26 Strength Training Myths You Can Stop Believing Right Now (Part 1)

Humans have long believed in or created mythical stories of gods and goddesses, heroes and dragons, death and destruction, and the rebirth of life or salvation. The archetypes and structures of those ancient myths are still used in our modern myth-stories like Harry Potter and Star Wars.

Basically, humanity really freaking loves myths. And holy-freaking-bat-poop Batman are there some strong myths that surround strength training. Some of them are complete bologna (FAKE NEWS!). Some of them have a semblance of truth to them. And some of them are straight up poppycock.

Alright, this intro is getting too long and you’re only scanning this article while you sit at Sunday brunch and wait on your $13 Bloody Mary to come to the table. So yea, here’re 26 strength training myths that everyone can stop believing right meow (broken in up in two parts, to give you more time to savor that bloody).

1. Muscle turns to fat if you stop lifting

This is like saying that a wooden chair can turn into a pint glass. That sounds insane and silly; wood can’t turn into glass because, well, wood is made of trees and glass is made from liquid sand. Both of these are two completely different organic compounds.

And so it is with muscle and fat. Muscle cannot turn into fat. They’re completely different organic compounds, and unless you’ve aced the Transfiguration spell while you were at Hogwarts, this ain’t happening.

What does happen, though, is that when you don’t use the muscle you have, it atrophies. But your muscle doesn’t turn to fat. When you gain fat, you gain it because you are eating too much. Not because your body says, “Hey, let’s convert this muscle to fat because we hate how sexy and lean it looks.”

2. You will burn muscle if you lift on an empty stomach

There are so many reasons why this myth is laughable. One, let’s be clear about something from the get-go: your body goes through numerous chemical and biological processes every second of every hour of every day. And sometimes, those processes will involve burning fat; sometimes those processes involve storing fat; sometimes those processes involve building muscle; and sometimes, yes I hate to tell you this, your body is burning muscle for fuel.

For the most part though, you’re also eating food during the day to replenish your energy supply. And even if you’re fasting while you sleep or purposely following intermittent fasting as a protocol, your body is converting all sorts of energy sources—fats, carbs, protein—into ATP for your cells to use.

Here’s where this myth “would” be true. If you were for one reason or another in a prolonged state of fasting, and I mean like longer than 16 or even 24 hours, then protein catabolism could become an issue. Your body will convert muscle into amino acids and then into glucose only when its stored liver glycogen is depleted. But this will only happen if amino acids aren’t available from food. And if you have big protein meals, your body will slow down the absorption of amino acids which means your body can still be releasing aminos for 16-24 hours.

So, no. Unless you are fasting for a few days in a row, you are not going to burn muscle if you workout on an empty stomach.

3. It’s best to work one muscle group a day

This might be true for professional bodybuilders who can dedicate 6 days a week to the gym because it’s their job. But for 99.99% of the population, this is a myth. In fact, training every body part in some capacity three times a week is more effective in terms of fat loss, muscle building, and general fitness.

When an online coaching client starts with me, 99% of them start with full body workouts three times a week. One, they hit the major muscle groups more often which elicits more growth and demands more work out of their bodies than they’re used to. Two, it saves time. And many of the men and women I coach online have busy careers or families and they can’t dedicate 6-7 hours a week to the gym.

Training the same muscle group multiple times forces that muscle to adapt more quickly and allows it to take on more work (volume) than if you only worked one group every day. Of course, if you hit legs/arms/chest/back heavy on the first day, the second and third days should be done with lighter weights and possibly higher reps. My point: You don’t need dedicated days for each muscle group.

4a: Lifting heavy weights is the only way to see results

This myth has to be met with a question. What kind of results do you want to see? If you want to become a beast and lift heavy weight, then you have to lift heavy. That one is kind of common sense. But what about fat loss? Do you need to lift heavy to lose body fat?

I will say this again later but I will say it now: nutrition drives fat loss; working out supports it.

