? But if you keep fat and just add muscle, you will look bulkier?

  42. Missy
    Reply

    This is in the running for Best.post.of.the.year!!
    I love this article and it really puts many views in perspective.
    You know what I’d love to see? I’d like to see you do a video, sort of like your body fat analysis videos, that would showcase some of us and have you tell us what our best body could look like either with more muscle (bulky) or the soft look. Make sense? Like, I would like you to look at my body/physique and tell me A) if I could have the look of Valerie Waugaman, etc or whoever my body could get the closest to “figure” competitor wise and then B) who my body was most like or could look the most like celebrity wise if I put the particular training in. That would be neat cause I always wonder what my potential is based on my body type.
    I know genetics is key in much of this stuff!
    And the article does not make me scared to lift weight or go heavy – it just shows me more that I need to start lifting to get the look I want!!

  43. Liz
    Reply

    I could buy this if I could believe that the survey participants are evaluating “bulky” from the perspective of being knowledgable about the benefits of strength training. If they had been through some strength/nutrition programs and understood what it means build muscle, so their was something behind their opinion. But I suspect that most of the women who voted on this are simply your average person who is not well-educated in the topic, and have never tried lifting heavy. I think it does them a disservice to simply “give the client what she wants,” when what she wants in this case is likely based on ignorance and stereotypes, rather than being able to really make an educated choice about what’s best for them.

  44. Eliana
    Reply

    Liz you don’t think there is a problem with taking someones money and imposing your personal views on them?

    The article is about helping to give people a voice about what they want no matter what it is!

    I don’t know why not wanting to lift heavy weights means being uneducated. Obviously Leigh support weight lifting if anyone has read her work, but I think it is nice that she is giving another side to things.

  45. Sinead
    Reply

    I’m not advocating just to take somebody’s money and give her what she wants regardless of whether that’s a good idea or not. I think that you (trainers) should try to help the client reach her goal (as long as it’s a healthy goal) but at the same time work on educating the client about some other options or opportunities that might be available to her. Does that make sense?

    At any rate, I like Missy’s idea!

  46. Sarah
    Reply

    Yes, Sinead that does makes sense. And I think that’s what a good trainer does. :-)

    Kim– there was an article written (I believe by her trainer at the time) on Figure Athlete regarding JB and some techniques he used to achieve this. I don’t have time to find it now but I can later.

    I will have to disagree with Liz. I know male and females that are very well educated. And educated specifically in nutrition, or medicine, and/or fitness. They still don’t want to look like the “bulky” examples we are using or find it attractive on the women. I don’t think the other non “bulky” examples look unhealthy. And we have to remember, one’s look does not necessarily equal their true health status.
    Why does one have to lift heavy (and what is heavy? that’s a topic of it’s own) to be healthy, though? I think lifting heavy can have it’s extreme too and come with negative side effects just as easily as the polar opposite of never lifting a weight in your life.
    Just like everything in life, going to the extreme is a problem.

  47. Annie
    Reply

    Yeah, what is heavy??? I mean I’m pretty sure none of us do curls with pink 3lbs weights, but is 8, 10, 15, 20lbs considered heavy….for me 15lbs is heavy for curls…does that mean I’ll get huge arms…I think I got great biceps…I just have to get rid of the damn BF that’s hiding it. If anything, that’s what is giving my arms a ”bulky” look.

  48. Ginger
    Reply

    Another great article, Leigh! Thank you!

  49. Jenifer
    Reply

    Great article!

  50. Amanda
    Reply

    I’m third-ing Missy’s idea! I’d love to see an article/video about body type potential. :)

  51. Sally
    Reply

    Wow! Fantastic Post! (and a great discussion too!)
    At the end of the day ‘bulky’ means ‘big’. If you had put up images of women who were the same size as JB or others like her but who were fatter with more disproportionate bodies, women surveyed would also have labelled those women as ‘bulky’. However, they probably would also have labelled those women as ‘fat’, and given the choice they probably would have said that they would prefer to look like JB that a ‘fatter’ woman who literally took up the same physical space. I agree that JB does look ‘bulky’, it just so happens that I think that the bulky look is more attractive than the ‘I like, never, eat or lift more than 3lbs’ (aka Tracey Anderson) look. Each to his own – who is anyone to dictate what people do or do not find attractive.
    Wow, there’s so much more I’d love to write but I’ve rambled enough already.
    One last note – I LOVE Missy’s idea = )
     

  52. paprika
    Reply

    This article provoked a lot of thought for me! I became “addicted” to heavy lifting — I love it! — but I am no longer “slender”. I put on about 10 lbs muscle and 10 lbs fat since I started lifting (lifting makes me *hungry*!). However, this article suggests to me that I might be happier with how I look if I work on removing some of the fat. I thought the bulky women were beautiful — I wouldn’t mind looking more like them, with a bit less body fat and nice definition.

    Oh, and BTW, any man who can’t handle the fact that I can open my own jars, can take a hike. :)

  53. Bree
    Reply

    I was thinking along the same lines as Sally.  I wondered what they survey would show if you had pictures of women the same size as Biel, but at higher BF%.  This also came up recently because of something my husband said to me.  I was goofing around and flexing my biceps and asked him “what do you think of the guns?” Laughing, he says “they look great” I then asked “what do you think of the look of my arms compared to a year ago?”  He said “They look better, but bigger.” In actuality, I am at a lower BF % and my arms are actually 1 inch or more smaller in diameter.  So to him they “look” bigger, but based on his comment it was because his perception of my arm definition that leads to a bigger look.

