The Women’s Guide To Increaseing Strength Without Increasing Bulk

I’ve learned something over the years…

No matter how often I stand up on a soap box and preach the importance of strength training for women…

No matter how often I reassure women that they will not bulk up…

No matter nor often I use my own body as an example…

Many women are still fearful and extremely hesitant of REAL strength.

Fearful that they will lose their feminine softness and suddenly wake up resembling a superhero instead of an “everyday” woman.

But you know what…

That won’t stop me. I guess you can say that I have set up a tent up on top of my soap box and I’ll be camping out for an indefinite amount of time.

So, lucky for you, that gives me plenty of time to address the issue further.


Let’s Talk About The Everyday Woman

Do we really want to look like today’s everyday woman?

She isn’t exactly a model for health and longevity.

69% of US women are overweight… so if we’re classifying the “everyday” female body we would be subjecting ourselves to a diet and lifestyle that promotes unhealthy weight gain (source).

Today’s everyday women is not an imagine that we should be attempting to achieve, but one we’re aiming to avoid.

Make sense?

And what about the everyday woman’s activities?

Only 45% of women meet the federal physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity… but what does that mean? (Source)

According to the CDC:


That’s a lot of –OR– and as you read down the options, they seem to get a bit more laxed. Because of the relaxed explanation, individuals are able to define their own workouts as intense, moderate, etc.

Out of that 45%, I think it’s safe to say that a large percentage are not truly working out to a level they should to get the physical benefits.

What’s sad is that there are no SOLID guidelines for anaerobic exercise for women (or men), yet focusing on strength training is just as important for the aging body as running, swimming, biking, or whatever form of aerobic movement you choose.

I have already discussed strength training benefits for women at length, so if you need a refresher course feel free to catch up:

So can we agree that we don’t want to be an everyday woman?

Today’s Strong Woman: Feminine Without Bulk

In the training world, there are 3 types of gaining programs…

  • Strength oriented – Get stronger
  • Hypertrophy oriented – Increase muscle
  • Endurance oriented – High reps, longer durations

I know a lot of people that are strong as hell but look as if they would have a hard time carrying their grocery bags up the stairs.

That’s because bulk, isn’t an indication of strength.

And ladies, unless you’re eating a high calorie diet (an extra 300+ calories/day) loaded with protein (according to Dr. Dan Labriola requires 60-90 grams/day) and pairing it with a hypertrophy (muscle building) training program that lacks a lot of cardio…

Bulking just isn’t in your cards.

So please, rest assured that you won’t wake up a female version of Wolverine.

Are Your Workouts Moving Your Forward?


Here’s a question to all of you beautiful ladies that already strength train…

Do you workout in a way to progress your abilities?


Do you just go through the motions with each workout? Knowing in the back of your mind, that you’re not really working to improve?

That latter is where I was until just recently.

I knew deep down that my workouts weren’t progressing me further with my fitness. I wasn’t putting my energy into making myself stronger or better.

The reason? Lack of motivation. I haven’t had a workout partner lately and believe it or not, I’m not good at working out all by my lonesome.

But that all changed recently.

Dan and I talked about my goals and what I wanted and he’s agreed to step up his husband duties to train me and I’ve agreed to not give attitude (I don’t take commands very well).

So what does that mean exactly?

It’s Time To Get Stronger Without Getting Bigger

Fitness Training for Women

Let’s quickly talk about the 3 stages of strength training to help put an end to the myths and the lies the circuit the online world faster than a speeding bullet.

Endurance Strength

This is where you’ll find a majority of women train to for strength.

Grabbing a weight and proceeding to do so many reps they lose count, with extremely light weight. Endurance training is an important part of overall fitness and shouldn’t be neglected.

It’s extremely helpful if you find yourself walking 1 mile while carrying your groceries. Or you are in a situation where you have to hold an uncomfortable pose for a long time… such as when going into a porta-potty.

But in terms of fat burning, not as much. And it doesn’t have to be the backbone of your training… it shouldn’t be the backbone.

You see, muscle increases metabolism… the more of it you have, the more calories your body burns to keep it happy. But because endurance training doesn’t build muscle, you’re left with a false sense of metabolic security here.

Drop the pink weights… and see what happens.

Of course there is no cut and dry answer for what rep kicks off endurance training, but in general, the idea is over 12 reps. As for sets, they are normally kept lower… 1-3.

I personally love a good endurance workout, you’ll often see workouts which have up to as many as 50 push-ups in a single set. But again, not when I am going for pure strength.

The Weekend Warrior is a great example!


Hypertrophy Strength

Right below endurance trainer (in terms of reps), you’ll find the hypertrophy state…

Muscle building.

