Conflicting information about weightlifting is as easy to come by at the gym as faux tans and tank tops. And when everybody thinks they’re a trainer, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction (hence: the growing field of “broscience”). Read on for the truth about common muscle myths, so you can be better informed next time you head to the weight rack.
1. Myth: Lifting weights will make you bulk up.
This is one of the biggest concerns for women considering starting a weightlifting program, says Rachel Cosgrove, CSCS, author of The Female Body Breakthrough. But unless you’re also consuming a ton more calories, your muscles will only grow to a healthy, normal level that promotes an increased metabolism. “You have to really work for every ounce of muscle that you gain, and it’s not as easy as most women think to sprout big muscles,” she says.
Truth: With proper nutrition, lifting weights will create a leaner physique — not a bulkier one.
2. Myth: Muscle turns to fat if you stop lifting.
Some serious magic would have to happen for muscle to turn into fat, as they’re two completely different things, says Cosgrove. “Muscle never turns into fat, and fat never turns into muscle,” she says. Muscle will, on the other hand, help you burn fat. Research has found that an intense bought of strength training results in more calories burned in the 16 to 24 hours after your training session ends.
Truth: Your muscle won’t turn into flab if you take some time off, and having muscle will actually help you burn fat.
3. Myth: It’s best to work one muscle group a day.
You’ve probably overheard locker room chatter about it being “back day” or “leg day,” but unless you’re a bodybuilder (or dedicated lifter) it’s not always beneficial to adopt this schedule. Michael Carozza, owner of Carozza Fitness in Connecticut, suggests high-intensity interval training and circuit training, which are designed to help build muscle, increase aerobic capacity, burn calories and improve recovery time. Whatever program you choose, just keep in mind that muscles typically need about a day to recover, says Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City, so it’s important to vary workouts so you aren’t doing the same full-body workout each day.
Truth: Choose compound exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time (like squats, pull-ups and deadlifts) for a more effective workout in a shorter period of time.
4. Myth: Lifting heavy weights is the only way to see results.
Researchers have found that lifting light weights for more reps is just as effective for building muscle as lifting heavy weights for fewer reps. The key is lifting to the point of fatigue. In fact, bodyweight exercises can often be just as effective — or more effective — than committing solely to iron, Cosgrove says. “There are so many ways you can put a demand on your body,” she says. “Heavy weights aren’t always the answer.”
Truth: Vary your workout by mixing in heavy weights, light weights and bodyweight exercises.
5. Myth: Weightlifting is bad for the joints.
It’s a common misconception that weightlifting puts a harmful load on the joints. But a study published the Journal of Rheumatology found when people suffering from knee joint pain performed weight bearing exercises, they experienced a 43 percent reduction in pain after four months. They were also better at performing daily tasks and reported a higher quality of life than those who didn’t strength train. Gary says this is because strength training can help grow strength in the structures around your joints, causing them to be better supported.
Truth: Weightlifting builds muscle that helps absorb shock and protect the joints.
6. Myth: Weightlifting causes high blood pressure.
For years, people with hypertension have been warned to stay away from lifting weights because it could further increase blood pressure. In reality, as with aerobic exercise, weightlifting can actually lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure — by two and four percent respectively. And, according to the American Heart Association, you only need to fit in two or three sessions a week to start seeing positive results.
Truth: Over time, weightlifting can lower blood pressure and make your heart healthier.
7. Myth: Weight lifting decreases flexibility.
If done correctly, weightlifting can actually have the opposite effect. A study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that resistance training improves flexibility as well as static stretching. The key is to work through a full range of motion while lifting, Cosgrove says. For example, lifting dumbbells all the way up and all the way back down during a chest press will allow you to utilize the full potential of your chest and shoulders.
Truth: Use a full range of motion while weightlifting to improve flexibility.
8. Myth: Machines are more effective than free weights.
Au contraire. Weight machines isolate muscles and force your body to move in a single plane of motion, both of which can limit your range of motion — and your results. Lifting free weights, on the other hand, has been shown to recruit more muscles and can result in greater strength gains. In one study, results showed that traditional weighted squats produced 43 percent more muscle activity in the quads than squats using a Smith machine. Gary adds that many bodyweight exercises, such as squats, push-ups and lunges, are just as effective as their weighted counterparts.
Truth: Lifting free weights mimics natural movement and creates greater muscle activity than machines.