Fitness Parrots are everywhere. Listen to someone who knows…
Gym myths are the modern weightlifter’s confusing version of “fake news”. Despite unprecedented access to pro expertise and scientific research, the everyday gym-goer now also has to contend with waves of online pseudoscience and locker room legends which have crystallised word-of-mouth fitness myths into so-called training truths. But if you build your workouts on hollow foundations, you’ll not only miss out on some of the most interesting and effective ways to train, you’ll never achieve the gains you deserve.
Don’t fall for gym fallacy – here are the facts you need to know.
To help fight fiction with fact, we detonate 10 gym myths with the help of personal trainer Scott Laidler, whose authentic advice has transformed the physiques of Oscar-winning actors, professional athletes and elite military personnel.
Weightlifting leads to injuries
The belief that weightlifting damages your muscles still haunts even the most committed athletes, causing many to skip the gym. But research shows that strength training actually prevents muscle injuries. A study of over 25,000 athletes, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed that those who performed strength training experienced less than a third of the sports injuries of gym-dodgers who never lifted weights.
To build muscle, you have to lift to failure
• The old-school “no pain, no gain” philosophy says that to pack on muscle, you have to lift increasingly heavy weights until your limbs turn to jelly. By pushing yourself to failure, you will overload your muscles and force them to adapt by growing back even bigger. That’s perfectly sound science, but it’s wrong to think it is the only way to build muscle.
“There are plenty of regimens that utilise the overall volume of the workout to successfully stimulate muscle growth instead,” says Laidler. “Bodybuilder Vince Gironda created numerous protocols that emphasise the volume of work above training to failure. A popular example would be ‘German Volume Training (GVT).” To perform GVT, reduce the weight you lift to 60 percent of your one-rep max, but pump up the volume by aiming for 10 sets of 10 reps. You’ll be surprised at the results: a study by McMaster University, Canada, confirmed that low-load, high-volume training can stimulate more muscle growth than the high-load, low-volume workouts typically associated with training to failure.
Supersets are the best way to speed up muscle gains
Supersets (moving quickly from one exercise to another without a break) are the secret to rapid muscle gain, according to many gym-goers, helping to crank up the intensity and volume of your workout to deliver major gains. But they come with a warning. “Supersets do work but you need to be careful that you don’t hamper the overall quality of your reps, as this can lead to diminishing returns,” advises Laidler. Rushing your reps can result in poor form or a failure to complete the full lifting range. “What ultimately stimulates growth is the amount of muscle tension – not the intensity of the workout. Where supersets may be most useful is in pairing unrelated muscle groups together, so you can usually switch between leg and upper-body exercises without suffering a dip in quality. But it’s best to think of supersets as a handy time-saver for a busy day rather than the key to faster muscle growth.”
“Think of supersets as a handy time-saver for a busy day rather than the key to faster muscle growth.”
Each session should last an hour
• Short, regular sessions can be much more effective than grim half-day slogs in the weights room. “‘Hypertrophy Specific Training’ (HST) is a focused approach which works on what we would consider the minimal effective stimulus for muscle growth, in combination with training muscle groups more frequently,” explains Laidler. A sample six-week program of HST would be: two sets of three heavy lifts, repeated 3-4 times a week, with two weeks at 15 reps per set, two at 10 reps, and two at 5 reps. In this method, the muscle growth is triggered by the frequency – not the intensity or volume – of the workout. “With HST, you’ll hit muscle groups 3-4 times per week at the minimum effective stimulus for promoting growth. By minimum, Imean you only do two sets of each exercise per workout, so it’s relatively low volume but with a much higher frequency.”
Weights will make you agro
• Another common myth is that the spike in testosterone caused by weight training turns men into raging Hulks. But research in Frontiers in Psychologyhas shown that low to moderate-intensity resistance training has a powerful “anxiolytic” effect, which means it helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Additional research has shown that weight training boosts your mental focus and cognitive function, so you can strengthen your mind as well as your body.
You should only train one body part each day
Switching to full-body workouts can spark serious muscle growth. “There are many effective programs that use multiple muscle groups and total-body workouts, such as the ‘15×4 program’,” says Laidler. This involves performing 15 sets of 4 reps of different exercises – each of which hits a separate body part – so you work your arms, back, shoulders, chest and legs on the same day. “Muscle growth is triggered not by the intensity or maximal peak of the workout, but by the overall cumulative load on the body.”
Weight training is bad for your tendons and joints
Don’t believe the rumours that gym training is bad for your connective tendons and joints. A review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy confirmed that strength training actually increases the number and diameter of collagen fibrils in the tendons to make them stronger and more injury-resistant. And research in Isokinetics and Exercise Science showed that strength training improves and preserves joint flexibility to make you more mobile and dynamic.
You must lift at least 6-10 reps
“This isn’t true,” explains Laidler. “It all depends on whether your workouts keep you in a state of ‘over-reaching.’” To over-reach, you need to make small gains in progress each time, whether by lifting heavier weights or achieving a higher intensity, volume or overall load. “If you are working hard enough, you could gain muscle by doing just five reps,” says Laidler. Those shorter reps should involve heavier lifts with longer 3-4 minute rest intervals.
Weights will wreck your back
Weightlifting helps to prevent more spinal injuries than it causes. Most back injuries are the result of poor form, bad advice or swollen egos. But the truth is that weight training stimulates the development of bone osteoblasts – the cells which build bones – to help strengthen your back. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research confirmed that weight training actually improves the lumbar spine and hip bone density of competitive athletes. ■