Women’s Muscle Building Myths


Sarah Cann Training

Don’t let one of these COMMON WEIGHTLIFTING misconceptions come between you and a calorie-burning, body-sculpting workout.

After nutrition advice, there’s nothing more rampant with lies, half-truths, and downright garbage myths than weight lifting advice for women who are trying to lose body fat.

Follow any of this inaccurate advice, and you may wind up wasting time, energy, and money, or even injuring yourself.

Let me save you some time and mental energy, today I’m sharing the five most common, persistent misunderstood notions about building muscle, dropping body fat, and achieving body recomposition.  

Here’s the truth to help you build a strong, lean body.

Myth 1. You can't lose fat and build muscle at the same time.

TRUTH. You absolutely can lose fat while gaining muscle. From a nutritional perspective, although a caloric deficit is needed to lose fat, a caloric surplus isn't necessarily needed to build muscle. This is because stored fat is stored energy. So, those stored fat calories are available for the body to use as fuel for the muscle-building process.

Basically the more body fat and the less muscle you have, the greater your ability to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. This doesn't mean you should go get fat. It just means your biology is working in your favor when you want to pack more muscle on, but have some fat to lose.

Myth 2.  You can ‘tone.’  

TRUTH. There is no such thing as ‘toning’, and ‘tightening’ the muscles. Instead, what most women need to be focusing on is building muscle and losing fat, which is essentially the cornerstone of the Chiseled program. Many women are scared by the idea of gaining muscle, but this shouldn’t be the case. When you build muscle, you’ll burn more calories through an elevated metabolic rate, and as a result get leaner and look better!

What is muscle tone?  Scientifically speaking, muscle tone refers to the unconscious low-level contractions of your muscles at rest, or in layman’s, the firm feeling of the muscles when you are resting.  However, we can’t ‘tone’ our muscles. We can only increase or decrease the size of muscles, much like our fat cells.

So how do we get ‘toned’?  By gaining muscle and losing body fat! Following on from the first myth, the number one reason women get ‘bulky’ is if they have too much body fat, so this should be our first point to address.

Myth 3. You should only do light weight for high reps  

TRUTH. So you understand that lifting won’t make you big & bulky, and that instead of getting ‘toned’ you need to build muscle and lose fat.

Now what?  

Many women fall into the same trap.  They start performing endless sets of high repetitions with baby weights.  The problem is these marathon sets using a door stop serve zero use towards their goals, besides possibly improving muscular endurance. Instead, women need to focus on providing a real stimulus for change in their body by lifting heavy weights in the 5-15 rep range.

Progressive overload for women is paramount. With each workout, we (women) should always strive to improve on our previous workout’s performance, whether it is through increased weight, volume or decreased rest periods.  More females need to embrace strength and the physiological and psychological benefits it brings, so they should look to add weight to the bar where they can.

Myth 4. We Only Need to Do Cardio to lose body fat

TRUTH. First of all, if you only did cardio then muscle and fat would be burned for fuel. One needs to do weights in order to get the muscle building machine going and thus prevent any loss of muscle tissue. Women that only concentrate on cardio will have a very hard time achieving the look that they want.

I’m a big fan of “do what makes you happy.”  If you happen to enjoy running or zumba or step aerobics or jazzercize, that is awesome.  More power to you. However, if you are ONLY doing those things to lose weight and you’re not seeing results, stop.  There’s a better way.

Believe it or not, strength training will produce a more efficient weight loss effect than an equal amount of cardio.
When you strength train, your muscles are broken down, and then rebuilt over the next 24-48 hours. While your body is rebuilding those muscles, it’s recruiting more calories and energy to make the process happen (generally referred to as the ‘afterburn’ effect).  What this means is that your metabolism operates at a faster level even while you’re sitting on the couch after a workout

Myth 5.  Lifting will make you gain weight

TRUTH. It's not so much a myth as a misunderstood truth. "Leaner" and "lighter" are not interchangeable terms; that means the scale may not tip much and may even go up. Make no mistake: The physical results can be dramatic. The more muscle I've gained, the smaller and more compact I've gotten.  My jeans are looser, and I've gone from a medium top to a small. Stay off the scale and use your jeans to measure your progress.

As a women’s strength and conditioning coach, I’ve lost track of how of the number of times new clients talk with me on their first day of training and tell me they don’t want to do heavy weights because they don’t want to be bulky.

Listen, all those rumors you've heard about lifting heavy weights are just that: Rumors.

Whether you want to rock that bikini on the beach, feel more powerful in the gym, or improve your overall athletic ability, weightlifting and building muscle can help.  

