This is a guest post from Nia Shanks. She busts some common myths about exercise and strength training for women, and offers some insights into strength training the healthy and balanced way.
There’s no shortage of myths when it comes to exercise, especially when we discuss women strength training.
Today we’re going to tackle some of the most common, and detrimental, myths in regard to women resistance training, and then we’re gonna bust ‘em. Along the way I hope you’ll discover some other awesome perks to strength training as well.
Before we grab our myth-busting sledgehammers we must first define this wonderful term, strength training.
Strength Training – What It Means
To ensure there’s no confusion, let’s define the term strength training. When you see “strength training” in this article, keep in mind I’m referring to progressive resistance training with compound exercises (and their appropriate variations) such as squats, deadlifts, single leg exercises, push-ups, chin-ups, inverted rows, overhead presses, and other similar movements.
Furthermore, don’t forget that important word – strength. To build strength you must use heavier weights over time, and appropriate rep ranges. For example, doing sets of 20+ reps with the same light weights for an extended period of time is not proper strength training. You must use challenging loads for lower rep ranges (primarily 6-12 reps depending on the exercise) to get stronger and achieve results) and add more weight over time.
If you want more examples and video demonstrations of my favorite strength training exercises, please refer to the Train to be Awesome Guide.
Now, grab a sledgehammer and let’s start busting some myths.
Resistance training takes too much time. If you want results, you must work out most days of the week for at least 45-60 minutes, or so they say. It’s no wonder many people abandon a strength training workout regimen after a few weeks because going to the gym on a near daily basis isn’t practical for most people. Heck, I have a home gym and I don’t even work out more than four days per week.
But I have terrific news. Whether you want to get stronger, lose some fat, sculpt some muscle, or just improve your overall health, you can accomplish those goals with 2-4 strength training workouts each week. In fact, most of my clients strength train three days per week for approximately 30-40 minutes per session.
I know I’m beginning to sound like a 3am infomercial, but bear with me.
An average of three strength training workouts per week is much more practical than many popular workout programs. As a result, people can easily maintain this schedule long-term. And when it comes to achieving and maintaining results, it’s critical to have a long-term perspective.
I’ve had several clients who work full-time, manage a business, and make spending ample time with their family a priority and they’re able to work out three times per week for 30-40 minutes. I’m sure you can, too.
You need a lot of equipment. I have a home gym. For the first year or more the only equipment I had was a 300 pound barbell set and a power rack. By most peoples’ standards I was very limited and couldn’t possibly get great results.
Guess what? I achieved some of the best results ever during my 10+ years of strength training with that barbell set and power rack. Because I “only” had that minimum equipment I couldn’t mess around with worthless exercises. I would squat, deadlift, lunge, perform presses and pulls, push-ups, pull-ups, inverted rows, and other bodyweight exercises.
But the results were evident – I lost body fat, sculpted more sexy muscle where I wanted it, and got stronger. Even better, I worked out an average of three days per week.
Last year I tackled a bodyweight workout program where I used nothing but my bodyweight for several months. Again, the results were great and I didn’t even use a single barbell or dumbbell.
It doesn’t matter if you have access to a gym with all of the latest gadgets, gizmos, and state of the art equipment or you want to work out in the comfort of your home with nothing but your bodyweight – you can get results.
I’ll be blunt and state that claiming to not have enough equipment is an excuse, and nothing more. Use what you have, follow a smart training program, and you’ll do very well.
Strength training isn’t safe. There’s no shortage of YouTube videos displaying crazy gym accidents. Furthermore, you’ve probably heard stories from friends who strength train. It’s usually a shoulder, knee, or even worse, the back, that gets injured. It’s no wonder people think strength training isn’t safe!
As a personal trainer it’s always baffled me that anyone can buy a gym membership and then start lifting weights, even without any prior knowledge or experience. I mean, if someone didn’t know how to swim they wouldn’t purchase a membership to a pool and then jump straight into the deep end and plan to figure it out on their own. Strength training shouldn’t be any different.
For several years I worked at a local gym and I’d witness people do some strange things in the weight room, but they didn’t know any better. They hadn’t been taught what’s correct and what’s dangerous.
If you learn proper exercise form and follow a smart program, strength training is quite safe. However, if you’re using incorrect form or performing exercises that just don’t suite you, then, yes, you risk injury.
If you’re a strength training beginner, do yourself a huge favor and do things correctly from the start. Choose the best exercises, learn proper form, focus on getting stronger with the basic exercises, and follow a smart program. Not only will you be able to strength train safely, but you’ll get better results in less time.
Aren’t you supposed to lose weight first and then “tone up”? I’m not sure how this myth began, but I’ve heard many women exclaim, “I need to lose fat first and then I’ll start strength training because I don’t want to bulk up.” As a result they devote hours per week to cardio activities all in the name of fat loss.
