Hayley Plummer is an Online Nutrition and Weight Loss Coach, working with busy women to help them transform their body and mind, improve their health, and become the best version of themselves.
We asked Hayley to bust some of the biggest Myths surrounding strength training.
“Strength training is just for men”
Strength training is so beneficial for women, as well as men, and one of the best things you can do for yourself for the rest of your life!
There are so many benefits of strength training for women:
- Boosts metabolism and helps with fat loss
- Protects bones (super important for women, particularly after menopause, and we benefit so much from putting the work in before)
- Builds confidence and can improve mental health
- You’ll feel better in your clothes
- Provides a better quality of life
- Builds overall health
- Fewer aches & pains
- Easier to play with your kids/grandkids
- Being independent in old age
“Strength training makes women big and bulky”
Strength training won’t build big bulky muscles, unless you really want to. Testosterone is the hormone that builds muscle and women only have a fraction of the levels that men do. But even men struggle to build large muscles & get bulky!
Strength training will just help women get stronger and “tone up”. Big bulky muscles will not be a problem.
“Strength training is only for bodybuilders”
Bodybuilders follow a very strict routine with food & training. So you won’t become a bodybuilder unless you train really hard and eat a very specific diet. However, every human will benefit from strength training. Really, to live our best lives, we need to do it.
Otherwise we lose significant muscle over time. Less muscle means lower metabolism, more aches & pains, weaker bones and simply not making the most out of life.
“I’m too old to strength train / lift weights”
You are never too old to strength train/lift weights! Check out the amazing transformation of Joan MacDonald (@TrainWithJoan). Joan started training when she was 70 years old and had transformed her health and life within 3yrs.
“I was on medication for high blood pressure and acid reflux, I had terrible edema (swelling) in my ankles, my arthritis was extremely painful, and I had difficulty walking up and down stairs. I was tired, I was emotional, and I was in desperate need of a change.”
Joan is a great example of what can be achieved at any age & starting point. She looks amazing and one of the things she says is “I understand the importance of lifting heavy weight”.
I have clients start in their 60s and 70s who have seen incredible changes in their health. They’ve lost weight, toned up and have more confidence. Your body will always respond to strength training, no matter what your age is.
The most important thing to remember is don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Start where you’re at with where your body is now. Take small steps and aim to enjoy it, and you’ll be more consistent. The more consistent you are, the better results you’ll see.
“Strength training is bad for your joints (arthritis / aches & pains)”
Done with good technique, strength training has benefits for your joints. It is actually recommended for people with arthritis as it protects the muscle & bones around the joints.
If you follow a good progressive strength training program with good technique, your body will respond and you’ll gain strength & mobility. The key here is to work around the more painful areas & flare ups in a safe & controlled way.
If you do nothing, thinking that you’re protecting your joints you can actually end up worse off in long run. Without training, your muscles will get weaker so there’s nothing there to protect the joints and your body will get stiffer.
Strength training will keep you moving in the way it’s designed to move.
If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
“Doing lots of cardio is the best way to lose weight / burn fat”
When it comes to weight-loss, calorie intake will be the biggest difference to losing weight and burning fat. I always advise my clients to look at their nutrition 1st.
The best type of exercise to lose weight, in my opinion, is strength training & general daily activity.
Strength training will boost your metabolism - the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns. Cardio is helpful for weight-loss & general health, but it is not the best way to lose weight. It is a good addition and well worth doing (particularly if you enjoy it), but for fat loss you will benefit most from building in strength training & daily activity.
For daily activity, it’s helpful to know about NEAT. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is all the movement you do in the day that’s not classed as exercise. This can add up to make a significant difference to your daily calorie burn, and often have far more impact than exercise alone.
A step tracker/pedometer will give you an indication of your daily movement. If you aim to increase it (by upping your weekly average steps) you’ll see better results with weight loss.
“Strength training burns fewer calories than cardio”
If just looking at the specific time duration of the activity, then yes strength training does burn fewer calories than cardio if comparing like for like. But...
Strength training will benefit you more in the long run because you’ll burn more calories over the next 24hrs & beyond, when you’re NOT exercising.
Why? Because your body will be repairing the muscles you’ve worked and making them stronger. So cardio is great to burn calories for the time you’re doing it, but that’s it. Strength training has a more long term effect. A combination of both is best for health, fitness and fat loss.
“To 'tone up', you should use lighter weights but more reps”
The most important thing to ‘tone up’ (and by that people generally mean losing fat so you can see lean muscle) is you need to get to a point where you can only do 1 or 2 more reps before you’ve exhausted the muscle.
8-12 reps (repetitions) is a good range for most exercises, so you should find weights or a resistance that will allow you to do that number of reps - where a couple more would wear you out. To achieve this, it’s best to use a decent weight.
If the weight is too light (where you can do 20+ reps without tiring the muscle) it won’t be as effective. If you have the option, do heavier & more resistance. Women need not be worried about building big bulky muscles with heavy weights. We don’t have the testosterone to do that.
“You need to sign up to a gym to strength train & use weights / machines”
It’s helpful if you can go to the gym, but it’s not essential. The benefit of the gym is that there’s a lot more equipment & weights to use. There’s a lot more women using the weights room now so it’s a less intimidating place than it used to be.
But you can get a lot of benefit from training from home, and it’s especially helpful if you’re short on time as you can work around your family & your job etc.
Many of my clients do workouts at home with dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells and bodyweight.
The most important thing to do is to do something!
“You need big expensive equipment to strength train at home”
While it is helpful to have a lot of equipment, there’s so much you can do without it, such as body weight exercises. I recommend resistance bands however as they are lightweight and come in a variety of strengths. Kettlebells & dumbells are also very useful.
There are various ways to do strength training at home but if you are new to it and at all unsure, it’s always best to seek advice from a qualified trainer.
“I don’t have time to do any strength training”
You can do strength training in as little time as you have. Something always beats nothing and your body will always respond to consistency. Just 10-15 mins 2-3 times a week will give you benefits if you’re not doing any at the minute. As you build momentum, you’ll start to see benefits as you increase weight/resistance, time & days you do it.
A couple of my clients do one exercise at a time, spread throughout the day such as squats or shoulder presses when getting up from their desk. It doesn’t have to be a regimented hour in the gym we think it should be. It’s all about what works for you.
“You need to train every day”
2-4 days strength training per week generally works best. You need to have rest days, because when we’re resting is when our body is recovering & getting stronger. It helps to still be moving in some form most days though so I advise my clients to go for a walk on rest days.
Walking can help with aching muscles by bringing fresh blood to them, and helping them recover quicker. The key thing when it comes to building strength & muscle - rest is just as important as doing strength training itself.
“It’s too complicated / scary / daunting / intimidating”
You are already doing some form of strength work in everyday life when you push, pull or lift. Strength training is about doing it in a deliberate way and it can be super simple.
To keep it simple, a great starting point would be doing squat, push & pull movements. the push could be a press up (with hands on a table or arm of your sofa to make it easier), and the pull could be a row with a resistance band.
These movements can be enough to get started. Choose 3 exercises to start and build from there. Remember, the best way to start is just that. Start.
It doesn’t have to be daunting. Find what you can do with your time and current fitness levels and do what you feel comfortable doing. Do it consistently and don’t worry about comparing to what others are doing.
If you are at all unsure, it’s always best to seek advice from a qualified trainer.
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