Alright ladies. In a world where strength training can feel like a boy’s club and there’s an unlimited choice of boutique fitness studios, knowing how and where to work out can be overwhelming. We enlisted Dr. Emily Kiberd of Urban Wellness Clinic to bust some of the fitness myths you’ve heard for ages:
In our Manhattan clinic, we see so many women with back, hip, shoulder, and neck injuries from guessing at form, going too hard, and not giving their body a moment to recover. I’m here to tell you it’s time to debunk the myths we’ve been told as women about how we should work out. It’s time to be proactive about learning what’s ideal for our bodies.
There’s incredible power in that second x chromosome, and when you learn to use it to your advantage, you’ll start to see some killer results. So let go of the rhetoric you’ve heard spouted in class and get more bang for your buck in your workouts, optimize your performance in and out of the gym, and maximize your health for a kickass life.
Myth 1. Suck in for good posture.
For the love of God, STOP SUCKING IN. How many times have you heard suck your belly up and in and pull those shoulders down and back? Come on, no one can hold that posture all day—it’s way too much effort! Turns out, it doesn’t promote true core stability either—which you need to lift your baby or carry a heavy Prada bag around town—and actually causes all sorts of problems with your alignment (not to mention pelvic floor dysfunction).
Yeah, it makes you feel sexy in a bikini, but forcing your diaphragm (that sheet of muscle and tendon that allows you to breathe) upward and not allowing it to fully expand goes against every necessary downward function of your body—you know, little things like digesting food, going to the bathroom, and giving birth. So, sure, suck it all in for the red carpet. Do it for the selfies. Go ahead and do it when you see your ex at the grocery store. But do not suck in the rest of your day.
To create true deep core stability, forget Giselle and embrace your inner toddler. Hear me out—have you ever seen a baby suck their belly in? No. You haven’t. In fact, they push their belly out to create a barrel of pressure and strength—like a natural weight belt—through their transverse abdominus. Ever see a baby pull their shoulders down and back? No. Babies create shoulder protraction (i.e., shoulders down and wide) to gain leverage against the impending floor. Take note ladies. The babies have it going on. So train and move through life breathing down into your belly, 360 degrees around your waistline for a stable and integrated core.
Myth 2. Cardio is the fastest way to lose weight.
Sorry but it’s time to break up with the elliptical. When else do you do this movement in the rest of your life? Steady state cardio breaks down muscle—not what you want to be torching if your goal is a lean body. Plus, calorie burn stops when you stop working out. Oh, and you should also know that steady state cardio wreaks havoc on your thyroid, by disrupting key hormones. These shifts in hormones mean low muscle mass, high fat content especially around the lower abdomen and love handles, and eventually, permanent wearing down of your thyroid. Here are the four main hormones affected:
T3. Steady state cardio inhibits the thyroid’s ability to produce triiodothyronine (T3), a hormone directly responsible for controlling weight.
Testosterone. Women need some testosterone to burn fat and build muscle.Studies show that steady state cardio not only decreases testosterone, but can also decrease thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which controls your thyroid function. Double whammy.
Growth Hormone. As its name suggests, human growth hormone (HGH) stimulates the growth of new tissue, including muscle. Cardio decreases HGH output from the thyroid.
Cortisol. Long cardio sessions increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is elevated for an extended period of time, it signals to the body that something is wrong, the body stores more fat (especially around your waist), and starts burning muscle to aid in your survival.
Myth 3. Barre is all you need for a balanced bod.
Not quite. But don’t get me wrong—barre is a fun workout. It just shouldn’t be your only workout. The methods used in barre class alone simply aren’t great for functional strength because they often lack compound movements—like full deep squats, lunges or bent over rows. Using multiple muscle groups drives your heart rate through the roof for greater fat loss.
As a busy woman, with only so many hours in the day, you should ideally be using your workout to make you better at life. I don’t know what your life looks like, but nowhere in my day to day life am I doing barre moves. Functional exercises are key to help you gain strength for those movements you find yourself doing multiple times a day—like picking up your kiddo or lifting your carry-on bag into an overhead bin.