So if the results you “want” to see is less body fat, then nutrition is what matters. But if you want to support that fat loss by retaining muscle mass, maybe even building some more lean mass, then you need to lift.

The more weight you lift, the more demand you place on your body in terms of energy it needs to produce to hoist said weight. So yes, lifting heavy is what you need to do. Strength has also been shown to be a determinant to your longevity. Strength training helps you live longer. Now, if the results you seek are building more muscle, or what those science nerds call “hypertrophy” but what we cool kids call “gains,” then this myth is, well, a myth for you.

Dr. Brad Schoenfeld and some colleagues recently published a meta-analysis on strength and hypertrophy looking to answer the question of “what rep range is best for building muscle.” Here’s what the good doctor found. Looking over 21 different studies on the effects of hypertrophy, they found that muscle hypertrophy is achieved across all rep ranges.

So if you’re after straight hypertrophy, you don’t need to only lift heavy. You can lift in the 6-8 rep range and make gains; you can lift in the 10-12 rep range and produce more muscle growth; and you can train in higher rep ranges as well to make your sexy muscles swell.

Your goals will always dictate what and how you should train, always. But training for strength and for pure muscle growth—across all rep ranges—is the best way to get the results you want no matter what.

4b: To Tone My Muscles, I Should Use Lighter Weights and High Reps

I could have made these two separate myths. But it feels more like these could be an A and B than two distinct myths.

Again, according to the study above, hypertrophy (read: muscle growth) happens in any rep range. And “toning” is really a mix of building muscle and getting rid of body fat.

I like to think of toning like sculpting. When a sculptor uses clay to make a figure, sometimes the sculptor has to add clay (muscle) to get the desired definition of the piece. And sometimes the sculptor needs less clay and has to chisel it away (lose fat) for the finished piece.

Toning is really a mix of taking away clay (fat) and adding clay (muscle) to bring out the desired results.

5. Weightlifting is bad for the joints

Nope. Wrong. So effing freaking wrong. If you follow an intelligently designed program, one where you’re not being a 20-something meatheaded bro who thinks with his fleshy appendage every time he picks up something heavy, weightlifting will actually strengthen your joints.

Thanks to something known as Wolff’s Law, when you lift heavy weight, not only do your muscles have to build more fibers to handle the increasing loads, but your joints have to make your bones and connective tissues stronger.

But it can only do this when you slowly increase weight. This is why the standard progression coaches and trainers suggest is either do 1-2 more reps than you did last week or add 5-pounds more to the lift. That’s the best way to approach progressive overload.

6. You need a gym*

Lifting weights is awesome. It’s the freakin bees knees, y’all. But you don’t need a gym to increase strength or build muscle. Your body is a gym. And (nearly) every exercise you perform in the gym can be done with bodyweight at home, in the park, or you can bust ‘em out on the A-train when it breaks down for the umpteenth time.

*Technically, you don’t need a gym to get in shape. But doing things on your own is never as fun as when you’re surrounded by amazing human beings engaging in the same activity as you. And thank the Great Unicorn Overlords that there’s a place for people who feel out of place at the gym: The Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams. So if you want to change your life and join the best community on Earth, head over to Mark Fisher Fitness and make today the first day of your new life.

7. Weight training is ineffective for cardiovascular health

This myth is silly and stupid and I don’t even want to waste my time touching it. But it’s still something that people believe. Your heart may not beat at a steady pace like it does when you’re acting like a hamster on a wheel running to nowhere. But weight lifting does affect your cardiovascular health.

Your heart still has to pump blood to your muscles so that they have the energy to handle the demands of the weight you’re lifting. And if you’ve ever been through a single class at MFF, you know that your heart is constantly pounding at levels damn near where they’d be if you were on the treadmill.

