Weight Training Myths - Don't let them hold you back!

Weight Training Myths

Most of the various misconceptions associated with weight training have one thing in common : they are excuses for not working hard in the gym.

Although these misconceptions have been disproved many times, they linger on as a convenient justification for people who want great results without exerting significant effort. However, there is no shortcut to achieving the numerous benefits of weight training; in fact, to be successful does not only require hard, but also smart work. The paragraphs below are intended to make you smarter with regard to common weight training concepts; and to set you straight about some of the most prevalent weight training myths by explaining the facts behind them.

Myth 1 : Weight Training and Bodybuilding are the same. Wrong !

Weight Training is sometimes mistakenly understood to be synonymous with bodybuilding. Although both activities involve systematic training against the weight resistance of dumbbells, barbells, exercise machines, various other equipment and even one's own body weight, there are significant differences.

The term weight training is commonly used in referring to people who lift weights but not for the purpose of competing in bodybuilding, powerlifting or weightlifting. Weight training is a "specialized method of conditioning designed to increase muscle strength, muscle endurance and muscle power". It is the major component of any sensible fitness program, aiming to develop muscle tissue throughout the body to increase the body's athletic performance and appearance, increase basal metabolic rate for body-fat control, restore and maintain good health and, last but not least, counteract aging; cardio-respiratory exercises and stretching for increased flexibility are beneficial supplements and may complement any weight training program. With weight training, muscle development is not exclusively sought for the sake of improved appearance, but mainly for its performance, fitness, and health-enhancing qualities.

Bodybuilding on the other hand focuses primarily on building the perfect physique with the greatest possible amount of muscle mass, optimum muscular symmetry and outstanding muscular definition. Muscular efficiency, strength, endurance or health benefits are secondary, but - to some extent - derived as by-products of pursuing the goal of ultimate muscularity, provided bodybuilding is performed naturally. Major emphasis is on appropriate nutrition, including performance enhancing supplements, without which the achievement of the desired levels of muscularity is impossible. Bodybuilders also often use and abuse - partly illegal - chemicals and drugs in order to enhance their muscular development and to keep up with their competition. The intake of these chemical substances and drugs often leads to severe health problems in later years.

Myth 2 : Training with light weights and many repetitions results in muscular definition. Wrong !

Bodybuilders in the final stages of preparing for competition usually decrease the weight loads of their weight training exercises and increase the number of repetitions per set. This practice may have contributed to the misunderstanding that performing sets with high repetitions and reduced weights is best for creating muscle definition. There is, however, no special lifting routine for increasing muscular definition . The observed decrease of weight resistance is rather an inevitable consequence of the extremely strict diet, which bodybuilders have to subject themselves to in order to achieve the low levels of bodyfat necessary to compete successfully; dieting hard, they just lack the strength to handle their usual weight loads and try to make up for this by increasing the number of repetitions per set.

If you want to achieve optimum muscle definition, you must focus on two things:

1) You must train with heavy weights and high intensity to build optimum muscle size;

2) You must restrict your calorie intake in order to reduce the amount of bodyfat covering your muscles. Reducing your bodyfat percentage by strictly adhering to a controlled diet is most essential for your muscles to eventually become clearly and distinctly visible through your skin.

Myth 3 : Lifting light weights for many repetitions creates muscle tone without size increases. Wrong !

Some fitness enthusiasts don't want to do without the numerous health benefits of weight training, but worry that working out might make them grow too big. In the unreasoned fear that weight training might cause them to become too muscular, some exercisers restrict themselves to handling only very light weights for lots of repetitions and many sets. This concept of performing a high amount of work with only very little effort is called "toning", and is erroneously believed to produce muscle "tone" (firmer muscles) without any size increases.

