Will Lifting Weights Make Me Grow Huge Muscles?

In short, no. 

Many people, perhaps similar to you, hesitate to start weight training because they fear becoming “bulky” or too muscular.  Understandable too, considering that bodybuilders and other large athletes have historically been the faces and figures of weight training.  But, fear not!  While weight training has dozens of benefits, it’s not so magical that you’ll accidentally gain too much muscle.  Allow me to explain.

When we lift weights, we create microscopic tears (damage) in our muscle fibers.  In response, the body uses the nutrients we eat to repair this damage.  Not only does our body repair the damage we’ve done, but our bodies grow new muscle tissue, as a reaction to the stimulus of the weight training.  In case I’ve already lost some of you:

Our bodies respond to a variety of signals, that come from our environment.  For example, cold weather is a signal.  The body’s response to cold weather is to burn more fuel (raise metabolism), so that we can better endure the cold.  The action of lifting weight is also a signal.  The body’s response to that particular signal is to repair and build muscle tissue, so that we’re better prepared to endure the action of lifting weights. 

“Hey! That sounds like what I DON’T want!  I don’t want big muscles!”  Hold on, we’re getting there.  While it’s true that our biological systems work to ensure we’re as prepared as we can be for whatever task we’re doing, it still doesn’t mean you’ll be gaining too much muscle any time soon.

The repair/build process I’ve described above happens slowly, and I mean SLOWLY.  Most competitive athletes, who weight train up to 6 times per week, with high levels of intensity, will only gain ounces (sometimes even grams!) of muscle over the course of a month.  Over the course of a year, a seasoned male athlete in his mid-to late 20’s (prime time for muscle growth) may only gain 3-6lbs of actual muscle.  And these are athletes consuming lots of calories and nutrients for the sole purpose of gaining as much muscle as possible!  Simply put, gaining muscle is a natural process, but is a slow and difficult process that takes dedication.  You will not gain 20lbs of new muscle overnight.     

Which leads me into the 2nd reason you shouldn’t be concerned with growing huge muscles by accident.  How much muscle you gain is almost completely dependent on the nutrients you consume.  Our bodies can only use the resources we provide them, which means how fast or slow we build muscle will vary DRAMATICALLY based on our diets.  People like the athletes mentioned above, whose only goal is to gain muscle as rapidly as possible, will often eat every 2-3 hours.  Day in, day out, for years on end, with every meal being designed to maximize muscle growth, and they’re still only gaining a few ounces a month!  Again, nobody gets big muscles by accident.

With SO many benefits, every able-bodied person should incorporate weight training into their exercise routine.  Life extension, boosted metabolism, improved cognitive (thinking) abilities, and a stronger immune system are just a few of the benefits that weight training offers the body.  So enjoy your exercise!  As with all worthwhile things, the benefits of weightlifting take time.  And you’ll only grow huge muscles if that’s what you really want.

Written by Jake Hopkins, B.S Corporate Wellness, N.A.S.M Certified Personal Trainer, Wildwood Family YMCA

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