Come on, you’ve heard them. Even people who
don’t workout have heard most of them. I’m talking about statements like:
“Athletes like baseball players and soccer players shouldn’t lift weights
because it will make them slow and tight.” “The thingamajig is the best
exercise for giving you those washboard abs.” “You should lose the bulk
of your weight before you start to weight train.” “I lift weights using
high reps to shape and tone my muscles.” “I must not have had a good
workout yesterday because I’m not sore today.” “After 96 hours of training,
a muscle will start to lose size and strength.” “Strength training will
stunt the growth of young children.” “Eating a diet high in protein will
cause kidney and liver damage.”
It goes on and on. I’ve heard some of these statements so many times, I was actually getting pissed while writing the first paragraph. It just boggles my mind that I still hear and read this bullshit and it’s almost 2005. As a matter of fact, I was in the gym last night going through a chest routine when I overheard a so-called personal trainer telling a woman that in order for her to see her abs, she would have to perform at least 30 to 50 reps every set for four sets and use four different exercises. I almost lost it right there. But I didn’t. I kept my composure and very nicely introduced myself to the woman and told her in not so many words that he was so full of shit his eyes were brown and that I would be glad to help her if she had any questions.
Unfortunately, personal trainers like the dip shit at my gym, local muscle-head know-it-alls and, of course, magazines are the biggest perpetuators of training myths. And what’s more unfortunate, this is where most people get their information. Hopefully the following can help dispel some of the most popular myths and those of you who read this article can pass on the knowledge.
Myth: Training your abs using the right machines or exercises will give you the washboard abs you want.
Now I’m only going to say this once…. Ready? You can do abs until you’re blue in the face -- I don’t care if you do 1000 sit ups three times a day. If you don’t get rid of the fat covering the abdominal wall, you’re not going to see didly squat. There is no magical exercise or combination of exercises that will magically dive your abs.
Remember, there is no such thing as spot reduction. This is so important, I must repeat it: There is no such thing as spot reduction. How fast and where we lose our body fat is genetically programmed, and the only way to lose body fat is to eat correctly. Or you can have it sucked out. For more detailed information on attaining washboard abs, read my article, “Washboard Abs: a Comprehensive Strategy.”
Myth: You should lose weight before you start to train with weights or you’ll just bulk up.
This is another one I’ve been hearing since my early days in the gym at the Lorain YMCA. That was 20 years ago. Holy shit! Man time flies. Anyway, lifting weights is exactly what you want to do if you’re overweight. As a matter of fact, if you had to choose only one type of exercise, weight training would be it by a long shot. Some of you are asking, “What about cardio?” Screw cardio!
There are two things to keep in mind about cardio when losing weight: One is that it doesn’t build muscle. And two, it doesn’t preserve muscle while losing weight. Why is this important? As we lose weight, we also lose muscle along with the fat, especially on a low-calorie diet. It’s muscle that drives the metabolism. The less muscle we have, the slower our metabolism and visa versa. The only way to preserve or build muscle, which is what you really want and need to get lean, is through weight training.
Myth: If you want to shape and tone your muscles, you should do high reps.
There are two myths contained in the statement above. Let’s take them on one at a time, shall we? It’s still a widespread misconception that certain exercises are considered “shaping exercises.” One of the most common is the preacher curl. It was and still is widely accepted that preacher curls helped build the bottom half of the bicep. This was welcome news to those who have short bicep muscle bellies. Unfortunately, it is physiologically impossible to change the shape of any muscle on our bodies. If it were, don’t you think we all would be doing it?
If you have short biceps when you start training, you’re going to have short biceps after 20 years of training. If you have narrow triceps, they’re always going to be on the narrow side. If you have high, thin calf muscles, you are always going to have high calf muscles that are on the thin side. This not meant to discourage you but to encourage realistic goals. You can always add size and a more positive appearance to a muscle, but getting your muscles to look more like Arnold’s in his prime is simply not a possible.
“I want to make my muscles look more toned so I’m doing more reps.” “I don’t want to be big -- I just want to be more toned.” First of all, if a guy ever says that he needs to be bitch slapped for saying something more common for a woman to say. A man who would say “I want to look more toned” is also taking a Pilate’s class with a guy named Bruce who has track lighting and wears eye liner. Second, and more important, the tonus of muscle has nothing to do with its appearance. You can look more “cut,” more “shredded,” more “defined,” but it is impossible to appear more toned. Muscle tone is the amount of tension a muscle exerts at rest.
Myth: I’m not sore today so I must not have had a good workout yesterday.
If you are sore in the days following a workout, that might mean you have a good workout; however, not being sore in the days after a workout has nothing to do with whether or not you had a good workout. The factors you should be paying attention to are the intensity level and productivity. Were your sets done with 100 percent intensity? In other words, did you take your working sets to failure using proper form? Did you make any gains? Did you increase the amount of weight you used or did you increase the number of reps with a particular weight? How you felt while training is another factor. Did you feel sluggish or did you feel energized and ready to push it?
So don’t worry if you’re not sore; pay attention to your intensity levels, productivity, and how you feel instead. If any of these factors are lacking, you need to change your routine.
Myth: Eating a diet high in protein will damage your kidneys and liver.
Thank God this one isn’t quite as common as it once was, but it’s such a classic I had to include it.
