Fears regarding weight training may result in women not utilizing this great means of increasing muscle definition. Here, we'll address misconceptions around strength training for women.

Addressing strength training myths for women

Woman Barbell Gym Weight

Myths and misinformation from popular magazines, television advertisement and social media have often falsely guided women with their fitness goals. Fears regarding weight training may result in women not utilizing this great means of increasing muscle definition, increasing metabolism, decreasing body fat percentage, enhancing energy production, reducing the risk of serious health conditions and improved personal confidence.

Here, we’ll address a few common questions and misconceptions around strength training for women.

Are weights or cardio better if I want to lose weight and tone up?

To lose weight, one must consider both diet and exercise. Exercise should include both cardio and strength training. Strength training often gets left out because women falsely rely on cardio exercise only to lose weight when strength training is a valuable component to weight loss. Cardiovascular training leads the effort to burn more calories than are consumed which is the basis for weight loss.

In addition, there are numerous health benefits to cardio exercise (as well as strength training) including prevention and management of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, stress, cholesterol levels and depression. Strength training burns calories as well and is essential to a proper exercise program to improve strength and tone of underlying muscle tissue remaining after weight loss to support joints.  Strength training is also essential to maintain posture as body mass decreases.

Can I strength train to get rid of my belly or arm fat?

Exercising to reduce fat in specific areas is a myth referred to as “spot reduction.” Fat is lost in a specific pattern based on age, hormones, gender and genetics. Generally in females, the first place to get fat or the last areas to lose fat are the hips, thighs and abdominals. Although spot reduction is not possible, it is possible to strength train specific groups with cardio and resistance training. This way, as fat is lost, the muscle groups that remain are toned.

Will strength training result in bulky muscles?

Many women avoid strength training because they are afraid that it will bulk them up and look masculine. However, a general strength training program even using heavy resistance will not result in body-builder type muscles. Competitive strength training women spend hours of their day training using a large percentage of training with extremely heavy loads and low repetitions. Some also use special diets, supplements and drugs to aid in increasing muscle mass. Women who aim to participate in general strength training will not see these drastic results in muscle bulk but instead the standard results in muscle tone and increased mass experienced by muscle hypertrophy (increased muscle size) will be achieved.

Will certain types of exercise help me burn more calories?

The exercise chosen, as well as intensity of exercise, will affect how many calories are burned. The amount of sweating that occurs with exercise is not an indicator of how many calories are being burned. Ultimately, the harder the exercise is (the amount of energy you have to expend) the more calories are burned. Strength training larger muscle groups like the legs requires more energy and burns more calories. Intensity of exercise can be related to speed, duration, distance, resistance and frequency. The exercise chosen is less important than adjusting these factors which affect heart rate and breathing rate.

Overall, a consistent performance of exercise will result in weight loss.  Short, inconsistent bouts of exercise will not result in weight loss but instead consistent, longer exercise of any type will burn calories. The amount of calories out (cardio or strength training) must be greater than calories in (diet) for weight loss to occur.


About the Author

Kathryn Newsom PT, DPT, ATC, specializes in orthopedic rehabilitation and sports medicine. She has 13 years experience as a certified athletic trainer and has been practicing nine years as a physical therapist. Additionally, she enjoys spending time with her twin 4-year-old daughters, exercising and traveling.