Weight lifting is really a version of HIIT training. You lift and your heart works harder, then you rest, and it slows down. Then you do another set and it goes back up. And then you rest again. You are still training your heart when you lift. It may be different than how you train it doing steady state cardio like the treadmill or elliptical, but you will still get cardiovascular benefits from it.

8. Lifting Weights Will Make Women Bulky

Can we please, for the love of Neil Patrick Harris, put this myth to rest? Lifting heavy weight will not make women bulky.

And if you don’t believe me, then let me point you to Kate Upton, the most famous supermodel in the world. Do you know what Kate does for exercise? She lifts heavy. And Kate is not bulky. Like, at all. The fitness industry has been hammering away at this myth for years. And Ben Bruno, Kate’s trainer, has made a ton of progress showing Kate and other models and female celebrities lifting (or pushing) weight that the myth would tell you would make them bulky.

Oh, and if you still don’t believe that lifting doesn’t make women bulky, let me just give you the link to MFF’s testimonial page.

9. The Older You Get, the More Dangerous Lifting Becomes

This is not the case at all. Yes, as we age our bodies naturally begin the process of sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass with aging. But here’s the great thing about lifting weights: it helps you retain muscle mass.

Oh, and before anyone tries to tell you otherwise, it is possible for men and women above the age of 40 to build muscle. You may not build muscle like you did when you were 20. You ain’t a spring chick anymore. But lifting as you age help you retain more of the muscle you already have, which is kind of a big deal. According to one long-term study, those who retained (or built) more lean muscle mass as they aged actually live longer.

So, uh. Start lifting, gramps.

10. Strength training is only for bodybuilders and powerlifters

Only? Oh, so I guess the rest of the world doesn’t have muscles and wouldn’t benefit from hoisting heavy stuff. Strength training is for everyone. It provides numerous benefits that increase your quality of life no matter who you are.

And when I say everyone, I mean every freaking person on the planet can benefit from strength training. Including a population that has been told to avoid strength training altogether: pregnant women.

11: Lifting weights is dangerous for pregnant women and their baby

Writing about stuff like this makes me feel weird because I’m a dude. Luckily, MFF’s own Twerk Team Captain, Amanda Ting, wrote about what women can do while pregnant (hint: you can, and should continue to do resistance training).

Check out Ting’s amazing article on how to continue lifting while preggers.

12. More is better

Are more Michael Bay films a good idea? Nope. In fact, we should have less. Like, none at all really. But when it comes to strength training, more isn’t always better.

When you’re in the gym, you’re breaking down muscles. And you have to break them down before they can be rebuilt. Then you have to make sure you’re feeding your body with the right nutrition so that it can send the necessary materials to your muscles for repair. The protein you consume in your diet is important, but protein consumption alone won’t help you recover. Your body repairs and builds new lean tissue when you’re at rest.

New Yorkers tend to be over caffeinated and under slept. And in The City that Never Sleeps, it’s super easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and feel like you need to “do more” to succeed. But that’s not the case with strength training. More exercise isn’t always better. In fact, we could flip that and say that more rest is better for your goals than taking another class or hitting the gym another one or two days.

Rest is when your body adapts and makes the changes necessary to build new muscle and keep you progressing in the gym.

So Many Myths, So Little TIme

That was Part 1 of our voyage into strength training myth busting. By now, that $13 Bloody Mary should be at your table, so that means it’s time to put your phone down for at least 20 seconds so you can drink it.

Ready for Part 2? Hop right over here.

Mmm, tomato juice and vodka.


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Robbie Farlow is the King of the Gingers, Protector of the North, and an uber nerd who loves all things Star Wars, video games, Marvel, and 90s music. Oh, and tacos and whiskey. He’s an online fitness coach who helps men and women make their 30s better than their 20s. And he writes about all things nerd, lifting weights, emo music, and more at Side Quest Fitness. When he isn’t writing, you’ll find him playing video games, deadlifting, munching on tacos, snuggling on the couch with his wife, and drinking good whiskey.

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