27 Jun 2018

14 Weight Training Myths Answered

During your lifetime have you ever wondered if the guys down at the gym were full of shit?  If they were just telling you they were told coming up in the dungeons of old? I have heard so many weight training myths over my time that I had just tuned them out.

Now, as I’ve grown a little long in the tooth and learned more about the science behind training, I wanted to take on some of these weight training myths.  I have always thirsted for the knowledge.  So I set out to break down the greatest weight training myths I’ve heard over the years.

No matter if the weight training myths were about exercise or nutrition,  I want to figure out which ones can encourage your progress, which ones can hurt it and which ones are neutral, depending upon your approach.

When science is offered as a powerful influence for every one of these 14 weight training myths, we stamped them TRUE, FALSE or a more nuanced NEUTRAL.

So sit back, slip into your gyms clothes, break out that protein shake and put down your lifting belt.  This is a great opportunity to discover reality and misrepresentation of weight training myths.  And have a little give and take on the weight training myths covered here.

If you’ve been training during any time over the last 30 years, here’s a short list of training myths, Maybe?.

Myth #1. The 12 Rep Rule

The first among the weight training myths is the 12 rep rule.  Most weight training programs include at least this many repetitions for gaining muscle. That’s a total of 12 reps.  The truth is this approach places the muscles with not enough tension for effective muscle gain.

I have had the opportunity to train is some of the biggest gyms in Atlanta, Springfield, Santa Barbra, and of course my home gym at Centre City Gym in Brockton.  Everything that I have experienced and learned in my studies is that high tension e.g. heavy weights provides muscle growth in which the muscle grows much larger.  This leads to the maximum gains in strength. Having longer tension time boosts the muscle size by generating the structures around the muscle fibers, improving endurance.

The standard prescription of eight to 12 repetitions provides a balance but by just using that program all of the time, you do not generate the greater tension levels that are provided by the heavier weights and lesser reps, and the longer tension achieved with lighter weights and more repetitions.

FALSE – Suggestion:

Change the number of reps and adjust the weights to stimulate all types of muscle growth.  As most f you know you need to trick your muscles and change up your routines so that you don’t become “stale”.  Look to cycle your training every two months.

Myth #2. The Three Set Rule

The second of the weight training myths is the three set rule.  The truth is there’s nothing wrong with three sets but then again there is nothing amazing about it either. The number of sets you perform should be base on your goals and not on a half-century old rule.

NEUTRAL – Suggestion:

The more repetitions you do on an exercise, the fewer sets you should do, and vice versa. This keeps the total number of repetitions done of an exercise equal.  When I was training for my college years, 6 sets of 6 was not uncommon.  But that was a heavy 6.

Myth #3. The Idea of Three to Four Exercises Per Muscle Group

The next among the weight training myths is the idea of three to four exercises per muscle group in a workout.  The truth is, this is a waste of time. Combined with twelve reps of three sets, the total number of reps amount to 144. If you’re doing this many reps for a muscle group you’re not doing enough.

You need to Train the muscle group and not treat your work out like a social hour.

NEUTRAL – Suggestion:

Instead of doing too many varieties of exercises, try doing 30 to 50 reps. That can be anywhere from 2 sets of 15 reps or 5 sets of 10 reps.  I now will stay with the 3 sets of 15-20 to help with pliability and elongate the muscles.

Myth #4. Don’t Let Your Knees Go Past Your Toes

The fourth among the weight training myths is the saying “don’t let your knees go past your toes”. It is a gym folklore that you “should not let your knees go past your toes.” Truth is that leaning forward a little too much is more likely a cause of injury. In 2003, Memphis University researchers confirmed that knee stress was almost thirty percent higher when the knees are allowed to move beyond the toes during a squat.

But hip stress increased nearly 10 times or (1000 percent) when the forward movement of the knee was restricted. Because the squatters needed to lean their body forward and that forces the strain to transfer to the lower back.

FALSE – Suggestion:

Focus on your upper body position and less on the knee. Keep the torso in an upright position as much as possible when doing squats and lunges. These reduce the stress generated on the hips and back. To stay upright, before squatting, squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold them in that position; and then as you squat, keep the forearms 90 degrees to the floor.

