When it comes to fitness and the gym, there is countless of information that makes it almost impossible to know the facts from fiction. Because of this, many women (and men) will fall victim to hours on hours of cardio routines and a fear of becoming too bulky. There is a good chance you have heard some “expert” on the internet or the gym make clams and have no idea what they are talking about. There are many old ideas about women and weight training that refuse to go away. However, don’t worry because these old ideas are fading away slowly and women are seeing the light at the end of the strength training tunnel. Let’s get leaner, fitter, and stronger.
Myth 1 – Lifting Weights Will Cause a Woman to Get Bulky and Muscly
This has to be the classic myth that doesn’t seem to ever go away. There is a good chance that everyone has heard this one before. Lifting weights build muscle and can assist with the burning (or the body using) the extra fat. Think of it this way, if you were to turn a light off and on, when the light is on the power is being used. When off no power is being used, right? This is your body during cardio. Only while doing cardio you are using energy. Lifting weight, while using less energy during the exercises, still using more energy after the workout with muscle repair. This would be like using your computer and putting it in sleep mode. There is still some power being used, just not as much as when it is not in sleep mode.
I want to be tone, not get big. Many women fall victim to this phrase. However, lifting will help make muscles denser. Think of it like a car, if you add a turbo you don’t see anything different from the outside. But now the car has more power and uses more gas when moving. This is similar to when we tone our muscles. As you become stronger and build your muscles, they can ‘harden’ and shape (the good shape). Increasing muscle mass can also improve metabolism (3). Women don’t naturally have the same testosterone levels as men, so if you think you can lift weights and “look like a man”. This is not happening without some outside help.
Myth 2 – Cardio Burns More Calories Than Weightlifting, There It’s Better for weight loss
We touched a little on this above. However it is so important to bring up, it also gets its own part. If you are looking to run competitively, there are manly studies that show that resistance training can help with aerobic output, performance, and keeping the body balanced. “Explosive training and heavyweight training are effective concurrent training methods aiming to improve RE [running economy] within a few weeks. However, long-term training programs seem to be necessary when the largest possible improvement in RE is desired” (1).
Research has shown that adding some resistance training, even heavyweight training into your fitness plan will help you develop lean muscle mass, which in turn will burn more calories. The barbell helps burn fat.
Myth 3 – Running Is Better Than Walking
This is a fun one to talk about and many will have their own oppositions. The reality is running and walking use the same muscle groups and provide very similar health benefits (2 & 5). The main difference is the intensity of the workout.
If you are just starting out into your fitness journey, walking may be easier for you to do as you will improve your cardio fitness slowly and steadily work your way into jogging and running. Walking is low-impact and is easier on your joints. However, walking does take longer to go the same distance. There is research around doing three 10-minute walks throughout the day over one 30 minute walk too. More frequent short walks can also be beneficial as well. Don’t always think you need one hour.
"Explosive training and heavyweight training are effective concurrent training methods aiming to improve RE [running economy] within a few weeks. However, long-term training programs seem to be necessary when the largest possible improvement in RE is desired"
Myth 4 – Women Need Their Own Protein Powder Compared to Men
There are many products that are based on women that can be beneficial. Protein for the sake of protein is not one. Drinking protein powder won’t turn you into a man or grow hair in new places. Animal and plant-based protein are good for both men and women. It comes down to personal preference when picking out the protein that is right for you. Each brand of protein will typically have its own amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and calories. Depending on your goals are, you can pick a protein supplement that is right for your lifestyle. Vegan protein has become more popular with women. However, if you enjoy drinking whey protein that does not mean you have to follow the trend.
Are you vegan, lactose intolerant, or stomach hurt with a certain protein? There are many different protein supplements available and is almost certainly one suitable for you.
Myth 5 – Exercise Machines Are Better Than Free Weights
Most exercise machines are engineered to be the best for that muscle around being used. However, learning how to find the correct alignment while using them can take time to learn for a beginner. Along with, while targeting a single muscle group, while in a seated position can result in burns fewer calories.
Try using free weights, resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises. There are so many different ways to exercise using the full range of motion. Not every exercise can be done in a machine and in many cases, free weight can be better than a machine.
Myth 6 – Light Weights Are All You Need
When we all start out, it is important to use lightweights in order to practice the forms of each exercise. Lifting weights takes time to understand how to do each movement. However, as you progress you will need new stimuli for your muscle to keep making results. Think of it as when you learned math. If all you do is add and subtract, when you get to graphs, you are not ready for it. Your body is the same way. We train our bodies for new exercises, movements, sports, and loads.
