Strength Training For Women: 7 Things You Should Know First!


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

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).

I want to set the record straight today and destroy every myth I’ve heard when it comes to women and strength training.

I paired up with Staci Ardison, our lead female trainer for our 1-on-1 Coaching Program at Nerd Fitness, to put this guide together.

If you’re not familiar with Staci, she’s the woman in the photos above, and she used heavy barbell lifts to transform:

Strength Training transformed Staci as shown here.

Staci has been training clients since 2014, now deadlifts 455 pounds, and is the strongest person I know.

Staci showing you how to deadlift 455 pouds.

If you’re interested in strength training you’re unsure of how to get started…

Or you’re lacking confidence to hit the free weight section of the gym…

That’s okay, you’re in the right place!

In addition to this guide, we actually created our Coaching Program with women like you in mind! You can schedule a call with our team to see if our coaching program is a great fit for you by clicking on the image below and scrolling to the bottom!

Myth #1: Women shouldn’t lift heavy or they’ll get bulky

Pink Dumbbell

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

…because she doesn’t want Gwyneth to get too bulky.

Which means, I guess, Gwyneth 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 a sad panda:

Sad Panda wants you to not be afraid of strength training

If you’re brand new to Nerd Fitness, then allow me to assure you:

Strength training will not make you bulky, UNLESS you want it to!

And if you want to bulk up? That’s AWESOME!

Here’s how to build muscle correctly.

You get to pick how you want to look, so you do you.

Women who compete as compete as bodybuilders didn’t start looking like overnight.

They have eaten trained, and potentially taken supplements specifically so they can look like that! Which is great. Good for them.

They’ve been working towards that goal for years, probably decades.

Here’s the truth: when you pick up heavy things (like by following our gym workouts), your muscles get STRONGER (but not necessarily bigger).

If you actively eat for the goal of building muscle and getting bigger, you CAN build muscle and size.

Again, if you want bigger arms or stronger glutes, AWESOME. You do you.

Let’s talk about the reverse: If you pick up heavy things and eat a caloric deficit, 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 many women are after.

You know the aformentioned Staci, right?

She picks up very heavy things.

Her last deadlift session had her picking up 400+ lbs. for a set of five.

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

staci screenshot

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.

If you’re interested in picking up heavy things but have NO idea where to start, I got you covered.

In addition to our Online Coaching Program, Staci and I worked together to create a massive, free resource that walks you through every step of the process: from bodyweight training up to finding a gym and what workouts to follow to get comfortable with barbells.

Grab your free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know, when you sign up in the box below and join the Rebellion!

Myth #2: 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 don’t get rid of love handles. They will simply strengthen your side muscles without actually reducing any fat there, potentially making you bigger around the waist unless you change your diet as well.
  • Sit-ups 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 lose weight? Reduce your caloric intake in a way that doesn’t make you miserable:

I cover ALL the popular diets, and why they will ALL work…temproarily in my article on “which diet is right for you?” (Just don’t do the military diet!)

Here’s the truth: your diet – specifically how MUCH you eat – will be responsible for 80-90% of that fat loss equation.

The other 10%-20% can come from strength training and fun exercise.

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).

Not sure how to strength train and want expert guidance? Great!

Myth #3: 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:

Strength training is more than just sweating in a gym!

As we’ve pointed out before in our Strength 101 series:

“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.”

Hate cardio and want to never set foot on a treadmill again? Us too!

Let us create a FUN workout program for you that fits your personality and goals:

Myth #4: 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 Keto DietThe Paleo Diet,  Intermittent Fasting, and wonder: “Will this work for me?”

Maybe! Every diet works in the short run. But will you keep the weight off? Only if you KEEP doing the diet permanently!

Maybe you’ve considered joining the Nerd Fitness Coaching Program 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 strength training for both men and women. Will it work for everybody?

Nope.

Your mom was right. You ARE a unique snowflake!

So treat your journey like an experiment. You are trying to find the unique combination of training and nutrition that works for YOU.

