Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

Female Fitness Myths

We put the question out there to trainers all over Australia and New Zealand – what are the most common female fitness myths you hear from your clients over and over again? We were overwhelmed with responses and will abolish those myths once and for all!!!

Weights Will Make You Bulky

This is a myth that I encounter at least once a month, often from the same clients, regardless of what form the “weight” takes.

There is a difference between “heavy” reps and “light” reps in terms of what happens in your muscles, regardless of how HARD something is. You can do 20 reps and be sore for days, but that weight is still light, and essentially you did cardio.

To bulk up, you need to lift a weight in the 6-10 range (of max effort – don’t take weights you can do 20 times and put them down after 10 reps). You also need to do a high volume of weights in that range, with high rest ratios; so unless you’re spending a minimum of 2hrs a day in the gym, you’re not going to bulk up even if you’re lifting for hypertrophy.

Furthermore, those women you see in bodybuilding comps eat a very specific diet to make those gains, because women just don’t have the hormonal profile for big muscles. Ultimately, the women you see with a “bulky” appearance either:

  • Take hormones
  • Do the work (touched on above)
  • Have extremely low bodyfat (not healthy for women – we need our fat to maintain healthyoestrogen levels, bone density, and muscle mass)

Ultimately, women should be concerned with getting as bulky as possible – precisely because it is so hard for us; working towards solid muscle and bone mass protects us from osteoporosis and fragility later in life. So:

  • Eat the protein. Lots of protein from varied sources (red meat only once a week, then choose from fish, seafood, poultry, legumes, tofu products, etc).
  • Do the weights. Lifting weights can halve your risk of heart disease, has a protective effect on your brain and body, and can improve confidence. If you’re concerned about size, stay in the 15-ish rep range (make sure it’s hard though), make sure you’ve used you’re whole body (push/pull/squat/deadlift/twist) and perform these sessions at least 3x a week.

The Gym is for Fat Loss; Cardio is the best choice for Fat Loss

Many women are hitting the gym to lose weight. The fact is, that for many women, there’s simply no other conceivable reason to exercise. I have lost count of the number of women who have cancelled training because:

  • it’s a luxury
  • they’ve got pelvic floor dysfunctions
  • they’re not losing weight
  • they’ve achieved their weight loss goal

There are so many reasons to exercise beyond fat loss, but it seems that the message isn’t getting to our general female populations.

Cardio training in itself is great for your heart health, your bone health (particularly if it’s weight bearing), your blood pressure, managing blood sugar, lung function, and mood. Some studies have shown cardio training does help with weight management and fat loss, more-so than combined with resistance training. But then a meta-analysis on strength and resistance training has shown that aerobic training alone will burn off 1.4% of the entire body’s store of fat, roughly equating to about 1⁄2 kilo of body fat alone, and on parr with resistance training.

We should probably also mention that these studies on aerobic training and fat loss are primarily performed on overweight and obese MEN, and women respond differently! Exactly how differently is yet to be explored. What we do know is that her capability will change with her cycle, change again if she’s on the pill, and change again if she’s peri or post menopausal.

As a strength and conditioning coach, I believe that allowing women to believe their worth is tied up in being smaller, being thin, and losing weight is a disservice. Many women will get far greater overall health benefits from doing weights and/or power training, and those modalities also protect against future disease, including autoimmune disease, dementia, and cancer!

Abdominal Exercises will help with loss of Abdominal Fat

No. They won’t. Sorry not sorry.

Performing abdominal exercises will increase abdominal muscle density, size (if you’re a man), coordination, strength in that movement – but it will have absolutely no effect on where you store your fat.

Your fat mass is a reflection on a hundred different things, including:

  • hormone balance
  • consuming adequate nutrients & calories
  • sleep habits
  • gut microbiome
  • food quality
  • stress
  • energy output
  • muscle mass

… and more that I don’t know about or understand!

If you want flat abs, you have to behave like someone who has flat abs, in all ways, including your food intake, activity expenditure, exercise, stress, and health history, etc. Also, if you’re a mum, get your abdominal separation checked – a separation can be ongoing and contribute to back pain, pelvic pain, and other injuries! Look up your closest women’s health physio here: https://into-

You Shouldn’t Start Exercising When You Get Pregnancy… and… You Can Continue Doing What You’ve Always Done

Also NOT True.

If you don’t currently exercise when you find out you’re pregnant, now is the perfect time to start. Being sedentary is actually quite harmful for both you and your baby, but going walking everyday and incorporating some pregnancy-appropriate strength training has so many benefits!