  54. MT
    Reply

    Leigh,
    very interesting read. One thing I’d like to see addressed is more about genetic limitations. There are those of us who genetically can’t achieve the swimsuit model look. I would LOVE to look like that. And I have been at those levels of bodyfat. But I don’t look a bit like that, at 16% or 19%. I have a short waist, no breasts, and carry all my weight in my thighs. I have been under 16% (DEXA measured and underwater) and still had over 22% in my legs. Seems regardless of BF level, I will never have that smooth, consistent look through my body.

    Luckily, I am a fitness enthusiast and have learned to really admire the muscular look (and my husband likes it too–BONUS). I am now working on using that to even out my proportions, building my upper body some. But if I gain bodyfat I will put it right back on those legs and they will still be disproportionately large and bulg-y.

    I wish someone would look at different body types and discuss what looks are achievable as well as how to do that. You have got the ball rolling but as always, I want more ! :-)

  55. Ashley
    Reply

    Great article, Leigh!

    So I must ask: what IS the answer for those who seek the Jessica Alba type of look? I realize genetics play a large role, as does diet.

    If it’s far from where you are naturally, is it unrealistic to hope to obtain the thin, toned, yet not “bulky” (by these standards) look? Seems like such a fine balance between being too lean, not lean enough, too muscular, not muscular enough.

  56. Nicole
    Reply

    Awesome article. I agree that for many of us that lift heavy, it’s important to keep in mind that the majority of others do not want to have muscle definition, and would prefer to be skinny fat.

    I must say, I thought the “Amazonians” looked AMAZING!!

    Now the one thing that has been irking me with the discussion of this post, is the mention of genetics. Genetics will determine where your muscle insertion is, how tall you’ll be, and how long your limbs are. Genetics will determine if you are more of an endomorph, ectomorph, or mesomorph (or combination).

    Genetics will NOT determine how much muscle you put on your frame. That will come down to DIET, training, and cardio. I would really like to see people stop using their ‘genetics’ as an excuse. Put your big girl panties on, and fix what’s not working. Chances are you’re not eating the right foods to achieve your goals.

  57. Sherri
    Reply

    Funny Leigh, looks like other professional want to get in on this action. IE Val waters.
    Let me state that I think your article is way better by the way.

    GRRR

  58. Ryan Orrico
    Reply

    Great article, Leigh.  Nice work.

    Sherri – uhm, hate to burst your bubble, but Valerie wrote the article you saw today more than a year ago on her blog.  It was just reposted today.. and it had nothing to do with Leigh’s article.  She’s been talking about this longer than anyone.

  59. Leigh Peele
    Reply

    Hey Ryan, thanks for stopping by.

    Sherri-This is a very popular topic. Always has been and always open for tons of views and debate.  I thought the article made some very good points, specifically on the discussion between client and trainer.

  60. Ryan Orrico
    Reply

    Leigh – I’m going to link you up on Valerie’s post as well.  If I saw this before it went up today, I would’ve already done it.  :-)
    I’ve been clicking thru a bit, I dig your stuff!

  61. Sherri
    Reply

    EH sorry I get protective! I have been around from the beginning with Leigh and seen a lot of work of hers get ripped off or things just mysteriously “pop up “and I get a wall up about it.

    Sorry Ryan (and Val)

  62. Matt
    Reply

    Alright Leigh my girl friend WANTS a body like Paris Hiltons. What do I do with that? Can that be healthy at all? I always thought that it was unhealthy but now I found myself questioning the term.

  63. akimbo
    Reply

    Another great post from Leigh!
    I’m curious how Michelle Obama and her bare arms being prominantly featured in the media will change opinions.

  64. Chrissy
    Reply

    Oh I totally agree with Missy! Video please.

  65. MQ5
    Reply

    This article was very eye-opening to me as a fitness newb. I have been so confused by all of the opinions on the “best” way to achieve what I want for my body. Personally – I want lean and muscular and I suppose, by the definitions given here, bulky. But I never thought that kind of muscle was bulky. Just sculptural.
    In any case I hope trainers will encourage their clients to read this article. It will help clients and trainers have the right kind of discussion to actually create a program that will meet the clients needs.

  66. Christy
    Reply

    I was pretty surprised to see that Jessica Biel is described as being “bulky”. I have a very similar build to hers and would not necessarily describe myself that way. I have always had broad shoulders and hips, which gives me an X-shape, and this has been enhanced since I started weight training. I have been described as looking “masculine” by women who have never picked up a weight in their life, but I don’t think they meant it in a negative way, just that my shoulders are broader than most women’s. Personally, I much prefer my current look to my look when I was fat.
    That being said, I’m having trouble deciding how to proceed from here on out, especially with regard to diet, since I love heavy lifting and would never want to give it up, but at the same time I don’t want more muscle.

