Eight Common Myths about Strength Training
Separating the facts from the fallacies about pumping iron
This is the information age. Got a question? Type it in Google or Bing and you’ve got an instant answer. But can you trust that answer? After all, anybody can post just about anything on the web. And if it’s an advertiser supplying the information, ask yourself how reliable the information is that you get from someone who may be bending the truth to help sell their products and services. This is especially true when it comes to opinions on strength training, and a result many myths still persist. Here are eight of them.
Myth #1: Weight Training Makes You Muscle-Bound
There is no truth to the idea that weight training can make an individual muscle-bound. To the contrary, exercising a muscle throughout a full range of motion increases flexibility. In fact, Olympic-style weightlifters have been shown to have exceptional flexibility.
Yes, muscles shorten when you lift weights to produce movement, but then they lengthen – exercising a muscle doesn’t permanently make it shorter. After doing a biceps workout, you don’t walk around all day with your arms bent in a permanent state of contraction, do you? Further, muscles don’t become permanently longer with stretching as some Pilates instructors claim – if muscles did stay stretched, the joints they move would become unstable.
Myth #2: Muscle Turns to Fat If You Stop Working Out
A muscle cannot turn to fat, just as a hand can’t turn into a foot – they are two entirely different tissues and are not interchangeable! This particular myth persists because when people with significant muscle development stop lifting weights, they get fatter from expending fewer calories and their muscles become smaller.
Myth #3: You Have to Bulk Up to Gain Muscle
Bulking up means adding fat as well as muscle to obtain maximum size. In Arnold’s prime, bodybuilders would often bulk up in the off-season and then would reduce their body fat for competition. The truth is that fat won’t produce any more muscle growth than simply adding lean tissue. In fact, bulking up increases insulin resistance, which can make it more difficult to add muscle and to lose fat. Getting fatter will also interfere with the production of thyroid, hormones that are essential for fat loss.
Myth #4: Low Reps Don’t Build Muscle Size
The first hint that low reps do not build muscle size is that high-level Olympic weightlifters – athletes who perform the snatch and the clean and jerk in competition – often have exceptional levels of muscle mass. Using low reps and heavy weights develop the higher-threshold motor units (Type IIB fibers). Using higher repetitions, with proportionately lighter weights, primarily develops the lower-threshold motor units (Type IIA fibers). As such, to develop maximum muscle mass, you need to train both types of fibers: Type IIA (fast twitch with endurance characteristics) and Type IIB (pure fast twitch).
Myth #5: Weight Training Can Stunt Growth in Young Athletes
Many parents forbid their children to lift weights until they are well into their teens for fear that it will damage the growth (epiphyseal) plates and thereby stunt their growth. This is simply not true. According to the late Mel Siff, PhD, who did his PhD thesis on the biomechanics of soft tissue, “Biomechanical research shows that simple daily activities such as running, jumping, striking or catching can impose far greater forces on the musculoskeletal system than very heavy weight training.” Also, an extensive Russian study on young athletes found that heavy lifting tends to stimulate bone growth in the young.
Myth #6: Machines Are Better Than Free Weights
Certainly, machines have their advantages over free weights, such as when you want to isolate specific muscles or rehabilitate an injury. Also, some exercises, such as leg curls, are best performed with machines. However, free weights are more versatile than machines and are the best way to develop functional strength for athletics because the movements are more similar to natural human movement.
Myth #7: Strength Training Does Not Improve Cardiovascular Health
Although many proponents of aerobics claim that aerobic training is a superior method of developing cardiovascular fitness, the fact is that lack of aerobic fitness is not a cardiovascular risk factor. What is a risk factor is inactivity. It’s also possible to be aerobically fit and have life threatening heart disease. According to cardiologist Henry A. Solomon, MD, in his book The Exercise Myth, “Cardiovascular health refers to the absence of disease of the heart and blood vessels, not to the ability of an individual to do a certain amount of physical work. Your overall cardiac health is determined by the condition of various heart structures, including the heart muscle, the valves, the special cardiac tissues that carry electrical impulses and the coronary arteries.”
Myth #8: Aerobic Training Is Superior to Strength Training for Fat Loss
To the contrary, weight training produces significant lactic acid accumulation, which results in a large release of growth hormone. Growth hormone (GH) is well known for its fat-burning ability. Also, weight training is a superior method of increasing muscle mass, thereby elevating the metabolism, which in turn increases the number of calories you burn at rest and during exercise.
There are many more myths about strength training, and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. The best advice is to look at the source and develop a skeptical eye about what you read and hear. After all, just because it’s on the Internet does not necessarily mean it’s true!