Women who are active throughout their pregnancies:

  • have less back pain
  • experience less constipation
  • may have decreased risk of gestational diabetes, pre eclampsia, and cesarean birth
  • maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy
  • enjoy improved overall fitness, stronger heart and blood vessels
  • return to a healthy weight after the baby is born

Conversely, it’s also not quite true that you can continue doing what you’ve always done. In university age, nulliparous women, rates of stress incontinence in certain sports is more than twice that of general populations, and pregnancy is another risk factor for developing pelvic dysfunctions.

Pregnant women need modify (which isn’t the same thing as “make easy”) and monitor a range of factors when they continue exercise during their pregnancy, including:

  • Their pelvic floor – they need to have it checked if they’re participating in high impact exercise and activities, and monitor throughout their pregnancy (preferably by a physio, but you can also monitor for symptoms such as back pain, stress incontinence, or feelings of heaviness in or around the vagina). Impact will have to be reduced as her intra-abdominal pressure increases.
  • The abdominal wall – her linea alba will stretch, and her abs will separate, that’s a given. What is not for certain is the impact this has on her body or her capability. Furthermore, just because they will stretch and separate, doesn’t mean we should encourage further stretch and separation through inappropriate movements.
  • She has a higher base metabolic rate and core temperature – so she’ll get hotter and sweatier sooner than she did before. There also may be blood sugar factors that come in to play when changing levels (like burpees).
  • Her blood pressure will fluctuate – her blood volume increases, but not necessarily at the same rate as her capillary number. Sometimes her blood pressure will be low, sometimes high, and her position will influence the affect that has on her. Monitoring her blood pressure is advisable.
  • Her centre of gravity and joint laxity will change – making balance more challenging and increasing her risk of falls.
  • The baby will displace her organs and fascia – this means her posture, balance, and even things like her digestion will also be affected. This will have an impact on your exercise selection.

To touch on just a few… The moral is that perhaps you can do a modified version of your sport, but do it under the supervision of an appropriately qualified health professional. If you are a personal trainer – then get appropriate qualified or refer your pregnant clients out. If you’re pregnant and wish to start exercise, you can book a complimentary session with one of my team here to discuss going forward in a healthy way:

A C Section is the Easy Way to Birth

We’ve all heard the term “too posh to push”, but today I want to dispel the idea that a C-Section is the easy way to birth a baby. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve asked a mum how they birthed their babies and they said “just” a C-Section; inferring that because they birthed that way that they won’t have pelvic dysfunctions or further healing to do.

Unfortunately, it’s NOT true. There is no “easy” way to remove a baby from your body! Let me tell you why a C-Section can be hard:

  • Maternal complications are higher when you’ve had a c-section. These include infections, haemorrhage, and death.
  • Whilst having a planned C-Section reduces the risk of vaginal tears, it carries an increased risk of scar tissue build up in the abdomen, which can increase the chance of the placenta attaching to a scar than the uterine wall in subsequent pregnancies. Scar tissue has further implications that have not yet been fully explored, from adhering to your intestines, to affecting how your fascia slides, to your posture, digestion, and menstrual health.
  • A C-Section Surgery cuts through at least 10 layers of tissue, and there are at least 4 methods of achieving this. It is a complicated procedure, and the surgeon will cut each layer in a variety of different directions in order to handle the tissues appropriately, making sure they minimise external blood flow while ensuring maximum blood flow to surrounding tissues and organs, avoiding organ injuries, preventing infections, and keeping adhesion’s to a minimum.
  • In the long term, there are ongoing considerations, such as future c-sections. If you have a vertical scar, you’re required to have c sections in future. For every c-section you have, your risk of complications increases.
  • Diastasis is higher among women who have a c section. The abdominal muscles are not actually “cut” in the process, however women who have had this surgery have higher rates of abdominal separation.
  • There is no difference in urine or faecal incontinence between a c section or vaginal delivery, pelvic dysfunction is still of concern.
  • Women who give birth via c section are 50% more likely to have a hysterectomy later on.

The moral of this story is not to scare you or judge the woman who elects (or needs) to have a c section. Rather, it is to drive home how big this decision is, to understand that it’s major surgery, and to handle our recovery from this surgery accordingly. For personal trainers, this means understanding the issues, and getting appropriate core-rehab training qualifications.

Rice/Carbs/Bread/Fruit Will Make you Fat

What is common among all these foods is the simple carbohydrates/sugars… HOWEVER:

Firstly, let me agree that western societies in general are probably eating too much processed carbohydrates, from too few sources, to have optimal health. However, having said that, consuming whole grains from a variety of sources, is essential for thriving health, and will not make you fat if consumed in appropriate quantities.

Women aged 19-50 are recommended to eat 6 serves of WHOLE grains per day, as well as 5 serves of legumes and vegetables, 2 serves of fruit, 2.5 serves of lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and 2.5 serves of dairy or dairy alternatives.

For women aged 51-70 years, grains should drop down to 4 serves a day, and dairy (and dairy alternatives) increases to 4 serves a day too.

