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Fact or Fiction: Strength Training Truths

The health and fitness industry often seems like the Wild West. And over the years, we’ve heard a lot of wild claims. It would take eons to fact-check them all, but today we’re bringing clarity to 5 things we hear all the time about strength training… some of them “✅ FACT” and some “❌ FICTION.”

FICTION: Cardio is the best way to “tone.”

We could unpack this one for days. (Like, what even is “toning” anyway?) For our purposes in this context, let’s say “toning” is the shape of your body. Most people also associate “toning” with a lean look that isn’t super muscle-y. If that’s what you’re going for, cool. Get after it.

But here’s what you need to know…

The shape your body takes on the outside is related to all the things happening on the inside. These include: the size and shape of your muscles, your bone structure, your body fat percentage, and even your genetics. What we eat, how we move, and the very makeup of our tiniest cells all contribute to our visual appearance.

Cardio certainly helps to improve overall cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory health and performance. It can also contribute to a change in appearance when paired with other things (like nutrition and other lifestyle changes). But mostly what cardio does is make you better at doing cardio.

The truth is that there are an infinite number of ways to move your body, and every one of them burns calories. Some burn more calories than others. Sometimes calorie burn matters, and sometimes it doesn’t. The important thing to remember is that the act of moving is significantly more important than the kind of moving. If you like running, run. If you like lifting, lift. If you like playing squash, play squash.

There is nothing inherently magical (or detrimental… I’m looking at you “cardio steals gainz” bros) about cardio. It’s simply one of many options for moving your body.

✅ FACT: Strength training improves bone density.

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of weight-bearing exercise for bone health. (We’ve linked a few resources at the bottom of this post.) While osteopenia and osteoporosis – i.e. decrease in bone mass and/or density – affect more women than men, it’s actually a concern for literally everyone. As we age, our bones lose mass and density, and we also become more likely to suffer from falls. The combo of weakened bones and lack of stability is super dangerous.

The good news is that strength training addresses both of these concerns! Resistance training helps bones remain stronger for longer, and can even help bone growth over time. Additionally, training strength and stability makes us less likely to fall. Less falling and less bone breakage means a longer, healthier, and happier life!

❌ FICTION: Lifting weights will make women bulky/”look like a man.”

There are a couple pieces to address here. The first – that having muscle is “manly” or makes someone female-identifying “look like a man” – is a longer post for another time. Suffice it to say that muscle mass and gender identity can be related, but there are people across the gender spectrum with all kinds of body types. Having or not having muscle does not indicate someone’s gender. If you identify as a woman and you want muscles, go for it! And if you are masculine and you don’t want big muscles, that’s also totally fine. Do what makes you feel good about you.

The second piece – that lifting weights automatically produces size or “bulk” – is also false. Yes, lifting weights will cause an increase in muscle mass. But the amount, size, and shape of that muscle is different for everyone. It also depends heavily on other factors like intensity, frequency, nutrition, supplementation, training style, and genetics.

When you see a woman with large muscles, you can pretty much guarantee that didn’t happen by accident. Building visible muscle mass takes time and dedication. If you want to get swole, you totally can. But most people will make very natural-looking gains over an extended period of time.

❌ FICTION: Women should lift lighter weights for more reps to avoid getting “too big.”

This is what we call “bro science,” i.e. pervasive pseudo-science that haunts gyms (and social media feeds) everywhere. It is accurate that you will achieve different results with different training methodologies. However, it’s much more complicated than just “high rep, light weight” vs. “low rep, heavy weight.” Other training factors include frequency, intensity, movement selection, nutrition choices, and genetics (among other things).

There is nothing inherently “big-making” in heavy weights or “small-staying” in lighter weights. The important thing to remember is that you (or your coach) can structure a program in literally millions of ways to make sure the things you’re doing in the gym help you progress toward your specific goals. Most likely, that will involve some heavier lifting and some less heavy lifting. In an effective program, everything has its place. 

✅ FACT: Lifting helps build confidence and support emotional well-being.

Heck yeah, man! Self-reliance makes people feel good. Knowing you can do things independently is empowering. Moving your body in any way boosts all kinds of “feel good” stuff in your brain and triggers health benefits for pretty much your whole body.  

Think about a life where you don’t have to second guess whether or not you can pick up a case of water at Costco, or make the walk across the parking lot, or play pickup sports with your kids or friends. That is liberating!

Plus, as we always tell our morning people, when you start your day lifting something heavy and challenging, the rest of the day is a piece of cake. No matter what happens at work or home, no one can take away your effort and achievements in the gym.

Every single person who walks through our doors – whether virtual or IRL – leaves smiling and standing taller. And that’s really what it’s all about.

✅ FACT: You can get started today on your strength journey, and Power Plant Gym will help you every step of the way.

We are here for it. Just click the “Free Intro” button on this page to book a free coaching call with the PPG Team. Let’s prove to everyone – and to yourself – that you can do this thing.

Resources (Lifting and Bone Density):

“Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health,” A Ram Hong and Sang Wan Kim, Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2018 Dec; 33(4): 435–444. Published online 2018 Nov 30

“Strength Training Builds More Than Muscles,” Harvard Health Publishing (online), 2021 Oct 13

“Bone Density and Weight-Bearing Exercise,” The Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute (Texas)

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