Walking around your local gym you hear all manner of wild theories on some newfangled exercise that will tone you up, put on muscle and get you a new car overnight. Most of the time it’s pretty easy to discern the charlatans from those who speak from a place of authority and real understanding. That being said there are still some myths that are pervasive, even amongst the informed. We debunk five of them for you:
Myth 1: Always stretch when you’re about to work out.
This is another long held belief that has seemed to propagate itself despite a lack of scientific evidence that would seem to support the practice. In fact, stretching has been shown to actually place people at a
higher risk of injury by weakening the muscle ahead of exercise. Further, the reduced tension actually is associated with a higher, not lower, risk of injury. However, it’s important to recognize that stretching and warming up are not one and the same. Warming up for whatever exercise you’re about to do has been shown to have a significantly positive impact on injury risk – so in the future, spend the five minutes you were going to be stretching instead gently jogging (if you’re running) or warming up with lighter weights (if you’re lifting). Your body will thank you.
Myth 2: Target areas for fat reduction with certain exercises.
Spot reduction does not work, has never worked and will never work. While we are all genetically predisposed to put on fat first in certain areas we cannot do anything to change the way in which our body will lose fat (at least through exercise – surgery is another matter). So for someone who is predisposed to put on fat around their stomach, the only way to effectively bring out that beautiful six pack is to bring down the aggregate body fat percentage, with one caveat. While targeted fat reduction is not possible, targeted muscle growth is. So working out a specific muscle may give the appearance that targeted fat reduction has occurred simply because the muscle has grown larger relative to the amount of fat that was previously covering it.
Fortunately, high intensity interval training is a great way to burn plenty of calories while also doing the sort of weight lifting that can stimulate muscle growth – two birds, one stone.
Myth 3: No pain, no gain.
Let’s be clear – being sore for a day or two after exercise is normal and to be expected. Having joint and muscle pain that goes beyond standard soreness is not normal and a sign that you have likely injured yourself (hopefully in some small fashion). A dangerous amount of people insist on persisting through the pain under the false idea that some degree of pain is normal and to be expected. It’s not. All you’ll accomplish is creating a worse injury than the one you started with and potentially one that you’ll be saddled with for a very long time. There is nothing wrong with challenging and strenuous workouts but not at the cost of your health and long term mobility.
Myth 4: Women are going to get bulky if they do weights.
Somehow an entire generation of women were led to believe that lifting anything but the lightest weights would result in them growing muscles and looking more akin to a female bodybuilder than the generally more trim and toned body type that many women seek to achieve. Those two pound dumbbells provide incredibly little resistance and as such there is little change being stimulated in the muscle – this means there is little to no “toning” taking place. Since women have naturally much lower testosterone than men, absent taking some sort of outside assistance, women will simply not have the same sort of muscle growth a man will. To really get that desired definition, lifting with a weight that is challenging in the eight rep range is absolutely key. The one caveat is that since muscle is much heavier than fat, the quality of results should not be measured via the scale.
Myth 5: Strength begets size and size begets strength.
This is a common misunderstanding associated with the oft made mistake of confusing correlation with causality. While it is true that people with larger muscles are on average going to be stronger than those with less (correlation), you do not need to be big to have impressive strength and vice versa. Strength gains have much more to do with practicing and improving at a particular exercise which has a great deal to do with adaptation as much as anything else. In fact, becoming really good at certain exercises can be counterproductive to muscle growth (if that’s what you’re looking to achieve). For this reason it is imperative that for those looking to put on muscle they introduce new training techniques, exercises, repetitions, grips and an almost innumerable amount of other variables. Continuing to surprise your CNS with movements that you are not “good” at will force your body to continue to recruit more muscle fibers to accomplish the exercise resulting in hypertrophy.