After twenty plus years of working in the fitness industry, as both a trainer and a coach, I’ve seen myth after myth about health and fitness disappear. Yet one particular set of myths about women and training still exists, and it drives me crazy!
There are so many myths regarding females and strength training. Way too many to count.
Yet despite the growing number of women out there slowly incorporating strength training, there are even more women who still believe that strength training is
for men only.
Every woman needs strength training, so let’s take a look at the common myths that may be standing in YOUR way.
Myth #1: You should steer clear of heavy weights because it will make you look like a man.
Ah, this is the king (or queen) of all myths and is one that never seems to go away.
There are a number of biological differences stacked against us as women. First and foremost, we have only about five percent of the of testosterone men possess. This means that the average male has twenty times as much testosterone than the average female. And testosterone is the hormone primarily responsible for muscle gain.
Maybe at some point you did some lifting and you felt you looked overly muscular.
The culprit was very likely your increased caloric consumption that came along with the new change in exercise. What I mean is that typically, the culprit is increased body fat—not necessarily increased muscle mass—that is responsible for what many women call the “big and bulky” look. Often, increased body fat “coated” on top of muscle is mistaken for muscle mass, which turns many women away from lifting weights.
There’s a notion that after a tough workout, we need to fuel our muscles, which is true, but not to the tune of a frappaccino and a muffin. It’s too easy to convince yourself that your body is all of a sudden devoid of nutrients and calories, or that you deserve a treat for all your hard work. But when your body takes in more calories than it needs to maintain your current body weight, you’ll gain weight on top of that muscle.
If you can dial in your nutrition while simultaneously lifting weights in the gym, what you’ll get is a leaner, tighter, stronger version of your former self.
Myth #2: Women can’t do pull-ups.
The word “can’t” implies that all females, regardless of how hard they try, are physically incapable of performing a single pull-up. But while it’s true that women tend to have less upper body strength relative to that of males, that doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to do a pull-up.
So what do you do when you have a weakness? You work on it to turn that weakness into a strength.
Simply put, the solution to weak upper body strength is to improve it. In the gym, upper body pulling movements will help: think row variations (barbell rows, cable rows, inverted rows) as well as pull-up variations (band-assisted, chin-ups).
Even if your goal is not to do a pull-up, working towards one is important because for women, upper body strength, especially as we age, is essential!
Myth #3: Protein powder is bad for women because it will make them huge.
There’s this idea floating around in mainstream media that protein powder is only for meathead bodybuilders who want to get huge. So when a woman puts a five-pound tub of protein powder on the counter at Vitamin Shoppe or GNC, eyebrows go up.
There’s nothing inherently magical about protein powder. It’s simply a portable, tasty way to get some protein. Its biggest perk? Convenience. And perhaps taste.
The average scoop of protein powder will yield 20 to 25 grams of protein.
Just like any other food, if protein powder is consumed in excess, then yes, it can make you gain weight, so don’t forget there are also calories in those protein shakes.
Myth #4: All the fitness models and fitness competitors are on steroids; the average woman could never achieve that look.
And why would we want to if we’re not competing?
But all of that aside, here’s a fact: we all have abs. They’re there. That six-pack? Yes, you’ve had it all along. The only thing stopping those abs from showing themselves off to the world is a layer of fat.
So if you covet a certain physique, all that means is you have to lose body fat in order to unveil those abs. Easier said than done, I know, but think of it as art. Over a period of several weeks and months, you’ll chip away at your body, slowly uncovering your desired look.
Myth #5: When you work out, your fat will transform into muscle.
Oh, don’t we wish this was true.
It’s creative thinking, though.
Unfortunately, the body doesn’t quite work this way. What it can do, however, is shed and gain body fat, as well as strip away or pack on muscle. And while these two processes may be related, they are not one and the same.
Muscle is active soft tissue that is responsible for creating physical movement. Body fat, on the other hand, serves as an energy reserve for the body and helps cushion our joints and organs as well as maintain the integrity of healthy skin and nails.
So while it may seem as though fat magically turns into muscle when you begin training, the truth is that you’re losing body fat, or you’re putting on muscle (or both).
Myth #6: You should switch up your training routine every week to keep your muscles guessing.
You may have heard that you should “confuse your muscles and keep them guessing.” Unfortunately, muscles do not get confused, nor do they participate in guessing games.
And if you’re afraid you might get bored, then you need to focus on the fact that you are
making improvements from one workout to the next. There’s nothing dull or unexciting about progress!
I recommend a minimum of four to six weeks on any given training program before moving onto something different. By this I don’t necessarily mean utilizing the exact same exercises for the same reps and sets week after week.
But sticking to the same program gives you time to become better at the prescribed exercises by providing more opportunities for repetition.
Myth #7: To lose fat, you need to crank up the cardio.
Actually, doing more cardio is the best way to……do more cardio. Doing it for the calorie burn will ultimately leave you disappointed, cranky, and tired.
I know this is a difficult idea for women to believe. But steady-state cardio burns surprisingly fewer calories than you’d think. Steady-state cardio in and of itself is not an effective weight loss choice. So know your goals, and use the most effective methods!
Rather than steady-state cardio, interval training is the way to go. Other names for this include metabolic conditioning, circuit training, or high-intensity training. These short bursts of high intensity activity alternated with periods of rest have been found to produce equal, if not better, results than traditional steady-state cardio with just a fraction of the time commitment.
I won’t go over all the science, but it is likely due to the increased excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or energy expenditure in the time following the workout.
So did I dispel any myths that are standing in your way?
Women can lift heavy weights and perform metabolic conditioning workouts with great success. And, as long as you eat properly, you can absolutely achieve a strong, lean look without bulking up.
Need some guidance in putting together your strength training routines? Ask below!