For women, the jump into the world of fitness can be a little terrifying. Opinions on ladies and lifting are often inaccurate and stuck in the 1950s ideal. As a result of these myths and unsubstantiated claims, it's difficult for many women to know how or where to begin.
You've probably seen at least one of the following lady fitness myths floating around the Internet, courtesy of some self-proclaimed "expert." It's time to put an end to the questions marks and the nervous glances around the gym.
TRUTH: Women should train however they want.
I'm not exactly sure what "training like a man" even means. Are deadlifts inherently masculine? I don't think I've ever seen a sign that says "Lady squatters ye be warned." It's true that some women shouldn't train like men, but that's not because they aren't capable or are unworthy. It's simply because the "manlifts" they might be doing may not match their fitness goals.
Whatever goal a woman might have for fitness should be supported by her training program. If her goals include a stronger bench press or bigger biceps, then there's no reason she can't support those goals with actual lifts.
By that same token, if a woman's primary goal is fat loss, she may not want to spend too much time trying to find her clean 1RM. A woman can train however she wants, although she should make sure that training matches her goals.
TRUTH: Not all women have the same goals.
Newsflash: Not all women want to look the same. Just like men, some women are in the gym to get strong. Some want to get ripped, some want to improve athleticism, and some want better health. That's the great thing about fitness—it's personal.
That's why it's so important to do research—so you're confident in the type of training you do. If your best friend is trying lean down while you're training for a powerlifting competition, you're probably not going to work out with her. That's a-okay.
TRUTH: Protein is protein
Want to know how to market a product to women? Slap a pink label on it and make sure the word "lite" is written in cursive. In actuality, when it comes to protein powder, men and woman can both scoop from the same tub. There aren't any man-only ingredients in protein powder, so there's no reason to fear randomly sprouting chest hair.
Each protein brand and type has specific amounts of protein, calories, carbs, and fat. Depending on your goals, you can find a type of protein powder that fits your nutrition protocol. If you're trying a low-carb diet, you can easily find low-carb protein powder.
If you're allergic to dairy products, then look for a non-dairy protein powder. A protein's ingredients and macronutrient profile—not its label—should inform your decision to buy it.
TRUTH: Just like anything, Olympic lifts can be dangerous.
Whenever I suggest that women add Olympic lifts to their training program, I'm usually hit with a resounding, "No way, that's too dangerous!" Yes, you can hurt yourself if you load the bar too heavy and try to lift without proper technique. The same can be said about doing biceps curls.
No matter your level, it's fun to try new things and add to your knowledge base. Now, I'm not saying load the bar with plates and go for it, but if you are interested in trying a snatch or a clean, pick up a broomstick or PVC pipe and try it. If it seems like something you'd like to get better at, find a coach or ask someone more experienced for help. You might surprise yourself.
TRUTH: Lifting builds muscle and burns fat.
Countless studies have shown that women who do resistance training are stronger, leaner, and healthier than women who do not. What that resistance training does to your physique is completely up to you and your DNA.
Even in the world of fitness, female physiques range from the brawny, like Dana Linn Bailey; to the athletic, like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet; to the slender, like India Paulino. Each of these women uses resistance training to sculpt a desired body.
The differences in their physiques come from genetics, how they eat, and the movements, volume, intensity, and load they use in their programming. Just like these women, you need a training regimen that reflects how you want to perform and what you want to look like.
TRUTH: Your body makes creatine naturally.
To people who aren't familiar with the body's natural chemical processes, creatine might seem like a scary ingredient only used by giant bodybuilders. The reality is that creatine is an important part of how your body makes and uses energy. It's the primary fuel source for short-term, high-intensity exercise.
Your body already makes it, but if you're doing fairly rigorous resistance training multiple times per week, you may not be getting enough. Studies have found that creatine supplementation, even in women, can help build and maintain lean muscle mass and increase the performance of those muscles.1-3 The only substantiated side effect is very small weight gain, which occurs because muscles are able to hold more water and are therefore more voluminous.
TRUTH: Ladies should be lifting, too.
Even if you want to be a competitive runner, studies have shown that resistance training helps increase your aerobic performance.4 Cardiovascular training absolutely has its place, but it's not the only path toward fitness.
In fact, constant running doesn't help build strength or help you find that balanced physique. Moreover, multiple studies have found that consistent endurance training may not be the best method for fat loss.5-6
Although it's completely understandable to feel embarrassed or intimidated in the pit of racks and barbells, sticking to that same old treadmill or elliptical may not be helping you get the results you want.
Add some resistance training to your regimen. By building more lean muscle, you'll burn more calories and get leaner faster.
TRUTH: Leanness works differently in each woman.
I think Molly Galbraith nailed this subject in this blog post. Not every woman reacts to being lean the same way. For a lot of women, being hyper lean has extreme hormonal effects on the body. Even professional appearance athletes don't stay lean all year. They usually lean out a few weeks prior to an event and then peak right before they hit the stage.
If you want to see your abs, try to get there. But remember, every person is different. What takes your friend six weeks to achieve may take you a year. You might look shredded but feel tired, weak, and skinny. Be honest with yourself about your goals. Honesty is a great step toward training and eating effectively.
- Branch JD: Effect of creatine supplementation on body compostion and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab 2003, 13:198-226.
- Cox G, Mujika I, Tumilty D, et al: Acute creatine supplementation and performance during a field test stimulating mach play in elite soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2003, 12:33-46.
- Kambis KW, PizzedazS: Short-term creatine supplementation improves maximum quadriceps contraction in women. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metabol 2003, 13: 87-96.
- Osteras H, Helgerud J, HoffJ: Maximal strength-training effects on force-velocity and force-power relationships explains increases in aerobic performance in humans. European Journal Of Applied Physiology 2002, 88(3):255-63.
- Hickner RC, Racette SB, Binder EF, Fisher JS, Kohrt WM. Effects of 10 days of endurance exercise training on the suppression of whole body and regional lipolysis by insulin. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2000, 85 (4):1408-504.
- Cosgrove, Rachel. Why you can't lose weight. Women's Running. 2013. http://womensrunning.competitor.com/2013/03/health-wellness/why-you-cant-lose-weight_11491.