As a woman, you’ve probably heard many different ideas about the best way to exercise for whatever your goal is. Chances are, many of these are actually myths and could even be holding you back from making progress.
Surely, women and men are quite different in terms of strength and ability to build muscle but that doesn’t mean that your training style has to be dramatically different.
In a world where arbitrary products and ideas are segregated on a gender basis, it’s no wonder that many women have turned to “alternative” training methods under the guise that doing so is necessary for progress.
In this article, I’m going to be touching on a few of the most popular myths revolving around women’s training and nutrition and set the record straight on your best moves if you’re hoping to get in better shape.
Myth #1: Females Shouldn’t Lift Heavy
Easily the most prevalent and, probably, one of the most detrimental myths in the fitness world is that women shouldn’t lift heavy weight, or even lift at all. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Typically, the culprit behind this myth is the misconception that doing so will lead to excess bulk, robbing you of your feminine physique.
While logically, this does make sense from a visual standpoint, the issue is that lifting weights doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll put on large amounts of muscle mass.
Many individuals spend an entire lifetime attempting to pack on serious amounts of muscle only to find that there are many different variables, all playing a major role in how much muscle you can gain and how quickly you attain it.
What most don’t understand is that muscle growth, apart from initial improvements when beginning to exercise, is a difficult task and requires much greater intent on building muscle than just working out and having it happen (1, 2, 3).
As silly as this analogy is, being afraid of excess bulk from occasional lifting is the equivalent of occasionally running and expecting to be a competitive marathon runner. The fact is, in order to attain large amounts of muscle, you’ll need to specifically train, eat and live for just that result to occur.
Further, if you’re interested in improving muscle definition, the use of varying amounts of weight through resistance training is essential. Doing so may certainly increase the size of the muscle, but this will also lead to greater muscle definition and potentially even fat loss.
Lastly, as a woman, lifting weights can actually be extremely beneficial for thwarting potential chances of osteoporosis, a disease which results in bone brittleness.
By using resistance training, you actually place stress on bone, which encourages strengthening and growth, potentially reducing the possibility of experiencing this debilitating disease (4).
Rather than avoiding lifting heavy, embrace doing so for a better, stronger, more defined physique.
Myth #2 Women Need Tons Of Cardio To Be Fit
Again, this is another myth, which is often perpetuated in fitness circles, especially for women.
Surely cardiovascular type training is a decent route if you’re hoping to burn calories and so promote weight loss, but it is certainly not the only route for females to take.
As mentioned in the last section, women should be using resistance training to their advantage. Not only can it provide a means to improve muscle definition, but it can also help drop some pounds.
First of all, when using compound movements, such as the squat or deadlift, you’re recruiting large amounts of muscle mass and placing these muscle groups under a high amount of stress, leading to calorie burn.
Further, muscle is energy costly to maintain. By increasing muscle mass, you’ll encourage larger amounts of energy to be burned, since the body will be attempting to maintain it.
Cardio training can certainly be a potent means to weight loss, but it needn’t be the only step you’re taking. In fact, a workout regimen combining resistance training and cardio will likely provide the absolute best chance of quickly getting into better shape.
Myth #3 Women Need To Eliminate Carbs
Again, another unfortunate myth in female fitness circles is the need to entirely restrict carbohydrates to get lean.
As a trainer and promoter of the ketogenic style of dieting (such as my Metabolic Advantage diet), I believe in the low carb lifestyle. Despite my enthusiasm for this style of eating, it’s certainly not an absolute requirement to get in great shape.
Too often, women (and men alike) restrict carbohydrates under the assumption that carbs lead to weight gain. Surely carbohydrates can in fact lead to excess weight gain if consumed in excess, but in moderation, relative to your energy demands, consuming them can actually be quite beneficial.
Carbohydrates, like the other macronutrients, have a caloric value – 4 calories per gram, to be exact. When consumed in excess of energy requirements, consuming these calories from carbohydrate sources can lead to what is known as De Novo Lipogenesis, or storage of carbs and conversion to triglyceride (fat).
As you can see, weight gain as a result of carbohydrate intake can occur, but it’s not solely because it was carbohydrate, but rather that the carbohydrate consumption led to an excess of calories.
Further, some research actually indicates that restriction of carbohydrate can lead to a reduction of thyroid hormone, which could actually slow progress (5).
Rather than totally restricting carbs, I suggest practicing a carb cycling approach to ensure that you’re consuming adequate carbs when you need them according to activity and restricting them when you don’t.
Myth #4 Flexing Your Bum Without Weight Will Improve Definition
Lastly, and arguably my least favorite myth/trend is that flexing your bum, without resistance, will lead to better butt development and definition. While it may seem like a good idea, it’s certainly not the most optimal route to take if you want a nice booty.
As with any other muscle in the body, in order to increase size and definition, you’ll need to practice progressive overload to some extent. To achieve this, you can lift with varying amounts of weight and repetition, in a progressive fashion.
Unfortunately, the amount of repetitions that would be needed to improve muscle size and definition, solely by flexing the muscle would be astronomical.
Further, when reading this section, you should also group within this suggestion walking sideways and backwards on a treadmill / elliptical. The amount of benefit you’ll receive from doing so is extremely minimal.
Rather than wasting your time using these suboptimal techniques, spend your time using resistance and moves which are optimal for real bum development. Here are some of the most popular and beneficial:
- Barbell squat
- Leg Press
- Leg Curl
- RDL (DB or BB)
- Banded RDL
- Single Leg, Leg Press
- Weighted Glute Kickbacks
- Heavy Hip Thrusts
Certainly there are others, but these are at least some of the best alternatives when it comes to bum development. Rather than wasting your time flexing with no weight, start incorporating moves which use weight and properly activate your glutes sufficiently to actually promote muscle and definition.
4 Popular Female Fitness Myths, Debunked
As a women, getting fit can be intimidating and confusing due to the myriad of myths, leading to confusion and uncertainty. Fortunately, most of these “female-specific” myths revolving around training and nutrition couldn’t be further from the truth.
By recognizing what these myths are and beginning to implement the alternatives mentioned, you may find yourself on the fast track to success, rather than simply spinning your wheels.
- Bodine, S. C., Stitt, T. N., Gonzalez, M., Kline, W. O., Stover, G. L., Bauerlein, R., … & Yancopoulos, G. D. (2001). Akt/mTOR pathway is a crucial regulator of skeletal muscle hypertrophy and can prevent muscle atrophy in vivo. Nature cell biology, 3(11), 1014-1019.
- Frontera, W. R., Meredith, C. N., O’Reilly, K. P., Knuttgen, H. G., & Evans, W. J. (1988). Strength conditioning in older men: skeletal muscle hypertrophy and improved function. Journal of applied physiology, 64(3), 1038-1044.
- Cureton, K. J., Collins, M. A., Hill, D. W., & McElhannon Jr, F. M. (1988). Muscle hypertrophy in men and women. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 20(4), 338-344.
- Layne, J. E., & Nelson, M. E. (1999). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 31(1), 25-30.
- Mathieson, R. A., Walberg, J. L., Gwazdauskas, F. C., Hinkle, D. E., & Gregg, J. M. (1986). The effect of varying carbohydrate content of a very-low-caloric diet on resting metabolic rate and thyroid hormones. Metabolism, 35(5), 394-398.