Myths about Womens Weightlifting, Part 1

Myths of Womens Weightlifting, Part 1



(See Part 2 Here)

We humans are an animal that has Survived, in part, because of our ability to learn from others, and apply that knowledge to our own lives. From fire to the Wheel, we’ve built on the knowledge of one another, and taken our species to ever grander heights. Unfortuanately, in our effort to not reinvent the wheel, we rely on eachother to be honest, and correct, in the information they relay to us.

Whether I’m training men or Women, there is always an initial stage of Re-education. I can’t call it education, because that would imply a clean slate. And My clients have rarely if ever come to me from that preferred vantage point. Instead, they come with preconceived notions about what constitutes good eating, good training, and good living.


And they believe this because they’ve been taught it from people they trust. The trouble is that the information is wrong. If it were supposed to be a wheel, it’d look like a square.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not so naive as to believe that all preconceived notions are inherently false or bad (I’m naive for other reasons). But, some of the ideas swimming in the minds of many of you out there with regards to weight training, and what effects it has on you, and in what way, are patently vile.


The Myths seem to also come with a gender bias. Women are faced with a wholly different set of concerns than are men (in MOST cases, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive statement). As such, the information they seek out, and get, is of a different nature. (of course, there is overlap).



I’m going to go out on a limb, and say that the BULK of the training knowledge being spouted off by people in the gym is at best only ½ the story, and at worst TOTALLY false.


Of course, you can’t blame them. The magazines dedicated to the gym-culture are nearly all crap. And at the top of the heap of crap is FLEX magazine. The one with all the huge Pro Bodybuilders on it.


If you could do one great thing for your body and life, it would be to look at one of the proposed routines in FLEX, take their advice to heart, then do the exact OPPOSITE.


In truth, there is little or no science behind any of their advice. It’s made up. Period.


But, the culture of bodybuilding (and the fiction associated with it) has become so ingratiated into the new gym culture, that there is now no separating out fact from fiction.


To complicate matters, there was a time in our not too distant Past when even the medical community was convinced that training with weights was BAD for you. They were sure that it would give you a heart attack, make you “muscle bound”, slow you down, etc (more on this later).


Thankfully, now-a-days, the world of science, through diligent testing, and research is realizing in fact that weight training is among the most important parts of any successful health building routine, and down right essential for changing body composition.


But the Myths remain. In this series I’ll examine some myths I often hear from Women. (I’ll eventually do one about the men, who’s myths are often even more wild and outlandish).


MYTH 1—Lifting Weights makes you Bulky and look like a Man!

This is by far the most commonly heard myth given when a woman is worried about starting a weight training routine. It is saturated in the minds of the female public. And it is often crippling. Women are so worried about weight gain, and looking “big” and “Manly”, that they avoid the one thing that will help them the most to look “Small” and “Feminine”.


Bad Bad move!


To Debunk this myth, we need to break it down.


The main argument is that their muscle size will increase and therefor increase the size of their overall “look”. There is some truth to this. But it misses the point. Of course, if you increase the size of your muscles, and everything else (fat mass) stays the same, then you’ll get bigger.


But, this isn’t how it works. In the real world. When you increase muscle size, you increase your metabolism, which aids in burning fat off of your body. You get leaner and less fat.


The second argument, is that it will make you weigh more. Also partly true. Muscle weighs more than fat. But muscle is Denser than Fat. Which means, that 2lb’s of muscle is smaller than 2lb’s of fat.


Of course, the weight gain is part of it. When you lift weights, your bone density increases. That is, your bones get stronger, a lot stronger. You can’t see it, but it’s happened. You are at less risk for osteoporosis, fractures, breaks, etc. And, yes, this makes them (and you) weigh more. But, is that a bad thing when you LOOK better? Get off the scale, it says nothing about how you LOOK.


The most important reason for lifting weights is not even the muscle gain, but the act of lifting itself. When you do a form of High Intensity Training (like weight training), you actually raise your metabolism for up to 24 hours! That’s right, for 24 hours you are burning more calories than you would have had you not trained with weights.


None of that “heart-zone” cardio shit you’ve been doing will give you that benefit. When you do high intensity exercises like weight training (and intervals, hill running, sprinting, etc), you end up causing more general fatigue to your body. It also breaks down slightly your muscles, which in turn requires your body to repair them (takes energy, calories). You body must replenish ATP stores, remove acid and other metabolic by-products. And restore Glycogen (the fuel you body uses to exercise).



All of this is energy intensive, and keeps your calorie burning furnace going long after you leave the gym






In the end, that means you will NOT look bulky, you will look lean, and fit.

And the last one is the most ridiculous and related to the first. You WILL NOT look like a man unless you take steroids. It isn’t possible. The average man has up to 10 times as much Testosterone running through his body than you, and he doesn’t even look like much of a man. To get truly huge, bulky muscles requires years of dedication, a solid workout routine, perfect diet, and gobs of Testosterone.


