Are you afraid that lifting weights will make your body bulky? Are you convinced that cardio is the best way to lose weight?
If you’re confused by all the conflicting information about the best ways to reach your fitness and weight loss goals, you’re not alone.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to strength training for women, primarily because you often see marketing filled with gimmicks, fads, and false information.
The truth is most of this marketing has no scientific backing and often is downright incorrect.
For that reason, we want to filter through all the information and dispel the myths you’ve heard when it comes to strength training and women.
We’re going to dive into three myths that need to be put to rest.
MYTH 1: LIFTING WEIGHTS WILL MAKE ME LOOK BULKY
As a Boston personal trainer for over a decade, I’ve lost count of the number of times a woman new to our personal training fitness studio expresses a fear of becoming too bulky from weight training. If you have a similar concern, fear not! As a female, you don’t have the hormonal makeup to build huge muscles.
Testosterone is the major hormone involved in building muscle mass, and women produce significantly less testosterone than men do. According to the National Institute of Health, the normal range of testosterone for males vs females is:
Males: 300 – 1,000 ng/dL
Females: 15 – 70 ng/dL
*ng\dL = nanograms per deciliter
By looking at these numbers, it’s easy to see that women produce a fraction of the testosterone that men do, not enough to become bulky and manly.
Key Takeaway: Let your fears go and embrace strength training as part of your fitness routine. It’s one of the best ways to boost your metabolism, blast fat, and build confidence.
MYTH #2: LIFTING LIGHT WEIGHTS CREATES TONED MUSCLES
A common myth perpetuated in many fitness magazines is that lifting light weights for a high number of reps (15+) is going to give you the "toned" look you want. But here’s the truth: lifting light weights build muscular endurance and is a good initial strategy if you’re a beginner, but this approach stops working over time unless you progressively increase the weights.
Neither lightweight nor aerobic endurance training is useful for stimulating the muscle fibers responsible for growth and definition. The most effective way to create muscle growth and definition is to activate type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers using heavyweight or explosive movements primarily in the 6-12 rep range.
As explained in a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, women who lifted more weight for fewer reps (85 percent of their max load for 8 reps) burned nearly twice as many calories during the two hours after their workout than when they did more reps with a lighter weight (45 percent of their max load for 15 reps).
Unsure of how to choose the right amount of weight to lift? Start light and see how many reps you can do. If you're aiming for ten reps, but you're able to perform several more, add a couple of pounds, rest for a minute (so your muscles aren't exhausted, and you get a better idea of what you're able to lift), then go again. Do this until you're using a weight that allows you to perform the desired number of reps.
Another important point: Pay attention to how you feel. You should be able to complete the last two to three reps with proper form, but they should feel challenging. Quality always trumps quantity, though, so never compromise your technique. Find a reputable personal trainer, learn the proper technique and lift weights that challenge you.
Key Takeaway: When you say you want to “tone” your body, what you’re actually referring to is losing body fat, building muscle, and becoming leaner and firmer. Reaching the desired goals involves following a healthy customized food plan and lifting weights heavy enough to challenge your body.
MYTH #3: TO LOSE FAT, ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS CARDIO
If you spend most of your time at the gym on the treadmill or elliptical for long periods, and you do not see the results you’d like, you’re not alone.
Decades of poor exercise advice based around long, boring sessions of cardio (geared toward burning lots of calories) led lots of people to spend far too much time sweating away on cardio equipment without seeing any changes in their body. What you’ll be surprised to learn is that steady-state cardio burns surprisingly fewer calories than you think.
One study found that it takes an average of 86 hours’ worth of aerobic exercise to lose 1 kilogram, and a meta-analysis revealed that steady-state cardio in and of itself is not an effective weight loss therapy. The research is clearly showing that just doing regular cardio does little in the way of fat loss.
To maximize your time in the gym and to optimize your weight loss efforts, you should focus the majority of your fat loss efforts on resistance training, since it increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This means you'll burn more calories throughout the day—even when you're not working out. The result is more lean muscle mass and less body fat, and that's something you don’t achieve through cardiovascular exercise alone. It’s best to think of cardio as supplementary to your strength training efforts.
Research shows that weight training prevents fat increases and reduces abdominal fat, which is linked to other health concerns. A University of Alabama study found that women who lifted weights lost more intra-abdominal fat (deep belly fat) than those who just did cardio.
Another study at the University of Alabama in Birmingham conducted by Gary Hunter compared three groups of women. The groups were: cardio only; weight lifting only; and no change in current training. Hunter concluded that weight trainers lost more fat than cardio-only participants.
Think of your bigger muscle systems, such as the legs, glutes, and back, as fat burners. After your training sessions, these large muscle systems are hard at work rebuilding, repairing and burning away fat.
As you can see, strength training does more than make you look—and feel—confident. The benefits of strength training multiply as we get older. As we age, our bodies are at an increased risk of sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) and osteoporosis (decrease in bone density). A regular training plan can help to combat those losses.
Key Takeaway: Weight training helps keep fat at bay as we age better than cardio does.
Luckily, more and more women are starting to make their way into the weight room—so now it's your turn.
If you're interested in learning more about how you can lose body fat and build a leaner, stronger, and more youthful appearance while learning how to perform exercises correctly, you’re in the right place.
My Boston personal trainer team and I have worked with hundreds of women throughout our careers, and we pride ourselves on designing customized fitness programs that cater to their goals.
We created our AUMazing Body program with women like you in mind.
Suitable for women of all ability levels, our transformative program will give you the guidance and support you need to reach your health and weight loss goals.
Our coaches will help you lift weights safely and effectively, maximize your time training, coach you on proper nutrition, and ensure you achieve the results you want!
Most of our female clients lose 1-2 clothing sizes within three months of starting to strength train. See our real results here!
Schedule a complimentary AUMazing Body consultation to tour our fitness center and learn how to get started.