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Dr Stacy Sims: Will lifting weights make women bulky?

The leading women’s training expert and physiologist reveals why lifting weights won’t make women bulky or masculine and details why all women, especially those in their thirties and older, would benefit from adding strength training and power-based workouts into their exercise programme
Dr Stacy Sims, PhD
Dr Stacy Sims, PhD

Dr Stacy Sims, PhD, is an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist who aims to revolutionise exercise nutrition and performance for women. She has published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers, and authored female-focused performance optimisation books, Roar, and Next Level, which challenge the existing dogma around exercise, nutrition, and health for women. She regularly speaks at professional and academic conferences, including those by USOC and USA Cycling. She lives in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. Follow her on X and Instagram. Visit drstacysims.com.

Dr Stacy Sims: All women benefit from lifting weights

Unfiltered met with leading exercise physiologist and women’s health expert Dr Stacy Sims to discover her science-backed advice and insight on how women can better train, eat, recover and life to perform at their best.

This transcript has been taken from our video interview with Dr Stacy Sims. It has been edited for clarity and brevity. You can watch the full video interview here, and her video on why women should never exercise on an empty stomach here.

The misconception that weight training makes women bulky won’t go away and it stops many women from taking full control of their health and fitness. How much does this fallacy frustrate you?

If you go into a gym right now, you’ll see that it’s very gendered. Because if you walk in and you’re like, “Hey, I want a gym membership”, as a woman, they’ll ask you how much weight do you want to lose. And “Oh, by the way, there’s the cardio equipment and these are our spin classes and our yoga classes”.

If you’re a guy and you walk in and ask for a gym membership, they’re like, “OK, great, how much do you lift? Here’s the strength components and here’s the racks, and we have great PTs”. That kind of stuff. It’s automatically gendered.

So that’s one of the big areas. Women want to take better care of their health, but they’re ushered into some type of cardio class. And when we’re looking at what it means to actually get into the gym and lift heavy and to do power-based training, there’s still that misnomer that is very masculine and it’s going to masculinise you. 

But we know that’s not the case and we also know that women do better with power-based training. It doesn’t mean that they get bulky, they just get strong because women need that heavier load, and shorter recovery time between those heavy loads, to actually instigate that central nervous system response.

Women need to understand that in order to get that muscle bulk they have to eat in abundance, because we can’t build [lean muscle] tissue if we don’t have extra calories, especially protein, timed appropriately. And we really have to make an effort to go in and lift and lift and lift and not do any cardio. As soon as you do any kind of high-intensity [cardio] work, there’s no way you’re going to get bulky.

How frustrating is it to you to constantly explain to women that they’re not gonna get bulky from lifting weights? Are you seeing any signs that women are starting to understand the many benefits of resistance training? 

I’m finding it’s a generational thing. Or maybe not generational, but an age thing. So we’re seeing women that are about mid-30s and below really embracing it. I think it’s kind of the offshoot of a few years ago with “strong is the new skinny” vibe. Then we started seeing, in women’s fitness magazines, models using barbells not the 2kg dumbbells they’d been pictured with before, and we’re seeing more and more of those images in popular and social media.

Women in their late-30s and older, there’s still the hangover of the 1980s and the supermodel era and doing spin classes and super skinny.

And so as this younger crew starts to come in and and we’re normalising what it means to be in the gym and do deadlifts and squats and compound movements, we’re starting to see more and more women on the gym floor, taking over the lifting platforms. And it’s great, but we need to have more of that exposure to all women, especially slightly older women, who will really benefit from doing strength training, resistance training, and power-based training. 

Listen to our full audio-only podcast interview with Dr Stacy Sims on Spotify

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