Joel Peterson, Personal Trainer

Joel Peterson – Level 5 Personal Trainer Apple Athletic Club

Many of my columns include weight training or resistance training due to many benefits of this type of exercise. Unfortunately, old, outdated and simply wrong information still persist when it comes to women and this type of training. When it comes to women and weight training, there are a lot of misconceptions. And these misconceptions can be dangerous to your health and wellbeing.

The fact is that weight training can be very beneficial for all women, particularly those with weight loss and fat loss goals. Let’s explore some of the most common misconceptions of weight training for women and provide some interesting facts about why they should all include weight training in their exercise routine.

Common Misconceptions: About Women and Weights

The most common misconceptions surrounding women and weight training are:

  • Women who lift weights get big bulky muscles.
  • Our beautiful, lean, hard muscle will turn to floppy, flabby fat if we stop lifting weights.
  • Women should lift weights at high repetitions and low weight for ‘toning’.

Let’s explore each of these briefly in turn.

Misconception 1: Women who lift weights get big bulky muscles.

Most women do not have the high levels of testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone) required to increase lean muscle mass dramatically. By strength training we can all replace muscle lost through aging and perhaps (depending on our genetics) add on a couple more kilograms of lean muscle mass if we are LUCKY.

Dancing is a terrific and fun form of exercise that can improve fitness just like any other more formal type of exercise.

I say lucky because even though many of us are trying to lose weight, more muscle means a faster metabolism, faster fat burning and a major slowdown of the aging process.

Ok, so if weights don’t lead to bulky muscles, why do women body builders look so big? The same reason body building men look other-worldly large (and send a dangerous message to young men). …. They use anabolic steroids resulting in enhanced muscle growth because of the testosterone being injected – this is why some female body builders look HUGE! (not an attractive sight in my opinion).

Misconception 2: Our beautiful, lean, hard muscle will turn to floppy, flabby fat if we stop lifting weights.

Muscle will not turn into fat; it is as impossible as turning wood into steel! However, if we stop strength training and continue to eat the same amount of food we were eating while we were training, we will naturally put on fat.

This is because when we stop strength training we begin to ‘lose’ muscle (use it or lose it!) and our metabolic rate declines causing a natural decrease in our daily energy needs. Any excess calories, regardless of their source, are then stored as fat.


Misconception 3: Women should lift weights at high repetitions and low weight for ‘toning.’

‘Muscle tone’ comes from having adequate amounts of muscle that can be seen under low levels of body-fat. Obviously to do this we need to lift weights so that we have enough muscle visible, however, lifting weights at high repetitions and low weight actually uses our aerobic system and trains our muscles for endurance instead of strength and hypertrophy (muscle gain).

So to make our muscles tight and ‘toned’ we need to ‘build muscle’ and this can only happen if our muscles are placed under sufficient overload (lifting relatively heavier weights). Overloading our muscles is best achieved by regularly and progressively increasing the amount of weight we lift. As our body adapts (gets stronger) to lifting a certain weight that weight becomes easier for us to lift and we will need to lift more weight to create an overload.

By using lighter weights and doing the exercise more often we force our body to ‘endure’ more weight but there will no longer be an overload.

Important Facts: About Women and Weight Training

Now that we’ve discussed and corrected some common misconceptions about women and weight training, let’s discuss some interesting facts about the same subject, which are:

  • Lifting weights will replace lost muscle and avoid further muscle loss.
  • Strength Training increases our Metabolism and Reduces Body Fat!
  • We are all capable of amazing strength – don’t be told otherwise!

Again, let’s look at each of these statements individually.

Important Fact 1: Lifting weights will replace lost muscle and avoid further muscle loss.

After the age of 20, if we do not so strength training exercises we lose between 2.2 and 3.2 kilograms of muscle every decade. Fortunately, research shows that a standard strength training program can increase muscle mass by about 1.4kgs over an eight week training period.

This is the typical training response for men and women who do 25 minutes of strength training five days each week. Although endurance exercise can improve our cardiovascular fitness, it doesn’t stop muscle loss.

Important Fact 2: Strength training increases our metabolism and reduces body fat!

Research studies have shown that if we increase our lean muscle mass by 1.4kg we also increase our resting metabolism by 7% and our daily calorie requirements by 15%. At rest, one kilogram of muscle requires 77 calories per day for tissue maintenance, and during exercise this figure increases dramatically. If we replace lost muscle through a sensible strength training program we will use more calories all day long and therefore reduce the likelihood of fat accumulation.

Want proof? In a 1994 study, strength training produced 1.8kg of fat loss after three months of training, even though the subjects were eating 15% more calories each day. That is, a basic strength program resulted in 1.4kg more muscle, 1.8kg less fat, and 370 more calories per day food intake!

Important Fact 2: We are all capable of amazing strength – don’t be told otherwise!

Women have the same ‘functional’ anatomy and physiology in terms of their muscles response to exercise that men do; meaning…

Both men and women require progressive overload to stimulate physiological adaptations in muscle strength, endurance and power.

Our body was built to perform; therefore our strength training program should be based on our relative strength and not on our gender.


Ladies, this is important for you to understand! There are no special exercises that women should do instead of men and vice versa. We all have the same muscle structure and they need to get stronger. The only difference is men have a higher capacity for muscle hypertrophy (bigger muscles) due to differing hormonal levels.

So should YOU Strength Train?

If you want to lose weight, burn more fat, look and feel stronger, have stronger bones and be able to eat more without putting on extra weight from fat, ABSOLUTELY!

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