Does Strength Training & Weight Lifting Make Women Too Muscular? Debunking the Fit-Shaming Mentality

Women who strength train and lift weights are often told to look too “manly” or appear big and bulky. The intention is to make women feel so self-conscious of their appearance that they opt for safer and more socially acceptable alternatives, such as cardio. This is commonly referred to as “fit-shaming.” But what does this term mean? Are these comments based on facts or sensationalist clickbait? This article aims to debunk the common misconceptions surrounding women, muscles, strength training, and weight lifting so you can continue working on your fitness with confidence, regardless of gender.

We first need to address the fact that women do not have the same muscle composition as men. Women naturally have about 40–60% less lean muscle mass than men and a higher body fat percentage. It’s crucial to remember that fat and muscle differ when lifting weights. Muscles are elastic and have some give to them. So when you’re lifting weights, you’re putting stress on your muscles, which makes them temporarily grow (a process known as hypertrophy). Fat, on the other hand, cannot change its shape. So when you lift weights, you’re putting stress on your fat, which makes it decrease in size (a process known as lipolysis).



Following the fitness boom of the 90s, body shaming and criticism of people’s appearance in the fitness community became more common. Fit-Shaming is a term that describes making someone feel guilty or ashamed for being physically fit. It creates a fear mindset, mainly in females, that often keeps them from doing exercises that help build lean muscle. While criticism is an inevitable part of any public forum, the intensity of negativity towards people’s bodies sometimes becomes excessive and even pathological. 

The term ‘Fit-Shaming’ was coined to describe public shaming and criticism of people’s appearance when showing off their fitness-related achievements, whether having a perfect body or simply being fit. A person who engages in “Fit-Shaming” will generally negatively comment on another person’s physique or fitness achievements, usually with the intent of making themselves feel better by putting others down. The main idea behind Fit-Shaming is that people can’t be both healthy and fit. It’s either one or the other. The truth is that there is no one ‘fit’ body type. Everyone is different.

Personal instructor helping woman barbell squats

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is an exercise designed to increase strength and muscle mass. It involves lifting heavy weights that challenge the muscles. Think of strength training as improving the weight you can lift above your head or push away from your body. Strength training is designed to build muscles using dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, or even your body weight. While you can strength train with light weights, the best results are achieved when lifting a weight challenging enough to make your muscles shake and burn. This is known as lifting “to failure” and signifies that your muscles have reached their maximum capacity. To build lean muscle, you do not have to lift heavy weights. However, lifting light weights to build “shapely” muscles (“toning”) is not possible for women.


What is Weight Lifting?

Weight lifting is a form of strength training that focuses on lifting heavier loads as opposed to traditional reps. The exercises are beneficial for both men and women. People lift weights as part of their workout routine because this helps improve their overall strength and muscle definition, improve their overall health, and reduce their risk of diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s. Weight lifting also helps you maintain a healthy weight and improves your mood. People who lift weights regularly will see increased muscle mass, strength, and improved posture. Weight lifting is not just for people who want to get bigger. It’s an excellent exercise for individuals of all shapes and sizes. What you lift matters more than how much you lift.

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Strength Training & Weight Lifting Does Not Cause Women to Develop Man-ish Muscles

Women are often concerned about developing man-ish muscles. However, this is certainly not a concern for women. Women naturally produce a significantly lower amount of testosterone than men and therefore have significantly lower amounts of muscle-building potential. While these exercises can increase muscle mass in both men and women, it is unlikely to cause women to develop man-ish muscles. The amount of testosterone in the body is largely determined before birth, meaning you cannot increase the amount of testosterone in your body by lifting weights. Man-ish muscles are caused by the different hormone levels of men and women. But they are also caused by genetics, diet, training, rest, and lifestyle factors. 

This means it is highly unlikely that strength training and weight lifting will make a woman look like a man.


Will Strong Women Look Bulky?

There are many misconceptions about what a “strong woman” looks like, and there is no universally accepted standard. Women are pressured to meet society’s beauty standards and often believe that strength and lifting exercises will make them look bulky. To achieve this, a woman would have to work incredibly hard to meet the high standard of being “too big” and, in the process, would likely be overtraining, not eating enough, and losing muscle. A woman who strength-trains or lifts will naturally gain muscle, making her stronger and healthier. If a woman eats enough calories to support her workout, she will not look bulky. She can also do other exercises, such as high-intensity interval training, cardio, and yoga, to help her stay lean. Aside from exercising, lifestyle also plays a critical role in your physical appearance. So, a healthy diet and exercise should go hand in hand to achieve the body you want.


Fit-Shaming and the Importance of Self-Confidence When Exercising

You cannot force your body to look a certain way by strength training or lifting heavy enough. Exercise like this works by increasing the amount of lean muscle in the body and improving metabolism and fat burning. These changes improve how your body looks and feels, but each person responds to such exercises differently. To gain the best results from these exercises, you must set realistic goals and know that working out involves hard work and patience. You should also be patient with your body and acknowledge that it takes time to gain changes. Strength training and lifting weights can make your muscles appear sooner than cardio workouts, but neither is a quick fix.


Women have been discouraged from strength training for far too long. The fitness community has been subjected to sensationalist clickbait and people who don’t know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this has created a lot of myths surrounding women, muscles, strength training, and weightlifting. Women can build muscle by lifting heavy weights but will not become man-ish. They also don’t need to do endless HIIT routines to shed fat. Fit-Shaming is unhealthy, so let’s not tolerate it. Enjoy life and celebrate being you.

Author: Rick

Rick Kaselj MS, is a leading kinesiologist and injury specialist as well as co-creator of the best-selling Unlock Your Hip Flexors program. Rick creates exercise programs that help people heal injuries and eliminate pain, so they can go back to living a full, active, healthy life.

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