Does lifting heavy make me bulky?

By John Destacamento, December 15th, 2020


Answer: Only most likely if your body type leans toward mesomorph or endomorph, you consume too many calories, you are not performing anaerobic (cardio) activity or had no increase on lifestyle activity.

Sarcastic Answer: Yes, if you don’t know what you are doing.

This has been a very misconstrued topic and specifically asked by females. Without attaining more details of the person’s workout program and characteristics, there is no simple response. To appropriately answer this question, we must look at all the important factors of the client such as:
    A: What is your Somatotype (Sheldon, 1940) and genetics
    B: How frequent will be the heavy training
    C: What is the Nutrition Plan
Video: Kiara Gesensway, BSN.
Debunking the myth: Kiara (ectomorph) weighing approximately 107 pounds in this video, but she can easily Deadlift 180 to 190 pounds. Percentage-wise stats: Deadlift 179% BW, Squat 155% BW, Bench Press 95% BW. Does she look bulky to you?

Lifting heavy does increase muscle fiber growth but this does not necessarily mean a significantly amount of circumference growth. If someone looks bulky due to weight training, consider the possibility of excessive water are in the muscles thus subcutaneous fat is not being reduced as quick as the muscle grows.


clean Photo: Fotolia, licensed use. It took me a while to find ideal illustrations for this section as I find that most published articles mis-interpret the image of endomorphs.
There are three standard classifications of body frames: Ectomorph, Mesomorph and Endomorph. These are also known as Somatotypes or body types. They are distinguishable by the length of specific bones and how a full body symmetry is viewed. Unfortunately, body types are inherited so you cannot change them. Keep in mind these three somatotypes are vague descriptions and many people may fall in between categories.
They tend to have more narrow shoulder girdles and hips, thus lengthy looking legs. Long distance endurance athletes are ectomorphs and this body type is popular for fashion modeling. Ectomorphs are hard-gainers, meaning they have a fast metabolism and have difficulties gaining muscle and weight.

Mesomorphs have more curves, wider shoulders and hips than Ectomorphs. Most athletes are mesomorphs. This is the best body type for bodybuilding and most contact sports. It is easier to gain overall muscle but rapid fat gain is possible too.

Endos are more full figured with wider hips and shoulders. This body type can be great in some strength sports. Endomorphs tend to carry more fat and can easily gain more muscle.

Sometimes your eyes may deceive you:
A person could be visually lanky and thin but this could also be defined as long torso with shorter legs or vice-versa. So, in conjunction of distinguishing a body type, measuring a person’s limbs are helpful too. In this case, you’ll only need to measure the length of the femur bone for the lower leg bones the tibia and fibula are inferior and consistently symmetric to the femur length.
Video: Measurement & Evaluation Techniques.


A very common variance in body types are the lengths of the femur, the thigh bone. Like I mentioned above many people may fall in between ectomorph types and mesomorph types thus meso to endos. Measuring this bone is just another supportive method of frameworks characteristics. How does one determine if they have long femurs? You would need to calculate your Femur to Height ratio. The average adult has a femur length of 27% of their height.


Without an x-ray machine it is very difficult to determine the actual length of your femur. You can still use a measuring tape to achieve an estimation as shown in the video.

Femur to Height Ratio: 27 %

An ideal symmetric person at a height of 162cm (5 ft 4 in) will have approximately a femur length of 44cm (17.23 in). (27%)

If your height is 162cm with a femur at 48cm, technically your femurs are 5% longer than the norm.
Long Femur Test: Assuming your client has good knees and no physical limitations to perform a squat. Without any load of weights, have your client attempt a full squat. Be sure feet remain flat on the floor with a stance at shoulder width. A symmetric person or short femur person usually can perform this easily without adjusting their feet. Longer femur people will need to widen their stance to achieve leverage for their torso. You may see an excessive forward lean as well.


Before anyone can gain muscle, frequency and nutrition play a major role. They are partners like eggs is to ham. The more activity performed weekly, your nutrition needs to compensate for the additional energy requirement including recovery and muscle growth. If my weekly activity level has increased by a significant amount, let's say three extra hours of heavy lifting per week, how many calories should I consume?


