We punched the word “bulky” into Google and 1,360,000 hits came up in 0.28 seconds.  The Google definition for a “Bulky” person is “heavily built”.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition for “of a person” is “large and fat or muscular”.

We need to have a clear understanding of just what “bulky” actually means.  As we found out last week it means different things to different people.  More importantly, it isn’t the definition of the word that has become an issue, but the perception of what “bulky” is to the person using it as an adjective.

“Heavily built” or “muscular” is good where I’m from.  Not so for everybody apparently.  

I enjoy spirited debate, but it’s difficult to have the debate when we’re not all on the same page of what “bulky” means and what the person using the word is really trying to express.  Last week two different individuals, a male and a female both expressed concern over being bulky.  This is one of the most common concerns of people inquiring about CrossFit.  I’ve never been asked about “bulkiness” by someone in decent condition.  Most of those concerned are extremely thin and de-conditioned or overweight and de-conditioned.

We were told by one young lady a few years back that Cameron Diaz was too “bulky” in this photo:



Similarly, I was told last week by another woman that “having cuts” in your arms is being “bulky”.   I asked the woman if she saw anybody in the gym that she thought was too bulky and she said, “everybody”.  She observed about 8 people of various size and dimension and she said they were all too muscular.  I told her that we improve athletic performance, went into detail about what that means and that as a byproduct of improving performance your body improves as well.  I went on to explain that if she doesn’t want to be better and look better then this probably isn’t for her.  She explained that she worked out before and she developed “bulkiness” and “muscular cuts”.  I asked that she come back with photos of her most muscular build so we can discuss the issue further.  This conversation, by the way, was prompted when she looked at the weightlifting going on.  She mentioned, “I see you lift weights as part of the program”.  I explained besides the strength and power gain you can get from lifting weights it’s a great way to change your body composition.  To gain lean muscle and lose body fat.  She didn’t look happy.  I asked what she thought would be a good workout that wouldn’t cause “bulkiness”.  She replied, “Calisthenics”.  I told her we did bodyweight exercises mixed with weightlifting and other elements.  I also explained that doing calisthenic workouts could lead to getting the “cuts” she was concerned about.  She wasn’t convinced.

This is Frank Medrano.  According to his website he’s been doing mostly calisthenics since 2010.



Same goes for Al and Danny Kavadlo:

al and danny kavadlo

Perception is reality, but it’s only your reality.

So let’s talk about the real issue: Image.  Getting back to that Google search of “Bulky”, I clicked on “Images” after reading 10 definitions.  Of all the images shown I only had a problem with two:


She’s gone a bit overboard with chemicals it seems and she’s too vascular.  I could understand a woman NOT wanting to look like this woman.  I also realize she probably likes the way she looks AND there are other people who like the way she looks as well.  And that’s fine.  We all get to decide what image we like, what we don’t like and what we want for ourselves.  My job is to let women know they will only look like this woman if they really, really want to because it’s going to take so much work and so much steroid use that you couldn’t possibly get there by accident or by CrossFitting.  I suggest you Google “bulky” and take a look at the images.

Problem #2:

women who lift


Not every woman who lifts weights is going to look like any woman in this meme.  A woman may be somewhere in between or thinner than the two on the right or carry more bodyfat than the two on the left.  So what?  If a woman is CrossFitting consistently and eating well consistently then they will get stronger, more powerful, better conditioned, gain flexibility, become better at moving, become healthier and be better at life in general.  Yes, their appearance will improve, but will they necessarily look like one of the 2 women on the right of the meme?


And they don’t need to.  Everybody is different.  We have different body types, different builds and different genetics.  We can all be stronger though.  We can all improve our power, conditioning, mobility and flexibility.  We don’t all have to fit into the same mold that “society” has decided is a “good” look.  Where I’m from it’s the training that important, not if your bodyfat is extremely low.  I realize appearance matters to you and I’m glad it does, but it shouldn’t be the main focus of your training.  Take care of the day to day things you can to perform better and your body will improve.

Crossfitting also makes you mentally stronger.  This is just as important as your physical conditioning.  This is what will get you through the challenges that life throws at you.  This is what will enable you to deal with the well-meaning or mean-spirited people who have decided that you look “bulky” or “not feminine”.  An observation we have made while interviewing a number of women who have been criticized in this manner is that the critics are always overweight and/or in poor physical condition.  