The issues most women have with this in the IntoYou gym is real food, and VARIETY. In the western world, most of our grains and cereals come in the form of highly processed bread, pasta, and cereal. The trick for health is to consume these grains in their whole grain form, and to get them from wheat, spelt, rye, buckwheat, rice, quinoa, barley, oats, millet, and all the other variations they come in!

It’s true, you can eat too much of any of these grains, and you will store them if you do, so make sure you understand what a “serve” is. Likewise, you can over-eat fruit, and the abundance of sugar contained in them may be conserved in the form of fat later on, but if you’re sticking to your two serves, and getting enough fibre and protein, these two serves are unlikely to be to cause of your weight gain.

More likely causes of weight gain for women include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Underlying health conditions, for example thyroid dysfunction
  • Hormone imbalance, for example PCOS
  • Over eating (ie. Getting more than 6 serves of grains a day, or continuing to consume more than 4 serves a day post menopause)
  • Consuming mainly processed, packaged, and “fast” foods
  • Sleep disorders

If you are gaining weight for no reason, resist the urge to increase the intensity of your exercise sessions, particularly if you’re stressed or having problems with sleep. Go see your GP, and start building a team around you; including naturopaths, nutritionists, chinese herbalists, homeopaths, doctors, endocrinologists, etc, until you have an answer.

You’ve Got to Calorie Restrict to Lose Weight


I see this all over the internet, unfortunately perpetuated by trainers and fitness influencer’s more than any other profession. The argument goes:
if you were in a concentration camp you’d lose weight” – you’d also lose your teeth and hair.
if I dropped you in the desert, you’d walk out thinner”- you’d also walk out delirious, malnourished, and at higher risk of heart failure.

I really believe that personal trainers are in the HEALTH industry, not the HARM industry. I think all of us genuinely want to help people, but attitudes around calorie restriction aren’t helpful, and in many cases they’re harmful.

I do understand that all of us, myself included, have clients who calorie restricted and lost weight. I also have tonnes that didn’t. I also have had clients who have lost weight by:

  • seeking counselling
  • walking regularly
  • engaging in sport
  • contracting parasites, worms, or another infection
  • hyperthyroidism
  • anxiety
  • following the Mediterranean diet
  • simply eating whole foods only
  • following a keto or paleo diet
  • training three times a day
  • loosing a family member

I also have had tonnes of clients GAIN weight in those instances.

The issue with calorie restriction and women’s health is that chronic calorie restriction has an impact on their hormone balance – sometimes for good sometimes for evil. Intermittent fasting (which is not the same as calorie restricting) has been good for the hormone balance in female diabetics, but is bad for chronically stressed menstruating women because of the impacts on her cortisol levels. In studies of overweight women, a balanced deficit diet has been shown to positively impact thyroid hormone, but a very low calorie diet has been shown to negatively impact it.

I should also point out that calorie restriction is not the same as a starvation diet (as in the case in a concentration camp or desert) and people in the studies on calorie restriction diets are often taking a range of supplements to ensure they meet their nutritional needs.

Personal trainers are not qualified to prescribe supplements. If you are planning on embarking on a calorie restrictive diet, make sure you’re guided by an appropriately qualified professional who can prescribe supplements to ensure your whole nutrient needs are met (not just your macros – protein, carbs, fat).

In addition to affecting a woman’s hormonal balance, calorie restrictive diets have been shown to increase bone loss, a major concern for all women.

So no, calorie restriction is not the be-all-and-end-all of weight loss. In fact, if you are chronically stressed, it could have the opposite effect (and that’s almost all of us mums!). If you’re one of those trainers who is using the concentration camp or desert analogy, I don’t have to point out the ethics and health risks of recommending a starvation diet to ANY of your clients, not just your female ones… do I?

You’ve got to Calorie Restrict to Lose Weight – Peri Menopause edition!

I received a message after our talk last week, which pointed out, quite rightly, that all my “myth busting” was centred around women of menstruating age. So the question was:

Just wondering about cal restricted diets for menopausal women? Not the hormone balance issue? Aware of the bone density and loss of muscle mass issues. Always feel like info is geared for pre menopause and post we are a bit of a different ballgame!

So while it’s true that post menopausal women’s hormones are different, they still have hormones! For optimal health, women who are transitioning through menopause or are post menopausal should reduce the carbohydrate/grain intake by 2 serves a day (ie. go from 6 serves to 4 serves a day) and increase their protein and dairy consumption by 1-2 serves a day – so it’s less about calorie restriction and more about where those calories come from!

Maintaining a healthy weight throughout and after the menopause transition is essential for ongoing good health for women. Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce inflammation generally, and also reduce bio markers and risk for certain cancers and diseases. The greater the weight loss, in overweight and obese postmenopausal women, the greater the hormonal changes that reduce risk of developing breast cancer.