  67. Janna
    Reply

    I’ve read and re-read this article and I have to admit I am shocked at what so many people call “bulky”. I always thought Jessica Biel was a great example of an athletic, healthy look, certainly not bulky! The non-bulky pictures just look “fat” to me because I don’t see any definition. None of those women look particularly attractive because they don’t have any definition IMHO…I’ve normalized the concept of definition for so long in my head that when I don’t see it on someone, I automatically think “fat”, especially on myself…lol.

    I guess I’m in a lonely minority when I say that I like a “bulkier” look if bulky means looking like Jessica Biel. On the other hand, I’ve been aspiring to look more defined for so long that it’s kind of funny to know how few people actually admire this look. I guess if you’re after the “skinny fat” look, that’s okay…but I still find the “bulky” look more admirable because it reflects strength and hard work lifting/training. I think it’s way sexier too – but I know that’s just IMHO compared to what most people thing..lol

    …Plus, I want to be one of those few old ladies who can rock it right out without using a walker ;-)

  68. Marisa
    Reply

    Like many others, I’d also be interested in seeing possible body compositions for different body types.
    To me it seems the ‘bulky’ women have something in common: big shoulders. Maybe having big shoulders equals the feared bulky look, for many people?
    Oh, and googling this Jessica Alba scared the crap out of me… I sure as heck don’t wanna have such spaghetti-arms!

  69. Danielle
    Reply

    Wow, LOOOOVE this post!! I’m so saddened to see that many women’s view of what is attractive for their gender is SO narrow. As a teenage girl, something really stuck in my craw when I  realised that as a rule women are physically weaker than men. Since the beginning of time this fact has been used – is still used in many places all over the world – to subjugate women and elevate men. I think dealing with this pretty harsh fact of life early on shaped me, both mentally and physically.
    I adore men but I’ll be damned if I’m going to take a back seat to anyone. (Don’t walk to walk in front either, thank you.) I am mentally strong as all get-out and for the past few years I’ve been focused not only on becoming super fit but also physically STRONG. I’m not huge and I’m not small. I don’t look like a willowy, delicate flower OR a masculine Amazon; I hope, I think, I look like a powerful, healthy young-ish woman.
    There is something so gratifying about getting to the bench or the squat rack after a man 15 or 20 years younger than me (I’m 44) and telling him he does not have to unload the bar. There’s something awesome (and a little sad) about finding myself among the guys in the weights area either the only woman OR the only woman lifting more than 10lb dumbbells. (By the way, a note to the guys: It’s okay to train your legs, really! And step away from the machines!!!)
    By the way, I’m currently being coached by Krista Schaus and if ever you’re looking for another example of a powerful, inspirational, HOT woman, look no further than Krista! Thanks Leigh for allowing me to rant; this is great stuff as always. :-) Cheers!! xo

  70. Esther
    Reply

    It takes hard work , good diet and dedication to get one of those hard defined bodies like HS’s or JB’s. I don’t see bulky, I see strength, hard work and attitude. I rather look like that that than skinny -fat or plain fat. The don’t look like bodybuilders either; that’s what I would call bulky

  71. Jesse
    Reply

    No one’s asking the most important question: Who won the challenge on ‘Outback Jack’?!?!
    The athletic women did.
    (Mary in the clip was sent home, Mari-De took her spot.)

  72. Carolyn
    Reply

    Jesse-I don’t know if it counts because if they lost he HAD to kick off one of the girls and he picked the smallest girl from the other side. hehe

  73. Danielle
    Reply

    Hey Esther, I agree with you except – you don’t have to be “bulky” to be a successful female bodybuilder. Anyway, what IS bulky?? I’ll choose fit, strong, lean, and “bulky” (whatever that means!) over skinny and weak or fat and strong or any combination of skinny, fat, weak, and strong ANY day!!

  74. Esther
    Reply

    I’m with you, Danielle

  75. Sinead
    Reply

    Danielle, one of my favorite moments in the gym was when I worked my sets in between a couple of college-aged guys and needed to ADD weight for my deadlifts! You should have seen their faces!

  76. Christina
    Reply

    It is absolutely shocking to me that other women would consider Jessica Biel “too bulky”! I honestly don’t know what to do with that information. Or that women would rather be too fat than too bulky.

    I guess to me, it’s not only about a look, but about what that look translates into. To me, the Paris Hilton skinny looks helpless and puny and a kind of dependent-help-me-carry-my-24-oz-purse feminine that I can’t identify with. A woman with muscle definition — like Gaby Reece — to me has a look that says “I ask permission of no man to do whatever I want. You don’t like it, I would advise you to get out of my way. Or I’ll move you. Take your pick.”

    That’s the kind of body language I’d like to speak, personally. But maybe it’s sour grapes, because my body constitution never allowed me to consider looking tiny and weak?

  77. Danielle
    Reply

    Sinead, I hear ya! That is the BEST. It’s nice to show the younguns how it’s done, isn’t it? Heheh!
    Esther, thanks for responding! Just wanted to defend the bodybuilding ladies out there. :-)
    Christina, I could not agree with you more!! I am with you 1000%.
    Leigh – wow, you always have such a great group of fans, dont’ you? I wonder why that is?? ;-)

  78. Gay
    Reply

    Linda Hamilton is the reason I started lifting.  I wanted her arms!  (I’ve been teaching women how to strength train for over 15 years now.)
    Clearly my definition of bulky is not this – to me these women are defined and strong but definitely NOT bulky!  To me bulky is the over developed body builder on steroids look.
    From now on, when women ask me if they will get bulky when they lift weights, I am going to have to ask what/who they consider to be bulky!
    Thank you for the article.  Really interesting and made me think.