Myth #5. Weight Training Creates Defined Abs

The next on the list of weight training myths is the idea that weight training creates defined abs. The truth is the muscles work in groups to stabilize the spine, and the most important muscle group changes depending on the type of exercise. The transverse abdominis is not always the most important muscle group.

Actually, for most exercise, the body automatically activates the muscle group that is needed most for support of the spine. So if you focus only on the transverse abdominis, it can recruit wrong muscles and limit the right muscles. This increases the chance of injury and reduces the weight that can be lifted.

FALSE – Suggestion:

Trust your body your abs will grow.  Know your Body. Your body knows more than you!

Myth #6. Don’t Eat Before Bedtime

Sixth on the list of weight training myths is the rule of not eating before you go to bedtime.  As much as we may think of bodybuilding in different ways, we are forever ambushed with training and nutritional tips from sources far removed from squat racks.  So it is with this myth, which is such a ubiquitous feature of the sort of diets seen on late night TV that many beginning bodybuilders and athletes dare not breach it.  This whole idea breeds confusion about what and when to eat to gain only muscle and not fat.

You need to think of your body this way.  When you sleep, you’re on a fast. During that fast, your body is forced to turn to your own muscle protein for fuel.  It is converting those amino acids into glucose. In other words, while you’re in dreamland, you’re experiencing the nightmare of cannibalizing your own muscles.

The longer you go before sleep without eating, the more your muscle will be eaten away. That’s why we always recommend that you end your day with a slow-digesting protein, such as a casein protein shake or cottage cheese.

Research from the Weider Research Group discovered that trained bodybuilders drinking a casein protein shake right before bed for eight weeks gained significantly more muscle than those who consumed the same casein shake in the middle of the day.

I wanted to spend a few extra words on this one because it’s crucial, depending on your current nutrition plan and fitness goals to eat a protein meal immediately before going to bed in order to feed your muscles the nutrients they need to recover and grow while you sleep.  While in the military and while training down at Centre City Gym for Football in college, I ate cans of tuna before bed on a consistent basis.

FALSE – Suggestion:

Go with 20-40 grams of slow-digesting protein, such as a casein shake or cottage cheese. If you’re trying to pack on mass and don’t store fat easily, take your protein with about 20-40 g of slow-digesting carbs, such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes or whole-wheat bread.

Myth #7. Don’t Stop Until Your Muscles Stop

Next on the list of weight training myths is the idea of don’t stop until your muscles stop.  Similar to the “No pain, no gain” mantra. Here’s another one: the only rep that counts is the one you can’t finish. In other words, you only stimulate growth by pushing a set to absolute full-rep failure — or beyond — via techniques like forced reps, partials or rest-pause. And thus, HIT zealots are born. This is a popular creed simply because its logic seems irrefutable. After all, if you stop short of failure, won’t you merely do what you were previously capable of doing and thus fail to stimulate growth?

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport (Canberra) performed several studies that lead to the conclusion that for strength, doing one set per exercise to failure — and no more — is optimal. When it comes to growth, however, taking most sets to failure appears to be more effective.
There is no direct evidence to support this, but research shows that when you do take all sets to failure and beyond with forced reps, growth hormone levels are significantly higher after workouts than when you stop just short of failure. Since GH is critical for muscle growth, it can be assumed that taking most sets to failure is your best bet.

NEUTRAL – Suggestion: 

When training strength, take just one set per exercise to failure — no more, no less. For muscle growth, take most sets to failure and beyond with the following tried-and-true Weider Training Principles: forced reps, cheat reps, drop sets, rest-pause and negative reps.

Myth #8. Sugar Is Bad

Number eight on the list of weight training myths is that sugar is bad.  As with nighttime eating, this is another axiom that has been fueled in part by a general dietary consensus. Since your sweet youth — those blissful years of Skittles scarfing and M&M munching — sugar has been the bogeyman of your every meal, promising — if not kept in check — to foster rotting teeth, diabetic shock, and a pregnant belly with matching man-boobs. Surely, it has no place in a bodybuilding diet.