Muscles crave variety. If you work one group of muscles or do one move over and over and ignore another, you’re going to create an unhealthy imbalance. Hours of repetitive movement will eventually result in asymmetry, stiffness, and pain. So, when you’re constantly working your lateral glutes in barre like gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, you need to balance it out with some exercises like deadlifts for true posterior chain work—targeting the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, lats, and your deep core. While you’re at it, balance the constant pinching of your shoulders down and back with some good old-fashioned push moves, too. Some of my favorites include a push-up plus, Pallof press, or Turkish get up.
Myth 4. Never drop your butt below your knees in a squat.
“But everyone knows parallel is the safest way to squat because knees deeper than 90 degrees causes more pressure on the knees!”
We used to believe this back in the1980s. But we now know better.
Here’s the deal: Squatting “below parallel”—hips below your knees—is actually the safest and most effective squat technique. While the 90-degree angle with feet parallel does minimally reduce the stress on your knees, it greatly increases the stress put on your back.
Keep a neutral back, a solid brace of your abdomen, and your knees aligned with your 2nd and 3rd toes. Then go ahead and get low, because not only is below parallel the safest squat position, it’s also most effective. Babies do it, professional weight lifters do it, but for some reason, in so many fitness classes, it doesn’t happen. Dropping your ass to the grass means working beyond those quads, the tank in your core, and activating the large muscle system at the back of your body—the hamstrings and glutes.
Myth 5. Being super flexible is always a good thing.
To an extent, sure. But keep in mind, hypermobility is a pretty common condition in women, where joints are more flexible than normal and move beyond a normal range of motion. It’s often a symptom of Ehlers Danlos syndrome, an inherited connective tissue disorder caused by a defect in collagen. Hypermobility usually becomes an issue in pregnancy, when joint laxity increases and new joint pain tends to arise.
Think about it—bones are shifting significantly to allow room for baby to emerge and joints are slip slidin’ away. So even women who’ve had no symptoms of hypermobility before pregnancy may be singing a different tune once the seed has been planted. Keep this top of mind if you notice hyperextension of any joints. You’ll want to plan accordingly for a comfortable pregnancy, delivery, and beyond.
You can easily check for joint hypermobility using The Beighton Score (a number score of 0 to 9, one point allotted for the ability to perform each of the following tests):
Pull little finger back beyond 90 degrees (one point for each side)
Pull thumb back to touch the forearm (one point for each side)
Bend elbow backward beyond 10 degrees (one point for each side)
Bend knee backward beyond 10 degrees (one point for each side)
Standing forward bend, lie hands flat on the floor while keeping knees straight and bending forward at waist
If you get a 5 or higher, you’re positive for hypermobility.
Myth 6. Heavy lifting will bulk you up.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Strength training obliterates calories for up to 72 hours after a session, as your body works overtime to repair and grow your muscles, and bring your body back to your pre-workout state. Plus, because your body needs more calories to maintain muscle than to maintain fat, strength training can skyrocket your metabolism by speeding up your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)—the number of calories you burn during a 24-hour period just to keep your body going.
So, If you’re looking to get the biggest bang for your buck— in terms of weight loss, shaping, toning, and general well-being—strength training is it. Lifting heavy weight increases bone density, strengthens your heart, improves blood pressure, helps control blood sugar, helps reduce your resting blood pressure, improves blood flow, halts muscle loss, helps control blood sugar, improves cholesterol…and just makes life easier! Being strong rocks.
So go ahead and pick up those weights. You’ll see a leaner body with more definition from the caloric afterburn, and find a new strength of body, mind, and spirit from the endorphins of a powerful weight training sesh.
Boom. There you have it. Six fitness myths busted.
If you’re interested in learning more about health and wellness, come visit us at Urban Wellness Clinic! We see a lot of patients with a wide variety of needs in our Midtown Manhattan office. We’re movement experts—chiropractic doctors, physical rehabilitation specialists, personal trainers, and athletes—empowering people to move smarter, better, and pain-free. We specialize in women’s health and getting woman strong for life.
Emily Kiberd is a Doctor of Chiropractic and movement longevity specialist with a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to healing patients—from A-list celebrities to C-Level executives and professional athletes—nationally and internationally. She can be found at Urban Wellness Clinic in Midtown Manhattan. Feel free to reach out 212-355-0445 or [email protected]