7 Strength Training Myths Every Woman Should Know


I hate almost ALL fitness marketing that’s geared at women.

If these marketers were telling the truth, they’d be saying things like:

  • “Want to tone, tuck, and tighten those abs? Don’t waste your time with this!”
  • “Want to banish that belly fat? This ab coaster won’t help!”
  • “Want to get stronger? You’re gonna need to pick up something heavier than this!”

In every issue of practically every women’s fitness magazine, you’re presented with a new workout that promises crazy results in minutes a day by ‘toning muscles’ with light weights and crazy equipment.

You’re promised super-foods that specifically target belly fat, and ab workouts, butt workouts, and thigh workouts that are designed to “tighten those problem areas.”

All of this lingo makes me want to vomit.

And I haven’t vomited in a long time (I’d like to keep that streak going).

With our first ever course specifically designed for Rebel Women coming out in two weeks(!), I want to set the record straight today and destroy every myth I’ve heard when it comes to women and strength training.

Remember, the princess doesn’t necessarily need saving.

Yes, this is an article specifically for women, but if you’re a dude reading NF…keep reading. I bet you still learn something today!

Women shouldn’t lift heavy or they’ll get bulky

Pink Dumbbell

Gwyneth Paltrow’s trainer makes sure that Gweneth doesn’t pick up anything more than 3 lbs.

…because she doesn’t want Gwyneth to get too bulky. (or dudes apparently!)

Which means, I guess, Gweneth isn’t allowed to pick up groceries, move a chair, carry her child, or do pretty much anything.

This is the biggest myth in all of female training, and it makes me want to punch a hole in the wall.  If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know this isn’t true.  If you’re brand new to Nerd Fitness, then allow me to assure you:

YOU WILL NOT GET BULKY FROM PICKING UP HEAVY THINGS.

You know those women bodybuilders who look really bulky? They eat, train, and take supplements specifically so they can look like that! They’ve probably been working towards that goal for years and years.

Here’s the truth: when you pick up heavy things, your muscles get STRONGER (but not necessarily bigger).  If you pump yourself full of testosterone and eat way more calories than you are burning every day, you will get bigger.

If you pick up heavy things, and eat a caloric deficit (and eat the right kinds of food – actual healthy foods), your muscles will get stronger and denser; you will burn the fat on top of your muscle, and you will get that “toned” look that you’re after.

You know Staci, right?  She picks up very heavy things.  How heavy?  Her last deadlift session had her picking up 355 lbs. for a set of five. She weighs 150lbs and wears a size US4.

Would you call her bulky?  Or would you say “I would love to look like that!”

staci screenshot

Here’s how it works:  Picking up light weights for 20+ repetitions builds muscular endurance; it does not build tight, dense, strong muscle.

So, want to look damn good AND be strong?  Pick up heavy things. And continually force yourself to pick up heavier and heavier things as you get stronger.

You can spot reduce fat

bullseye

Sr Mix-A-Lot was wrong. Don’t do side bends and sit ups, because you’re wasting your time:

  • Side bends will strengthen your side muscles without actually reducing any fat there, potentially making you bigger around the waist unless you change your diet as well.
  • Situps will not remove belly fat. They can also wreak havoc on your lower back, and are an incomplete exercise.

Your body cannot spot reduce fat in specific locations. If you have flabby arms or a big stomach, doing thousands of bicep curls and thousands of crunches won’t help.

Your body is genetically predisposed to storing fat in certain locations in a certain order.  When you start to lose weight, your body will lose the fat you currently have in a certain order as well – it might come off your arms first, then your legs, then your belly, then your chest, and THEN your butt. Or in a different order, depending on your personal genetic makeup.

No amount of targeted exercise will change how that fat disappears.

Want to make it disappear faster?  Eat better.  Your diet will be responsible for 80-90% of that fat loss.  Strength train, not with targeted exercises, but with big compound movements that recruit lots of muscle (and thus force your body to rebuild lots of muscle, which requires extra calories burned, even after the workout is done).

You need cardio to lose weight.

Bronwyn Before After

If the thought of running on a treadmill for four hours sounds miserable to you, don’t do it. Bronwyn (above), certainly didn’t achieve her results on a treadmill or elliptical!

If you never run another mile in your entire life, there’s no reason you cannot be incredibly healthy and look amazing.  Despite what you might think, and what you might see in a gym, you will never need to step foot on another cardio machine again.

UNLESS YOU WANT TO.

I’m a big fan of “do what makes you happy.”  If you happen to enjoy running or zumba or step aerobics or jazzercize, that is awesome.  More power to you.  However, if you are ONLY doing those things to lose weight and you’re not seeing results, stop.  There’s a better way.

Believe it or not, strength training will produce a more efficient weight loss effect than an equal amount of cardio.