When you eat sugary foods, they spike your insulin levels. This causes your muscle cells to take up the sugar (glucose in your blood) and store it as glycogen. However, insulin also causes sugar to be taken into fat cells and converted into fat, and it blunts fat burning. So, yes, eating sugar is bad for most meals.
One time when sugar is good, though, is immediately after workouts. Those sugary foods get into your bloodstream ASAP, so your muscles can refuel. By spiking insulin at a time when you want it spiked, it won’t convert sugar into fat, but instead, it’ll drive that sugar into muscle cells along with amino acids, which build more muscle. And insulin will turn on the process of protein synthesis, which is how muscles grow.

TRUE/FALSE – Suggestion: 

Sugar is the Jekyll and Hyde of nutrients. Most of the time, it lives up to its bad rep, but immediately after training it’s the good guy because it spikes your insulin levels and drives protein to your muscle cells. Avoid sugar most of the time, but not after you work out — that’s when you should consume about 40 g of a protein shake and 40-100 g of sugary foods or drinks.

Myth #9. You Can Only Eat 30 Grams Of Protein In A Sitting  

Weight training myths number nine is the old idea that you can only eat 30 grams of protein in a sitting.  We’re not exactly certain when or where this belief originated, but it became especially prevalent among bodybuilders in the ’80s.  So much so that it has persisted ever since. It is a valid reminder to eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day as opposed to three big, calorie-laden meals, but it makes a bold and specific claim about the abilities of everyone’s digestive system. Is 30g the protein limit?

How much protein you can digest and utilize depends on numerous factors, such as your gastrointestinal tract’s digestion and absorption abilities, how much muscle recovery your body has to do, how much protein you have recently eaten, and how many calories you are getting from carbohydrates and fat.

In fact, a French study of elderly women subjects found that, in the group that ate one huge meal containing about 50 g of protein, protein synthesis was significantly higher than in another group that ate an equivalent amount of protein spread over several meals.

FALSE – Suggestion: 

There is a limit to how much protein you can digest at any one time, and this principal reason for eating six or more meals daily, but 30 g is low. Aim for 1-1.5 g of protein daily for every pound of your bodyweight and spread this over six meals (including shakes). For example, if you weigh 210 pounds, that would be an average of 35-52 g of protein per meal.

Myth #10. You Can’t Gain Muscle And Lose Bodyfat At The Same Time

Myth number ten on my list of weight training myths is the idea that you can’t gain muscle and lose bodyfat at the same time.  This is a logical extension of the belief that you have to consume more calories than normal to gain muscle and consume fewer calories than normal to shed fat. Therefore, it follows that you must choose between the two. Such thinking has spawned a million bulking phases and a few
fewer cutting cycles.

Although it is much harder to gain muscle when your calories are low enough to stimulate fat loss, it is possible. This is especially true when protein intake is high, carbohydrates are low and adequate protein is eaten at the four most critical times of day: first thing in the morning, before and after workouts, and before bed.
In fact, researchers from the University of Connecticut (Storrs) investigating a very low-carb diet reported that men following the diet without exercise lost a significant amount of body fat while gaining lean muscle. In addition to dieting, use supplements that promote muscle growth, such as creatine, branched chain amino acids, arginine, and beta-alanine.

FALSE – Suggestion:

Yes, you can go in two directions at the same time. Just as you can (hopefully) chew gum and walk simultaneously, you can both add lean mass and subtract the unwanted body fat during the same time period via the correct combination of protein, carbs, supplements, weight training and cardio. The result? A bigger, better you.

Myth #11. Do Cardio After Weight Training 

Number 11 of the weight training myths is to do cardio after you weight train.  Most bodybuilders get on an elliptical or stationary bike after hitting the weights.  This is done for no better reason than they’d rather do the latter than the former. They make certain they’ve done all they can to boost muscle growth before doing what they can to reduce blubber, and yet they may feel they’ve shortchanged their fat burning by focusing first on maximizing their muscle burn.

Japanese researchers found that when subjects performed cardio immediately after weight training, the amount of fat burning was significantly higher than when they did cardio first. This may be due to something that the same Japanese researchers found in another study — when you hit the weights first, growth hormone levels are higher. GH not only promotes muscle growth but also liberates fat from fat cells so that it can be burned away for fuel.

TRUE – Suggestion: 

Feel no guilt about doing cardio after weight training.  It’s the best strategy for both muscle growth and fat zapping.

