Will Kettlebell Training Make Me Bulky?

Woman lifting kettlebell
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A common question from women who are interested in kettlebell training or other types of strength training is, “Will the training make my arms and shoulders bulky?”

This is actually not a training question. It is a question that deals mostly with the topics of human physiology and heredity factors. 

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of building muscle and keeping muscle, you have to look most closely at things like body chemistry and nutrition, as those are the greater contributing elements with regards to individual body structures. The actual programs and tools used in physical training certainly contribute to the overall appearance and body composition, however, they are minor influences as compared to the genetic and dietary factors.

Here are the main things you need to know about concerning any unnecessary fear you may have of “bulking up”:

Nutrition and Eating

What you eat, and how much is going to be a major factor in what degree of “bulk” you put or keep on your body.

Unless you either intentionally or unintentionally from the habit of overeating, you are not likely to add very much bulk to your body.

Overeating rich foods consisting mostly of animals fats and proteins and/or deep-fried foods, while avoiding water-rich plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, sprouts, nuts and seeds, is a fast-track to bulking up, although the added bulk is more likely to distribute along and surrounding your hips and waistline, rather than your shoulders and arms.

Training Methods

Resistance exercises that target the large, prime-movers of the body are generally best for increasing muscular bulk, or hypertrophy. Exercises such as a squat, deadlift, and a heavy press are the basics. Repetition range for hypertrophy is generally in the range of 8-12 reps for 2-3 sets.

The manner in which kettlebells are typically used, for endurance-based repetition ballistic exercises, is very conducive to the development of long, lean fit-looking muscles, giving a very different aesthetic from the bulky bodybuilder's physique seen in magazines and on supplement advertisements. To develop a leaner body, focus on increasing repetitions with a light-to-moderate weight. In kettlebell training, anything less than 30 repetitions can be considered “low-rep”. Build up the repetitions and time gradually.

However, kettlebell training alone will not determine how bulky, or how lean your muscles will be, particularly for the female body.

Human Physiology and Anatomy

Most women do not produce enough of the so-called muscle-building hormones to ever develop large, bulky muscles. Hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) are most closely related to increases in muscle mass and those hormones, unless artificially ingested or injected, simply do not exist in as much quantity in females as it does in males. If they did, women would also have more masculine-identified features, such as more facial hair, a, deeper voice, and sharper, leaner facial features to go along with the increase in muscle size.

No amount of weight training alone is going to give a woman abroad, heavily-muscled physique, unless she is genetically pre-disposed to have such a physique based on heredity factors. Unless adding a lot of bulk is your goal, most women should have no fear of gaining unwanted muscle. It simply is not going to happen.

There are exceptions to every generality described above, but those extreme exceptions are certainly not the norm.

Don't worry about kettlebell training causing you to become too bulky in your arms and shoulders. Eat well, rest sufficiently, exercise consistency and thank your parents for the beautiful body shape that you are blessed with.

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