Women in the Gym: The Biggest Mistakes we can Make!

Believing that they will get bulky, and therefore not challenging themselves

If you are JUST beginning your workout routine, by all means: take it slow. Start out with body weight exercises or light weights. There is no reason to push your body at this point beyond what it can do. However, we hear of the perception that “lifting heavy will make me bulky.” And so therefore, women tend to pick up weights that don’t provide them with any sort of challenge.

LADIES – you are all strong badasses! No, you don’t have to pick up the 50 lb dumbbells the first time you walk into a gym. Yet, on the other hand, you also don’t have to rely on the 5 lb dumbbells when you can realistically use 7.5 or 10 lbs (or heavier!) There is the fear that the body building industry has seem to instill in women: that we WILL look the same as the female body builders we see on magazines or in social media if we, too, decide to start lifting.

Women often fall under the perception that lifting light weights will help “tone” their bodies. There’s no such thing as “toning.” There is building strength. There is decreasing fat cell size through consistent physical activity. There is no such thing as “burning off fat.” Let’s make that clear first off so we can rid ourselves of the mindset that hours on the treadmill will leave us walking out of the gym with pounds of fat burned.


Light weights are 100% useful for improving the strength-endurance of muscle tissue. However, light weight and aerobic¬†endurance training isn’t actually effective for stimulating the muscle fibers that are responsible for muscle growth. Let’s break that down here. There are two types of muscle fibers: type I and type II. Type II is the one we’ve got to focus on here, otherwise known as fast twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are actually responsible for muscle definition, if that’s what you’re looking to build.

Type II fibers work to create muscle growth through anaerobic activity (AKA the type of activity that relies on energy stored within your muscles). When we choose for a weight that is actually too light, we’re not quite stimulating those fast-twitch muscles. So again I repeat: you are stronger than what we are sometimes led to believe from male counterparts at the gym! The gym is YOUR playground, too.

Side note: and if you DO want to get muscular like the women we see in the body building industry? YOU DO YOU. Women with significant muscle size have a body that is as equal of worth as any other woman we see. It’s about empowering other women to love whatever body they exist in, versus spreading hate.

Overdoing it

On the other hand, women often feel the need to overdo it. To work their bodies to an extreme in order to get results.¬†Here’s a reality check: ONE killer workout will not yield immediate results. It’s about consistency here. There is no such thing as “quickening the results” by destroying our bodies every single time we go to the gym! The actual result? Resenting the gym itself, feeling like it’s an obligation, and then losing motivation to go.

Your body is a freakin’ temple and it deserves to be treated as such.

A “good workout” is not actually one that you feel sore for multiple days after. A “good workout” is not one where you throw up 25 minutes in from pushing your body too hard. We are often led to believe that results are only possible when we live in extremes and when we practice extreme measures. This is a lie that the #fitspo industry will tell you over and over again!

You know your body’s limits; listen to them and honor them fully.¬†Overdoing it also isn’t sustainable. Let’s say you begin working out 1.5 hours a day, twice a day. And let’s say that you feel like it’s really “working” based on what your goals are. I challenge you to think about how realistic this actually is over time. Is it doable to be working out twice a day when vacations roll around? When holidays approach? Is it realistic on our body to be able to expending this much energy?

Negatively comparing themselves

Comparisons can certainly serve a positive purpose. They can provide us motivation, inspiration, and even give us some insight about the ways in which we, too, can move towards our own goals. And yet, these positive comparisons don’t happen nearly as often as those in which we negatively view ourselves. We’ve all been there. We see another woman (or man) in the gym who may have what we perceive to be an aesthetically appealing body. And so then instead of appreciating the skin they live within, we start to question our own value and our own sense of worth.

Every. Body. Is. Different. And because the body next to you may not look identical to the one you exist in, does not minimize or take away from the value that you bring to this world.

Likewise, every body may be at a different stage in their journey at the gym. Comparing ourselves to a woman next to us that may have 10+ years experience in weight lifting or running serves us NO positive purpose when we attack ourselves for not being at the same level. The process is the rewarding part of it all! So enjoy it.

Relying on the “what worked for them MUST work for me” mentality

We are all surrounded by thousands of #fitspo Instagrammers that preach, “hey look at my before and after photo. Here’s what I did, so now you can do it too.” No, this isn’t minimizing their work or their health journey story. This is merely pointing out that the #fitspo industry relies on a lot of individuals who aren’t necessarily certified to be delivering messages about workout regimes and routines.

When other women view these #fitspo Instagrammers, they immediately believe that if they, too, decide to follow the exact same routine, that their body will also look the exact same. The messages we see over and over again fail to take into account each individual’s metabolism, physical history, health concerns, simply how the body distributes weight, age, mental health conditions, need I go on? The assumption that “what worked for them MUST work for me” only sets us up with unrealistic expectations, and feeling like a failure when it doesn’t actually work.

Not fueling themselves adequately before AND after working out

To notice any sort of changes in your strength or even in your body composition, you’re going to have to fuel yourself! And no, protein is actually not the key player here. Carbs will be your best friend before AND after your work out! As women, I think we’re so often led to believe that the less calories, the less fat, the less carbs, the better. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Pre-workout, shoot for a meal/snack that is high in carbs, and includes some protein and fat. Food equals fuel, which determines how well you can actually train and exercise. Protein pre-workout breaks down into amino acids, which help muscle recovery and growth. Carbs are even more crucial because they work to increase your blood glucose level (ENERGY). Carbs are actually your body’s preferred source of fuel, so the combination with protein will provide more sustained energy and less muscle breakdown.

Post-workout meals/snacks should also include the same ratio of carbs:protein:fat. The main three goals of eating after you workout are to replenish energy stores, repair any muscle damage, and build muscle tissue. Fast digesting carbs are ideal here: we want those carbs to get to your bloodstream as quick as possible!

Ideas for pre-workout:

  • Oats + peanut butter
  • Whole grain toast + fried egg
  • Sweet potato and turkey bacon hash

Ideas for post-workout:

  • Stir fry with white rice with beef/chicken
  • Banana + almond butter
  • Nova lox + bagel
  • Greek yogurt topped with dried fruit






Nicole works as a life and wellness coach through Nicole Leigh Coaching (www.nicolenessLPC.com) Nicole strives to empower women with similar struggles to redefine and re-identify themselves, separate from their eating disorder. Through her work, she empowers women to use balance in every aspect of life to maintain lifelong recovery. When Nicole isn't blogging or counseling, she loves spending her time traveling, eating burgers, and surrounding herself with positive people.