Myth Busters! 6 Female Strength Training Myths That Won’t Die – Busted!


We’re gonna have some fun today.

It’s time to bust (or, hopefully, absolutely demolish) six popular female strength training myths that just won’t die.

There are dozens of myths about women and weight lifting, but I’ve put together a video that busts six of the most common myths. It’s time to obliterate these once and for all.

Watch this video and let’s bust some myths!

Note: If you click the video and view it on my YouTube channel, it’s not blurry or distorted.

Here’s the breakdown of what’s in the video. If you didn’t watch the video, I highly encourage you to do so because I won’t recap everything below.

Myth #1 Weight Lifting Makes Women Big ‘n Bulky

It’s no surprise that this is still the most common female strength training myth. Frequent, progressive, heavy weight lifting with basic compound exercises does not make women big ‘n bulky. 

The true culprit that gives a woman a bulky appearance is excess body fat. Period.

I can deadlift 330 pounds, perform weighted chin-ups, parallel bar dips, and squat 1.5 times my body weight. I’ve been called “big ‘n bulky” only once, as explained in the video. All of my female clients participate and perform progressive weight lifting (though I always use exercises that are appropriate for each woman and that she prefers), and no one in my 10 years of personal training ever complained of getting “bulky”.

Many women are hesitant to lift heavy weights at first because of this prevalent myth, but after a few weeks, they love the physical AND mental results they achieve. Bottom line — progressive strength training helps women build the body they truly want. It also helps increase self-confidence, which is an incredible bonus.


Myth #2 Weight Lifting is Not the Best Way to Lose Fat & Get That “Toned” Look

If a woman’s primary goal is to lose body fat and slim down, she just needs to do cardio, right?

Absolutely wrong.

The only way to get that “toned” look is to build some muscle and lose excess body fat. This is where strength training reigns supreme, not cardio. That’s why Lifting Like a Girl is the ultimate way to get the body you want in minimum time.

Myth #3 It Takes Too Much Time to Strength Train

No, it doesn’t. You can perform an effective workout in as little as 30 minutes a few times per week. As long as you are performing compound exercises and challenging yourself (using enough weight!), and you improve your performance, you don’t need a lot of time.

In fact, you can get in a much more effective, productive strength training workout in 20 minutes than you could with 45+ minutes of traditional cardio. Doing squats, push-ups, and inverted rows for 20 minutes will do much more for your physique than plodding along aimlessly on a cardio machine for 45 minutes. You can Lift Like a Girl and get maximum results in minimum time.

Myth #4 You Need a Lot of Equipment

Again, no!

Do you need a fully loaded gym to build a strong, lean, and healthy body? Nope.

You can build the physique you want no matter what equipment you have, or don’t have. Only have your bodyweight and dumbbells to work with? You’re all set.

What if you only have your bodyweight? Can you build a great body with only bodyweight exercises? Absolutely! (In fact, we demolished bodyweight workout myths in Busting Bodyweight Exercise Myths).

Bottom line — whether you can only workout at home with your bodyweight or you have access to a loaded gym, you can build the body you want.

Myth #5 Strength Training is Dangerous

Anything is dangerous if you do it incorrectly. Strength training is no exception.

As long as you take the time to learn proper form on the basic exercises, weight lifting is very safe. End of story.

This is dangerous. Don’t do it.

Myth #6 The “Proper” Way for Women to Strength Train is to use Light Weight for High Reps

This is still a common recommendation. Women should only  use very light weights for high reps (usually 15 or more), or so the myth goes.

There are so many things wrong with that statement I don’t  know where to begin, but I’ll try.

For one, I like to encourage women to challenge themselves and discover what their bodies are capable of doing; to see the physical strength they possess and not base their self-worth on their physical appearance. This cannot be accomplished with triceps kick-backs with a soup can; not even a “family size” soup can.

Second, if you don’t use a challenging load, you won’t provide your body with a stimulus that is must adapt to. For instance, if you work your way up to picture perfect push-ups for 10 or more reps, you’ll get those sexy arms you’re after. A soup can won’t be able to do that because the weight never changes and super high reps with baby weights won’t be a challenge to your body.

Third, lifting heavy weights (5-10 reps, primarily) will lead to an increase in self-confidence which is just one of many reasons women should strength train. Unless you’ve experienced this phenomenon for yourself, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I’ve witnessed this with every single female client. Think you’ll feel strong and confident after vigorously attacking the Shake Weight for five minutes? Didn’t think so.

BOOM! These female strength training myths have been shattered! 

For more information about strength training, be sure to check out these awesome free Tutorials:

Train to Be Awesome Tutorial - How training to be awesome is a great way to build the body you really want.

Beginner Strength Training 101 - New to strength training? Start here.

Beautiful Badass 101 - What does it mean to be a Beautiful Badass and why is it a great way to strength train? It’s explained here.