When you strength train, your muscles are broken down, and then rebuilt over the next 24-48 hours. While your body is rebuilding those muscles, it’s recruiting more calories and energy to make the process happen (generally referred to as the ‘afterburn’ effect).  What this means is that your metabolism operates at a faster level even while you’re sitting on the couch after a workout.

Want to hear something else?  You don’t NEED to strength train either! I hate saying it, but it’s true: if your goal is to JUST lose weight, then fixing your diet will get you 80-90% of the way there.   If you never want to set foot in a gym or pick up a weight, that’s fine.

For exercise, it’s important to find things that make you happy.

Now, if your goals go beyond just losing weight and include things like “looking good” and “being healthy,” then I’m going to ask you to strength train, but there are many ways to do that:

  • Picking up heavy things
  • Swinging kettlebells
  • Doing yoga
  • Doing bodyweight exercises
  • Carrying your kids on a hike
  • Whatever makes you use your muscles in a strenuous way

Strength training is more than just sweating in a gym!

As we’ve pointed out before: “Strength training helps correct issues relating to cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and inactivity – all factors for heart disease. Cardiologists are even starting to recommend strength training for people who have suffered a heart attack as little as three weeks after the attack. ”

One plan will work for every woman

silhouette woman

You might be out shopping for that ‘master workout plan’ that works for everyone.

You might read 10 different books on diet, each presenting a contrasting style that promises amazing results.

You might have read our posts on The Paleo Diet and Intermittent Fasting, and wonder: “Will this work for me?”

Maybe you’ve considered buying a Nerd Fitness product and you ask yourself “Is this the plan that will finally get me results?”

The truth: I don’t know.  Everybody, both men and women, react to foods, training, and different stimuli differently.  We are all genetically different, have unique characteristics, different lives, preferences, and struggles.

The only way to know what works for you is to TRY IT OUT, and then TRACK YOUR RESULTS.

Yes, I am a big fan of the Paleo Diet and strength training for both men and women. Will these things work for everybody?

Nope.

HOWEVER, in my five years of experience as Rebel Leader, observing tens of thousands of people working to live better, I believe that following the Paleo Diet and strength training give the greatest number of people the greatest chance for success with the best results.

It’s for those reasons that I champion these diet and fitness strategies.  These are the same techniques that we’re building our foundation around at The Nerd Fitness Academy: we understand that all women are different, which is why we present multiple training options for multiple environments, and diet advice that allows for flexibility based on one’s situation.

Your mom was right.

You are, in fact, a unique snowflake :)

Men and women should train differently

man vs woman

This is another myth that drives me crazy.

In commercial gyms across the country, competent trainers are having their male clients go through intense strength training routines with squats, and deadlifts, and overhead presses, and push ups, and pull ups, and lunges.

In those same gyms, other trainers (both male and female) are putting their female clients through light weight dumbbell circuits, and stability ball squats for high repetitions, and having them do tricep kickbacks, machine bench presses and more.

There’s no reason men and women should train differently.  I’m fairly confident Staci can outlift me in a dozen different ways (and everyone else in her gym), and that’s AWESOME.

There’s no reason that men and women can’t complete the same types of exercises.  While a guy can lift a certain way to get bigger, a woman can lift in the same way, but instead build that dense, tight, and lean look (“toned” ugh) that most are aiming for.

Thanks to hormones, estrogen, testosterone, genetic, and dietary differences, those two people will end up with drastically different results.  Remember, your diet is 80-90% of the battle!  

Women have just as much a right to be in the free weights section and squat rack as guys do. Unfortunately, it’s just less common (though the Women of Nerd Fitness are changing that!).

Train how you want to train.  There is no reason you can’t do overhead presses, pull ups, squats, and deadlifts like everybody else.

In fact, following a routine like that is a damn good way to give you the best chance to build the body you want!

“But Steve, if women don’t need to train differently, why make a guide just for women!?”  Great question!  While the exercises are the same, and women can easily follow the same program, there are slight differences that will change up programming a little bit to make a program more effective for a woman.

Along with that, there are quite a few issues that women deal with that men do not, and thus require specific information and advice: things like hormones, pregnancy, menopause, periods, and so on.

Want to lose weight? Just eat less!

diet fail

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, right?

If you want to lose weight, just eating less will get you there!

And eating even LESS than that will help you get there even faster!

This prevailing attitude is responsible for people all over the country being weak, miserable, irritable, and frustrated.

Yes, eating less will help you lose weight.  However, that is not the whole story.  Surviving on 1200 calories (or less a day) is a miserable way to go through life: always hungry, never happy.

Our bodies need real food, and they need enough of it in order to operate at optimum efficiency.

