Myths and Misconceptions About Strength Training

Information You Can Rely On

A leg extensions machine.
A leg extensions machine. Oxford/Getty Images

The sports, exercise and nutrition sciences in general are infested with ideas, propaganda, myths, legends and downright inaccuracies. Some of them are difficult to counter and they persist despite evidence to the contrary. Here are a few to consider.

You Can Put On 2-3 Pounds of Muscle In a Week

This is typical of some advertisements one might see for supplements or special training programs. This is unrealistic.

The amount of lean muscle one can add in the absence of anabolic steroid use depends on many factors including age, gender, size and genetics. A more realistic estimate from the experts is 1.5-2 pounds added in a month, tops. Even then, you are likely to see decreasing results beyond the first few months.

Weight Training is the Best Way to Lose Fat

Weight training is not necessarily the best way to lose fat, although you can lose fat weight and increase muscle with regular weight training. It depends on how much training you do and the volume and intensity. Cardio, done for a comparable session time at around 70% of maximum heart rate will generally burn more calories because of the total time in movement, compared to a strength training workout of similar duration.

You Should Not Extend the Knee Beyond the Toes in Lunges

This can never be a universal rule because of variations in individual shape and size, especially the length of the femur in individuals.

Tall people with long femurs (the thigh bone) can comfortably extend the knee beyond the toe tip, whereas people with shorter femurs might place unnecessary force on knee and ankle joints in trying to do so.

You Must Squat Butt to Ankles

Olympic weightlifters have to learn to squat right down to their ankles because of the lifts they are required to perform for competition.

However, again, individuals with long femurs, especially amateur and casual trainers, can feel uncomfortable and unbalanced in this position. For these squatters, half or parallel squats can still provide a good squat workout.

Leg Extensions Will Damage Your Knees

The leg extension machine does place powerful forces on the knee joint, but you don't have to, nor should you, lift heavy weights with this machine. With light weights, it can be useful for progressive resistance training in knee rehabilitation, and also in light weight muscle strengthening in a general workout program.

Anabolic Steroids are Safe If You Cycle Doses

Not necessarily. Many steroid users have suffered adverse effects even with conscientious "cycling," which means implementing a program of use and abstinence in order to allow the body to recover normal processes in the down time. It doesn't always work, especially over the longer term.

Low-Carb Diets are Best for Strength Training

There is no evidence that low-carb diets work better for muscle and strength building than a regular diet balanced with carbohydrates, fat and protein.

In fact, if you are active in sports and need a combination of strength, power, speed and endurance, low-carb diets could be detrimental.

Spot Reduction Works

Spot reduction is the idea that if you target a particular body part with weight training, such as the abdominal muscles for example, you will lose fat in that region, that is, "spot reduction." This is against the rules of physiology and biochemistry. You may be able to increase muscle size of the abdominal muscles, but whether they show as a six-pack or not depends on fat loss from this region, which will be a part of general whole-body fat loss as a result of energy expenditure and calorie restriction.

However, this is not to say that some regions of the body don't lose body fat preferentially and are the first to look leaner. Gender and genetics have a large role to play in this.

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