One woman complained to me on several occasions that her relatives were criticizing her about her trapezius (“traps”) development.  I asked her what kind of shape her relatives were in and she said, “They are all fat.”  I asked her if she preferred to look like them and she said no.  I then asked her if she thought about the fact that her relatives may be a little jealous because of the improvements she has made and that she is a reminder to them that they are doing nothing to stay in any kind of shape.  It takes less effort to tear someone down than try to build yourself up.

I could easily go on about this topic, but I’ll stop here and reference other articles for those who are interested.  If nothing else it will provide ammo for you because it will be your job to educate the Fear Of Being Bulky Crowd.  For those who believe they will gain massive amounts of unsightly muscle just by working out for a few hours a week all I can I say is give CrossFit a try.  You can always go back to doing nothing if you don’t like your development.

For those who are training and are unhappy with their self-image.  I’ll leave you with this…train consistently, eat well for you, get sleep and always strive for better performance in the gym or whatever environment you find yourself in.  Don’t try to fit into a particular image based on what television, magazines or the internet dictate.  Don’t focus on imperfections.  Be you and put in the work.  Be happy that you are able to train and that you have the knowledge of how to improve yourself.  Stay focused on what you have accomplished and how much you have improved already.  Sometimes you’ll slide back.  It’s alright.  Get your footing and move on.





Workout of the Day
Back Squat
1X5 @65% 1-rep max
1X5 @75%
1X AMRAP @85%

3 rounds for time of:
30 double unders
10 ring dips
3 rounds for time of:
10 hang power clean 95/65#
10 chest to bar pull-ups

Post your scores to the Whiteboard.

25 Responses

  1. JaneM

    I’ve had some great days at crossfit over the past 7 years. One that stands out is someone turning to me and saying “wow Janie you are jacked!” I took that as a compliment second only to being called a beast. At the time my shoulders were not so cranky and I had defined shoulder caps. Genetically I will never have big, bulky arms. My defined shoulders are probably on the endangered species list and about to disappear for good.

    My right shoulder also came with a protruding vein. My family was a bit horrified by all of this onr day when I was wearing a sleeveless shirt. After a few comments someone said I should ask if there is something wrong with what I am doing to cause that. Wow, no I am not doing anything wrong.

    My “bulky” arms (I am using that term loosely – very loosely) made me feel strong and capable and happy I was a crossfitter.

    I strive for bulky.

  2. Lauren

    Great read, George.
    Many women have self-image issues, me being one of them. Some days I feel mentally stronger than others. Then, there are days that I want to cry because there’s no pair of jeans on this planet that will fit my huge ass. I try and remind myself that things could be worse and I’m lucky that I have my health. It’s still a struggle and the older I get, the harder it becomes. I wish it was as easy as it is said.

    1. George Demetriou

      Thanks Lauren!

      I wish you could see you like others see you. I wish you had the admiration for yourself that the people you train and the people you train with have for you.

  3. Jay

    Great write up George – I must say that we all have fun, and work extremely hard – And to all the Ladies – You all look great – Not bulky at all – You all look like your in GREAT Physical Shape – And that’s not a bad thing!!!

  4. Al

    You’ve got to love it. “I don’t want to get bulky” I’ve been trying to get bulky for 10 years and I barely look like an over developed 14 year old( I stole that line BTW). Sounds like that women already has it all figured out. She doesn’t need crossfit. Funny how people find excuses to fail before they even try.

  5. Bethie

    Lauren – you have an awesome ass!! Al, your so right, it’s an excuse to fail or to not even try. I’ve said this before, I grew up in a time when women were never encouraged to exercise. Maybe some situps or weird leg exercises, but definitely never to lift a barbell or any weights at all. I’m sorry it took me so long to realize how great it is and what a sense of accomplishment this has been. Janie said it right when she said it makes her feel strong and capable and happy to be a crossfitter. It’s the best thing I ever did for myself!!

  6. Amie

    I will take bulky any day when it means I can lift my 36lb daughter on my shoulders and hike up and back a 2 mile trail in Maine thanks to the strength I have devoloped in my legs,posterior chain,shoulders etc.. Or not throw my back out for a week because I lifted a heavy bag of garbage. Or if I ever have to use the mental and physical strength I’ve developed through Crossfit to fight of an attacker!!!!

  7. F you John H. The rest of our retorts were ever bit as good as Amie’s. Don’t judge me. ????. It’s bad enough John B out wits me every time on the caption contests now I got out retorted.

  8. George Demetriou

    Beth…ugh, excuse me…Bethie–How do you know about that product? Wait..forget it. Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.

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