As I’ve explained a lot on Nerd Fitness, not all calories are created equal (the foundation of the Paleo Diet): Our bodies can react differently to the consumption of protein and healthy fats and vegetables than we do to processed foods, grains, and dairy.

Some trigger positive reactions in our body (“rebuild muscle!”), while others trigger negative reactions (“Spike your blood sugar levels! Pump out more insulin! Winter is coming, so store more fat!”)

You need to eat real foods. And you need to eat enough of it.  Honestly, unless you’re incredibly small, I would never recommend ever putting any woman on a diet of 1200 calories. In fact, I don’t recommend women ever dip below 1800 calories per day if they are exercising regularly!  I understand that every woman is different, and every woman processes calories differently, but I can’t emphasize enough that quality of food is so dang important!

As long as these calories are composed of the right kinds of food, and this diet is combined with a fun workout that gets your muscles exercising and your heart pumping, you will have success.

Conversely, if you only consume 1200 calories per day and you try to exercise, I’m going to guess your body hates you, won’t have any energy, and potentially even revolt against you! You won’t last long on this routine. This is what we’re trying to avoid.

I absolutely LOVED this article – and it needs to be read: An Open Letter to My Weight Loss Clients:

I’m sorry because every time you ate something you “shouldn’t” or ate more than you “should,” I talked about “getting back on the bandwagon.” I cringe now every time someone uses that phrase. When did the way we eat become a bandwagon? When did everyone stop eating and become professional dieters? I’m sorry because I get it now.

If you’re trying to starve your body by eating fewer calories than it needs, of course it’s going to fight back. I used to tell you that then, when you wanted to eat less than 1200 calories a day. The problem was, I thought 1200 was enough. I thought that was plenty to support a healthy body. Why did I believe that for so long? I’m sorry because I wasn’t trying to trick you or play games to get your money. I believed the lies we were fed as much as you did. 

I am sorry because many of you walked in healthy and walked out with disordered eating, disordered body image, and the feeling that you were a “failure.” None of you ever failed. Ever. I failed you. The weight loss company failed you. Our society is failing you. 

Just eat food. Eat real food, be active, and live your life. Forget all the diet and weight loss nonsense. It’s really just that. Nonsense. 

Eat real food!  Gluten free cookies are still cookies.  100 calorie packs of junk food? Still junk food.  Fat free Oreos contain more sugar and chemicals than regular Oreos.  Naked Juices aren’t good for you (which is why they got sued for $9 million).

Eat enough food to provide your body with energy to get through your day and your workouts. Just eat the right KINDS of foods.

Older women shouldn’t strength training

sexist ad

After women reach menopause, and the potential for osteoporosis kicks in, many women tend to shy away from strength training for fear of injuring themselves.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

That is the PERFECT time to strength train!  Studies have shown that in post-menopausal women, strength training “preserved bone density while improving muscle mass, strength, and balance in postmenopausal women.”

Age is only a number.  Women don’t get old and thus have to stop strength training, they get old WHEN they stop strength training!  So, if this 73-year old grandma can strength train, what’s your excuse?

73-Year Old Grandma Powerlifter Video

The Nerd Fitness Academy

Nerd Fitness Academy

About a year and a half ago, I announced on Nerd Fitness that we were working on a guide specifically for women.  

Since then, a lot has happened, and Team Nerd Fitness has learned a tremendous amount about how to best serve the ladies of this community.  We’ve taken that 18 extra months of experience and over a year of hard work and created a new way to help women get healthy.

Rather than a static eBook that you read, we’ve created a course that will constantly be evolving and improving as more women use it.  In two weeks time, we’ll be soft-launching a beta version of The Academy to women for a limited time.

We’ll keep the course open for enrollment just for a few days, and then close it up for at least a month. 

Once we have women using the course, we’ll be working closely with them, learning and figuring out how we can make the course even better.  Thanks to the new platform that we’ll be using for The Academy, updates and improvements can be instant.

“Why is it called The Nerd Fitness Academy!?”  Just like Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was a clever re-imagining of a traditional Academy, so too is the Nerd Fitness Academy.  Most academies churn out carbon copies of generic individuals.

Our goal with the Nerd Fitness Academy is to help unique rebels discover their own superpowers in the fight against the Empire.  Along with that, we’ll also help you eat better, feel better, and look better naked :)

“Why is the Nerd Fitness Academy just for women? What about the dudes?” This is a new platform and delivery system, we want to start with small percentage of the Nerd Fitness Community.  We’ll definitely be creating a beginning fitness course for men in The Academy, and we’re targeting a launch of January 1st.

Our goal after that is to then continue to add specific courses and classes to The Academy so that you can learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace.  I’m so excited for this future and I can’t wait to show you guys what we’ve been working on.