  79. jgirl
    Reply

    Completely agree, great topic Leigh!
    A hybrid of fit and healthy is the real deal. We are talking about not only how you look on the outside, but also how your body is functioning on the inside! Low body fat and hormone imbalance does not make a happy gal, neither does sarcopena obesity (skinny fat gals with high risk for heart disease). It’s the balance and awareness of what that means for you.

    outside…clothes you are hot for the look you want (happy with body fat range, performance goals), you wear it well and are happy and self accepting (healthy mental state),
    inside…labwork is in optimal range (serum comprehensive, saliva hormones) other measurements like heart rate variability (HRV) and brain state/health are on the radar.

    It is the classic body, mind and spirit trio, but when taken out of mainstream and cliche, very powerful in effect! ~j
     
     

  80. Sinead
    Reply

    Gay, I think that’s the biggest take-home point from all of this. When trainers and clients are talking, it’s important to clarify what each person is talking about. Whoever said that it would be helpful to bring pictures into the discussion was dead on, I think!

  81. Esther
    Reply

    LOL, THAT’S RIGHT CHRISTINA!!

  82. Kelley Moore
    Reply

    Thanks for tackling this hot topic. I was thin for many years, went through a chunky phase, had a whacked out thyroid, now have sturdy muscle and am working to get the body fat completed stripped off. To compare how I felt (muscular vs. thin) I would personally choose the strength and functionality that comes from having more muscle any day. I’m wondering of the 2000 women that responded, how they might describe their current physical state. I say that because when I was first battling body fat all I could focus on was the ever elusive goal of being thin. Another thing is what 2000 guys might say. Some like women soft, some wouldn’t want to be with a woman that looked like she could kick his butt, but some also don’t like the skinny waif look. Most importantly I think is your comment that regardless of your training it’s not going to turn you into someone else’s body. I would love to see more women focus on their own health, strength and functionality and be happy with it than to be consistently comparing themselves to movie stars on a beach.

  83. Elly
    Reply

    I’m so glad this is being talked about! I swallowed the whole “You have to lift weights to get the body you want” stuff that you see touted everywhere. I wanted to be the skinny actress type, and basically was, now I’m the firmer but fatter type. NOW I wouldn’t want to lose strength or muscle, but I would have preferred to have known what I was getting into.

  84. Elly
    Reply

    Oops- forgot to mention how much NOW i prefer women with muscle, how I prefer myself with muscle, and I find it shocking that most men and women seem to balk at any kind of bulk on a woman. I balked at muscle to begin with, but I changed my mind as I got stronger.

  85. Tracey
    Reply

    Nature<!– body { font-family: Trebuchet MS, Verdana; font-size: 10pt; color: #333399; margin-top: 5px; margin-left: 30px; } img { margin-top: 5px; margin-left: -30px; } –>
    I think this article brings up an interesting topic. My question is though..if you want to look more muscular what is involved, and if you’d rather be a bit leaner (more like a “Pilates Body”) how do you achieve that??? I mean,have we really determined what causes a woman to look “bulky”. This article seems more about how we feel about it…

  86. Gubernatrix - all-round strength training
    Reply

    Interesting and controversial article! As someone who regularly writes about women’s strength training, this is a hoary old chestnut of an issue for me. Briefly, my views are:
    - looking “bulky” is (still) mostly to do with body composition, not with the size of your muscles
    - doing heavy weight training will not make you look bulky, it’s the diet that goes along with training that mostly determines how you look (it’s an 80/20 thing)
    - you have to make the best of what you are born with. I’m an endomorph with a long torso and short legs and any extra weight goes to my hips. That’s genetic, folks. If someone saw me squatting in the gym with my (ahem) ‘powerful’ thighs and assumed that they were that size because I was squatting, they would be wrong!! They do not know that my thighs were even bigger before I started training. You can’t look at a snapshot of someone and accurately determine how they got that way.
    - all women should do weight training, it is vitally important for health and wellbeing

    I appreciate that the debate needs to move on and that perfectly intelligent and sensible women will look at some well known figures (Hilary Swank, the Crossfit girls, Madonna) and think ‘I don’t want to look like that’. But they are still not completely understanding the causes and effects. It’s diet, diet, diet, diet, diet, diet….

  87. Randy Kaiser
    Reply

    I really liked the poll as it gives us some insight into the female perception. The problem I have with the theme of this article is that if we solely teach and create the idea that we exercise and lift weights to get a particular look then as fitness professionals we are failing. I understand that looking good is important and is a much wanted positive side effect of exercise, however the article discusses putting forth the truth. So let’s be completely truthful here. We need our clients whether male of female to retain lean mass for more important reasons than just looks. Quality of life comes to mind. As those “skinny minnies” age and lose more and more lean mass there are serious negative side effects. We as health professionals need to focus on what’s healthy and reinforce the truth about healthy bodies in combination with the client’s goal.

