Ladies, don't let these 4 myths stop you from weight training!

Thursday, March 16, 2017. Author Paul Rose

Myth 1: Weight training will lead to a ‘bulky’ and masculine physique

Weight, or resistance training, helps to reduce body fat and increase the amount of lean muscle, improving strength and body composition in both sexes. As lean muscle is denser and takes up less space than body fat, women might well see a slight increase in the number displayed on their scales, they are unlikely to "bulk up" or develop a masculine physique. So it comes down to what is more important to you: the number on your scales or your physical appearance?

Multiple studies of women following resistance training programs of 101 and 202 weeks - and even up to 6 months3 - found little or no changes in body circumferences at the hip, thigh and abdomen. In a 124 week study, those circumferences even decreased! More importantly, these studies showed a decrease in skinfold thickness, indicating a decrease in subcutaneous fat. This demonstrates that an increase in muscular mass – if any – is concealed by reductions in body fat. Therefore, women may respond to training with more defined and stronger muscles, but are unlikely to get bulky, massive Popeye muscle.

Even for women who have a genetic predisposition for hypertrophy in response to high volume, heavy weight lifting – as found in FitnessGenes’ MSTN and MSTN_Rare genetic results – it is highly unlikely they will see a very substantial increase in limb circumference with ‘bulging’ protruding muscles.

With a suitably designed progressive resistance-training program, you are not at risk of excessive hypertrophy (increases in muscle volume), but can certainly expect improvements in your muscle definition and strength.

Myth 2: Long cardio sessions are the best way to reduce body fat

Women are often guided towards, or choose, cardiovascular endurance exercise when their goal is to reduce body fat, leading to the common sight of gym sessions consisting of women hopping on the treadmill or elliptical machine for 45 minutes to expend calories and decrease their fat stores.

A pitfall, however, is that after the initial weight loss in the first few months after starting cardio activities, the body will adapt and have a more efficient economy of motion.  

As an example, a 45-minute jog that had your heart pumping at 75% of your HR Max may have burned 750 calories 6 weeks ago, but now that you’re more fit and don’t need to work as hard to achieve the same treadmill speed, the session may only burn 500 calories, leading to a weight loss plateau. Hence, it is important to continuously stimulate the body in different ways to avoid plateaus and keep the gains (or losses) moving in the right direction.

One way would be to increase the duration of cardio sessions, however increasing the intensity may be more practical. HIIT training differs from regular cardio by the elongated oxygen consumption after workouts, and is known to improve fat burning capacity.

Another reason why cardio would not be the best fat-burner is because it leads to smaller muscle mass compared to weight training. With its intrinsically very high energy expenditure, muscle mass improves basal metabolic rate, increasing your daily caloric burn even when your body is at rest.

Ideally one would combine resistance training with cardio activities and HIIT training, which as scientific evidence has shown5, is the most effective mix for sustainable long-term body-fat loss.

Myth 3: Women should structure their training differently to men

Women are often encouraged to use lighter weights with slow controlled movements out of fear that using free weights, manual resistance or exercises that involve explosive movements could result in injury.

However, nothing is less true. There is a lack of evidence that women are more predisposed to injury than men. With the correct training technique and instruction, following a suitably progressive training program can reduce virtually all the risks. 

Women experience the same acute and long-lasting physiological effects from resistance training as men- only the magnitude differs. From a health perspective, the inclusion of resistance training may actually be of more importance for women because of it’s positive effects on bone health, osteoporosis risk, and the menstrual cycle6.

So, women can perform almost identical programs to men. When it comes to tailoring programs, the main gender difference is the focus on specific body parts; such as glutes and hamstrings for female-specific programs and chest for male-specific programs.

Myth 4: Elderly women lifting weights will lead to injury

Sarcopenia – loss of skeletal muscle mass - is a universal characteristic of ageing and is absolutely not gender specific. For both elderly men and women, preserving muscle mass, increasing body awareness and stimulating muscular coordination should be the focus of their training. Resistance training hugely reduces the risk of injury caused by falling, and also helps to improve independence.

Resistance training for seniors can be safely and successfully applied to both women and men. Even the most frail and weak individual will improve their quality of life through muscular growth, body awareness, increasing muscle, bone and connective tissue strength not to mention the long list of physiological benefits.

It is also a myth that the elderly cannot gain muscle. Several studies with exercise protocols lasting between 12 and 36 weeks demonstrated muscle biopsies that both slow (type I) and fast (type 2) muscle fibers in seniors can increase in cross-sectional area7,8,9.

The implementation of functional resistance training programs can help improve a senior's ability to perform everyday activities such as climbing the stairs10, carrying groceries and getting up from a chair.

Including balance training in a program for the elderly is imperative to help reduce the risk of slips and falls. Such movements would include traditional exercises such as standing on one leg, lunging with support and walking heel to toe11.


Ladies, please do not be afraid to use heavier resistances, free weights and more intense forms of exercises. Try it out you as may enjoy it much more than you think.

Start implementing resistance training into your workout routine if you are not already doing so. A combination of cardio/HIIT and resistance training in conjunction with an appropriate diet will help you towards that leaner physique.

Scale weight is not a good indicator of progression and can fluctuate a lot even over the course of a week. Instead, use weekly photos, how you feel, and quantifiable performance measures (more reps, increased load) to measure your progress and keep you motivated.


[1] Wilmore 1974

[2] Staron et al. 1991

[3] Boyer 1990

[4] Boyer 1990

[5] Fleck & Kraemer 2014

[6] Fleck & Kraemer 2014

[7] Campbell et al. 1999

[8] Charette et al 1999

[9] Hunter et al 2001

[10] Lemmer et al. 2001

[11] Holsgqaard-Larsen et al. 2011

[12] Granacher et al 2011 


If you enjoyed this article, please read my other blog posts on:

Phytonutrients-The Key to Longevity

The Correct Way to Warm-Up

Core Stability

Learn how to lunge

Build explosive power with kettlebell swings

Have you ever tried a goblet squat?



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