Unlearning 5 Female Strength Training Myths

Hey guys, 

This week’s blog post is going to be about 5 female training myths that we need to unlearn. These myths hold women back from reaching their full training potential. Furthermore, perpetuating these myths holds women back from reaping all of the awesome benefits of strength training that go beyond just having an aesthetically pleasing body! The basis of these myths are often about creating gender differences that have no backing in science, they are circulated because nobody really acknowledges how harmful they can be! Without further ado, these are 5 female training myths that we need to unlearn ASAP. 

Myth 1: Strength training causes women to become larger and heavier (aka: bulky).

This myth goes against women’s hormonal makeup and is rooted in ignorance. While women do possess the ability to gain muscle as a result of strength training, it also comes with the benefits of body fat reduction and increase in lean muscle. 

 Bulky is a subjective term that often describes a masculine physique, or one that is shapeless and large. Strength training will not create this type of physique, rather, it will create a physique that is complementary towards the female body, it can be curvy, strong, feminine and lean! “Of course weight training will create some degree of muscle growth, but do not fear. It’s muscle that will help you achieve a leaner, defined, stronger physique that is more efficient at burning fat. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!”

Hormones

Hormones prevent the process of “bulking up” from taking place. Specifically, female hormones do not work the same way that male hormones do, this inhibits women’s muscles from having the same response to strength training as mens’ typically would. “Hormones factor heavily in determining an individual’s size. According to MedlinePlus, women naturally produce about only 5-7% as much testosterone as men (Rusin, 2022).”

The only way women can alter their hormonal make-up is by taking steroids and other drugs, only then will such a body type become feasible. “That means men produce 14 to 20 times as much testosterone as women, so women won’t increase muscle mass at nearly the same rate unless they supplement with steroids or other performance enhancing drugs (Rusin, 2022).”

Intensity

Finally, the idea of intensity is an important one to consider in inducing hypertrophy. Simply, in order to be able to facilitate a hypertrophic response with one’s training, enough stimulus has to be present. The muscle does not grow unless it is challenged, irrespective of gender. Women therefore will not reach their full physique potential whilst training under their peak performance potential. Lifestyle changes like prioritizing sleep can help facilitate this process. “That means ladies should aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night and consume plenty of high quality, unprocessed foods like lean meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. And yes, it can be that simple. Master the basics to move your goals forward (Rusin, 2022).”

A final note on building muscle creating a desirable aesthetic for women: muscle is metabolically active meaning the benefits are fat loss, a higher metabolism (the ability to eat more) and the desirable age-reversing/longevity that comes from carrying less overall body fat

Myth 2: Women should train differently than men. 

First, check out this post on gender differences in training to find out about how this is a myth and is largely untrue. Secondly, male and female muscle ultimately is the same. The main difference between men and females, in terms of response to training, is hormonal make-up. Men produce 14-20 times more testosterone than women. This ultimately becomes their strength in training and gives them the advantage of increased strength and muscle mass. Intensity via increased reps, sets, volume, tempo, etc is what is going to create muscle mass in any case. Shying away from intensity will only rob you of your hard efforts. “According to a recent research review by Brad Schoenfeld called The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and their Applications to Resistance Training, “Intensity (i.e. load) has been shown to have a significant impact on muscle hypertrophy and is arguably the most important exercise variable for stimulating muscle growth (Schoenfeld, 2010).”

Both men and women need to train at a high intensity in order to reap the benefits to their physique and strength levels. ”A certain level of stress must be placed on the body’s muscles and joints in order to create adaptations to allow for lean muscle growth (Rusin, 2022).” The importance of intensity for muscle growth cannot be highlighted enough, the body is highly adaptable and resistant to change.  To think that somehow reducing our intensity is playing to our female body’s strength is completely flawed. “Schoenfeld also indicated, “The use of high repetitions has generally proven to be inferior to moderate and lower repetition ranges in eliciting increases in muscle hypertrophy.” And we’re talking lean, toned muscles (Rusin, 2022).“

Our bodies can handle as much training as a man’s body can. Whether it responds accordingly is governed by multiple factors like hormones and the type/intensity of the training. Follow a program that is based on the principle of progressive overload (giving you more intensity, volume and/or load over time) and stick to it! “​​Sticking between six and 12 reps should be sufficient for optimal lean muscle development, assuming you’re working at a maximal level of intensity (Rusin, 2022).”

Myth 3: Women should avoid training at a high intensity. 

We’ve briefly gone over the importance of intensity in the previous point about the gender differences in training. Intensity is not to be avoided purely for the reason that it creates the amount of stimulus needed for muscles to actually develop. On a cellular level, female and male muscle looks the same. A 2019 study by the San Francisco State University demonstrated that female weightlifters demonstrated that despite the differences in hormonal make-up and body type, male and female muscles are the same. “’When you look at muscle tissue, you can’t really differentiate between a man’s muscle fibers and a woman’s,” she said (San Francisco State University, 2019).’”

What is the significance of these findings?

Firstly, because there is no biological basis for women’s muscles being a certain way, we must unlearn that it needs a specific type of training. “These findings suggest athlete caliber, training experience and body mass determine the percentage of fast twitch fiber more than gender, (San Francisco State University, 2019).’” said Bagley. “It used to be thought that fiber type was what you were born with, but we show that’s not the case — training has a huge influence (San Francisco State University, 2019).”