I know, that sounds serious and intimidating. But it’s not.

This is the zone in which you load your muscles with tension and stress causing micro-tears to form. As these micro-tears heal more muscle tissue is formed… causing muscle growth.


I know women are scared of this, heck back in the day I was too. But what do you think “getting toned” means?

Getting toned is simply a feminine way of saying muscle hypertrophy. Your muscles aren’t going to become more defined , or “toned” without a little muscle hypertrophy.

And that’s okay! Because you’re not going to turn into a freak of nature. That I can promise.

To build muscle mass, you have to take in more calories than you burn. According to Dr. Melina Jampolis this means eating an extra 250-500 calories per day. Plus, the body can only build ~1 lb of muscle per week so eating too many calories won’t add in additional muscle mass but additional body fat.

Let’s not forget things like hormones (testosterone) and our natural physiology which is much different than a man’s and the key reasons they have naturally a heck of a lot more muscle than we do.

While I love that women have found a place in the bodybuilding world, I also curse them for their unnatural bodies and leading other women to fear weights and strength.



In the hypertrophy range of 6-10 reps, you will increase both strength and tone (though some people say 5-8 reps).

But here’s the kicker…

The weight needs to be heavy enough where you can’t do more than the allotted 10. Don’t go lighter just because. Really challenge yourself.

Since we’re going down in reps than when we were in the endurance zone, the sets go up… in generally 3-5 sets is most common.

If that all makes you nervous because of the whole muscle growth thing there is another zone for ultimate strength…

Strength Strength Training

Believe it or not, muscle size is not a sign of raw strength.

There are plenty of people that look weak but are amazing in what they go do. And vice versa… I have seen huge guys that matched my own strength. <— I love when this happens!

You see, you can get stronger, put strain on the muscles and teach them to adapt to the stress of weight without adding size. And it happens by doing low reps… like just 1-5 reps… for several sets with lots of rest in between.

And it comes from progressively working to get stronger.


Without plates available for weighted push-ups… I had to get creative last week! Worked out perfectly.

This is where I am now.

–> It’s why you’ve seen me posting pictures up of weighted pull-ups (which I did 3 reps with 15 pounds this past weekend).

–> It’s why I’ve been working on handstand push-ups and weighted push-ups. And it’s what is going to help me get my body where I want it.

Still don’t believe you can be crazy strong without being crazy muscular?

Check this out…

The kettlebell champion of the world:

Can you believe the weight she uses?

And her body?

Oh and I forgot to mention… Ksenia Dedyukhina holds the world record for women in the spot of kettlebells!

Where Should Most Women Train


In all 3 zones!

For a balanced body and peak physical performance… we should focus on all three zones!

Of course it depends on your personal goals but it also depends on time and rest.

Each zone should be the center of attention for 4-6 weeks before changing things up.

I am also a fan of sprinkling in a different zone into my weekly workouts to help keep my body balanced and challenged.

Personally, right now I am all about pure strength. I want to see what I can accomplish over the next 6-weeks (well 5-weeks now). After that I will likely change things up and spend a few weeks in the endurance training zone to allow my body to be challenged in a new week and to ensure progress.

But even during my strength training… I’ll have a few sets of moves that incorporates all zones! Just because it’s fun! Plus with kettlebells, it’s hard not to go into the endurance zone.

It’s just part of the training.

Trying To Decrease Muscle Mass?


If you still find yourself a bit weary about adding weight to your program, or you are actually trying to lose some of your muscle, perhaps this will help.

Keep your protein intake between 40-50 grams/day.

This is the RDA for protein for ladies. You’ve heard that bodybuilders eat tons of protein right? Well, that is because studies have linked taking in 2x the RDA can help not only keep the muscle mass you have during dieting but help build more.

If you’re really nervous, just make sure to keep your protein levels in check and make sure to not increase your daily calories.

Increase your cardio.

Ever wondered why a sprinter and a marathoner look so different?

It’s because it’s close to impossible to keep a good amount of muscle mass when doing long cardio sessions. Muscle mass is broken down for energy.

If you want to get rid of muscle, just go run, bike or elliptical it off.

Now you know why I haven’t been running as much lately!

Don’t follow my advice.

And finally, if you don’t want to get strong, you don’t want to protect your body, or increase your overall health then by all means just don’t strength train.

If you don’t incorporate strength into your life, then there is nothing to worry about right?

Well, except for brittle bones, the inability to open up pickle jars, a bit of moodiness, and the simple feeling of weakness.

What’s your favorite amount of reps to do when lifting?Have you ever been hesitant of lifting because of the “bulking myth”?


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