    An example. If you break your arm and go to the doctor and he/she says,”Well we need to put a cast on your arm as that is the only way to fix the break”. Your response is,”no I don’t like how that looks on me so I will just let it heal on its own”. As you age, the truth of the matter is there will be a significant reduction in your quality of life. Let’s not just be concerned with the now but let’s lead our clients into the future.

    Thanks and have a great day!

    Randy Kaiser, M.Ed., ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
    Owner
    KaiserFitness, LLC

  88. Carlito
    Reply

    It’s a shame when you have other women claiming Jessica Biel’s former body as “bulky” and not their ideal physique.  I’m a pretty good looking guy and if I have two women side-by-side.  One with Biel’s physique and a thinner chic.  You better be damn right I’ll pick the more athletic (notice I said athletic not bulky, bulky is an off season bodybuilders body) built woman.
    I think in this day and age.  With a growing majority of women who see fat/chubby as the norm.  An athletic girl is suddenly peculiar, abnormal and hence use the word “bulky”.  Cause one would have to sacrifice a lot to achieve this thus claiming it as not ideal makes them feel more “comfortable” about their physique.

  89. Bret
    Reply

    If women want to change the shape of there body they need to do it through some sort of resistance training, cardio alone wont do it.Most women dont even do cardio correctly, they run and run and run but what they need to be doing is interval training.

    Bottom line if you want a nice but and shapely legs,do interval training and lift weights, you wont get bulky.

  90. Judith
    Reply

    I’m jumping in here late. But I’m very glad to see someone has pointed out the advantages of weight training other than appearance.

    I’ve recenly started lifting weights, with a personal trainer. When I think about my goals for this, they look a bit different than some you’ve mentioned. In no particular order, they are:

    -I can get my kayak on and off my car by myself. (already doing this) I can paddle long enough and hard enough to go UP Glen Canyon. (haven’t tried yet.) I can swim strongly enough to save myself if my kayak capsizes.

    -I can carry luggage through the airport without getting out of breath.

    -I’d like to set a new PR for a 10K. (Not sure how much help I’ll get for this from weight training, but it probably won’t hurt.)

    -If I get to go backpacking with my sister later this summer, I’d like to keep up with experienced hikers and not be in pain the whole trip.

    If in the process of achieving these goals, I end up looking like someone who can do all of these things, that’ll be good too. But the pleasure I get from my body comes more from what I can do with it than what it looks like.

    The late Caroline Knapp wrote about her recovery from anorexia nervosa, and how much help she had from learning rowing. Her comment was that it was the first time she was appreciating what she could do with her body, not to her body. I wish there was more emphasis on this in literature on women’s fitness.

    • Daniella
      Reply

      but you don’t need any weight lifting to achieve those goals. Practicing rowing over and over and keeping trying to get your kayak on and off your car will make you better at those things without any sort of “isolated aestehtic muscle mass increase”

      So if a woman doesn’t want a muscular body, with specific muscle hypertrophy in certain areas, she doesn’t have to “give up her ideal look” in order to become stronger. Heavy weight lifting is not necessary at all to become a strong person and even less necessary to succeed in specific sport or activities just doing those activities and getting better at them is enough.

  91. damaged justice
    Reply

    The Amazons looked fantastic. The other women didn’t look as good, but they didn’t look BAD…until they opened their mouths, and revealed the ugliness within.
    Healthy is attractive. Envy and ignorance never are.

  92. Bob
    Reply

    women can look good if they work out its just when you start losing your curves, get too steroided out looking, jessica biel is probably the most popular woman as of right now  when a woman works out too much loses her bust and her waist gets too big.. then its too much.

  93. duvessa
    Reply

    Just looking at that clip from the tv show, I would really prefer to believe (& it is my experience) that the average woman is not as moronic as the “regular girls” presented there.  If I’m wrong, we’ve got WAY bigger issues as women than the size of our biceps or our body fat percentage.
    People can say whatever they like while judging celebrities in a poll.  I would be interested in knowing what those polled think of their own bodies & what their stats are.  Unless they are actually a physical example of that which they claim is the preferred type, who cares what they have to say?  They aren’t doing it (the work, the diet, whatever)….& I’d bet money most of them aren’t.
     

  94. Beth
    Reply

    Love it.  Nobody defines what bulky looks like on my body but me.

  95. Ria
    Reply

    Thank you! I am a black woman 5’1 132 lbs. I work out 5 days a week, Pilates, yoga, spin, dance, cycling, tennis. I have a muscular build with some body fat (think a gymnast, cheerleaders, or sprinter). In African American culture, this look is appealing to men. They love the muscles with a little body fat. In more Caucasian/Anglo-Saxon culture, this look is undesirable. I struggle because often I cannot find clothes that fit my thighs but fit my waist. Or my shoulders look broad in bathing suits designed for slender builds. I feel very strong and solid. I don’t want to change anything but perceptions do depend on the culture you are in. 

  96. Ilona
    Reply

    Just read this again and it started to make me mad -
    Debating on exactly how much space women are allowed or supposed to take up without being labeled bulky and unattractive is a moot point, since women will always be *too* bulky or *too* beastly until they damn near disappear and starve themselves into a weak and childlike state.
    Keeping half the population in a state of hunger (how many women in the developed world are on a diet at any one time?) is a great way of mind control – keep ‘em hungry, keep ‘em quiet, keep ‘em down.