Many women only want to “tone”. However, in order to “tone” you need muscle. If you can lift a 10-pound dumbbell in a chest press for 15 reputations easily, it is not going to give the same effect as when five reputations were hard. Lightweights can only take you so far before you need to begin maximizing your efforts. As you become stronger, you will need more weight and/or new ways to stimulate the muscles. This is normal and part of fitness. It does not mean you will be bulky. You’ll eventually need to drop those light weights and add more weight to truly increase strength, stamina, endurance, and build your muscles.
Myth 7 – Exercising Certain Muscles Burns Fat in That Target Area
You cannot burn fat in a specific area of your body with any kind of targeted exercise. That is not how fat loss works. Exercises help strengthen your muscles, but not burn fat. Burning fat comes from using more calories throughout the day than you consume. If you are training and you become more “tone”, this is partly to do with the muscles there will begin to show more definition and your body fat overall could be dropping. This does not mean stop doing your “fat-burning” classes or workouts, but don’t expect to see a tone 6-pack because you have been doing your killer abs class.
Myth 8 – You Shouldn’t Eat Right After a Workout
Have you ever heard of the anabolic window? This is the 15-60 minutes following your workout when your muscles are repairing and recovering. The idea is to use this time to have a small, healthy snack of protein and carbohydrates (not just sugar). This will give your body the fuel it needs to help recovery and can make sure you get the most from your workouts.
Myth 9 – The Older You Get, the More Dangerous Lifting Becomes
This one is the other way. The older we get, the more exercise and strength training in fundamentally life-changing. Did you know, Grip Strength can be used as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age (4)? That is how important our strength is as we age. Lack of exercise as you are older could cause bone and muscle deterioration, reduced flexibility, and a slower metabolism. Strength training can help slow the aging process and keep your body healthy as you age. Your daily quality of life can be better just from exercise and can reduce the likelihood of preventable injuries and falls in old age.
Myth 10 – In Order to Grow a Booty, You Need to Train Legs Every Day
Every day is arm day for the bros, so why not leg day for ladies? Have you ever heard it takes around 48-72 hours for your body to recover? We all want the nice peach, but if you are training a muscle, such as the glutes that are always tired and sore, you are not getting the most from your workouts. Recovery is part of strength training and fitness. Taking days off during the week, in general, is important. Training every day can cause injuries, stagnate your gains, and can make you become ill from a fatigued central nervous and hormonal system. This is what is referred to as, “overtraining”. When you train past the point where the body can recover from strenuous exercise and may bring a decrease in performance. Try to take a day break between leg days, train the upper body (it is important for balancing the body), and allow yourself to be able to train at your optimal strength.
This does not mean there are no advanced workouts where you could hit glutes 6-days a week. However, for most people and beginners, recovery is important, and even in more advanced programs, they are made to keep overtraining to a minimum while pushing the body to the limits.
That was a lot of information to take in, but now you are well equipped to take your fitness to the next level. Remember, there are no shortcuts in fitness. It will take time and hard work to get the results you want. Have your workouts work for you and benefit you rather than hurt your progress. Fitness is about having fun and can be a great stress reduction. Don’t let it be the cause of the stress while chasing your dream physique. Keep it simple and stay away from the too good to be true marketing and hyped products. Day by day, you can achieve your goal and you’ll be proud of the work you did.
- Denadai BS, de Aguiar RA, de Lima LC, Greco CC, Caputo F. Explosive Training and Heavy Weight Training are Effective for Improving Running Economy in Endurance Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2017 Mar;47(3):545-554. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0604-z. PMID: 27497600.
- Loftin M, Waddell DE, Robinson JH, Owens SG. Comparison of energy expenditure to walk or run a mile in adult normal weight and overweight men and women. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2794-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc26cd. PMID: 20613650.
- McPherron, A. C., Guo, T., Bond, N. D., & Gavrilova, O. (2013). Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism. Adipocyte, 2(2), 92–98. https://doi.org/10.4161/adip.22500
- Musalek C, Kirchengast S. Grip Strength as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age-A Pilot Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Nov 24;14(12):1447. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14121447. PMID: 29186762; PMCID: PMC5750866.
- Suter E, Marti B, Gutzwiller F. Jogging or walking--comparison of health effects. Ann Epidemiol. 1994 Sep;4(5):375-81. doi: 10.1016/1047-2797(94)90072-8. PMID: 7981845.