Let’s use this as the model in a case scenario:
  • Gender: female
  • Age: 25
  • Body Type: ectomorph-mesomorph
  • Weight: 120 lbs
  • Height: 5 foot 4 inch
  • Calories Consumed Per Day: 1500 kcal

1500 calories per day, no change

Now, if she decides to consume her same daily amount or less of 1500 calories (without supplementation) per day most likely she will have minimum or no gain in muscles within a few weeks to several months. Her activity level has increased but she is not providing enough calories for growth and perhaps not enough for proper recovery as well. Also most likely she is making it difficult to find the appropriate energy for the heavy workout too. This could lead to muscle catabolism; eating your existing muscle for energy, which is inefficient to fitness training. However, there is one benefit. Although the muscle growth and strength may seem, stagnant, the heavy workouts are still producing caloric expenditure and she is gaining some strength. She is producing a good amount of afterburn of EPOC (Reynolds, Kravitz, 1992) EPOC stands for Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

2000 calories, a 33% increase

During this new heavy program, an increase of 33% calories can either do wonders or slightly back fire. But I see that the benefits of this caloric increase may outshine the disadvantages. As mentioned above the new heavy workouts is a significant level of activity, so eating (a proper diet) more will speed up recovery and promote new growth of muscle fibers. Increasing of muscle contributes to speeding up the metabolism which expends more calories daily. If the client’s goal is to just get stronger with just a small focus on fat loss, then this is a win-win scenario. Although it’s a 33% increase which may seem like a lot, it still could be not enough or too much. But, when the body produces a surplus from food, it stores usually as belly fat.

The answer could be between 1500 to 2000, possibly 1750 calories average per day.


Supplements are a great way to boost and enhance your nutrition requirements alleviating the hassle of tracking everything you consume. But I believe they should be used periodically NOT part of your regular lifestyle. I advise my clients to try and fix their nutrition plan first without the use of supplementation. That way, they won’t need to rely on them to stay in shape.


If you lift heavy and worry about bulky muscle, cardio is the golden egg. Cardio exercise is a quick way to expend fat calories in real-time but not as effective as weight training on the long term end. I try to influence my clients to focus on balancing weight training and nutrition first several weeks earlier before implementing cardio sessions into their routine.
PROS: Performing cardio is one of the fastest ways to burn fat calories in a short period of time. It improves lung capacity, endurance and strengthens your heart.

CONS: Most people will adapt to the pattern and eventually realize you’ll need to spend more time to sustain caloric expenditure. Produces only a small amount of EPOC when compared to weight training.


We are referring to “Cardio” here as aerobic such as running, cycling, swimming, etc. Cardio does infact expend more calories in real time than strength training but does not deliver significant amount of afterburn (EPOC) as strength training does. Therefore, strength training wins for long term caloric expenditure. Strength Training has more significant impact on increasing your metabolism, than cardio. The most preferred cardio form is running which may lead to degenerative joint issues. Strength training usually strengthens joints with proper form and nutrition. While cardio is more rhythmic, strength training is constantly firing up more motor units in the muscles while creating new neural pathways (BridgeAthletic, 2017).

Strength Training and Cardio both have benefits but if I could only choose one of the two, I’d choose Strength Training over Cardio. Keep in mind Strength Training Workouts are considered a form of cardio and can be easily modified to get similar cardio benefits.


Does heavy lifting make you bulky?

No, if your measurements lean toward a female ectomorph, it takes a lot of work lifting heavy to actually bulk you up.

No, if you occasionally cycle off heavy lifting, and your nutrition is balanced.

Yes, if you consume a surplus of calories and don't perform much cardio, chances are you may bulk up a bit if you are a mesomorph or endomorph. But, ectomorphs are still lucked out, ectomorphs need to dramatically increase caloric consumption to see gains.

Yes, if you are taking muscle enhancing supplements or have a higher content of Testosterone in your body.

Yes, if you are lifting heavy very frequently and decide to perform it long term.


For long term caloric expenditure throughout several days, lifting heavy expends more than aerobic cardio after implementing a 60 minute workout utilizing a proper strength program. When to cycle off heavy lifting is another subjective question. I guess the last question should be what is the definition of "Bulky" anyway? While many males prefer bigger muscles, females continually worry about building too much. Many fitness enthusiasts will say the amounts you lift will determine the size of the muscles but this is not 100% necessarily true. However, a well experienced coach such as a bodybuilding coach can scale your lifting amounts accordingly. From my experience training Figure Competitors I can determine whether you will have enough mass on your shoulders by the amount you are overhead pressing.

"Okay you are 5' 4" with an estimated 115 lbs at competition weight? Your dumbbell shoulder presses need to get to 8 reps with a pair of 40 pounds. This will sculpt enough size to be a good figure contender. "
Read Fitness Biography of EfitX founder John Destacamento
03-29-2021: How to build a home gym on a budget. By Rebecca Lake
12-15-2020: Heavy lifting to lose fat.
12-15-2020: Going back to the gym tips.
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Sheldon, 1940, Somatotype and constitutional psychology, Wikipedia

Measurement and Evaluation Techniques, Femur Length Measurement, YouTube

Reynolds,Kravitz, 1992, Resistance Training and EPOC, University of New Mexico

BridgeAthletic, 2017, Organization, NEURAL ADAPTATIONS AND STRENGTH TRAINING, BridgeAthletic

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