  97. lindsay
    Reply

    I think Andrew Jackson is rare, most guys DO prefer small very feminine looking women. My husband thinks Jessica B. is way too manly looking. But I think its so individual. But when I get a personal trainer, I hope they are not like this Andrew Jackson…MOST women just want to be SMALLER!

  98. Women Health
    Reply

    First of all hats off for this post it was very astonishing and at the same time full of knowledge as well. Each and every line was interesting and attention grabbing. I am surprised to see the courage and daring decision of that group of women in 1909 and secondly this women psychology survey was a great thing to know about. Even personally I am a great fan of Kate Winslet physique after watching “the reader” and Hilary Swank is all time favorite lady.

  99. Lola
    Reply

    Great article. I was shocked to find this article from someone as well respected as you are in the fitness industry–and that you had the guts to write it and tell it like it is. Most fitness gurus will tell women to eat more and lift heavy weights–well, this leads to the bulky/pudgy look most women DON’T want.

    I’m a pretty small person (5’6 107-110 lbs) and I wanted to get stronger so I started lifting heavy weights–however, I did not eat on a surplus of 500 calories/day like suggested by most trainers. Instead, I eat at maintenance and concentrated on making strength gains without adding too much size to my frame. I went from being a skinny chick not being able to lift her carry-on on a plane to doing un-assisted pull-ups and chin-ups and weighted push-ups wearing a 15 lb vest. My body composition changed, sure.. I have less fat, more definition, but at my weight I will never be considered “bulky” or “too muscular” I simply do not eat enough to create that big muscle look–and you can’t create muscle of thin air.

    So is it possible to be strong without having huge popping muscles? Absolutely! Keeping your calories in check and maintaining low body fat is key–You can still be strong and have a sexy and feminine look.

    I really enjoyed reading this article. Thank you.

  100. Man Bangs
    Reply

    I am naturally muscular and don’t exercise (at all) and I HATE HATE my body!!!!!!! I am totally paranoid about my upper arms and try and wear tops that cover them when I am out.

  101. Diana
    Reply

    I am very surprised that so few people prefer a muscular body, especially that they doesn’t even want the men to be muscular.

    I love to look at my boyfriends muscles and I feel proud of having a strong boyfriend. I also want to have some muscles myself. Could somone explain why they prefer a weak look?

  102. Lizzy
    Reply

    I don’t know exactly how you would define the look I like. I like Rachel Cosgrove’s look. What I don’t like is the look I see in pictures of fitness competitors on stage. Almost without fail their shoulders are broader than their hips, and their waists are almost non-existent. To me, that looks more like a small version of a man than a woman. To me, a woman should have shoulders in proportion to their hips with a well-defined waist. Muscle definition doesn’t speak bulky to me. To me if a woman has lost her overall feminine shape she’s too bulky.

  103. Dea
    Reply

    BTW, the woman pictured is not Tina Turner, it is Angela Bassett who went to extremes, when it came to weight training, to obtain a look for the movie “What’s Love got to do with It”, portraying Tina Turner, who, for the record, is not bulky, or even as cut as Angela.

    Personally, I do not believe ANY of the women mentioned are “bulky”. In fact the total opposite. They are extremely slim, low fat density women who have high muscle definition (well cut). For me women who have very very low fat density and are muscly tend to look unfeminine, hard, and often old or older than their years. Bulky does not necessarily give you that look. Check out Brazilian women for example. Some would class them bulky ie thick, well defined legs, and butts (esp in the Samba world), but their bodies are stunning, and their faces and bodies still look soft and feminine. The look I am aiming to obtain… AMAZONIAN (I am 6ft and very feminine).

    I think some you have misconception of what bulky is from the pics and from what I have read ….however good discussion btw x

  104. Dea
    Reply

    Links to pics of beautiful “bulky” women…. this may change your minds. ….STUNNING!!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/aneaguirre/3314931900/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/criarte/3307438725/

  105. Nina
    Reply

    I think the reason why so many men prefer their girlfriends to be more “petite” for an example, is simply because it gives them that feeling of being the “protector” , like they are the ones with muscles and therefore can protect the woman from potential danger. That is seeing it from a perspective on how things were thousands of years ago, when women were home taking care of the children, making dinner and so on, and the men were out hunting, – and if they had to, – protecting their women from dangers. If a woman is muscular – why wood she need a muscular man to protect her from danger?
    Just a thought…

    :)