And, finally, sign up below for the free Beautiful Badass Mini Course below. You’ll also get exclusive insider-only information. 

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  • “I freaking LOVE this info! I'm determined to be a Beautiful Badass!” -Tina V
  • Angelica

    Could not agree more. So smart. Thank you for taking the time to teach us and share these things with us!!

    • Nia Shanks

      :) Thanks, Angelica!

  • Elizabeth Matlock Franco

    I am so glad the high-rep myth got busted! God help me if I have to count reps over 10…I get SO annoyed starting at about 5 (lol!). Thanks as always for the great info. and amazing motivation! I’ve been lifting heavy for about a year, now, and feeling more badass everyday!!! (And, btw, the guy in the pic trying to squat on a stability ball…it should go without saying that that is just idiotic.)

    • April

      I’m the same! I do 5 reps otherwise I get really irritated. I find I’m motivated to do more when all I have to say is “Just 5 more. Okay, just 5 more”.

    • Nia Shanks

      Hahaha! I know what you mean. I think I went over a year without going over five reps. ;) And, regarding the stability ball squat, you’d be surprised. I’ve witnessed more than my fair share of people give that a try.

  • Westy

    The fact women don’t have the same levels of testosterone as men is also another reason they will not get big and bulky like the guys do. They end up with nice, trimmed muscles from their weight lifting rather than packing on mass.

    • Kyle Schuant

      To get big as a horse, you have to eat like a horse. This is difficult enough even for well-motivated underweight teenaged males.

      In my experience, the hormones don’t matter much, because women who have physically active personalities simply won’t eat enough to get big.

      Women who have sedentary personalities are of course a different matter.

  • Amanda

    Awesome article Nia! I am progressively lifting heavier weights and yet I’m getting smaller and smaller! How does that work, eh ;) To add, I look younger than most other women my age, which I put down to not only the “real food” I eat but the strength training. Doing endless amounts of cardio not only doesn’t get you that shape you want but also ends up with you looking older than your years! This is what I have witnessed anyway.

    • Nia Shanks

      Don’t ya just love how that works!? Congrats on your success, and thanks for sharing.

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  • Sean Weigold Ferguson

    I enjoyed your article and agreed with everything you said. However, it would have been nice to see some references and research that support your theories. Without any evidence, we can’t really reject these myths.

    • Gordon Wayne Watts

      One piece of evidence you overlook (re: Myth #1), Sean, is that Nia DID
      lift 330-lbs (I saw the video) and she DOESN’T look “bulky” (see said

      By the way, it wasn’t me who rated you down — I’m all for scientific critique — I’ll rate you back up, as your question was both polite but also academic.

      As far as Myth 5 goes, I lift heavy weights too and am a light guy, and I rarely get injured –another myth busted.

      far as myth 4, common sense tells you that pushups can exercise similar
      muscle groups as bench pressing, and pullups, as to curls, etc. Myth
      busted — I’ll let you mull on the other 3, k?


      • Gunny Sack

        I’m not trying to troll, but anecdotal evidence isn’t very solid. For every positive story there is a negative one. That’s why you have to look at group and have a control. Do some hypothesis testing, account for variability, stuff like that. For these reasons, I think Sean was talking about research studies.

        • Sean Weigold Ferguson

          I was indeed. I tend to reject any fitness article that makes claims without credible research supporting those claims.

          • todd tomorrow

            While that is certainly a good guideline to base training decisions on; I have noticed that most studies are with untrained individuals. And the bulk of expert opinion seems to be generated based on coaches who train world-class athletes. Most people who regularly read training blogs seem to fall somewhere in between (myself included), so sometimes you just have to find out what works best for you. e.g. I love OLY weightlifting but I wont be buying a singlet anytime soon so consequently I do train my arms and do steady-state cardio even if it may keep my totals from accelerating at the fastest rate possible. Overall health and (alas) aesthetics are part of my motivation. The support for my methodology comes in the form of being bigger, stronger AND healthier than I was last time I measured.

  • Skypig

    Nice truth bomb there. I have a little issue with number four because it makes progression difficult to measure and it becomes less about strength and more about metcon, but I see your point and where you’re going.

    The only addition I would offer is the importance of diet. Probably outside the scope of the article, I know, but it’s easily 70% of the battle. You can’t outlift or outrun your fork.

    Love the article. Posting on my feed for some truth. Well done.

    • Nia Shanks

      At one point I would have agreed with you, but then I started experimenting with more advanced bodyweight training. You can still train primarily for strength with just bodyweight exercises and not resort to doing tons of high rep sets. Most people make that mistake and never progress beyond push-ups and squats.

      • Skypig

        What, then? Handstand pushups? You can get an excellent workout with just your body weight, but my experience is its mostly metcon stuff (burpees, etc) and really hard to measure progression.

        I do body weight squats and pushups on off days to get the blood flowing, but I don’t think it’s making substantive changes to my body.

