Debunking Common Fitness Myths for Women's Health
Are you tired by the barrage of conflicting advice on how to get started on your fitness routine? Should you go low-carb, keto vegan? Start a juice detox? Drink grass-fed butter with coffee? Read on if you're ready to separate fact from fiction and finally get some clear guidance on how to achieve your fitness goals.
Before we delve any deeper, let's first understand the root cause of the problem: online proliferation of misinformation. With the advent of social media, it has become easier than ever for anyone to claim expertise in any area of knowledge. Unverified claims can spread like wildfire today, regardless of whether or not they are evidence-based or scientifically valid. There is an ever-increasing number of social media fitfluencers who may not have the professional qualifications or relevant personal experience gaining a following due to perceived credibility and social proof. With the promotion of unproven or even harmful methods such as extreme diets or untested supplements, misinformation becomes rife.
Moreover, the media's narrow and often unrealistic portrayal of women's health and fitness is also a contributing factor to the rampant spread of women's health and fitness myths. The focus on a specific body type or the idea that women should be working out to achieve a specific look perpetuate unrealistic expectations result in the adoption of harmful fads such as over-exercising or disordered eating.
What can be done to curtail these practices? I reiterate that is important for individuals starting out on their fitness journey to be critical of the information they come across, and to seek guidance from trusted sources, such as qualified healthcare professionals and fitness experts. In short, DYOR (Do Your Own Research, especially regarding hotly debated topics that might welcome a range of diverse and often contradictory perspectives. Doing so ensures the adoption of evidence-based decisions that prioritize health and well-being, rather than simply trying to conform to unrealistic or harmful societal norms. Through education, we can take control of our health and fitness in a safe and effective way.
Without further ado, I've gathered a list of the most popular questions asked by my female clients. Let's get started on debunking some common myths surrounding woman's fitness!
Myth 1: Weightlifting makes women bulky
The myth that weightlifting will make women bulky is the number one reason that has deterred many women from engaging in strength training. Just to make it clear; it's nearly impossible to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger after a few lifting sessions. (Unless, of course, that's your goal - in which case, you go girl! Then again, it takes a very specific plan and a whole lot of discipline and commitment to get there.) The truth is that women do not have the same hormonal profile as men, making it more challenging for them to build significant muscle mass.
Testosterone, a hormone that is responsible for muscle growth and development, is generally found in much lower levels in women than in men. This means that women typically have to engage in a specific type of training, with a specific diet plan (usually including high amounts of protein), in order to build significant amounts of muscle.
Furthermore, strength training can have many benefits for women's overall health, including increased bone density, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced risk of injury. It can also help boost metabolism, leading to increased calorie burning even at rest.
Myth 2: You can spot reduce fat
On to another myth that never dies, spot reduction. This is the idea that you can target specific areas of your body for fat loss by doing exercises that work those areas. So, if you want to lose belly fat, just do a ton of crunches, right? Wrong. Though certain exercises can strengthen and tone specific areas of the body, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that doing those exercises will burn fat in that area. Fat loss is a complex process that involves the entire body. In a study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, individuals were trained with their non-dominant leg over a period of three months, thrice a week. Results from the study showed that the training program was effective in reducing fat mass, but not achieved specifically only in the trained body segment. Why does this myth persist? This is likely due to the fact that many people are looking for quick and easy solutions to their fitness goals.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet when it comes to fat loss. A more effective consists of healthy, balanced eating with cardiovascular exercise, and strength training for optimal results.
This can help you burn calories and reduce body fat overall, rather than just in a specific area. And, remember, while you can't spot reduce fat, you can still work on strengthening and toning specific areas of your body through targeted exercises – just don't expect those exercises to magically burn fat in that area.
Myth 3: Low carb is the best diet
Carbohydrates have long been a demonized macronutrient. Here is a fun fact: the low-carb diet grew in prominence after Dr Robert Atkins published a series of books championing the benefits of a drastic reduction of carbs in the 1970s. His writing gained millions of followers, spawning other low-carb movements. This had a lasting impact on popular culture and contributed to the mainstream idea that carbs were the enemy when it came to weight loss. Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient which can be an essential part of a healthy and sustainable weight loss plan. Though it has gained an unnecessarily bad reputation, they should not be eliminated from a balanced diet (extreme measures are never going to work for sustained, long-term fitness). It's important for women to consume a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Thankfully, in recent years, there has been a shift in thinking about carbs and their role in a healthy diet, with many experts emphasizing the importance of choosing healthy, whole food sources of carbohydrates and avoiding highly processed, sugary foods. Focus on choosing natural sources of carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and watch your portion sizes. And, remember, carbs can be an important source of energy for your body, especially if you're active.
Carbs are not the enemy when it comes to weight loss. It's all about balance and moderation. So, go ahead and enjoy that delicious bowl of pasta – just remember to keep your overall calorie intake in check.
Myth 4: Strength training is harmful for pregnant women
The greatest fear shared by pregnant women wanting to get starting on resistance training is the fear of injury - that lifting weights will be too risky during pregnancy. But here's the thing - with proper form and technique, strength training is actually quite safe for pregnant women. In fact, it can help to reduce the risk of injury by building strength and stability in the muscles and joints.
Strength training helps to build and maintain muscle mass, which is important for overall health and mobility during pregnancy. As a woman's body changes and grows during pregnancy, the added weight and strain on the joints and muscles can lead to discomfort and even injury. By building strength and stability through weight-bearing exercises, pregnant women can better support their bodies and reduce the risk of injury. Another benefit of strength training is that resistance exercises have also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, a condition that affects up to 14% of pregnant women. A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who participated in strength training during pregnancy had significantly lower blood glucose levels than those who did not. For those who are concerned about weight gain during pregnancy, strength training can help to mitigate that too. While the focus should not be on weight loss during pregnancy, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk of complications and make postpartum recovery easier. Building muscle through strength training can help to boost metabolism and burn more calories even at rest, making it a valuable part of a healthy and balanced exercise program.
Myth 5: Cardio is the only way to lose weight
Lastly, let's turn to the exercise that often gets all the credit, in particular for weight loss goals in fitness. Don't get me wrong, cardio is great for your heart health and can burn calories, but it's not the be-all and end-all of exercise. In fact, if you want to see real changes in your body and overall health, it's important to combine cardio with strength training.
Cardio exercises like running or biking may burn calories and improve cardiovascular health, but they don't do much to build muscle. And here's the thing - muscle is metabolically active tissue, which means that the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Strength training helps to build and maintain muscle, which in turn can increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories throughout the day. But it's not just about the calorie burn. Strength training has a whole host of other benefits, from improving bone density to reducing the risk of injury. And for women, in particular, strength training can help to improve body composition by reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass.
There you have it – strength training is not just for bodybuilders and athletes. It's a valuable and important part of a healthy exercise program for pregnant women, and for women of all ages who want to maintain their health and mobility. I cannot emphasis the benefits for strength training for women enough; with the right approach, weightlifting can be an incredibly effective and rewarding way to improve overall health and well-being. So, don't be afraid to pick up those weights or hit the resistance machines. Your body (and your metabolism) will thank you. And of course, don't forget to mix in some cardio to keep your heart healthy and your workouts varied. It's all about finding the right balance that works for you and your goals. I am committed to helping women overcome the challenges they face and achieve their full potential. Don't settle for less – choose a female personal trainer who understands your unique needs and can help you reach your goals. Connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Medium where I discuss topics related to women's health, fitness and technology.