Ladies, it’s time to put down those pink dumbbells, get off the treadmill, pick up a barbell, and finally start seeing results!

If you’re ready to transform your body into a fat burning machine by building lean muscle, you’ve got to grab a copy of my FREE Guide to Metabolic Conditioning.  

You’ll learn how this style of workouts will help you achieve fat loss and body recomposition FAST! The guide also includes 5 of my favorite fat burning Metcons so you can get started right away!

Download your free MetCon Guide copy here

Talk to you soon


How to Plan a Successful Week

How to Plan a Successful Week

With so many tasks on my plate, I have to be strategic.  Planning my week in advance helps me have productive days and pushes me closer to reaching my long-term & short-term goals.

If you’re ready to make the most of every week and including getting in those workouts & healthy eating, I’ve got you covered.

Low Carb Tips

Sarah Cann Training

While low carb everything is all the rage, the lifestyle itself can be quite challenging to live when starting out.  I do not believe solely in a low carb diet day in/day out, because I love me some cupcakes! Many of my clients (myself included) do cycle through low carb and refeed/high carb days. The area that my clients struggle with most, is by far, low carb days.

If you’re nervous about implementing carb cycling because you think it means you’ll be hungry all day or have no energy to workout, let me assure you those are valid concerns.  Those were my questions too when I began a healthy carb depletion/cycling routine a few years ago. But don’t stress, I’ve nailed down 3 ways to make carb cycling easier!

By implementing these strategies, your low carb days will be a breeze!  Your hunger will be kept at to a minimum between meals and you’ll time your carbs adequately to fuel your workouts.


Plan your meals the night before.  Take 10-15 minutes before bed, planning what meals will fit your low carb macros.  Make sure you have those meals ready for the next day or that they’re easy to prepare.  This extra time guarantees you’ll feel less stressed and more likely you’ll hit your goals.  This will help to ensure you stay within your limits and see where you might need to make adjustments, before you start your day.


Snacking is where the carbs can creep in and take over! Be sure to have plenty of low carb snacks on hand for your low carb days. Nuts, raw veggies, beef jerky and hard boiled eggs are all great snacks. Having these ready to go so you don’t have to think about what to eat between meals is super important. While my some of my clients practice Intermittent Fasting and typically only do 2-3 larger meals, the need to snack in between can still be prevalent. Surviving low carb day is all about being prepared!


Instead of reaching for something carby grab a glass of water. This goes a long way to helping you staving off cravings and will do its job keeping you hydrated.


Low carb days can get boring if you don’t try new things. Instead of always going the grilled chicken route, add in some different kinds of fish, pork, beef, and sausage. This will help you keep things interesting while keeping those carbs in check!


During low carb days, focus on healthy fats. They will keep you feeling full longer and will help you reach your calorie goal for the day (1 gram of fat has more calories than 1 gram of protein or carbs). Fish, nuts, avocados and healthy oils will help keep you satiated while keeping carbs low.


Low carb days are an essential part of a successful fat loss program because they help deplete the glycogen stored in your body, and require you to burn fat. When paired with higher carb days and strategic workouts, the results are truly incredible!

What Happens When You Stop Working Out?

Sarah Cann Training

Ok, we’ve got to address this WAY TOO common issue many busy wives & mom’s have: Skipping workouts.

I bring this up today because I run into past clients frequently and often I hear, “I haven’t worked out in weeks/months, etc. and I feel so out of shape already!”


That’s what happens (among other things) when we stop working out.

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty.

I just want to present a real picture of what happens to our bodies when a rest day turns into a rest week, month, and so on.

Listen, I get it, believe me.  There are lots of reasons to take a break from your workout routine — family demands, vacation, non-stop rain, work obligations.  Even the most dedicated may be forced to stop for a while due to sore muscles, illness, or injury. Don’t push yourself to work out every day without a break because your body needs rest and recovery days to repair muscle fibers and strengthen itself between workouts.

Training recovery is a critical component of an exercise program, and for most people, this consists of one to three days of rest depending on intensity of the activity

However, if you go beyond a week without activity, you begin to experience the effects of “detraining” (also called deconditioning), a phenomenon in which you lose the beneficial effects of training.

Remember the human body (even a fit human body) is a very sensitive system—and physiological changes (muscle strength or a greater aerobic base) that develop through training will simply disappear if your training dwindles.  Since the demand of training isn’t present, your body has nothing to adapt to—and just slinks back toward baseline.