Myth #5: Men and women should train differently

man vs woman

In commercial gyms across the country, competent trainers are having their male clients go through intense strength training routines:

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 hamstring curls, and more.

There’s no reason men and women should train differently.

Staci can outlift me (and everyone else in her gym) in a dozen different ways.

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!

Not only that, but 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 great gym workout routine like that is a damn good way to give you the best chance to build the body you want!

To hammer this point home: Staci works with coaching clients every day who are brand new to strength training, and she helps them pick up a barbell for the first time!

She also wrote the majority of our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. 

If that sounds like something that can help you, download your guide free when you sign up for our mailing list in the box below:

Myth # 6: Want to lose weight? Just eat less and Try Harder!

diet fail

If you’re not losing weight, then you’re simply not trying hard enough. It’s all willpower. Just starve yourself more!

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.

I bet “just try harder” feels like an insult to you. You are a hardworking person, you’re reading this which means you’re trying, and you probably crush many other aspects of your life: There’s SOOOO MUCH MORE to this equation than just “eat less.”

Yes, eating less is a requirement for weight loss.

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.

Throw in hormones, medication, menstrual cycles, menopause, and/or crazy busy lives, and starving ourselves is a recipe for disaster.

There’s a reason all diets work, and then all diets fail: if you cannot stick with a diet permanently, you will see temporary results before backsliding to your original weight.

As I’ve explained a lot on Nerd Fitness, not all calories are created equal:

Our bodies can react differently to the consumption of protein and vegetables than we do to processed foods, candy, cookies, etc.

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!”)

So how do you lose weight?

You need to eat a caloric deficit, yes. (calculate your daily caloric goal here.)

But temporary changes create temporary results!

So we need to create a caloric deficit that doesn’t feel MISERABLE:

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 800 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. 

Struggle with food and portion control? Do you have a tough emotional relationship with food?

This is what our coaching staff is trained for and would LOVE to help you! 

Myth #7: 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 80-year old grandma can strength train, what’s your excuse?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX4VNXnD0Dc

We have a coach on staff who is certified as a Functioning Aging Specialist, and we’ve helped women from 18 to 80 start strength training. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, let us help!

STrength Training For Women: Next Steps!

lego lift

Since 2009, Team Nerd Fitness and I have learned a tremendous amount about how to best serve the ladies of this community.

I want to share with you my favorite success story.

Meet Leslie, a very sedentary single mom who works long hours that managed to lose 100+ lbs with the Nerd Fitness Coaching Program:

Does she look like somebody who let myths rule her life or keep her afraid? Heck no!

She learned to train the right way, picked up a barbell, fixed her diet, and now does crazy things like handstands and ring work!

If you are done with the myths above, and you’re ready to start strength training, you’re in the right place!

Not sure what to do or how to get started?

1) Check out our 1-on-1 Coaching Program! Our philosophies help women like Leslie above, they’re the philosophies our lead trainer Staci lives by, and they can be the philosophies that help you become strong inside and out.

Click on the image below to schedule a call and see if we’re a good fit for each other!

2) Our self-paced online course, the Nerd Fitness Academy. The Academy has 20+ workouts for both bodyweight or weight training, a benchmark test to determine your starting workout, HD demonstrations of every movement, boss battles, meal plans, a questing system, and supportive community.

3) Join the Rebellion! Our free community numbers in the hundreds of thousands scattered throughout the globe, and we need good people like you!

You can join by signing up in the awesome yellow box below, and I’ll send you a bunch of free guides and printable workouts, including our Strength 101 guide!

4) If YOU ARE TRAINING AT HOME. Pick one of these 3 based on what equipment you have:

5) IF YOU ARE TRAINING IN A GYM: Amazing! I love gyms. Read our “How to train in a gym” guide and go from Level 1 to Level 6 over the next month.

This will help you go from scared newbie to barbell-badass.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what other myths make your blood boil.

What questions do you have that still have you confused?

Let’s hear it!

We’re here for ya 🙂

-Steve and Staci

PS: Make sure you read these other articles that I know you’ll love:

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

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