        But I’m always up to learn about a better mousetrap, if you have one.

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  • sarsnake

    Actually, the woman in the left photo under myth #1 looks quite bulky for my taste. I think what people mean by “bulky” in this case is that weight lifting won’t give you that long and lean look (think ballerina). It will give you fit and toned look with bigger muscle. This kind of aesthetic is not for everyone’s taste. The woman in the left photo under myth # 1 has huge arms and flat chest – this to me does not look good.

    Overall, I would take a lean long ballerina look over miscl-y and fit look presented here. Just my opinion.

    • Gennipher

      I think the woman on the left is the same as the woman on the right… Your muscles will stand out more when you’re straining under heavy weight but if you just walked past that same person on the street you wouldn’t think she’s bulky. Also, nothing will give you that long and lean look other than longer bone structures.

      • sarsnake

        I didn’t say you will look exactly like ballerina, but certain types of fitness can give you thinner aesthetic, like isometrics, ballet based exercises, t-tapp, and pretty much any system that is based on using your body as equipment. The woman on the right still looks like her arms are way too muscl-y for my taste. I am not arguing that lifting will make one lose fat, but for someone like me who doesn’t have any weight to lose (I am actually underweight), it will add inches since the muscles will be bigger (not huge but definitely bigger) and I don’t want bigger muscles, not even 1/10″ bigger. It’s funny how all articles about heavy lifting for women say that you won’t get big muscles and they show women with quarterback shoulders and defined big muscles (not huge, but big!). Thanks and no thanks. Don’t want to look like that.

        • Gennipher

          The only way to achieve that “thinner aesthetic / ballerina” look is if you’re genetically predisposed for that. Same thing goes for women who tend to bulk up more than others from lifting weights. I will not argue taste though, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

    • Leah Hanson

      long lean look think Ballerina.. um.. most ballerinas are anorexic looking… IMO… having been a Ballerina…

    • DrDiva

      I lift heavy and I take creatine, I am trying to do bodybuilding in the new physique category. I have to eat a lot of protein, take supps at optimal times, and basically knock myself out to gain muscle. It won’t happen by accident, believe me. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. I am a meso-endo body type, and I look super pumped at the gym, but it deflates a couple of hours later. The only people that look like ballerinas are ectomorphs that dance. There are different body types. A fit body will look different for each person.

  • Helen

    A lot of women won’t even lift the little weights, instead, they spend all day on the treadmill thinking that it will give them a killer body!

  • Teena

    Nia, I am so excited I found your website but I have some questions. I’ve been a Beachbody girl for 2 years now. It’s been great getting in shape but some on that website and my online fitness group are so crazy about doing the hardest, longest, most strenuous workout. It seems like it’s always a challenge and I’ve burned out a few times. I’ve been trying to find a program that gives me maximum results with minimum time. I just completed Les Mills Pump and I was burned at the end with such long workouts. Now here’s my questions. There’s lots of squats and lunges with LMP. I ended up gaining (yes gaining) an inch on each leg and hips. This was a place I wanted to slim down because I’m pear shaped. Did some research on that and heard pear shaped women shouldn’t squat and lunge. So even with high reps and lighter weights (was lifting 15 lbs x 2 on squats, and 10 x 2 on lunges), I still got bigger. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks!

  • becks

    I’ve recently started doing really consistent weight training (since about May) and I LOVE the results. For the first time in my life, I have definition in my arms, shoulder, back and abs – my abs! Holy shit. I never thought I’d see a third of a six pack on me! My back issues have gone away since I started incorporating strength training, and I just feel good. My cardio/running has improved too — and guess what, even at 6 ft tall and 164 lbs, I do not resemble the incredible hulk :) Love this post!

  • Leah Hanson

    My usual mental motivator for ANYTHING is.. youve had a kid.. you handled contractions.. you can do ANYTHING for 5 minutes… its the mom power!!!

  • Leah Hanson

    I work out in a USMC gym.. active duty Marines…They are always pushing me to do crazy weight amounts (example 80 pound bicep curls) I LOVE being able to telll them I lift more then they do accumatively!!!! they may out lift me but they will NEVER outlast!!! I love it that I finally found a site that agrees with my ideas for strengthen my muscles…Thank you so much Nia!!!!

  • Roland Denzel

    Nia, you’ve MET the guy squatting on the swiss ball… (it’s not me, btw).

  • Jaimi

    While you made some good points, the term “never say never” comes in mind. “They” say that women won’t bulk up if you lift heavy weights. That’s not true. Depending on your body type, esp. Mesomorphs it is indeed possible for women to have large, bulky muscles without steroids and crazy lifting. No, we don’t have testosterone like men do, but if you eat heavy, you’ll get heavy. If you’re an ectomorph, naturally skinny or an endomorph, the exact opposite, this may not apply to you. But there is a small percentage of women who actually want to slim down their muscle.