Female Muscle – Misconceptions of Training and Nutrition

In the many years working as a fitness professional and health educator, I’ve encountered a wide array of myths and misconceptions about exercise and nutrition. Some of those seem to be more prevalent among women. Because these misconceptions can be the reason why you’re not achieving your fitness goals, I’m addressing some of the most common ones in this article.

More Cardio = More Fat Loss

Sadly, too many women still rely exclusively on long, boring, mindless cardio sessions to achieve their weight loss goals. Cardio is great for your heart and should most definitely be part of your regular exercise routine BUT:

  • More is not always better. Too much cardio without resistance training can actually cause you to lose calorie-burning muscle mass, which will decrease your overall metabolic rate and bring your weight loss efforts to a screeching halt.
  • 30 minutes of resistance training causes metabolic rate to increase by 150 calories over the 12 hours post-exercise. But that’s not all…the real benefit comes from the added muscles that resistance training builds. For every pound of muscle you add, you can burn 30-50 calories more per day.
    • Recommendation: Include resistance training to your workout routine and vary your cardio workouts by mixing days of longer low-intensity bouts (45-60 min) with shorter high-intensity interval bouts (20-30 min).

Fear of “getting to big” 

  • Women don’t want to be muscular; they want to be “toned” – hmmm? Sorry, but to be “toned” means to have muscle definition, which you really can’t achieve without being muscular.- Women fear too much muscle and think that weight lifting regularly, will make them look like men.
    • Reality check: Muscle does not grow overnight and if you’ve ever talked to anyone extremely muscular they’ll tell you just how hard it is. It takes a lot of dedication, time, training, and nutritional work to achieve a physique like that. There is no risk for the average fitness enthusiast to wake up one day and look like a professional bodybuilder. It’s really pretty simple: You work out until you like how you look and then you change your routine to maintain that muscle. Trust me, you’re safe from Hulkoniasm!

The importance of resistance training:Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit Workout

Besides making you look good, muscle has countless benefits you don’t readily see such as increased metabolism and strength, reduced risk of osteoporosis, as well as increased cognitive function. It also plays a crucial factor in slowing down sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function. Sarcopenia happens to all of us but we can significantly slow it down by including regular resistance training (at least 2 x week) into our routine.

Less Calories = More Weight Loss

Breakfast With Coffee, Orange Juice, Croissant, Egg, Vegetables

  • Cutting calories will make you lose weight BUT cutting too many calories will backfire
  • You’re body needs a certain amount of calories to function correctly. You may have heard of BMR but aren’t quite sure why it’s so important. BMR is the basal metabolic rate and is the absolute minimum amount of calories your body needs to perform all of the basic bodily functions such as breathing.
  • If you drop below your BMR, your body’s only concern is to survive. It is not concerned with building muscle and speeding up your metabolism.
  • Solution: Find out what your caloric need is and never drop below that number. This number depends on many factors and if you want an exact number you should contact a fitness professional. But as a rule of thumb, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that women do not drop their caloric intake below 1200 calories. If you compare that to the calories in the average juice diet, you know you’re in trouble.

I Don’t Need More Protein

  • The average woman eats insufficient amounts of dietary protein.
  • Protein is one of the major building blocks in muscle growth and also important in the proper functioning of your body (major structural component of our muscles, nervous system, brain, blood, skin and hair and is used by the body as a transport mechanism for vitamins, minerals, oxygen and fats).
  • Simple equation: If you don’t eat enough protein, don’t expect maximum results from your fitness and weight loss efforts.

Recommendation from the American Dietetic Association and ACSM:

  • General population 0.4 grams per pound of body weight
  • Endurance Athlete 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of body weight
  • Strength Training Athlete 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of body weight

This list of misconceptions is a very short list as I’ve only listed a few of the ones I hear the most. There are many more and if you have any questions about other myths, feel free to contact me.

Stay happy and healthy

 – Dr. Maria


Waters, D.L., R.N. Baumgartner & P.J. Garry. 2000. “Sarcopenia: Current Perspectives.” The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 4(3):133-139.

Nagamatsu LS, Handy TC, Hsu C, Voss M, Liu-Ambrose T. Resistance Training Promotes Cognitive and Functional Brain Plasticity in Seniors With Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(8):666-668. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.379.

American College of Sports Medicine @ www.acsm.org


The Core – The most overused and misunderstood term in fitness


When most individuals talk about core training, they are thinking of exercises that will hopefully give them the oh‐so‐sought‐after chiseled “6‐pack”. Constant infomercials advertising equipment that will give anyone a “sexy core” add to that misconception.

A lot of individuals also believe that strengthening their “core”, by which they mean their abdominal muscles, will get rid of their lower back pain. The fact is that too many people out there have “ripped” abs and a bad lower back because their entire emphasis is on training just those visible abdominal muscles. An imbalance in any part of your musculature will have a ripple‐effect on the rest of your body. Who hasnʼt seen the guy at the gym with the huge chest and arms and the small legs?  Itʼs the same concept but in the case of the core, the imbalance is not visible and therefore goes unnoticed until it manifests itself in the form of pain.

By now, hopefully most individuals know that doing millions of crunches is not the solution to get that “ripped” mid‐section; proper eating habits combined with weight‐ and cardiovascular training is the way to go.

The purpose of this article is not to expand on how to get a “6‐pack” but to give you some useful information on the core musculature (without boring you with too much anatomy), why it is important to train it as a whole, and some exercises to get you started.

Basic anatomy of the core

The “core” is much more than just the rectus abdominis (commonly referred to as “6‐pack”) and external obliques. In fact, it is composed of 29 pairs of muscles that support the lumbo‐pelvic‐hip complex in order to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and kinetic chain during functional movement. (Faries & Greenwood, 2007) These muscles include the deep lumbar spine stabilizer muscles (also known as “postural” muscles), abdominal muscles, posterior muscles of the lower and middle back, and the hip muscles. One muscle is not more important than the other.

Weakness in any of these muscle groups can lead to structural issues and injury and it is therefore essential to train the core as a whole.


ImageIllustration copied from: http://www.activeaims.co.uk/athletic-performance/sports-performers/core/



Training the core

The core should be trained from the inside out, starting with the inner muscles before moving on to the outer muscles. I like to compare this concept to building a house: if you build the walls without the proper foundation, the house will collapse.

The inner muscles are activated by slow movements with low resistance:

• Single‐leg lower and‐reach (lying on back)

• Marching (lying on back, hips of the ground)

• Prone bridge

• Prone bridge with hip extension

• Side bridge

• Long‐lever (overhead) crunch

The outer muscles are better emphasized through dynamic, full‐range‐of‐motion exercises:

• Twist on ball

• Cable wood chop and reverse cable wood choop (high to low and low to high)

• Skier crunch (legs on ball)

Exercises by functional muscle group

Deep lumbar spine stabilizer muscle exercises:

• Bird dog

• Kneeling side bridge

• Single‐leg raise and reach

• Single‐leg raise and lateral lower

Abdominal muscle exercises

• Plank with leg raise

• Stability ball plank

• Russian twists

• Stability ball hip rotation

• Stability ball jackknife 

Hip Muscles

• Stability ball bridge with leg raise

• Standing single‐leg hip flexion/extension


I hope you learned some valuable information about your core. Now go build it nice, sexy-looking, strong core. 

Dr. L



If you are interested in a more anatomically detailed article, here are two excellent articles:

“Core Training: Stabilizing the Confusion” by  Faries, M. D., & Greenwood, M. (2007). Published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, 29(2), 10-25.



“Older women need 1-hour workouts to fend off flab” Really?

A while ago, the headline in the local newspaper stated: “Older women need 1-hour workouts to fend off flab”  Wow!

The first time I heard about it, someone merely mentioned that there was an article about a study that said that middle-aged women have to workout 1 hour per day to be able to keep their weight constant. The more I heard about it, the more dramatic and gloomy it got. By the end, pretty much if you were a woman 54-years and older, you would have to workout like a maniac for 1 hour per day or be doomed to a future of constant weight gain. Who has time to workout that much? I don’t think I can do that! Well, I might as well don’t bother!…..Panic!!!

Neverfear… Of course I couldn’t help myself but dig a little deeper, find the actual research paper, read the findings from the source itself and find out if the results of this study really that drastic.

So here are my findings:

The actual research paper, Physical Activity and Weight Gain Prevention, was published 24 March 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was conducted over 13 years and involved 34 079 healthy US women with a mean age of 54.2 years. The goal of the study was “to examine the association or different amounts of physical activity with long-term weight changes among women consuming a usual diet”

Physical activity was defined as recreational activities to include walking, hiking, jogging, running, bicycling, aerobic exercise, dance, use of exercise machines, yoga, stretching, toning, tennis, squash, racquetball, and swimming. There is no mention of what “usual diet” means, so one can make an educated guess that it consists of the USDA’s dietary guidelines, but as I said, the research paper does not specify.

There are two main findings of the study:

(1) The rate of weight gain in this study was 2.6 kg (roughly 5 lbs) over 13 years. (I don’t want to take away from the importance of minimizing weight gain, but the impression I got from the hearsay, was that unless you workout for 1 hour per day, your weight will be out of control. 5 lbs over 13 years is definitely not out of control)

(2) Physical activity (consisting of 60 min/day of moderate-intensity physical activity) was associated with less weight gain only for women with a BMI of <25. For overweight participants, physical activity was not associated with less weight gain. (Translation: those women that took care of themselves before their 50’s had much more success)

So what does that mean for you? Are you doomed to endless weight gain unless you become an exercise fanatic? Absolutely not!!

Short version:

The key is how you treat your body throughout life not at a specific age! Eat healthy and don’t wait until 54 to start exercising! J If you take care of yourself throughout your life and incorporate good health behaviors into your daily life, you have nothing to worry about.

The slightly longer version:

–       Weight gain happens when more calories are consumed than used, no matter the gender and age. With age, activity levels tend to decrease, which demands a decrease in caloric consumption. If that doesn’t happen, you will gain weight!

–       Age-related loss of muscle, also called sarcopenia, affects everyone and causes our metabolism to slow down. Less muscle = less calories burned. This highlights again the importance of resistance training in combating muscle wasting and keeping your body working as efficient as possible.


Healthy nutrition and regular physical activity are a MUST –

No matter your age or gender!

Be good to your body and it will be good to you!!!




Lee, I-M., Djousse, L., Sesso, H.D., Wang, L., Buring, J.E. (2010). Physical Activity and Weight Gain Prevention. JAMA, (303)12; 1173-1180.