The web is full of health and fitness myths. Today we will tackle the four biggest myths people still believe about girls with muscle.
I will preface this article by saying that there are a number of reasons why these myths exist. Often times, it’s just a matter of outdated information. Exercise science is always evolving (just like any other field).
To give a perfect example, being a NASM certified trainer, I have been adamant about the importance of performing a specific number of sets and reps to build muscle size (hypertrophy). Yesterday, I listened to a NASM podcast discussing how this exercise theory is being debunked. It happens.
Myth #1: She Must Take Steroids
When beginning a resistance training program, women oftentimes say that they don’t “want to get bulky.” In response, a trainer will often tell them, “You’re a girl. You couldn’t get bulky if you wanted to. You’d have to take steroids.”
Just as some men have a very difficult time putting on muscle, some women can pretty easily build substantial muscle. I am not saying that women, in general, will get to the size of a male bodybuilder without steroid use, but we CAN build muscle size beyond what we believe is optimal.
As an example, I gave up training my arms when I was in college because they began getting much bigger than I liked. It just wasn’t the look I was going for. This was due to my genetic predisposition to hypertrophy, not my sex.
All of that said, it takes A LOT of work to build large muscles. Gaining substantial mass isn’t going to jump out and grab you one day. Just as I backed off from training my arms for size, anyone else can. It’s worth noting that when it comes to muscle, strength and size are not the same thing.
Myth #2: A More Feminine Physique Comes from Toning Muscle
Often times ladies will say that they are taking yoga or Pilates classes because they want to tone their muscles. Though there is no such thing as toning a muscle, you can create a toned appearance by building muscle size and/or by losing body fat.
It is true that training that, like Pilates or yoga, reinforces good posture, proper body mechanics, flexibility, and strength can create a toned appearance. However, while muscles can be strengthened, grow larger, or atrophy (shrink), they do not tone. This leads us to Myth #3.
Myth #3: Women Should Lift Light Weights for High Repetitions
A person who is just beginning a fitness program will benefit from lifting a lighter weight for a higher number of repetitions. This is because said person will want to learn the exercise, execute it with proper form, give their central nervous system an opportunity to process it, and just, in general, become comfortable lifting.
Outside that, if you are lifting a light weight for more than 20 reps, you are participating in an aerobic (cardio) exercise more so than a muscle-building (anaerobic) exercise. There is nothing wrong with it, but if your goal is to build muscle size or muscle strength, then you want to get pretty close to failure and to get there relatively fast when you are lifting.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, there are new studies that demonstrate that a lifter does not have to go all the way to failure, nor do they have to lift nearly unmanageable amounts of weight to achieve larger muscle size, BUT lifting a light weight over and over again is really not the way to build muscle strength or size.
Myth #4 A Girl’s Muscle Eventually Turns to Fat
As silly as it sounds, I do understand where this myth comes from. If you’ve ever seen a bodybuilder off-season … well, you might not recognize them. Bodybuilders tend to gain A LOT of fat off-season.
While building muscle mass takes many calories, attaining a low body fat percentage requires caloric diligence that most people would never be able to sustain. Just before the competition, a bodybuilder must “cut” the fat from their body to showcase those hard-won muscles. This means truly suffering for their craft; oftentimes eating little more than lean meat (or another protein source) for weeks.
Avatar Nutrition Co-Founder, Katie Coles, a former fitness competitor, admits to overeating so severely post-competition that she was hospitalized. She says that once she started eating again, it was almost impossible for her to stop.
So, while muscle does atrophy from lack of activation, metabolisms do slow from loss of muscle mass and changing hormone levels, and extreme deprivation does lead to overeating, a woman’s muscle does NOT turn to fat.
Why Should Girls Have Muscles?
Muscle mass is more than an aesthetic. Muscles enable us to move our bodies, to stand straight, to lift our children, and to be independent. Inactive men and women lose 3 to 5 percent of their muscle mass each decade after the age of 30. This muscle atrophy leads to weakness, imbalance, injury, falls, and ultimately fear in seniors. Furthermore, the lack of activity which both creates muscle atrophy and is reinforced by it also leads to mental, emotional, and cognitive decline. Resistance training is empowering, liberating, and life-sustaining. Be a swolemate and support the girl (or woman) in your life by appreciating her muscles and debunking the myths about them.