Top Five Myths in Fitness for Women

| October 30, 2013 | 4 Comments

Over the many years that I’ve been training people to become strong, fast and resilient, by far the most rewarding experience is showing women that they are stronger than they think. One of my clients the other day after flipping a 250lb tire end over end for 20 meters gave me the look of disbelief—even after she had already accomplished the exercise and said, “I never thought that I would ever be able to do anything like that…” She was so proud of her accomplishment and as I refrain from showing you the Youtube video by her request; she rocked it!

Women for as long as I’ve been coaching have scoffed at lifting weights for a variety of reasons. Some of my past clients told me they were afraid or intimidated by being in the weight room due to the amount of beastly men throwing around heavy weights.

Or by others who were in better shape and they were afraid that they’d look stupid or do something wrong.

Some just didn’t know what to do.

Others knew some things to do, but they were afraid of getting bulky.

So let’s clear the air and get a few rounds downrange to separate these myths from reality.

Women Get Bulky from Lifting Weights…

Lifting weights helps build muscle, yes true; however, women don’t have enough testosterone to build up large amounts muscle mass from lifting weights. Women are different than men, why?

Because they have a much larger proportion of estrogen to testosterone. Therefore the hormones that help men build muscle are completely different than the hormones that help women build muscle.

Women can add some quality muscle mass through some consistent weight training, but more often than not this is going to look like adding one to three pounds of quality muscle tissue that adds some shape and tone to those muscles, which is generally what women want anyways.

It’s the hormone influence that will cause women to add muscle mass. Unless a woman is taking large amounts of testosterone or has a very serious genetic disadvantage and has abnormally high levels of testosterone they won’t gain enough muscle mass to make them look like a man.

Myth busted.

High Repetition Work is Key to Fat Loss

Here’s another really good myth that I like to break! So put down the pink dumbbells and listen up for a moment.

High repetitions from 15 to 20 plus repetitions is not appropriate for “toning” the muscles. And we’ll get into why I hate the word toning here in a minute.

I don’t know how this myth got started, but it probably just started with the aerobic craze in the 1980’s where the more reps and reps you did the leaner you would get.

This is entirely the opposite viewpoint.

Take this perspective…you pick up a pencil and curl it up. How many times can you curl the pencil? Ten thousand times…thirty thousand…or more until your arm finally gives out?

Okay, now take a twenty pound dumbbell and curl it. You can probably only do about 5 to 10 repetitions. Your bicep feels like a swelled up balloon due to the blood flow and the muscles had to strain to get every last rep.

So which is more intense for the body? Curling the pencil 10,000 times? Or curling the twenty pound dumbbell 5 to 10 times?

Obviously the heavy dumbbell is more intense on the body. More importantly the weight is enough to cause an adaptation. Your body must receive an appropriate stimulus to get stronger and leaner. If your body isn’t challenged enough it will not adapt. Curling the pencil ten thousand repetitions will not cause the body to adapt and that’s what resistance training is all about adaptation.

In order to get the body to respond you must be constantly challenging it with heavier and heavier loads, volume and intensity.

What toning really is…

The word toning is a great myth or perhaps it’s just a misused term. The truth of the matter is that there is no such definition in the dictionary that says toning is turning fat into lean muscle tissue. When some young lady comes in to me and wants to “tone” her muscles, I have to ask what she means.

For one, the word “tone” refers to either a distinct music pitch or quality of sound or in physiology it refers to a natural state of firmness in resting muscles or tissue. So if you want your muscles to be in tune, then all you have to do is relax and you’re in tone. Done.

What women mean to say is they want to burn fat and build some muscle. Again, this often transfers back into a conversation about getting bulky. Ewww, gross…bulky muscles! Again, the only way you’re going to build large amounts of muscle tissue like a man is to add some male hormones. See picture to left. Can you say testosterone…she has lots of it!

Tone = Build muscle + Burn Fat!

The muscle mass that you are able to add to your body will help give you the shape that you want without the fat that makes you look soft.