In the meantime, our current best-selling eBooks will still remain available for sale: the content hasn’t changed, the quality and the success stories remain, we’re just changing the delivery method – that’s all!

We also have another surprise for you…hopefully within the month. It’s something a LOT of readers have been asking for, for a long time, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

What myths drive you crazy?

lego lift

So, we hope you check out The Academy in a few weeks, as we’ve busted our asses on it to create something fun.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what other myths drive you crazy?

What questions do you have that still have you confused?

Let’s hear it!

I’m here for ya :)

-Steve

PS: Don’t forget: If you’re a woman interested in our course, sign up for The Nerd Fitness Academy email list so you won’t miss the launch window in a few weeks!  If you signed up for updates a year ago, you might be told you’re still on the list. Don’t worry, you are :)

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photo source: post-its, weightsilhouette woman, lego, man vs woman, bullseye, sexist ad, magazines

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  • meiah

    I want to lift weights to be strong and burn fat. But I do not want to look like the women pictured at the beginning of the article. So how do I go about this without looking as muscular as they look? thanks

  • Genevieve

    I agree with a lot of this! Although I personally don’t agree that diet leads 80-90% of fat loss. I’ve heard it a few places and just don’t believe it from my personal experiences and observations. I also don’t think it’s healthy, because when you lose wight on diet alone, most of the weight you lose is from muscle and not fat. I think a reasonable diet, plus being moderately active strikes the right balance for weight loss.

  • Huntington Beach Chiroprator

    You shared wonder full blog..

  • Bria, PT, DPT

    I hate the “do a million push ups to make your boobs bigger!” No no no! How about work the shoulder girdle and back so you stand up straighter and show of what you’ve got. That’s more like it. :-) Added bonus: avoid ligament impingement injuries! Hooray!

  • MuscularBites.com

    I appreciate the post I completely agree. I am a female who loves to lift, I always have, and I am also a blogger. I used to be a fire fighter and at 120 pounds and 5’4 you can imagine the “you are too small” comments I got. I lift like a guy though and I am proud of that. It is sad to see the articles that state you can get thin and muscular with the 10 minute work outs or the exercises of lifting weights that aren’t any heavier than their shoes. So thank you for the article.

  • Jason Brown

    This article had me giggling. I find the gender dichotomy to be both historically inaccurate (in pre agricultural human groups) and to be honest unfullfilling and limiting to both gender poles. My wake up call as it where was in HS wrestling. Back in the mid eighties a girl had the audacity to get on the wrestling team in Nebraska. Being a small dude, I had to wrestle her. Changed my perspective alot. The whole story is actually kind of funny.

    Anyhow, I do this crazy thing called HEMA and due to its relatively new immergence has a pretty even gender spread for a martial art. Just seeing it all laid out out in one place was great and i now have a place for my students to come take a gander when the either think of themselves in a way or offer “help” to another. Thanks a ton.

  • http://www.ashleyshealthylife.com Ashley Reida

    I whole-heartedly agree with this article. I am a new trainer and before I became involved in fitness I also often thought the same as the bulking up myth -that women would turn into the Incredible hulk if they lifted heavy weights! While I got interested in fitness I started lifting heavier and heavier and started building an awesome body with just enough muscle tone. Now I often get from clients and potential clients, “Oh I don’t lift more than 5-10lbs because I don’t want to get huge and bulky like a man.” No matter how many times I try and re-iterate that women CANNOT get bulky without synthetic testosterone and insane amounts of gym hours, they don’t seem to comprehend. Hoping to find a way to relay this to them!

    http://www.ashleyshealthylife.com

  • Missy Ellsworth

    I just started working out and dieting. Turns out my metabolism is slowing down, like everyone at my age, and I needed to do something. So I started Weight Watchers and lost about 10 pounds and hit a plateau, and then I just joined the gym. I heard all of these myths and believed them. I’m more confused than ever! I don’t think WW is a great plan to be on if i’m strength training?

  • Strengthtraining-women

    Incredible article! Strength training is the best way to go for everyone, including women, to get in the best shape and be the best version of yourself you can be. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “I don’t want to get bulky”, I usually reply with “That’s good, because you won’t, you’ll get in incredible shape if you stick with it and eat right”. http://strengthtraining-women.com

  • Juju

    Youre awesome Steve! Im an 18-year-old lady and have been struggling to gain weight. Your articles made me know a lot and prevented me from hearing the “wrong fitness advice” Keep it up! :)

  • Simone T.

    I’ve just started lifting and LOVE how strong I feel.

  • Bing Bing

    great great article!!! helps a lot :) I’m doing strength training now, like the feeling of getting strong and looking good a loooooooot ~!~

  • spankee

    Best article I have read yet ! thanx for being honest :)