Today I am going to fill you in on understanding what’s really going on with your body after about 14 days of too much rest and what happens when we stop working out.  

My goal is to give you some immediate motivation to get moving again!

Here’s what happens to your body when you stop working out:

Visible Changes in Your Body Composition  

Many signs of deconditioning are not always physically visible to the naked eye—but you should expect a loss of muscle mass and size and the accumulation of body fat.  

A few factors can contribute to an increase in your body fat when you stop working out:
~First, your calorie requirement will decrease.  As you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows down as your muscles lose some of their ability to burn fat.
~Secondly, you’re not burning the same amount of calories as you used to because you’re moving around and working out less, so if you don’t adjust your food intake accordingly, those additional calories will be stored as fat. Something you should be wary of is visceral fat aka belly fat.  

So, if you eat the same way you’ve been eating while you’re on a workout hiatus, your body won’t be burning the extra calories without an adjustment to your diet– and you will likely put on weight.

Muscle Loss 

A sizable decrease in muscle mass, capillary size, and density; bone density; flexibility; and overall blood flow and energy production are all side effects of constantly skipping workouts.  And while your body will hang onto strength gains longer than aerobic gains, throwing in the training towel will gradually lead to a loss of lean muscle mass, muscular strength, endurance, and your muscles simply won’t fire the same way they used to because of underuse.

What’s happening? As muscle fibers realize they don’t need to store energy, they will store less glycogen—which leads to something called atrophy (or the shrinking of muscle fibers). When muscle fibers shrink, they need more stimuli to contract.  So you’ll have to work harder to see results--yikes!

Your aerobic system can go down the toilet:  Aerobic and endurance fitness reduce a lot faster than muscle mass—it’s the performance factor that is reduced the fastest. Physiologically, the changes are stark, too.

Stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart to the body) reduces, the size of mitochondria (the power plants within a cell, linked to fitness health) reduce by almost 50 percent, heart rate increases, cardiac output reduces, and your VO2 max—or the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use (a gold standard of physical fitness) decreases about one percent a day.

Another setback: Your lactate threshold—or how hard and long you can work out until your muscles tell you to stop—begins to drop.  This stinks because working out at or close to your lactate threshold is a great way to build fitness; if yours is low you won’t last very long, and thus you’ll reap fewer benefits from a gym session.  You begin to lose endurance capability as well as the ability to perform at higher intensities.

You may feel dumber. 

Your brain suffers when you don’t workout.  Sorry to be so blunt but ask anyone who regularly works out and they know what I’m talking about. Since exercise helps pump oxygen to the brain—one reason why you may feel sharp after a workout—you may feel a little cloudy or not as ‘on’ after weeks removed from your workout regime.

Why? One factor at play: Both aerobic and strength training boost the neurotransmitter brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps promote the growth of new brain cells and enhances connections between existing ones. Some research even links low levels of BDNF to depression. This makes exercise an important part of maintaining cognitive function.
Dopamine levels also drop as your days in the gym become a thing of the past, which may make you more anxious and fatigued. This feeds into motivation—if you’re tired and stressed you may avoid the gym, creating a vicious cycle.  The longer the time off, the more difficult a time people have starting up once again.

Your sleep sucks.

Because exercise places both metabolic (or energetic) and mechanical stress on your muscle tissue, it can help promote good sleep. After all, it’s in deep REM cycles of sleep that your body produces hormones (like growth hormone and testosterone) to repair muscle tissue damaged during exercise. A lack of exercise will lead to higher levels of energy in the body and reduce the need for deep sleep, which could lead to restless or insufficient sleep.

Now I don’t want to be all doom & gloom today!!

So what’s the best way to stop fitness loss?

Don’t abandon workout routine in the first place...duh.

But seriously though,

here are some tips to help minimize the negative impact of skipping your workout routine:

  • Crosstrain or try “light” activity that’s not part of your usual regimen, such as yoga, walking, or bike rides.  HUGE WIN for busy Moms who can follow behind their kids riding their bikes or playing on the playground!

  • Scale back your workout schedule if time is the issue.  Aim for 1-2 sessions per week, break your workout into several shorter sessions, or incorporate a few sessions of high-intensity interval training that can be done at home without any equipment.

  • Try working unaffected muscle groups if you’ve stopped exercising due to soreness or injury such as a broken bone or ruptured tendon. Legs sore--work upper body, shoulders sore--work legs, etc.

  • Keep your nutrition in check.  Maintain good nutrition while consuming adequate protein to minimize muscle loss.

One thing that will work in your favor: muscle memory.  