  106. j.d. aka the weasel
    Reply

    i like big butts an’ I cannot lie…

  107. FitnessMaya
    Reply

    This is a great topic. I am a petite girl (5’2, 108 pds) that used to really, really fear getting too bulky. My frame easily shows muscle and being a runner, I already look “toned” – i.e., visible biceps, nice quads…etc. Ironically, it was a old boyfriend who talked me into upping the weight, while we were working out together. He is long gone (unrelated reasons – he loved as I got stronger) but I kept at it and now can squat and deadlift in the 200s. I can do ten unassisted pullups and leg press FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS. I say it in all caps like that because it literally shocks me every time I do it – and half the guys in the gym, many of whom workout with less weight than me. Anyway. despite popular mythology,I have found that guys LOVE my strength and even more muscular look. I have strangers hitting on me in hte gym (annoying) and my husband finds it to be a huge turn on that my legs are stronger than his. Now if I could out armwrestle him, that might be different – but that’s not happening anytime soon. I swear even his friends cross the flirty line, asking to feel my arm muscles or play stupid strength gains. In any case, I am sure that there are some men who are totally turned off by the new me – but I can categorically say that I have never turned so many on either. – MAYA

  108. shell
    Reply

    I wish there were less catty comments (not just here, in general) about women lifting low weights. I can’t lift more than 6 lb dumbbells; I fail with them at about 10 reps, so they are perfect for me, IMO. I worked with a trainer for 6 months & she tried to move me to 8 lbs and I failed at like 5 reps with them & got dizzy. I’m an ectomorphic type, so lifting low works fine for me. I build strength, gain a little muscle & look more toned (despite it being difficult for me to gain weight). I don’t appreciate being mocked for my efforts. Lifting low DOES do something for those of us who are smaller people naturally.

    This article is good though…what the average woman calls bulky is not a body builder like gym rats think. Our idea of bulky is probably their idea of fit. I admit, I don’t want to look like Jessica Biel either. I wouldn’t call her bulky, but a bit more muscular than her would be bulky to me. She looks good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my ideal. Like most women, I’d rather be thin, but shapely. It looks more feminine & elegant to me, and athletic bodies just don’t look that way. Jennifer Aniston is likely most women’s ideal body, and I’m no exception.

    I also think we need less scrutiny over women;s bodies. Let’s talk male ideals from a woman’s perspective for once!

  109. Jebelle
    Reply

    Great article, thank you so much.

    I too, describe bulky as the pictures shown above. And I don’t want to become like that, I dream of the softer look but still sexy. Yet, this article didn’t scared from lifting weights. In fact it inspired me and helped me decided once and for all that I can get the look I want even If I lift weights which is highly essential to tone my body as a skinny type person. And that’s why I’m so grateful with this site. Thank you :)

    I would love this article passed to more women, definitely. This will clear a lot of confusion in their heads, and hopefully like me, get them motivated to lift weights much more!

  110. Jebelle
    Reply

    After learning about the body fat factor, and after realizing a simple thought that even if I “bulk up” the results couldn’t be permanent and will surely trim off in time, my fear of weight lifting was totally diminished. I just can’t explain how thankful I am.

    Though I’m not a professional, I’ve read so many pages about muscle building ’cause I was dying to lift weights to tone up but so scared to bulk up. Still, not a single advice convinced me. But after reading this article of yours, things cleared up. Like how most women thought of “bulk” knowing I was one of those women gave me the relief that I’m not the only one who could be searching for the same answer of not bulking up, but still tone up. Plus everything else explained here. Thank you

  111. Marianne
    Reply

    Hey Leigh,

    Great article! From the comments, I notice a lot of talk about obtaining “a look”. I find it interesting that even those of us who train, do so for “a look”. The “lean look”, the “toned look”, the “muscular look” – few want the “bulky look” or the “skinny look”. Why does so much importance have to be placed on how we look.

    I have struggled with my image like any other person, but there has to be a point somewhere that you can just be happy with the way you look? Surely? What I have established is that how someone looks does NOT always carry over into what they can do (training-wise). Like a “bulky” female who you think must be strong, is not verses someone like Nia Shanks, who does not possess a look that you would expect a 300lb DL (which is far more impressive than a look), but that’s just me.

    I guess what I struggle with most is society’s expectations and how much these rest on how you look :( Especially for women.

    I wonder if, in a world where “looks” did not matter so much, would the question about “should women lift heavy weights” still hold a majority “no”. Because even the question saying “If you thought that lifting heavy weights wouldn’t make you bulky/muscular, would you lift them?” was still linking what you do to how you look or would not look. Maybe I am rambling about this, but it would be interesting to know WHY the majority still said “no” to this?

    I love how you were able to present both sides to this in such a balanced way and I agree that far too many judgements can be passed.

    We should really be fighting against our perceptions, expectations and how quick we are to judge others.

    Great read.

    Marianne

  112. Annalise
    Reply

    Well times must be changing because I am currently overweight but lifting weights 3 times a week at home. My body although still overweight is currently toning. My butt is getting rounder and my husband loves it. I love it! I would rather have a toned big butt than a flabby big butt.

    Some of the women in the pictures are a little too muscular for my preference, and the reason is this. I want my man to look stronger than me. I don’t want people to look at me and instantly think ‘ooh i better not mess with her or she will snap me in half’. Jessica Biel isnt that bulky, she looks tough but not so tough it overpowers men. She looks healthy and fit and looks like she would be alot of fun to hang out with because you know she will have alot of energy and will be strong enough to do many things! Thats the body I want.

  113. carolinajim
    Reply

    As a straight man, i’d echo many of the comments from men above – men definitely prefer strong and toned, that is, muscular, to anorexic (or fat).

