False information about women and weight training has circulated for decades. MATTHEW MANHIRE/THE VARSITY

Walking into a local gym, you may notice that the majority of cardio equipment is occupied by women, whereas more men are using machines and dumbbells or engaging in body-weight exercises. The disproportionate ratio of men to women lifting is due in part to the incorrect beliefs that some people have regarding women and weight training. 

Historically, many women adopted ‘caregiver’ roles and did not spend as much time physically exerting themselves; physical labour was more often done by men. This is not the case today, as people of all genders are involved in a wider variety of activities.  Moving away from ‘traditional’ gender roles, more women are in ‘male-dominated’ careers and vice versa. In addition, more men are present in the caregiving of their children. Presently, more and more women are engaging in weight lifting as part of a healthy, active lifestyle.

False information about women and weight training has circulated for decades, resulting in massive numbers of females believing that weight training is not something they should get involved in. Below are four debunked myths that will be proved false in the hopes that more women will not shy away from the thought of lifting weights.

Lifting heavy weights makes you ‘bulky.’

Regardless of gender, building lean muscle and bulking up takes a lot of work and dedication. Females produce more human growth hormone than men, which stimulates cellular reproduction and regeneration, and muscle growth. On the other hand, women do not have the same genetic makeup as men. Men have larger amounts of testosterone, an anabolic hormone produced by the testes that promotes muscle growth and increases the rate of protein synthesis. 

This however, does not mean women cannot build muscle; the ovaries produce testosterone in smaller quantities, and estrogen is also involved in the muscle repair and exercise recovery process. 

If a woman wanted to ‘get big’ and ‘bulk up,’ she would have to follow strict training and nutrition regimens and ingest many more calories. Even with the aid of supplements to support muscle growth, the result of weight training can be great muscle tone and definition, not necessarily a ‘bulky’ physique.

Weight training is not safe for your joints.

A myth that pertains to both women and men is that weight training causes joint problems. While this may be true of weight training, when done improperly it is not indicative of all weight training.

In fact, another cause of joint pain is excess loading through the joint due to obesity.  Weight training can be used as a weight loss tool in combination with dietary considerations.  Weight training executed with proper form and adapted to the individual’s physical abilities increases the production of synovial fluid, which allows joints to move with ease. 

Strengthening surrounding muscles increases the stability of the joint, distributing body weight onto muscles instead of bones and joints. When engaging in a regular weight training program, individuals may experience less joint pain.

Abdominal exercises get you ‘six-pack abs.’

Some women fear that doing core exercises will tone their abs giving them the ‘six-pack’ look. However, there is no such thing as ‘spot reduction,’ which refers to the fallacy that reducing fat from a specific area on the body can be achieved using specific exercises. 

To see a ‘six-pack,’ an individual must have a low enough body fat for ‘abs’ to be visible.  You can forget about doing hundreds of spine-bending crunches.  Total body fat must be reduced to see muscular definition of the midsection, which involves a workout regimen tailored to your physical ability that targets major muscle groups and being in a caloric deficit. 

On average, body fat of 19 per cent or lower — which is not recommended by health professionals — is when a woman notices abdominal definition.

Avoid weight training during your menstrual cycle.

Many women think that they should avoid training while menstruating, but it is a great time to focus on building muscle as estrogen fluctuations can disrupt focus. Estrogen levels are at their lowest during menstruation and up to one week after your cycle ends.

Many women experience a reduction in menstrual cramps and back pain during and after exercise, as exercise heats up the body, releases endorphins, and allows focus to be placed on the activity at hand. 

Furthermore, back and abdominal strengthening exercises can contribute to a reduction in cramps.  Women have a higher pain tolerance from the start of menstruation to the time of ovulation, about seven days after menstruation.

Hormonal fluctuations during this time of the month can lead to food cravings due to low serotonin levels; a ‘feel-good’ neuorotransmitter. This is where weight training can be extremely beneficial. Instead of getting your ‘fix’ from a bowl of ice cream, engaging in exercise actually increases the levels of serotonin in the brain, making it a healthier approach.

Like our content? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required