Myth or Fact:
For a muscle to get stronger, it has to get bigger.
Myth: The amount of force a muscle can generate depends not just on the size of the muscle fibers but also on the number of fibers that can be activated and used. Each time you challenge your muscles to do more than they usually do, they learn to use more of your existing muscle fibers. Muscle fibers won’t start getting bigger until after you reach the point where you’re activating most of them–and you can gain a lot of strength before you get to that point.
The best way to tone your muscles without bulking up is to perform many repetitions with lighter weights.
Myth: There is no such thing as “toning” a muscle. You can strengthen a muscle by “overloading” it during strength training, and you can build its endurance with cardio exercise. Simply moving a muscle against resistance 25 or 50 times without fatiguing it doesn’t accomplish either goal.
If you do circuit training, then you don’t need to do cardio separately.
Myth: Circuit training involves moving quickly from one strength exercise to the next, with very little rest in between, to keep your heart rate elevated. But circuit training alone can’t be your sole means of “cardio,” which requires you to use large muscles in a rhythmic movement for an extended period of time. Strength training doesn’t provide all of the same benefits as cardio, even if your heart rate is up.
Doing cardio exercise can prevent you from building muscle mass.
Fact: Doing too much cardio exercise can make it harder to build muscle mass, but the right amount of the right kind of cardio can help your efforts. Moderate to high intensity cardio exercise that goes on for more than 45-60 minutes can force your body to break down more muscle tissue to get fuel for your exercise. So, doing over 45 minutes of cardio and strength training during the same workout session can potentially cancel out the benefits of your strength training. However, it’s fine to combine strength training with short (15-20 minute) bouts of very high intensity cardio, especially high intensity interval training, which can help enhance your muscle building efforts. Save your longer cardio sessions for days when you don’t do strength training.
It’s better to squeeze out one more repetition, even with bad form, to really fatigue your muscles.
Myth: Bad form is never a good idea. The only thing this will accomplish is increasing your risk of injury. Your goal should be to stop after the last repetition you can do in good form–that means without using
momentum or body contortions to move the weight. A little muscle trembling or shakiness is OK, but don’t go beyond that.
It’s best to start your workout with exercises for larger muscles and then work on your smaller muscles.
Fact: If you work out the smaller muscles first, they’ll be too tired to help out when you’re lifting heavier weights to train your larger muscles. So do the “heavy lifting” first, and finish off with the smaller muscles.
The best way to improve functional fitness (your ability to do things in everyday life) is to use free weights.
Myth: This is a trick question! While using free weights can be more challenging and better mimic real-life
movements, just any free weight exercise won’t do if your goal is to maximize functional fitness. Many strength training exercises (with machines or free weights) tend to train a single muscle group, while many real-life movements involve multiple muscle groups and joints moving at the same time. The best way to improve your functional fitness is to duplicate those movement patterns during your training, using added resistance and/or multiple repetitions, regardless of where that resistance comes from (be it bands, dumbbells, body weight, machines or a combination). A mix of many different exercises is usually the best idea.
Using machines allows you to lift more weight and target the larger muscles involved in a particular movement–but the machine supports you so that you don’t have to use your smaller supporting muscles. On the other hand, free weights can add to your strength training program because you also have to use your smaller muscles to maintain balance and stability without the help or support of a machine.
Lifting weights is the best way to make your muscles more visible and get that “buff” look.
Myth: Looking “buff” (having muscle definition) actually has more to do with how much body fat is sitting on top of your muscles than the size or shape of the muscles themselves. Most people (men and women alike) don’t have the ideal body chemistry or genetics to build really large muscles or to drop their body fat to the very low levels seen in cover models and body builders. But almost everyone can lose much of their excess body fat and look more fit and conditioned. Lifting weights is an important part of the formula, but losing body fat by monitoring your calorie intake and increasing cardio exercise and regular daily activity is crucial.
Special techniques like drop sets and supersets are good training methods for regular people interested in basic fitness.
Fact: Both drop sets and supersets are handy for average exercisers and body builders alike. You’ll like both of these techniques if you want to do more than one exercise for each muscle group; minimize the downtime in your workout; and/or boost your calorie burn.
To perform drop sets, do 10-12 reps with the highest weight you can handle, and then immediately drop the weight by 20% or so and try to
do as many more repetitions as you can without resting. This technique is a great way to make sure that you’re working a muscle to fatigue in one set.
For supersets do a set of exercises for one muscle and immediately do a set for the opposing muscle without resting–for example biceps then triceps, or chest then back. This is a good way to get more exercises done in the same amount of time.
Eating extra protein is crucial to building large muscles because that’s what makes up muscle.
Myth: Eating protein does not build muscles–strength training does. Bodybuilders and athletes do need more protein than more sedentary individuals but usually not more than the maximum amount recommended for all adults. With proper timing of meals and snacks, a diet that provides 30-35% of total calories from protein should be adequate for muscle building.
You should increase the amount of weight you lift every time you workout.
Myth: Progressively overloading your muscles is the key to effective strength training. But increasing the weight you use too rapidly can lead to burnout, chronic soreness, and overuse injuries. A better approach for most people is to increase the weight (by about 10%) when you can reliably do the higher number of reps each time in good form.
Doing2-3 sets of one exercise for each muscle group is the best approach for building strength.
Myth: To maximize muscle performance, it’s important to work muscles from various angles and in various movement patterns during strength training. Your muscles respond to exercise by getting better at exactly what you make them do. If all you do is bench presses, you’ll get better at bench presses, but not necessarily at other motion patterns or angles.
When you think of your muscles in terms of body areas, like your “chest” or “back” or “shoulders,” it’s important to remember that there are almost always multiple muscles involved in each area. Your back, for example, includes your trapezius, rhomboids, lattisimus dorsi, and spinatus muscles. While they often work together, different exercises will emphasize each of them. A good back workout would include lat pulldowns, seated rows, reverse flys, shrugs, and back extensions. You don’t have to do them all each time you workout, but if time is short, you may be better off doing one set of each of three different exercises than three sets of the same exercise.