“The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where the stand in times of challenge and controversy.” 

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Above:  Go CrossFit Women and Girls! Saw this picture on crossfit.com and realized there are some pretty smart men over at CrossFit Milford Connecticut!

You don’t have to go far in the average gym to find someone willing to give you bad information. People are full of ideas and advice about women and weights. The other day I heard the most ludicrous thing yet: that cardio work was bad for you because it built muscle that pushed the fat out farther. Yep, I guess that’s why marathon runners are all so obese—duh. Some of the worst offenders are fitness magazines and personal trainers. This is somewhat distressing, considering that people look to such sources for help and information. The other day, reading a fitness magazine, I learned that yoga will firm my breasts (it won’t, unless they meant to write “plastic surgeon” instead of “yoga”), and that over 90% of all long term exercisers exercise in the morning (oops, I guess all the evening regulars at the gym are just fooling themselves).

Anyway I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common myths floating around like the alligator in the sewer stories. The difference is, of course, that there really ARE alligators in the sewer. And snakes that pop out of your toilet, heh heh.

LIE: Weight training will make you huge and masculine.

Probably the worst lie ever. People look at women bodybuilders and say, “Ohmigawd, they’re huge and if I lift anything heavy I’ll look like that too.” Nope. In general, women are not able to build monstrous muscle mass in the same manner as men, due to a number of physiological factors. It’s a rare woman that can become a competitive bodybuilder, and to get that big she has to combine genetics, extensive long-term training, strict diet, and supplementation (legal or otherwise).

If you enjoy watching bodybuilding, have a look at the tested (natural, i.e. steroid free) shows versus the untested (anything goes) shows. You will notice a great difference in the builds of the women onstage. A natural female bodybuilder is lean, almost wiry, and certainly not the mythical monsters whom exercising women fear resembling (have a look at my reader letters page to see some examples). Also, women bodybuilders do not normally have the low levels of bodyfat that they do while in competition. Low bodyfat makes muscles stand out, and it changes the contours of the face, making jawlines and cheekbones prominent, which contributes to a rather unnatural look. Bodybuilders about to go on stage for a competition look quite odd, actually, due to dehydration, extremely low bodyfat, and deep tans. During the offseason, competitors’ bodyfat is higher, and in clothing, most wouldn’t stand out as unusual in any way.

The average woman (that’s you) cannot achieve a masculine monster look simply through strength training. You’re not going to wake up after a workout and be huge. You don’t believe me? OK, then, try to get huge. Just try. And see how far you get. If you don’t believe me, check out what happened in my before and after pics. I’ve had people tell me that they think my legs are “too big” (too big for what?) but the old gams were a whole lot bigger before I started training.

LIE: Men train, women tone.

To be serious about strength training, eliminate the T-word-“tone”-from your vocabulary. Lifting a tiny weight for a hundred reps is a waste of time and energy, plus it never really stresses your muscles enough to make them much stronger. As the good Sgt. Robo says, “More isn’t better, better is better.” In fact, according to one study in which men and women trained the same muscle group 3 days a week for 20 weeks, “the women made significantly greater relative increases than men in strength.” (MacDougall et al, McMaster University)

Women and men have exactly the same skeletal muscle composition. It would not be possible to tell biological sex from muscle tissue alone. But more importantly, there is no such thing as “toning”. There is muscle mass and strength gain, and fat loss, and that’s it. In purely technical terms, “tone” refers to the ability of the central nervous system to provide passive muscular resistance to being stretched. What you probably think of as “toned” muscles are merely muscles which are not hidden by a lot of bodyfat. In other words, there is no reason why you should waste your time on the stupid little weights when you could be getting tough and strong.

LIE: There is a difference between toning, sculpting, and firming.

Please don’t write me asking how you can tone but not sculpt, or firm but not tone, or whatever. There is no such thing (see the next lie). There is only building muscle mass and losing bodyfat, nothing else.

LIE: Muscles grow different ways depending on how you work them.

This school of thought says that if you lift heavy, you’ll get huge, and if you lift light weights with high reps, you’ll just “tone”. AAACK! The T-word again! Muscles only know how to grow one way, and just how big they get depends on gender and genetics.

Okay, this isn’t exactly the whole picture. A helpful reader emailed me recently, encouraging me to clarify this point. We have several different types of muscle fibres which respond to different types of training. BUT nevertheless you won’t be able to get freaky big unless you try very, very hard and you have one-in-a-zillion genetics. And ultrahigh rep training is a complete waste of your time.

LIE: You can change the shape of your muscles.

You hear a lot from nimrods at the gym about which exercise is better for reshaping your muscles, or for building big peaks on your biceps, etc. Sorry, but the shape of your muscles is genetic. Muscles are attached to bones and joints in a way that is specific to each person’s body. As an example of this, look at the bump of people’s outer thigh muscles above the knee. You will notice that some people’s quads make a bump almost right at the knee, while other people have their quad bump higher up, sometimes quite high above the knee. This is merely an individual variation in muscle attachments. So, no matter what exercises you do, you’re not going to change where your muscles attach, and you’re not going to change their individual shape. You can, however, make them bigger and stronger.

LIE: Women shouldn’t work their leg and butt muscles, otherwise they’ll get too big.

Once again we have the fallacy of the “big muscles”. Have a look at women bodybuilders’ butts and you’ll see this isn’t the case. The truth is this: by building muscle, we can speed up our metabolism, resulting in more effective fuel (calorie) consumption. In other words, more muscle means less fat in the long run. And where do we find the largest group of muscles in a woman’s body? Why, her legs and butt, of course! Neglecting these means neglecting the best area for building calorie-burning muscle. In addition, women tend to have much better lower-body than upper-body strength, so it’s very satisfying to work the lower body and see some great results!

LIE: Women should stick to machines and stay away from free weights.

This is another heinous myth. In fact the opposite is true for a variety of reasons. Have a look at the article called “Don’t Fear the Free Weights.”

LIE: If you build muscle, it will just push the fat out more and make you look bulky.

Sorry to burst the bubble girls, but you’re not going to wind up like the Incredible Hulk, ripping through your shirt with the massive expansion of your muscles. The amount that muscle contributes to visible size is negligible compared to the bodyfat.

by Krista, author on www.stumptuous.com

Today’s Workout:
Max rounds in 20 minutes, of:
5 Pull-Ups
10 Push-Ups
15 Air Squats

Post rounds to comments.