women strength

“Lifting weights will make me bulky.”

“I don’t want to gain any muscle.  I just want to tone up a bit.”

“I can’t lift heavy weights, I’m not strong enough.”

These are just a few of the common responses I hear when I suggest strength training to women who are interested in getting in shape.  I totally understand it can be a tough sell for someone who just wants to drop a few pounds or just feel a little better about themselves.  Sadly, there are so many myths that are so pervasive in the fitness industry that women just don’t know where to start.

Luckily, I’ve seen a bit of a paradigm shift in the past few years thanks to GOOD information on the internet and groups such as Girls Gone Strong.  Women are finally making their way into the weight room with more confidence that they can lift weights and get strong without fear of getting ginormous muscles.  To help this movement, here are 5 myths about women and strength training to finally put the last nail in the coffin.  Women SHOULD train!

Myth #1: Strength Training Makes Women Bulky

This has been perhaps one of the hardest obstacles to overcome because it is SO prevalent pretty much anywhere you go.  The rationale is men lift weights then look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Bodybuilding magazines and infomercials probably don’t help either.  Sadly, most MEN don’t look like that after lifting weights.  The fact is that most of us, men or women, just lack the genetic potential to pull it off.

women strength

The first step is to define bulky.  I’m guessing most of you don’t want to look like a jacked female bodybuilder, right?  But how about an actress like Jessica Biel who is very well-known for being super fit?  Some would say Jessica is too bulky and that’s okay.  Keep in mind she absolutely crushes it to look that way!  Oh, and she is only 5’7”, 121 pounds and about a size 2, just saying.

The truth is that for some women strength training will certainly make you bulky, especially if you don’t train your diet so you can decrease your body fat at the same time.  If your goal is fat loss, your main priority should be your nutrition as that is ALWAYS what contributes to a higher body fat percentage and will make women feel bulky, not excess muscle mass.

In fact, strength training is fantastic for revving up your metabolism and maintaining or adding a little muscle mass is what actually gives women the ‘toned’ look they desire.  As your metabolism increases it is, however, important to note you may be a bit hungrier.  Just make sure you are reaching for the right foods like lean protein, veggies, healthy fats and nutrient dense carbs (not the processed ‘white’ carbs).

Myth #2: Women Should Train With High Reps (and light weight)

First and foremost, let’s clear this up: strength training doesn’t always mean lifting weights.  Strength training can be any type of movement that imposes an increasing demand on your muscles and/or central nervous system, causing an adaptation.  So basically, you apply a stress to your muscles, and then your body tears down the muscle tissue and builds it back stronger than before.  When done properly with good technique, it increases the efficiency of your neural pathways so you can recruit more muscle fibers more effectively in the future.  Simply put, your body figures out how to make the task you just performed easier in case you have to perform it again in the future.

In the beginning, simply moving your own bodyweight can cause a positive adaptation within your body in terms of getting stronger and adding muscle mass.  When you do start to lift more than just your body weight, of course you should start lighter so that you can learn how to do the movement properly, but that light weight should still feel challenging.

The amount of resistance that you’re lifting should feel challenging to you, and you shouldn’t be able to do it for more than 15 reps.  In fact, in most cases, you shouldn’t be able to lift the weight you’re lifting for more than 8-12 reps (there are occasional exceptions) if you really want the benefits of strength training.

Remember how I mentioned above that when you lift weights you’re imposing an increasing demand on your body and causing adaptation?  Well if you’re lifting a weight that’s not challenging to you, you are simply not signaling your body to change at all, so there’s not much purpose to it.  Make sure you are getting results from training by choosing appropriate weights for your current ability level!

Myth #3: Training Can “Spot Reduce” in a Specific Area

The belief that we are able to spot-reduce is the notion that launched a million crunches.  Sorry, but doing a million crunches will NOT spot-reduce the fat on your midsection nor will doing arm exercises to decrease fat on your arms.

Unwanted handle

When you reduce your body fat levels, your body will choose where to decrease fat stores and sadly you have zero say in the matter.  For some, it’s the “problem area” where your body tends to carry the most fat but for others that is the last area to go.  Genetics determine this, not your exercise selection.

Your body fat distribution is always going to be yours but through smart strength and conditioning combined with proper nutrition you can get pretty lean and have muscle definition for ANY body type. Some may just have to work harder than others to work on particular areas.

Myth #4: Lifting Weights is Dangerous, Machines are Much Safer

This is actually partially true.  Lifting weights can be dangerous, especially if you don’t train the right way.  But on the flip-side, being weak and frail is significantly MORE dangerous as you become more susceptible to injury and chronic pain due to poor posture.

As with any new activity, there is some level of inherent danger.  The same would be true with cycling, running, or even yoga.  But it’s very simple to decrease that risk by starting at your level with a good program that balances strength, balance, and mobility.  This will actually decrease your risk of injury for not only strength training but other activities as well!

Although machines may be deemed safer in the short term, they are designed to only let your body move one way, the machine’s way.  The problem is that your body is designed to move in an infinite amount of different ways and limiting this mobility can cause plenty of other problems down the road.

How to bulletproof your body and train SMART:

  • Start where you are, progress from there.  Make sure to choose a program that is appropriate for your training level.  A more challenging program/exercise does NOT mean better results and you actually get much BETTER results training at your level and choosing exercise you can complete with proper form.
  • Start each workout with a proper warm-up.  Foam rolling, light mobility and activation exercises only take 10 minutes of your time and go a LONG way towards keeping you healthy and helping you move better.  If you move better, you get better results!
  • Recover between work outs.  Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, focusing on proper nutrition, taking care of your soft tissue (foam rolling), and taking time for yourself to de-stress.  The fact is that working out is added stress and although it’s good stress it does take it’s toll on the body if you aren’t recovering properly.

Myth #5: Muscle Turns to Fat and/or Fat Turns to Muscle

I have heard people say they don’t want to get strong muscles because those muscles will turn to fat if they stop working out as much.  This is just crazy talk, saying that you can transform muscle cells into fat cells is like saying you can turn water into wine (that would be awesome, though).  They are two totally and completely different things, and they cannot become the other.

The only thing that happens when you stop working out is you will lose strength and some muscle mass (not as much as some people think) which will slow the metabolism a bit.  The good news is it comes back fairly quickly once you get back on track!

What you want to do to get lean and fit is lose body fat and gain muscle, and transform the look of your body.  The scale may only say you lost a couple pounds but who cares when you drop 4-6 pants sizes and have awesome looking shoulders?

If you’re looking to learn more about you can train smart, lose body fat, get stronger, and tighten up I highly recommend checking out The Modern Woman’s Guide to Strength Training from Girls Gone Strong which comes out TODAY!  It is hands down one of the best resources for women looking to learn how to train and features one three 16-week training programs that are designed for ALL levels.  It also has over 80 minutes of HD video demonstrating how to perform each exercise properly.  Not to mention a handful of DIFFERENT nutrition approaches (since diets work different for everyone).  AND a handful of warm-up and conditioning routines.  Check it out! —–>click here<——


Written by Steve