You can and should build muscle. But, you’ll never look like a man without hormone therapy. Sorry.


You will, however, look more feminine.


So, lets just remind ourselves of a short list of benefits of weight training:


  1. Increased strength and ability to get around

  2. Increased bone density, decreased risk of osteoporosis

  3. Reduce arthritis pain

  4. Reduce Back and shoulder pain

  5. Increased metabolism

  6. Lowered body fat percentage


There are many, many more.



MYTH 2—Women should use machines, not Free weights


TRUTH: No-one other than the decrepit, and severely injured should ever bother at all with machines. I make exceptions for cables, and a few others, but by and large, your entire routine should consist of free weight movements.


You are human. Being a Man or a woman is not going to change that much how you physiologically respond to a given stimulus. There are differences of course: The higher Testosterone levels of Men means that they have a higher plateau point generally, and sometimes means they can recover faster than women. But, the Stimulus used is very close to the same.


In fact, because of the fact that women have less stable joint cavities than men, free weight training is even more imperative, because it builds balance strength. It trains the little stabilizer muscles that don’t get worked on a machine.


Research has shown that machines cause MORE injury than free weights, because they force your body to conform to the movement pattern of the machine, rather than your own. No machine is one size fits all. We are all shaped slightly different. Free weights allow our bodies to move in their natural pattern, without mechanical hindrance.



MYTH 3—Cardio is better for your Health


Wrong. At least not steady State cardio. (for an Article on the kind of Cardio you should be doing, check out this Article by Keith Scott).

A Harvard Allumni Health study, followed 17,000 men for 4-years, and found that only VIGOROUS—NOT moderate—exercise reduced risk of death. There is very good reason to believe this study would apply to women, as the cardio vascular systems of both sexes are nearly identical.


Hard and Heavy weight training that includes circuits, and super sets will be far better for your health than slow paced heart-zone cardio. Add in Sprints, and intervals, and you’re golden.




There you have (my rather long) first installment. I will debunk more myths in Part 2. Until then, stay lifting.





6 responses to this post.

  1. […] Posts Myths about Womens Weightlifting, Part 1Dr. Berardi on staying lean and mean into middle ageAbs of Steel … cut-Oats, that is …Muscle […]


  2. Hi, great article, i am doing this routine right now,
    Men’s Health: The Book of Muscle–The World’s Most Authoritative Guide to Building Your Body (Hardcover)
    The beginners workout. Im in stage 3 and my knees and back are killing me from doing the lower body workouts.
    Im wondering if i shouldnt be doing a mens workout…
    any advice?
    thanks, Kristina


  3. Hey there Krislinatin,

    Sorry for the late reply.

    In principle, there shouldn’t be any difference in training a Man vs. Training a woman in terms of routines. In fact, Women often are BETTER suited to many of the the core exercises (like squats and cleans) than men are, because of their center of gravity being at the hips. Almost without fail, my best athletes are women.

    If your knees and back are hurting, I’d first see a doctor to make sure that you don’t have a pre-existing injury that has been aggrivated by the lifting.

    Other wise, here’s what I do to help prevent knee and Back injuries:

    For the knee:

    1: Stretch your quads (front of your thigh) and your calves. There is some research that suggests people with stiff quads and calves are more prone to knee injuries.
    2: make sure on your squats, you go BELOW parallel (that is, your hip joint lower than your knee joint). If you stop above parallel, then all of the force of the weight will be directed straight to your knees. IF you go below, then that weight is shifted to your hips, where it belongs.
    3. Always do specific Hamstring Work (back of thighs). Most people have stronger quads than hamstrings, and that is a precurser for knee pain.

    For your Low back (I have a low back problem myself)
    1. Stop doing back squats, and do Front Squats instead. They help you stay more upright, and put less strain on your low back
    2. stretch your Butt and hamstrings. For the same reasons as for your knees. Keeping limber on the back side of your legs relieves a lot of pressure on the low back.
    3. do back extentions in your warm up. make sure your low back is nice and warm before attempting to lift anything heavy.

    I hope that helps. If that doesn’t work, then certainly there may be a bigger problem at play.


  4. Oops, I forgot to add: do a LOT of abdominal work. Particularly things like the Ab roller.


  5. thanks for getting back to me,
    i could be doing better with the stretching, but do all the things you suggested.
    I have never heard the going below parallel for the squats, very interesting, will try that next time.
    Just one more question, what are front squats? holding the weights in front?
    thanks, Kristina


  6. Yep, Front squats are squats that you hold in front. Check out this video:

    Sometimes it takes some getting used to with the wrist flexibility, but it’s friendlier to the lower back.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: