Female Fitness Myths Final Installment (for now!). Part 4
In part for of our final installment of Female Fitness Myths, we are taking on women’s weight loss, brain differences, structural differences, and just a little bit more… after today, I promise, we are DONE!! Although there’s a tonne more myths to bust in women’s health, I feel like it’s time to look at some different topics, and we can always return to the myths at a later date!!
MYTH: Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Lift
Over and over again, women are shackled, limited, and held back by ignorance and a desire to keep them “safe”.
If you’re not qualified to train pregnant women, then by all means, do not train them – but don’t continue training them in state of ignorance about their needs and functions and the changes that are occurring in their body.
YES, pregnant women have different needs, and their bodies will change daily which means you need to change your approach daily too. There will be downward pressures on her pelvic floor, and lifting can exacerbate them. There are posture changes that can contribute to back pain, and lifting can exacerbate them. The natural diastasis, or abdominal separation that occurs can be made worse with lifting, which we obviously want to minimize.
However, none of these things mean that pregnant women shouldn’t lift. From the moment their baby is birthed, a woman needs tools to lift them. They’re changing nappies, offering floor time, lifting the baby in and out of the cot, in and out of the car, plus all the paraphernalia that goes alongside a baby (such as a car seat or pram). In addition, when women take over the care of the baby they often take over the lions share of the housework by default – and you guessed it, lifting goes hand in hand with laundry, changing bed sheets, and vacuuming under couches!
So the answer is: pregnant women should lift, and should be taught to lift, in a pelvic floor and core safe way. They should be taught by qualified pregnancy professionals that can give them a variety of lifting tools, strategies, and variations that will prepare her body for motherhood! There is absolutely no reason for them to be sitting on fitballs and doing bicep curls, except in the most extreme circumstances; unless you’re not appropriately empowered to provide movement to pregnant women!
High Volumes of Exercise and Low Calorie Intake Will Help You Lose Weight
We’ve touched on this when we busted the “more is better” myth, but I still see women everyday cardio training morning and night on 1200 calories or less, in an effort to lose weight. The fitness industry needs to nip this; we need to get across women’s bodies so that we can provide weight loss programs that work, that are easier to stick to, and that encourage a healthy view of our bodies.
The fact is that when endurance training, the larger their volume of exercise the smaller the health and longevity return 15 . 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.
If you’re training someone for fat loss then the following considerations need to be integrated in to your program:
- Resistance training will reduce the amount of muscle and bone loss16.
- A combination of cardio and weight training yields the best improvements to fat mass, muscle mass, and cardiovascular fitness – compared to cardio or resistance training alone17.
- There’s not a huge advantage in choosing HIIT over Sub-max endurance cardio (for weight loss), as long as the energy expenditure18 is the same.
The studies cited are mostly performed on men….
So in summary, a measured dose is better than extreme endurance training, and you should not be prescribing a low calorie diet without appropriate certifications or supervision (we’ve busted this myth earlier this year). Your client’s menstrual cycle will tell you a lot about whether or not she’s consuming adequate calories and maintaining hormonal equilibrium, so tracking is essential (although that’s impossible if she’s on hormonal contraception, and it would be helpful if she came of for the duration of her weight loss journey).
We’ve talked about calorie restriction earlier in this series of “Female Fitness Myths”: https://burrelledaustralia.com/2023/02/female-fitness-myths-part-2/
If you’re qualified to recommend a low calorie diet, then cycling it with her menstrual cycle is ideal: low calories in her follicular phase, and increase by around 300 calories in her luteal phase, with the extra calories coming in the form of protein (mostly)19.
Training Women is the Same as Training Men – They’re Just Smaller
Cue eye roll….
This myth plays out in caloric intake – personal trainers will round down a woman’s calories, and expectations – personal trainers will guestimate a lighter weight or shorter distance for women. Personal trainers will sit a woman on the same machine, tweak it to match the fact she’s smaller, and then think nothing of it…
Now, in this session today I am risking creating more questions than I am answers, so if you want me to do in to detail, comment on this video or DM me and I will attempt to answer your specific questions…
Here is the “drop in the ocean” of how women are different to men, and how that should affect your training of women:
- They think differently: women need carrots, rather than sticks, and will perform better without an audience (I think no-one is surprised that men perform better with an audience20!!). Women also perform better when they understand WHY. Spending an extra 30 seconds explaining why you’ve chosen something will go a long way to motivating her (and not “this will work your biceps – WHY does this women need stronger biceps? How does it relate to her overall goals?)
- Women are built differently: we have talked a lot about pelvic floor dysfunction over the years and how they affect women, but did you know the reason that women are affected differently is not just because they get pregnant and have babies? Even before those years, women are more vulnerable to PF dysfunction because of the shape of her pelvis.
Two other interesting structural differences are the Q Angle and the Carrying Angle – making hydrolic or machine weights, currently fitted to men’s bodies, unsuitable for women.
- Women are different hormonally: these differences mean they’re generally more flexible, more mobile, and less stable then their male counterparts, and making different aspects of your training programs more or less important! Generally (and I understand there’s a spectrum), women need more time spent on activation and muscle building.
- Women’s abilities fluctuate throughout the month: which means your diet, your loads, and your expectations need to fluctuate too.
- Women’s disease risk and experience is different: heart disease and dementia are the number one and two cause of death for women in Australia, yet the common symptoms and our understanding of these diseases are more aligned with the male experience than the female. Women generally don’t get the classic “heart attack” symptoms, are more likely to experience indigestion and back pain when they’re having a heart attack, then put themselves to bed instead of hospital! Trainers need to get across these differences and work harder at prevention.
So with that all said, we bring our Female Fitness Myths topic to a close – it was supposed to go for a month, has stretched to four months, and you’ll undoubtedly have more questions for me, so send them through!
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2The Migrane Trust (2021) Migraine and Birth Control migrainetrust.org, retrieved 17th March 2023 from https://migrainetrust.org/migraine-in-children-and-young-people/young-person-16-18/migraine-and-birth-control
3Rupali Sharma, Samantha A. Smith, Nadia Boukina, Aisa Dordari, Alana Mistry, Briallen C. Taylor, Nereah Felix, Andrew Cameron, Zhuo Fang, Andra Smith, Nafissa Ismail, Use of the birth control pill affects stress reactivity and brain structure and function, Hormones and Behavior, Volume 124, 2020, 104783, ISSN 0018-506X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2020.104783
4Konopka, Jaclyn & Hsue, Lauren & Dragoo, Jason. (2019). Effect of Oral Contraceptives on Soft Tissue Injury Risk, Soft Tissue Laxity, and Muscle Strength: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 7. 232596711983106. 10.1177/2325967119831061.
5Stylist Magazine (2022) The Impact of The Pill on Exercise stylist.co.uk, retrieved 17th March 2023 from https://www.stylist.co.uk/fitness-health/workouts/the-pill-exercise-impact/554129
6Elliott-Sale, Kirsty & Mcnulty, Kelly & Ansdell, Paul & Goodall, Stuart & Hicks, Kirsty & Thomas, Kevin & Swinton, Paul & Dolan, Eimear. (2020). The Effects of Oral Contraceptives on Exercise Performance in Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. 50. 10.1007/s40279-020-01317-5.
7Wilkins, Bridie (2022) How the Contraceptive Pill (and taking back-toback-packs to avoid a bleed) Affects Training and Recovery womenshealthmag.com, retrieved 17th March 2023 from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/fitness/a40572640/contraceptive-pill-exercise/
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9Riechman, Steven E.1; Lee, Chang Woock2. Oral Contraceptive Use Impairs Muscle Gains in Young Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 36(11):p 3074-3080, November 2022. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000004059
10AUTHOR=Dalgaard Line B., Dalgas Ulrik, Andersen Jesper L., Rossen Nicklas B., Møller Andreas Buch, Stødkilde-Jørgensen Hans, Jørgensen Jens Otto, Kovanen Vuokko, Couppé Christian, Langberg Henning, Kjær Michael, Hansen Mette Influence of Oral Contraceptive Use on Adaptations to Resistance Training Frontiers in Physiology, 10, 2019, doi. 10.3389/fphys.2019.00824
11Sims ST, Ware L, Capodilupo ER Patterns of endogenous and exogenous ovarian hormone modulation on recovery metrics across the menstrual cycle BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2021;7:e001047. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2021-001047
12Low energy availability is when an woman loses her cycle, or develops a menstrual dysfunction, due to insufficient calories or overtraining. It is not unique to athletes. Gray, Chloe (2021) The Pill: Everything You Need to Know About Exercising on Hormonal Contraception stylist.co.uk, retrieved 17th March 2023 from https://www.stylist.co.uk/fitness-health/workouts/running-breasts-bounce-bras-support/768837
13Kishali NF, Imamoglu O, Katkat D, Atan T, Akyol P. Effects of menstrual cycle on sports performance. Int J Neurosci. 2006 Dec;116(12):1549-63. doi: 10.1080/00207450600675217. PMID: 17145688.
14Findlay RJ, Macrae EHR, Whyte IY, Easton C, Forrest Née Whyte LJ. How the menstrual cycle and menstruation affect sporting performance: experiences and perceptions of elite female rugby players. Br J Sports Med. 2020 Sep;54(18):1108-1113. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101486. Epub 2020 Apr 29. PMID: 32349965.
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17Ho SS, Dhaliwal SS, Hills AP, Pal S. The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. BMC Public Health. 2012 Aug 28;12:704. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-704. PMID: 23006411; PMCID: PMC3487794.
18Bellicha A, van Baak MA, Battista F, Beaulieu K, Blundell JE, Busetto L, Carraça EV, Dicker D, Encantado J, Ermolao A, Farpour-Lambert N, Pramono A, Woodward E, Oppert JM. Effect of exercise training on weight loss, body composition changes, and weight maintenance in adults with overweight or obesity: An overview of 12 systematic reviews and 149 studies. Obes Rev. 2021 Jul;22 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):e13256. doi: 10.1111/obr.13256. Epub 2021 May 6. PMID: 33955140; PMCID: PMC8365736.
19Geiker NR, Ritz C, Pedersen SD, Larsen TM, Hill JO, Astrup A. A weight-loss program adapted to the menstrual cycle increases weight loss in healthy, overweight, premenopausal women: a 6-mo randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jul;104(1):15-20. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.126565. Epub 2016 Jun 8. PMID: 27281304.
20Amelie Heinrich, Florian Müller, Oliver Stoll, Rouwen Cañal-Bruland, Selection bias in social facilitation theory? Audience effects on elite biathletes’ performance are gender-specific, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 55, 2021, 101943, ISSN 1469-0292