Myth # 12. Always Stretch Before Training

Myth number 12 on the list of weight training myths is to always stretch before training.  Apostles of exercise preach this one so relentlessly that you may wonder why it’s even appearing on this page. If you haven’t been reading my blogs recently, you likely think there is no debate about stretching before hitting the iron. It’s true that there is no longer any debate, but you may be surprised by what has been decided.

Contrary to popular belief, there are no studies showing that stretching before exercise reduces the risk of injury. There is, however, an abundance of research demonstrating that when athletes do static stretching (the sort where you reach and hold) before weight training, their strength decreases.

Further studies show that flexibility increases more when such stretching is done after exercise as opposed to before it. Those three facts would seem to explode one of the exercise’s biggest bugaboos. Not so fast, however, because still more research shows that dynamic stretching (fast, ballistic movements, such as arm circles for shoulders and high kicks for legs) before weight training increases power and strength.

NEUTRAL – Suggestion: 

Don’t do traditional static stretching before training. Do it after your workout, holding each stretch for approximately 30 seconds. Before your workout, perform dynamic stretches as part of your warm-up.

Myth #13. You Must Train Heavy To Grow

Lucky number 13 on the list of weight training myths is you must train heavy to grow.  As with always training to failure, this is again the sort of saying you’d expect to find on a tattered poster taped to a cragged gym wall.  You may even hear it shouted by spotters before someone tries to do a personal-best triple in the squat.

We’re all for using it as an incentive to “man up” and drive yourself through your hardest sets, but if we start with the premise that heavy is a relative term — that what’s heavy to you won’t be to Mr Universe— then heavy is a reflection of how few reps you do before reaching failure. Therefore, the question arises: Are maximum sets of low reps (fewer than eight) the best strategy for muscle growth?

Research confirms that reps in the range of one to seven are best for building strength.  It is not necessarily for muscle growth. Stopping at this many reps instigates the nerves that stimulate the muscles to fire stronger and more synchronously — critical for muscle growth.
However, so few reps do not stimulate adequate metabolic changes in the muscle for growth. To do so, you need to keep reps in the eight to 12 range. This increases the production of metabolic byproducts in the muscle, such as lactic acid, which stimulates the production of GH. These metabolic byproducts also draw water inside the muscle cells to create the pump.  This also stretches the muscle and turns on growth processes.

FALSE – Suggestion:

Not only do you not have to train heavy to grow, but it’s not the best rep range for growth. That would be the moderate range of eight to 12 reps. We recommend varying your reps with some low and some high.  Keep most in the sweet spot in the middle.

Myth #14. Don’t Train When You Are Sore

The last myth on our weight training myths countdown is don’t train when you are sore. The number one training myth seems so logical and has been promulgated so successfully for so long that you may be stunned to find it here. If DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) indicates that your muscle cells are, in effect, broken down from your previous workout, then why would you want to train again while still sore?

DOMS signifies normal processes in the muscles that are involved in muscle recovery and growth. One study found that when subjects followed an exercise session that caused muscle soreness with another exercise session about two days later — while still sore — their cortisol levels (a catabolic hormone that interferes with  muscle growth) were much lower than the first workout and free testosterone was slightly higher. In other words, they were in a better anabolic state.

In addition, Japanese researchers induced soreness in the biceps muscles of subjects with heavy negative rep curls.  They then repeated the exercise two and four days later. They found no significant differences in max strength, a range of motion, muscle soreness and plasma creatine kinase (a chemical indicator of muscle damage) between each exercise bout. In other words, muscle damage wasn’t made worse by the back-to-back training.

FALSE – Suggestion: 

Research shows that you typically need 48 to 72 hours between workouts to fully recover.  Once you have hit that mark you can then train the same muscles again. This is regardless of whether or not you feel sore.
If you have any myths that you think should be added, hit us up in the comments below.  We are trying to build our tribe so follow us on Facebook and Instagram

Carlye Pina

Brockton, MA

Carlye has made it her life's mission to help busy moms to rediscover themselves and take back their health and time. As a mother, wife, and coach, she has learned what a crazy schedule means. As an entrepreneur, she has learned what is needed to balance a busy life. Nationally Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Wellness Coach, graduate from Suffolk University

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