Strength Training for Women: The Myths

There are a myriad of myths regarding females and strength training – too many to count. Yet despite the growing number of women out there slowly converting to lovers of iron and ditching their cardio bunny ways, there are even more women who still believe that strength training is for men only, and that no proper lady would touch anything more than a pretty pink dumbbell.

What makes me happy is when I have a new female client who comes in and says: “I want to get stronger and add more muscle to my body.” YES! I love to hear this. It means that some women are truly getting it! Adding lean tissue to your frame via strength training not only helps you burn more fat faster, but also raises bone mineral density (BMD). BMD is extremely vital for middle-aged women as they age. Low BMD leads to osteoporosis, which leads to your later years being NO fun at all. Women are MUCH more at risk for osteoporosis than men, which makes strength training just as important for them–if not more! 

Myth #1: You should steer clear of heavy weights because it will make you look like a man.

This is the most ridiculous myth out there! Women commonly use the phrase “bulk up” when referring to what they want to avoid. Men have 20 times the amount of testosterone as women have flowing in their blood…TWENTY TIMES THE AMOUNT! The little testosterone that women do have plays no role in muscle building…therefore, bulking up “like a man” is physically impossible (this does not count for anyone on PEDs).

With more strength training, a spiked increase in appetite will follow. Women (along with men) must beware of this increase in appetite. Don’t go off thinking you can eat whatever you want and not put on body fat. Sure, you can get away with more in the 2-3 hour window post-workout, but don’t succumb to poor nutritional choices with your newfound hobby. 

Myth #2: Protein powder is bad for women because it will make them huge.

There is NOTHING special about protein powder. It’s not magical fairy dust that meatheads throw into a shaker bottle and it makes their veins surface to their skin and protrude. Pure whey protein powder is simply taking the best part of animal protein and putting it into a canister for quick and efficient digestion. The biggest perk (and one of the only) about protein powder is its convenience! Adding water to it enables a faster process of protein being absorbed into the bloodstream.

Protein repairs the muscle fibers that have been broken down and torn (yes, little micro-tears) during your workout, and then it also plays a large role in building the muscle fibers back up–making them stronger.

So, if you just finished your strength training session and have plans to have a big, balanced meal in the next couple hours, then there is no reason for you to slam a protein shake. Save it for another day. You will get all you need from that chicken breast, turkey burger, etc…!

NOTE: Protein in excess amounts can increase body fat. The protein consumption method is not a “the more you eat, the stronger you get” type of thing. 

Myth #3: All the fitness models and fitness competitors are on steroids; the average woman could never achieve that look.

Before I go any further, I will qualify this point by emphasizing the fact that yes, there are very few people out there who are able to maintain a lean, stage- or photoshoot-ready physique year-round. I’ll also argue, however, that that’s not because it’s impossible. Rather, many choose to switch over into the offseason, during which time they likely intentionally put on some weight in an effort to make improvements to their physiques and dial even sharper than before come next season.

But all of that aside, here’s a cool fact: we all have abs. They’re there. That six-pack? Yes, you’ve been sporting it. The only thing separating them from showing themselves off to the world is a cozy coat of fat.

If you’re looking to achieve the look of a bikini competitor or fitness model, chances are good that you have most, of it not all, of the muscle mass necessary to start off. This is great, because all that means that is you have to lose bodyfat in order to unveil that coveted physique. Easier said than done, I’m aware, but think of it as an art. Over a period of several weeks and months, you’ll chip away at your body, slowly uncovering the sculpted arms and curvy legs you’ve been after.

Myth #4: You should switch up your training routine every week to keep your muscles guessing.

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. There are multiple ways to go about implementing progressive overload besides increasing the load on the bar: varying speed, shifting body position in relation to the load, changing stability, and so on.

With that said, sticking to the same program gives you time to become better at the prescribed exercises by providing more opportunities for repetition.

I know what you may be thinking. “But I need to confuse my muscles and keep them guessing!” Unfortunately, muscles do not get confused (sorry, Tony Horton), nor do they participate in guessing games. And if you’re afraid you might get bored, then I ask you, what is so boring about making improvements from one workout to the next? What’s dull about going to the gym and lifting 10lbs more than the week prior or to mastering perfect technique? Boom…I’M FEELING SKINNY, TONY!! — What movie??

Myth #5: 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.

This may be a hard pill to swallow, but steady-state cardio burns surprisingly fewer calories than you’d think. One study found that it takes an average of 86 hours’ worth of aerobic exercise to lose 1 whopping kilogram, and a meta-analysis revealed that steady-state cardio in and of itself is not an effective weight loss therapy.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of about a thousand other more useful things I could be doing with those 86 hours than peddling away on a bike. If you do it because you love it, or because you are training for the events that you love, that’s different! I totally get it! I love it, as well…but, it’s not going to give me the results I’m looking for. 

Rather than steady-state cardio, interval training is the way to go. Other names for this include metabolic conditioning, circuit training, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These short bursts of high intensity activity alternated with periods of active have been found to produce equal, if not better, results as traditional steady-state cardio with just “a fraction of the time commitment” (namely, 0.75 hours versus 13.5 hours). This is likely due to the increased excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or energy expenditure in the time following the workout. Basically, go harder for shorter bursts…and take very brief rests in between each bout. 

I hope I’ve inspired at least one woman to begin, or get back to,  their strength training. 

 

Happy New Year’s Resolutions!

Jared

 

Move to the beat of your own drum.

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