  114. Dave Turner
    Reply

    I personally think the toned/slightly muscular look is awesome on a woman. Linda Hamilton set the standard in Terminator 2, and Jessica Biel never looked better than the shape she was in, in Stealth and Blade:Trinity.

    Madonna has also had a slightly muscular look, and to me it just radiates health and fitness. I love that look – more woman should go for it!

    But it’s all just personal preference – some men prefer fat, some muscular… but the women aren’t doing this for us – they’re doing it for themselves!

    Women with muscles… It’s just cool, and very, very sexy!

  115. Lisa
    Reply

    I wonder, have you ever done this study with men? It would be interesting to see the discrepancy/lack of discrepancy between the male and female point of view on what constituted a ‘bulky’ woman.

  116. Rowan
    Reply

    Speaking for all men ever, Jessica Biel is by far the most attractive woman on the list, followed by Jessica Alba. Point is, muscle or not, change your name to Jessica, and don’t be afraid of a little muscle, though Hilary Swank is perhaps a bit too bulky.

  117. ashley
    Reply

    I think women with some muscle is fine, it means thier healthy and more active plus michelle rodriguez is very beautiful and we know she is bulky, they don’t look like men as long as they don’t do steriods so why not find muscle in women sexy??

  118. Freddy
    Reply

    You should change the labels to your two sets of pictures from “Bulky” and “Not Bulky” to “Healthy” and “Not Healthy”

    And then you should poll 2000 MEN and ask them what they think is sexy on women.

  119. kate
    Reply

    I personally think women look best with some muscle AND fat, the Madonna look is not good at all. I’d rather look ‘bulky’ like Jessica Biel thanks.

  120. Brotacular
    Reply

    Jessica Biel isn’t bulky. You ladies don’t really know what bulky is, do you?

    A little muscle will keep you looking good longer (true story), and we men like a woman that isn’t a weak stick that can’t do anything for herself.

    Just saying.

  121. fit
    Reply

    I’ve learned that women are complete idiots

  122. Sam
    Reply

    Shit, Jessica Biel is hotter than any girl on the skinny list. Girls really have messed up ideas of what is hot.

  123. Chris
    Reply

    Whoever takes this seriously is a fucking idiot.

  124. Marine
    Reply

    As a CERTIFIED female fitness PROFESSIONAL, I can say this is garbage. I lift heavy. I look like a woman. I can squat more than 35 pounds OVER my body weight. All it has done was build a fabulous backside. HMPH!!!

    • Daniella
      Reply

      No, only your reply is garbage and you arrogant tone. You sound either like an ignorant fanatic or a poser. There are lot of women who don’t want a body like yours, they don’t want extra muscles and it’s garbage to say that they can’t build muscles, in fact lot of women build easily muscles on the hips, calves and tighs. And if that’s not the kind of look they want, trainers should be honest with them and find alternative training system to suit their client goals not their own taste.

  125. Daniella
    Reply

    To those who said this article is going to discorage women from lifting heavy weight, the point is that this article will discorage only those women who don’t have an aesthetic goal that is compatible with heavy and intense weight lifting, so it’s a good thing if they’re discoraged since they shold find what works for them not something that will give them results that they won’t like.

    I even think the survey are pointless, because it’s not a matter of what the majority thinks but what each client wants. Do you want a body like a female athlete? Train accordingly. Do you want a body like Jessica Biel? Train accordingly. Do you want a body less muscular than Jessica Biel, then train accordigly. I’m my opinion what a client wants should be the most important thing for a trainer. And what a person wants for herself/himself should be the most important thing to him/her and no one should have a right to judge. There are people who want to be chubby, because that’s what they like. I respect their decision, period and I would never suggest them a crash diet with intense weight lifting. And I would never suggest intense heavy weight lifting to those girls who don’t want to look like Jessica Biel but prefer a Megan Fox physique. I respect them all and no one should convince them tro train in a way that it’s opposed to their goal. That would be dishonest and cruel. Like wasting the precious time of another person who is trusting you.

  126. Farhana
    Reply

    Awesome article… love the last points, thank you!

  127. Jenell
    Reply

    I prefer Alba’s look to Biel’s. That’s MY personal preference regardless to what some random guy happens to think is sexy or not.

  128. Catey
    Reply

    What a great article. One of the few pieces of truth on the net when it comes to women’s fitness. Now lets deconstruct the root cause of the misinformation given to women in this area. In my opinion in a post feminist age more value is given to women engaging in traditional male activities than female ones. So it is more truthful and right to lift heavy eat Paleo and crossfit than to be vego do Yoga and never touch a weight, that has more inherent value and should be encouraged and women need to be told how to look and can’t be trusted to decide for themselves as evidenced in many of the comments on here ‘women are idiots’ ‘ those women aren’t bulky’ etc. We can’t trust them to have their own opinion but must patronise them with platitudes such as ‘ you can’t bulk up little girl you are only a girl after all!’. Same as we would all cheer a woman becoming an electrical engineer ( how progressive!) but think she’s a doddle if she wants to become a child carer or preschool teacher. This is the impact of gender feminism in the intellectual elite trickling down into mainstream group thinking. One great thing I love about this article is it challenges assumed knowledge with some great hard facts. SHE gets to decide what SHE wants to look like. I think we forget that as fitness pros.

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