Having said that, it can be harder for post menopausal women to lose weight, due to a variety of factors, including:

  • They have less muscle mass, therefor a slower base metabolic rate (i.e. they burn fewer calories at rest than they did pre-menopause).
  • Appetite-related hormones increase, the brain’s eating reward response is enhanced.
  • Post menopausal women who lose weight through calorie restriction are less likely to keep itoff long term, compared to those who undergo Health Education Groups and Lifestyle Change programs; with those in the latter programs voluntarily eating less fried foods, sugary drinks, meat and cheese, and increasing their consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Calorie restrictive diets have conflicting results:

  • The weight loss itself has a positive impact on longevity, and disease risk.
  • Losing weight through calorie restriction has an adverse effect on bone health.
  • Calorie restrictive diets inhibit the action of the mTOR pathway, which is involved in several illnesses including Alzheimer disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease – which post menopausal women are at higher risk of developing.
  • However, the same calorie restrictive diets that showed the above benefits also showed anincrease in muscle deterioration.

So, the moral of the story is that in women currently transitioning, or who have transitioned, calorie restrictive diets are good in the short term, but should be accompanied by those things that build and maintain muscle and bone mass:

  • Protein (not just from animals)
  • Calcium (not just from dairy)
  • Plyometric loading (done in a pelvic floor safe way)
  • Heavy weights, and I mean heavy, less than 6 reps x 4-5 sets (also done in a pelvic floor safeway) – Supervision from an appropriately qualified trainer is advised.

Training Harder is Better

Otherwise known as no pain no gain…

Or more is better. Longer. Heavier. And so on…

Let me start by acknowledging that HIIT training has been shown to help obese women lose weight, and shows body composition improvements in young women. The myth we are busting today is that ALL sessions have to be as hard as possible ALL the time.

This can be for you to take on board as a personal trainer, and I’ll give you some considerations to think about when planning intensity below. OR this could be as a woman, let me give you permission to back off the intensity at certain times, to maximise the effectiveness of your training – because in some instances harder can be detrimental.

For women, training harder isn’t always better, mostly because women:

  • Generally, have more problems with sleep (otherwise known as recovery)…
  • Are more susceptible to ligament injury at certain times of the month…
  • Need to consciously manage their stress more, and are affected by stress differently to men (mainly in the way that our heart rate becomes elevated at times of stress, making high heart rate training even more stressful…)
  • Who’s resilience, tolerance to high intensities, and injury risk will fluctuate day to day, week to week, and month to month.
  • Are often time-poor, which sometimes translates in to nutrient-poor, which can lead tomenstrual disturbances and less-than-optimal health. This means high intensities can add totheir deficiencies rather than boost their health.
  • Are at a higher risk of heart disease, where hard and high intensity exercise is often contraindicated.

To name just a few.

For women, especially if they’re sleep deprived, stressed, nutrition-poor, poorly hydrated, at a certain time of the month (for menstruating women), training less or reducing the intensity is often better. Depending on her circumstances, less:

  • Reps
  • Time
  • Intensity
  • Frequency
  • Sets
  • Speed

could yield you better results than flogging her, or yourself to death – and this is especially true for women, but should probably be considered across the board.

In studies done on resistance training women, for example, less sets yielded better strength results in than more sets (up to 20). Low rep ranges and sets of 5 to 10 yielded better strength and size gains than if you kept on going and did more – so in this sense less is better regardless of their stress/sleep/nutrition status!

In other studies done on endurance training, the law of diminishing returns appears to apply – the larger their volume of exercise the smaller the health and longevity return. For women, there’s the added consideration of adequate nutrient intake, the loss of their cycle, and their increased risk of osteoporosis if both of the former things occur.

So if you’re a women, the dose matters – whether it’s intensity, load, reps, sets, time, rest period, volume, or frequency. If you need a rule, for everyday women who are training for health, aim for hitting high intensities and/or 90% max loads once a month – when you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically at your peak, and only if you’ve slept well, are fully recovered, have eaten a wide variety of nutritious foods, are hydrated, are feeling resilient, and, if strength training, are in your follicular phase. The rest of the month should be sub-maximal and intensity dependant on:

  • What’s going on in your life (at work and in the home)
  • How well you’ve slept
  • How well you’ve recovered from previous sessions
  • The quality of your food intake
  • How well you’re hydrated
  • Where you are emotionally
  • What phase of your cycle you’re in

After all, if your goal is health and happiness, you may never chose to flog yourself – there is absolutely no research that says going harder all the time makes you happier or healthier!

Clare Hozack is an ex-athlete and owner and founder of IntoYou. Clare is currently a strength and conditioning coach, using her skills to return women to functionality after having kids, and providing education for personal trainers in how to train women better for life.