So how do we build muscle? We build muscle by resistance training through progressively lifting heavier and heavier weights over time. We burn off body fat through proper nutrition protocols and metabolic cardio. Period.

Cardio will burn more fat than resistance training?

This myth has taken over the women’s fitness regimen for years and years. And anyone who has ever done endless amounts of cardiovascular work knows it’s a bunch of silliness.

All you have to do is look at the different body types of the top women athletes to see the difference between women that weight train and women that only run or do aerobics. Check out these two pictures (female runner type) and (female lifter type).

Whose body type do you prefer? What does this say about how you should train? Neither is wrong of course, but different training has different results. Most women want visible muscles with low amounts of body fat. You do this through a combination of strength training, hard interval training and some long, slow steady state cardio.

Cardio isn’t something that should be avoided, however it isn’t as great having a good variety of resistance training, aerobics and anaerobic sprint intervals. This is where you see the best results. It’s like having a balanced diet. You don’t need to be so one-sided as to eat only carbs and no protein and fat. You want a little of all three, right?

Same thing in your workouts. You want a variety of stimulation to cause the body to get to a high level of adaptation to teach your body to burn fat, build muscle and stay lean.

Wrapping it up

Don’t limit yourself just because you don’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. Set some goals and start experimenting. Get a book and teach yourself how to lift some weights. Get a good coach or a friend that can help you. Improve upon your nutrition and plan out a variety of workouts that will help burn fat and build muscle.

Fitness is multi-planer. There are a lot of ways to build the body you want, it just takes time and some experimentation to figure out what is going to work for you the best. Don’t fall prey to common dogma and believe everything you hear. More often than not blanket statements are better answered by the few choice words, “Well it depends.”

Until next time,


“There are a lot of ways to train, I just want to help you do it BETTER!”

Be Strong, Be Fast, Be Resilient


Photo credit: LyndaSanchez / Foter / CC BY-SA

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Category: Wellness

About the Author ()

Jess Howland is a Veteran US Army Captain serving as Master of Youth Awesomeness and Strength Coach for Hostyle Conditioning in Orleans, ON. Jess holds a BS degree in Exercise Science from Oregon State University, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), among other training and nutritional certifications. A simple country boy turned lifetime fitness enthusiast and passionate trainer, who inspires everyone he meets to be involved in fitness, strength training and optimal nutrition in support of his personal motto Be Strong, Be Fast, and Be Resilient. Known for his high intensity, hybrid programs and never ending pursuit of fitness endeavors his former colleagues call him by his nickname CAPTAIN SMASH (CPT SMASH) or just SMASH. Jess coaches a wide variety of people as he believes in Hostyle Conditioning’s mission of transforming the ordinary lives of men and women into leading extraordinary lives that are improved through a blend of hybrid strength training and dynamic cardio conditioning. Jess has established himself as a lead trainer in Youth Strength and Conditioning, as well as specialty programming for special populations as military, police/firefighter, nurses and strength sport competitors. As a professional coach, Jess loves what he does to provide purpose, direction and motivation to those who feel that they need help in getting to from A (current fitness level) to B (goal fitness level).

Comments (4)

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  1. Victoria Ess says:

    I love that you are debunking these myths. It annoys me to no end to pick up fitness magazines “for women” full of articles that perpetuate these absurd beliefs about fitness and exercise, accompanied by ridiculous pictures of incredibly strong, fit women, lifting dinky 2lb weights.

  2. Jess Howland says:

    Thanks Victoria.

    It takes a lot of people saying the same thing to change the way people have always viewed women working out and I can say that the majority of the semi-private coaching I do is women and they are more than capable to press the big weights.

    NOT to mention the fact that they push way harder than most men. Good job ladies. Keep doing good things!


  3. Muscle Building Resorce Site says:

    For me, the best workout is dynamic stretching and combination of jogging. The best about it is it keep your body getting motivated each day. Thanks for the great article!

  4. kathy downey says:

    Thanks for the great post

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