The term "toning", is, however, merely a made-up term, which does not have any scientific basis and can not be found in any physiology book. It has meanwhile been known for more than fifty years that the

low intensity/high volume "toning" approach is an ineffective training method, as it hardly affects any muscular adaptation. The result of such exercise is a waste of time and energy and may at the most improve muscular endurance to some extent. Increased muscle tone, a state of continuous partial contraction , which gives muscle tissue a firm consistence, is in fact a result of regular progressive strength training with high intensity !

Significant increases in muscle size are not easy to achieve. Without the appropriate genetics, extremely dedicated hard training over many years, a daily calorie intake far beyond what is considered "normal" and the use of performance enhancing supplements, chemicals and drugs ( often including anabolic steroids, human growth hormone etc.!), it is almost impossible to achieve major gains in muscle size. Even men, who actually want to get big and work very hard to achieve this goal, are hardly ever able to gain as much muscle as they desire. There is certainly no chance at all that anybody will unintentionally become too big by just working out with weights and consuming an adequate healthy diet.

Myth 4: Women need to train differently from men. Wrong !

Examining a muscle cell under an electron microscope, it is not possible to discern whether this particular cell comes from a female or a male organism. As there is obviously no difference in the anatomic make-up of female and male muscle cells, there is also no reason to believe that they need to be trained differently: training principles are universal and not based on gender. Training programs and concepts for women and men should therefore generally be quite identical in order to be effective. To provide any muscle with the optimum training stimulus requires maximum effort and striving to slightly exceed oneself next time. This applies to women as well as for men, if they are serious about achieving their fitness goals.

Women may not be able to handle as much weight as men, as they usually have less lean body mass than men. However, on a basis of lean body mass, many women are capable of proportionally becoming as strong as many men. Entirely different is, however, the effect of weight training on men's and women's physical appearance.

Myth 5 : Weight Training makes women look unfeminine and too bulky. Wrong !

Although male and female muscle cells are anatomically identical and ought to be trained according to the same training principles, the training effect in men and women is very different due to physiological differences .

Women produce 10 to 35 times less testosterone than men; with testosterone, the "male" hormone, being mainly responsible for increases in muscle size, it becomes apparent that women have nothing to worry about. Although women become stronger in response to systematic weight training with high intensity, their muscles do not tend to increase much in size due to the naturally low levels of testosterone present in the female organism. Weight training rather tends to make women's muscles firmer and tighter and over time usually leads to a reduction in the circumference of their bodyparts and limbs, due to eventual fat loss throughout the body. As muscle tissue is much denser than fat tissue, women are soon able to wear smaller clothes-sizes as a consequence of their weight training efforts. Such reshaping of their physique is what women should generally look forward to achieve as it makes them look slimmer, healthier and more attractive.

The excessive muscular development of certain competitive female bodybuilders, as seen in bodybuilding magazines, can only be achieved by very few genetically gifted female athletes. Apart from exceptional genetics, it takes them many years of dedicated training, strict nutritional discipline and the use of performance enhancing supplements, drugs and chemicals to build their extraordinary physiques.

It is completely impossible for any woman to accomplish such excessive muscle development unintentionally or accidentally merely by following a sensibly designed weight training routine as part of a healthy fitness lifestyle.

Whether you are male or female, don't let any of these outdated and debunked misconceptions get in your way and prevent you from working hard in the gym. Train in accordance with a sensible fitness program designed to achieve your individual fitness goals and always work with correct exercise technique, avoiding the use of other muscles than the target muscles to lift the weight. Adhere to all training principles and don't be afraid of training "heavy". To the beginning and intermediate weight trainer "heavy" generally means using enough weight to be able to perform an exercise correctly for 8 to 12 repetitions per set.

If you can easily perform more than 12 reps, you are not lifting enough weight to stimulate your muscles. Do not use more weight for any exercise than you can handle for the recommended number of repetitions but also never finish a set knowing that you could have performed more reps. Challenging your muscles and pushing them to their limit is the key to success !

Christoph Klueppel

Master of Fitness Sciences
Specialist in Performance Nutrition