Just doing cardio with the goal of building a leaner, stronger, and healthier body is a big mistake.
Not to mention, there are several other amazing benefits to strength training than building a better looking body. Resistance training is excellent for preventing osteoporosis and improving self-confidence, among many other things.
The answer to the “When is the right time to start strength training?” question is today.
If you’re not exhausted at the end of every workout, you’re doing it wrong. This is a myth I’ve seen grow larger and larger over the past couple of years. Right now the popular mentality is working out so hard that you finish each workout completely exhausted and on the brink of vomiting. If you’re not suffering, huffing and puffing, and miserable for most of the workout then you’re a slacker, or so we’re led to believe.
Forgive my southern slang, but that just ain’t true.
Fatigue and exhaustion is not a marker of a successful workout.
So, if you shouldn’t focus on wearing yourself out with every workout, how should you track progress?
Improve your performance. That, my friend, is what really matters.
Each time you repeat a strength training session, improve your performance by doing a little better each time. Here are some easy ways to do so:
- Use more weight. This is especially important for beginners – you should focus on getting stronger and add weight to an exercise whenever possible. For example, if you used 65 pounds for squats last week, use 70 pounds this week.
- Perform more reps. You can’t always add more weight to the bar, especially as you become more experienced. Let’s use the same example from above and say you squatted 65 pounds for six reps last week. This time use 65 pounds again but perform more reps; perhaps seven or eight.
- Increase the volume. You need to be careful with this one because it’s easy to fall into the “more must be better” mindset, which we’ll discuss momentarily. For example, if you squatted 65 pounds for four sets of six reps last week, you could add another set the following workout (five sets of six reps).
- Improve workout density. You can improve workout density by performing the same amount of work in less time (if it took 40 minutes to complete the workout the first time, strive to complete it in 39 minutes or less) or performing more work in the same period of time (if you completed the workout in 40 minutes and performed a total of 12 work sets, perform 13 or more work sets in that same period).
Whatever methods you choose to incorporate doesn’t really matter. Just make sure you do a little better each time.
Improved performance is the best indicator that you’re strength training correctly, and it’s also incredibly motivating because you’ll see how much stronger you get over time. Furthermore, you’ll have a positive goal to focus on when you enter the gym – beating your previous performance.
It’s not about burning calories or working yourself into a puddle of sweat with each workout – it’s about becoming the best you possible and being proud of what your body can DO, and this is where proper strength training really shines. Do not forget that important point.
You must eat less and move more; that’s the bottom line. This is a very popular mantra in the fitness world, and many women take it to heart. As a result, there are numerous women who are literally eating less and less and working out more and more. After all, if some exercise is good, then more must be better, right?
Many of my female clients previously lived the “eat less, move more” lifestyle for years. They restricted calories and participated in several rigorous strength training workouts each week. And on days they didn’t strength train they’d do high intensity interval training or metabolic circuits.
After all, if some is good, more must be better. Instead of doing three workouts per week, they’d do six. Now they’re moving WAY more!
Sure, they’d see great results at first. They’d lose some fat and they’re clothes would fit looser, but over time, some not-so-wonderful things began to happen. They’d become exhausted on a daily basis, their energy levels would plummet, and they’d stop getting results. Sometimes they’d even gain weight despite working out so frequently at frantic pace.
The solution? The answer is obvious; they’ve gotta start doing even more.
As you can see, the “eat less move more” mentality is flawed in this respect. In fact, it’s women like this who could benefit most from doing the exact opposite – Eat More and Workout LESS.
Keep in mind, especially when it comes to strength training, that quality trumps quantity any day.
Am I suggesting you make it a priority to not be active?
Of course not. Commit to 2-4 strength training workouts per week, but don’t strive to perform more structured exercise on top of that. Instead of doing more “exercise”, participate in some fun, enjoyable activities. Go hiking, ride a bike, throw on some rollerblades, go swimming, or do anything else you enjoy.
“Exercise” is not mandatory.
The most powerful combination I’ve used for helping my clients build better bodies is a few strength training workouts per week plus an emphasis on incorporating fun, recreational activities into their lives. You’ll have fun and be more active consistently. I suggest you give it a shot, too.
Proper strength training is an excellent way to lose fat and build the body you want. Not only that, but you’ll likely boost your self-confidence and see what you’re body is truly capable of doing. The myths have been busted. All that’s left for you to do is start your own strength training journey.
Nia Shanks is a personal trainer dedicated to showing women how to build a better body and be even more awesome, the sane and simple way. Find out more and get the free Beautiful Badass Mini Course at www.NiaShanks.com