What does intensity look like at the gym?

It looks like lifting actual heavy weights and going close to failure. It looks like incorporating drop sets, amping up aggressivity during a set and going for the compound lifts with a serious attitude. We would use intensity to cause the necessary adaptations in bone, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. These adaptations are beneficial towards women’s overall health. “Strong cartilage, tendons, ligaments are essential for joint integrity, stability and injury prevention (Ebben & Jensen, 1998).” 

Let us discuss intensity on a spectrum of potential. “Women possess 40-60% of men’s upper body strength and 70-75% of men’s lower body strength (Ebben & Jensen, 1998).” We’ve come to understand that training alters muscle fibers over gender. Women do start off with significant levels of strength that can and should be improved over time. “It’s 100%. Women gain the same percentage of muscle mass as men during strength training. In fact, women gain as much size and sometimes more strength than men. The only difference is the starting point. Men start off with more muscle mass and more strength, but the relative increase in muscle size is the same between men and women (Henselmans, 2022).”  

A final note on intensity and weight-training for women is that it gives them psychological strength. Going hard at the gym and pushing oneself physically beyond what they thought they can achieve reaps its own set of rewards that benefit the lives of women. Therefore limiting women’s ability to participate in the sport of weight-lifting robs her of  her capacity to reap the feelings of well-being, benefits to the mind and inner power that comes from lifting weights. 

Myth 4: Gaining muscle requires having access to a gym with dumbbells and barbells

Strength training does not have to be performed at just the gym with heavy weights. It can be performed at home using just light weights or bands. While the intensity coming from the equipment is not ideal, it is not impossible to achieve muscle gain using this method.  

“Body weight training is an extremely effective form of weight/strength training. In fact, a 2012 study found that some increase in muscle size occurred as a result of using as little as 30% of the maximum weight that the subject could lift. You don’t have to power lift with huge weights at your local gym – you can use your own body weight at home or in the park to improve your muscles (Laura,2022).”

The most important part of building muscle is the actual consistency, discipline and long-term view of training. What this means is that as long as you are using the process of progressive overload to your advantage, your gains will come through. Aim to be consistent over perfect, stronger over just aesthetic (even at bodyweight exercises) and your body will respond. “The world can be your gym – just be consistent and integrate these into your routines to keep up your fitness levels. Keep track of your progress and slowly increase your reps to continuously challenge yourself (Laura, 2022)!”

Myth 5: Cardio is the only thing you need to do in order to lose weight. 

The final myth is that you only need to do cardio in order to lose fat. As we can see from the previous myths, building muscle actually leads to fat loss. It does so because sustaining and maintaining it requires energy.  “Incorporating these types of workouts into your normal routine has found that is produced equal or if not better results than steady state cardio with just a fraction of the obligation. This is due to the increases in excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or energy expenditure following a bout of high intensity exercise.”

Creating muscle also raises your body’s metabolism meaning that you can eat more, this is a survival strategy for your muscle to survive.  “Ladies this might be had to take in but steady-state cardio burns surprisingly fewer calories than you’d think. One study found that it takes an average of 86 hours’ worth of aerobic exercise to lose 1 kilogram, and a meta-analysis revealed that steady-state cardio in and of itself is not an effective weight loss therapy.“ Myths about women needing to focus on cardio to have a toned physique are harmful because cardio does nothing but work your cardiovascular system and make you burn through both fat and muscle (provided one is consistent with it). It does nothing for building the muscle that one needs in order for the body to look aesthetic. “For strictly aesthetic-based goals, ladies should implement at least two or three strength-training workouts and a couple of high-intensity interval routines each week.” 

We need to reevaluate the mental connotations associated with muscle, it is too loaded with stereotypes, fear, and strong emotions. Having some on is what creates that feminine aesthetic from the toned legs, big round glutes, small waist and shapely upper body. Cardio itself does not move through movement patterns required for such changes to take place, it instead trains you to be better at cardio. “According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, “Chronic, high-volume running creates a catabolic response that can lead to muscle degradation and reduction in power (Campbell and Spano, 131).” In case you read that quickly, this is not a good thing.” Cardiovascular exercise does provide numerous benefits to our hearts, brains, lungs and it boosts endorphins. Cardio alone, however, does not provide the physique, physiological and strength benefits that strengh training does.

In conclusion, we need to unlearn what we, as women, have been conditioned to believe about lifting weights. Instead of believing that lifting weights will result in a masculine or “bulky” physique, we come to see that it leads to more fat loss and lean muscle in the right places. Intensity is important for creating enough stimulus for human muscle (regardless of gender) to grow, women can and should train just as hard as men for this reason. The use of progressive overload, consistency and intensity will give women their desired physiques. Finally, you can build muscle using bands, light weights or just using bodyweight exercises. Cardio is just one tool to accentuate our physiques, it is by no means the process that will give us that fit aesthetic that we seek. It is time that we unlearn these myths in order to unlock our full fitness potential

I hope that you guys enjoyed this blog post on the 5 female training myths that we need to unlearn, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments section below!

Sources: 

https://blog.movegb.com/4-weight-training-myths-for-women

San Francisco State University. “Study of female weightlifters crushes stereotype.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 March 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190327142058.htm>.

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