Essentially, your muscles have special cells in your muscle fibers that “remember” previous training movements so that when you get back to working out after an extended layoff, you are able regain lost muscle quicker.

Patience and persistence is key.  

Remember, not all is lost – you can always restart your training routine.

It’s just a small break but don’t unpack there.

If you need some quick workout ideas to jumpstart your routine, grab a copy of my free metcon guide.  It includes 5 of my favorite MetCons that all take less than 20 minutes and require minimal equipment! Download your copy here.  

Talk to you soon,


Three Time Saving Workouts for Busy Moms

Sarah Cann Training

I am so excited to cover some topics specifically requested by you ladies!  

My friend & client, Kim is a wife, mom of 4, and runs a successful design business.  All that background info to say she’s pretty busy! Her older children are back in school (yay!) but has two toddlers to chase around at home all while still trying to get work done.  I’m exhausted just hearing her day!

Kim’s makes it to crossfit 1-2x each week but was feeling like a failure on the days she couldn’t fit the time in. She wasn’t sure what workouts to do on the other days, especially when she’s working out at the house with the kids home.  What’s a busy Mom to do?!

Let me fill you in on what worked for me, Kim, and so many of my clients who are in a busy season of life.  Today I’m sharing a few of my favorite time saving workouts which are especially helpful for busy Moms. Think of these workouts as your go-to when you feel like you’ve got ZERO time in your day!  

First things first, instead of having Kim continue to try each week to stick to a normal lifting split, we adjusted her training schedule to make the workouts more realistic for her busy season.  

The key here is to make time in your schedule for 1-2x gym/crossfit sessions AND plan for 1-2 at-home training sessions each week.  When planning your week, write down these days/times and give yourself a day for margin when you may need to move things around.

With opportunities to train coming by so rarely as a busy mom, we have to make full use of whatever time we can squeeze out to scramble off to the gym for a quick session.

When trying to decide what workouts to stick to during your busy season, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • The workouts need to be short in duration (preferably under 30 mins, but anticipate at least 2 days lasting 45 minutes)

  • You need to work as many body parts as possible per workout (3 or more)

  • You’ve got to keep the intensity high.

Now that you’ve got the guidelines, here are the three time saving workout sessions every busy Mom needs in her weekly routine!

1. A HIIT Session.  HIIT is an acronym for high-intensity interval training. The premise is simple: intersperse rounds of high-intensity aerobic with lower intensity rounds. Studies have consistently shown that this style of training helps to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to burn more fat as compared to steady-state exercise. Better yet, you’ll achieve these superior results in less time--awesome!!  So, what does hiit look like? Think of Sprints, hill repeats, cycling intervals, etc. Or checkout my recent post for a few suggestions!

2.  A Circuit-based Weight Training Session.  Circuit training is carried out by performing a set of an exercise then moving directly to a different exercise and then another and then another…all with little or no rest between sets/rounds. The idea is to keep your heart rate elevated so that you continue burning a maximum number of calories as you lift. It’s a good way to build muscle and strip away fat: a win/win for us!

The best way to approach circuit-based weight training is by structuring your workout so you work an agonist muscle and then its antagonist. Here’s an example: perform a chest move, follow it with a back exercise, then a quad move, with a hamstring lift, then an abdominal exercise. Here’s what the workout might look like, 3 Rounds/15 Reps each:  DB Chest Press, Standing bentover DB row, Goblet Squat, Glute Bridges, then Bicycles. After you complete a round of the circuit you can perform the entire sequence again another time or two for a terrific metabolic kickstart!

3.  A Compound Training Session.  You might not have heard the term “compound training” but you’re probably at least familiar with the concept. Simply stated, compound training involves combining two different exercises into one movement. While technically any two exercises can be used, it’s generally best to pair a lower body move with an upper body move. Like a squat into a shoulder press, a lunge into a bicep curl…get creative and you can come up with an almost endless array of moves.  String together a few compound moves with short rest intervals and you’ll burn a tone of extra calories while simultaneously cutting your workout time in half!

Being consistent with your workouts is key to hitting your body goals.  

Remember that as a busy Mom you need to accept that you’ll have to get creative with your schedule to make your workouts happen.  

I know that by incorporating these time saving workouts you will get the most out of each session!


P.S. Don’t forget, this weekend is the last chance to register for the September round of the Chiseled program!   We will be using all 3 of these workouts weekly and most importantly you’ll get daily accountability & support from me to help you stay on track.  We start on Monday, September 17th. You can get details via the link below: www.sarahcanntraining.com/chiseled