There is not one study to support the myth above. I defy anyone to show one study that supports the statement that a diet high in protein will harm the liver or the kidneys of a healthy individual. You will find, however, a mound of evidence supporting the benefits of higher protein diets. Protein has a whole host of positive effects.
Protein repairs and maintains everything in our bodies, from hormones to muscles. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are eight essential amino acids, “essential” meaning we have to ingest these for survival because our bodies cannot manufacture them. If your protein intake is low, your body will get the essential aminos it needs from your muscle tissue. This is a big reason why strict wacko vegetarians, especially vegans, have a much lower percentage of muscle than meat and fish eating humans on average. And they also have a harder time gaining muscle in the gym. Not only are they not getting enough protein, they also lack in the quality of protein unless they supplement with quality protein powders. Vegans are just lost and there is no hope. At least a vegetarian can get quality supplements from dairy products. Vegans must resort to eating garbage soy protein powders and tofu. To each his own.
Now for all you jack-offs that are going to write me letters because you’re offended by the above comments, relax. I’m talking about optimizing your strength and muscle gains. I’m not saying you can’t be healthy and be a vegetarian. Don’t cry because I think your lifestyle is bullshit. Get a tissue, suck it up and get back to watching “Sex and the City.” I imagine that’s what a vegan would watch.
Why anyone would consciously eat a diet low in protein is beyond me. There are two things that begin with the letter ‘P’ that I would never cut back on. One of them is protein. So having said that, how much protein should you consume? I, along, with many experts in the field, recommend 1 g/lb of body weight. However, if you train intensely, which is how you should train, you need upwards of 1.5 to 2 g/lb. How can one possibly do this without getting fat?
Protein and fat, in and of themselves, have little to do with getting fat. You see, a calorie is not a calorie. A calorie of a carbohydrate does not equate to a calorie of protein when being metabolized in our bodies. Protein calories are not likely to be stored as fat when compared to carbs. This is mainly due to the fact that proteins require a lot of energy to metabolize and assimilate. It takes about five to six times more energy to process protein than it does carbs. And as an added bonus, protein helps stimulate the secretion of glucagon, which reduces the fat storage effects of insulin.
To put it quite simply, if you do not consume enough protein, you will not only put a halt to your efforts to have a leaner more muscular body, you can actually lose some of the muscle you’re working so hard to get.
Myth: Strength training is too dangerous and will stunt the growth of children.
I have an eight-year-old daughter. She has already been involved with sports for two years. These days, if a child doesn’t start playing sports in the primary grades, they are going to be behind. Parents do not hesitate to enroll their young children into sports like soccer, basketball, gymnastics, football and others. These children are placed in uncontrolled environments where there is running, tripping, colliding, changing directions at high speeds, twisting and a whole host of other forces being applied to their little bodies. But God forbid you put your child on a strength training routine which is in a totally controlled environment.
Some parents have their children playing two, three or more sports per year. These same parents I talk to in the gym would never consider putting their child on a strength training routine. The main reasons I hear from parents is the above myth.
To the contrary of what many parents fear, numerous studies show the benefits of strength training, including increased bone density and development, injury prevention, and improved athletic performance, far outweigh the dangers parents worry so much about.
Myth: After 96 hours of training, a muscle will start to lose its size and strength.
The first component of a training program that should be given consideration is training frequency. How often can, or more importantly, should I train per week? Optimum recovery time between training sessions is essential if you are going to continue to make progress. Training frequency, which is determined by your recovery ability, is often a forgotten part of most training protocols.
Don’t be so concerned with how many training sessions you can handle per week. Be more concerned about the optimal amount. More is not always better. In fact, when somebody comes to me for advice because they’ve stopped making progress, usually if they’re training properly with 100% intensity, I either reduce the workout volume or add days off. There is no reason to go to the gym if you’re not going to make progress. In every workout, if you have fully recovered, you should be able to add some weight or do an extra rep.
How can anyone get stronger every workout? You can only bench press so much. Eventually, you have to hit a plateau. This is true. If you stay with the same exercises, the same number of reps and the same number of sets, progress may eventually stop. If the proper changes aren’t made at the right time, eventually the body adapts to the stimulus. And this is where the “art” of being a coach comes into play.
The ability to recover from workouts is genetically predetermined. Some individuals can handle a high volume of training and others can handle only minimal amounts. So how can you determine the frequency at which you should train your body parts? Keep a detailed training journal of your workouts. If you aren’t making progress, change your training frequency by adding an extra day off. If you still do not make progress, add another day off. The average individual on a four-day split routine, training with 100% intensity, will need between six and 10 days off between body parts. I personally train each body part three times per month.
Myth: Athletes who play sports like baseball, boxing, soccer, hockey and basketball should not lift weights because it will make them slow and tight.
Now, why should a person who plays soccer weight train? For sports involving sprinting, jumping, swimming, throwing, kicking or punching, the ratio of the strength of the muscles involved in the movement to the mass of those muscles is critical. To put it simply, a soccer player who trains properly and increases his strength 15% over a six-month period while keeping his mass relatively the same has increased acceleration ability. The stronger a boxer becomes while maintaining a constant body mass, the faster and harder he’ll be able to punch.
Now, as far as athletes becoming tight, research has shown that full range progressive resistance training is a great way to develop functional flexibility. Research has also shown that individuals who weight train properly but don’t stretch are more flexible than individuals who don’t train or stretch.
In short, weight training will not make athletes tight or slow; it will make them better athletes.
Got a question for Mike? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.