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Will CrossFit Make Me Bulky?

That headline. That is a very, very hot topic in the world of fitness right now. Heck, that exact question is even showing its face in the dating world. This is a pretty ridiculous story about Emily Abbott who was told she isn’t a “true woman” because she’s strong. Anyway, it’s clearly an issue and one that I hear a lot of people worrying about.

The Complaint:

Look, I understand people being slightly nervous about lifting heavy weights, or just weights in general. I really do. First of all, getting up the courage to do things that society is constantly telling you are dangerous is a big step in and of itself. Anyone who takes that step, whether its with CrossFit or powerlifting – or I don’t even know, rock climbing – I totally commend. Second, go look through the magazines at any checkout line, and tell me what you see. Here’s a link for Cosmo Magazine’s “fitness” section. See any weights in there? Beyond those plastic coated dumbbells that were popular in 1980’s aerobic classes? There’s the issue.

I’d say, “everyone is affected by this!” But let’s be honest…only women deal with this negative correlation between muscle and attractiveness. Guys are told from a young age, “lift weights often, get really strong and preferably big and tall, and you’ll be successful/attractive/etc.” In contrast, gals are told, “fit into a size zero jean. Be as petite as possible. Eat salad for every lunch. Don’t even eat breakfast.”

This gets pounded into your head from the moment you are exposed to media. Name a strong Disney princess, for example. I’ll wait. (Disclaimer: I absolutely adore Disney movies so please don’t take that as a slam on them.) My point is just this: I understand everyone -especially girls – being worried about being bulky. Here’s what I’ve got to tell you: CrossFit will not make you bulky. What you put in your mouth determines that.

Why CrossFit won’t make you bulky:

There is a really important concept in, well, everything. It is the law that mass cannot be created from nothing. This is commonly called the First Law of Thermodynamics.  I know, who would have thought you’d get a physics lesson along with your CrossFit blog today? Incredible value!

Anyway, what that means for you is that if you don’t add more energy (aka food) than you expend, you won’t add size. Let’s just paint a hypothetical situation. You join a CrossFit box. You don’t change your diet at all. Here is what will happen: you will actually get smaller. 

By working out, you’ll be burning more calories than you were prior, so unless you add in food to make up for the new calorie burn, you’re actually going to begin losing weight. Now, there are some caveats to that statement. If you’re already eating 1,000 calories more than what you should be eating, adding one CrossFit workout a day is not going to change the fact that you’re going to add body fat. But that is a story for another day.

But what about all the people I see on TV?

This is possibly the question on your mind, now. It’s a fair one. There are absolutely some CrossFit men and women some could describe as bulky. I will quickly follow that up with this: not every cross country runner is stick thin. Not ever soccer goalkeeper is 6’4, and not every Olympic swimmer looks exactly like Michael Phelps.

The point is we all come in different shapes and sizes. Plus, you have no idea what that particular athlete has been doing. Their goal may have been to add 100 pounds to their backsquat. Guess what? To achieve that type of goal, you’re going to have to gain some mass. But you don’t have to have that goal. Maybe your goal is to lose body fat and to tone up. Maybe you just want to look good for spring break and summer.

Your goals define your actions and how you’ll move forward. That’s why every CrossFit box has coaches. Our job is to make sure that your goals are met. If you come to me and say, “I really don’t want to get bulky,” then my set of recommendations on what your caloric intake should look like is going to be very different than what it would be if you said, “I want to go to the CrossFit games.”

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