Myth Busting: Lifting heavy makes you massive

Written by Elly McGuinness

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It’s not uncommon for women who are new to resistance training to say things to us such as:

“I don’t want to get massive”


“I just want to tone my muscles”

Over recent years more and more people have realised that the statement “lifting heaving makes you massive” is a myth. A number of fitness modalities and professionals that encourage heavy lifting have helped to drive the shift in consciousness.

As qualified fitness professionals, we have fielded this myth with new clients many times over the years. Today we’ll address what it takes to “get massive” and what you can actually expect from lifting heavy.

Our personal trainers are committed to getting you on the best path to kicking your fitness goals. And the truth is that you could be preventing yourself from getting the results you’re after by avoiding heavy lifting!

What does “massive” actually mean?

When someone says “I don’t want to get massive”, what do they actually mean?

Well, that’s a tricky one, because it’s completely subjective. One person’s perception of “massive” can be completely different from the next.

Another term that is used in a similar way is “bulky”. Two different people could look at a photo of a person. One might describe their physique as “bulky” or “massive”. Another could describe it as “toned” or “muscular”.

Ultimately, perceptions of physique will be related to individual preferences. In general, the words “bulky” or “massive” refer to perceived body size. If a person says they don’t want to get “massive”, they generally mean that they don’t want to get bigger in size. This could relate to muscle, fat, or both.

No matter what your personal perception of “massive” is, make sure you read on to discover why that’s unlikely to happen simply from lifting heavy.

Factors that go into getting “massive”

So where did the myth that lifting heavy makes you massive actually come from? Perhaps it’s a result of observing the physiques of female bodybuilders?

The reality is that bodybuilders don’t obtain their physiques simply by lifting heavy. Getting massive depends on several factors. Here are a few of them:

1.      Individual differences

Men have different hormone profiles than women. In general, they have more testosterone, which allows for easier muscle gains. In saying that, everyone is different. Some men may find it harder to build muscle than others, and some women gain muscle much more easily than others.

Two women or two men could be given the exact same program and eating plan. One might get “bulkier” and the other might get smaller. As mentioned, an individual’s hormone profile can play a role in this. Genetic differences in body types are also a factor:

  • Ectomorph: Naturally lean physique; can find it difficult to gain muscle and fat
  • Mesomorph: Naturally muscular, gains muscle easily
  • Endomorph: Larger body size, stores fat more easily
Personal trainer Hitchin - At Home Fitness 2
Personal trainer Hitchin – At Home Fitness 2

2.      Dietary regime

Bodybuilders and others who gain a lot of size have dietary regimes that allow them to do so. A “bulking” phase will require adding extra calories. High protein foods are often a strong focus, to allow for muscle repair and assist in the subsequent growth of muscle. Additionally, muscle growth supplements are often used.

If you add heavy lifting into your fitness regime without a significant change to your food intake you’re more likely to notice your body size becomes smaller over time. Make sure you chat with our at-home personal trainers to ensure you’re getting the right balance between food intake and exercise to maximise the results you’re after.

3.      Training type

The type of weight training you do will have an effect on your muscle size. Lifting heavy on its own isn’t going to guarantee huge muscles (whatever your perception of that may be)!

Weight training with the goal of muscle growth (also known as “hypertrophy” training) is usually quite specialized. Generally, it involves a high volume of training done to “failure” and specific techniques such as eccentric training and supersets.

Check with our qualified personal trainers to ensure that your resistance training plan reflects your desired outcomes.

4.      Consistency over time

Getting “massive”…it’s not going to happen overnight! Consistent training over a period of time (with an appropriate approach to nutrition) will gradually change your physique. Over time you can tweak the variables in your program (and your food intake) as you discover whether your results are in line with what you’re after.

What lifting heavy weights will actually do

To summarise, lifting heavy probably isn’t going to make you “massive” on its own, without considering the variables above.

There are some pretty amazing benefits that you can expect it to provide you with, however. An appropriately designed training program that includes heavy lifting can (and should):

  • Make you stronger for activities of daily living and specific activities you want to get stronger for
  • Help you to shape the body you were given. It’s important to realise that muscle is a denser tissue than fat. If you look at 10 pounds of muscle and 10 pounds of fat side by side, the muscle tissue will look smaller. This is why the scale doesn’t always provide a good insight into body composition changes. With heavy lifting, you may notice your clothing getting looser without the scales budging.
  • Help you to burn more calories, even at rest. Muscle “burns” more calories than fat does, even at rest. The muscle you’ve gained from your heavy lifting endeavours can help you to burn calories more easily

Make sure you’re not wasting your time by lifting light weights. AND also ensure that you’re ready to safely incorporate heavy lifting into your workout plan. Ask our qualified personal trainers to get the best personalised advice.

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