David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
The fitness world is filled with all kinds of myths, half-truths and conflicting information. This creates a lot of confusion and misdirects people into doing things that are not only ineffective but, in some cases, can be positively harmful.
So in this article, I’ll take a look at 10 of the most common strength training myths that just won’t seem to go away, so you’ll be able to separate fact from fiction and structure your training in a more sensible and productive way as a result.
10 Strength Training Myths You Shouldn't Believe
- Lifting light weights for high reps will tone and define your muscles.
- Doing hundreds of sit-ups per day is the way to get a six-pack.
- The "bodybuilder style" bench press gives better chest isolation.
- Wide grip pull-ups and pulldowns develop wider lats.
- Lower reps are for strength only, not size.
- You should constantly change your workouts to "confuse your muscles."
- You should always train to failure.
- Soreness is a good indicator of an effective workout.
- Women shouldn't lift weights, or they'll get bulky.
- If you stop training, your muscle will turn to fat.
Myth 1: Lifting Light Weights for High Reps Will Tone and Define Your Muscles
You often hear people say that you should train with light weights to “tone” or define your muscles. But this is nonsense. You get muscle definition by losing the excess fat that is covering them. And you can’t spot reduce, so the only way you can do this is to reduce your calorie intake by eating less and/or doing more cardiovascular exercise.
That, alongside a sensible weight training program, where you use moderately heavy weights for a moderate number of reps, is how you get that lean, toned and defined look.
Myth 2: Doing Hundreds of Sit-Ups Per Day Is the Way to Get a Six-Pack
This is similar to the above. If you want to get a six-pack, you need to build up your abdominal muscles and remove the excess fat that is covering them.
And, as I said, you can’t spot reduce, so doing hundreds of sit-ups will do nothing to remove the fat. Only a proper fat loss diet plan will do that. And if you incorporate some effective cardio workouts into your weekly routine, that will help to improve results still further.
Myth 3: The “Bodybuilder Style” Bench Press Gives Better Chest Isolation
Bodybuilder style bench pressing involves flaring your elbows out to the sides and lowering the bar to touch your upper chest. And although this may put a tiny bit more emphasis on the pecs, and a tiny bit less on the triceps, it’s really not enough to make any difference.
But bench pressing this way puts much more stress on the shoulder joints, and over time this will cause a lot of damage. So always tuck your elbows when bench pressing, and lower the bar to touch your chest at around nipple level, or a shade below.
Myth 4: Wide Grip Pull-Ups and Pulldowns Develop Wider Lats
The idea that you can build wider lats by using a wider grip on your pull-ups and pulldowns is again a myth. It will have a negligible effect at best. And all it will really do is reduce your range of motion and again put more stress on your shoulder joints, which is likely to lead to damage over time. So just use a medium (or close) grip on these exercises.
Myth 5: Lower Reps Are for Strength Only, Not Size
Many people believe that only sets of 8–12 reps will build muscle, and anything less than 8 is only useful for building strength.
But the truth is that many people (particularly skinny hardgainers) will actually do better by training in the 6–10 rep range. And even 4 or 5 reps can increase muscle size very effectively, especially for those who have not been training that long.
And, apart from that, increasing your strength is a vital part of what it takes to increase muscle size anyway, as the stronger you are, the more weight you’ll be able to use for your higher rep sets. And that will give rise to more muscle growth.
So for best results, you should use a combination of lower and higher reps.
Myth 6: You Should Constantly Change Your Workouts to “Confuse Your Muscles”
Making major changes to your workouts on a regular basis is one way to ensure you never get anywhere. You don’t want to shock your muscles, and you can’t “confuse” them either.
As I’ve said before, muscle growth requires strength gains, and strength gains require consistency to achieve, not change.
You will need to make some changes occasionally, of course, either as part of a logical periodized progression and/or when you have stopped making progress with a particular routine. But these changes should normally be quite small and properly planned. Change just for the sake of change is of no use whatsoever.
Myth 7: You Should Always Train to Failure
Training to failure is useful to help promote increased muscle growth (as it provides a stronger muscle building stimulus), but you should not do it all the time and on every set, or you will soon have a problem with recovery.
If you train to failure all the time, you will overtax your central nervous system, your endocrine system, and your immune system, as well as putting increased trauma on your joints, tendons and connective tissues. And all that will do is hinder your progress. So only do it occasionally, and when you do use it, only go to failure on your last set of an exercise.
But you should never get to the point of actually failing mid-rep (or doing one of those really slow, grinding reps) when you are doing heavy weight, lower rep training, as this is likely to make your gains stall almost immediately.
Myth 8: Soreness Is a Good Indicator of an Effective Workout
Many people think that it's important to be sore the day after training, as that will mean they have had a good, productive workout. But actually, that’s not the case. Yes, soreness is a good indicator that you actually activated the muscles you were targeting, but it tells you nothing about how effective your workout was.
If you are a beginner, you can expect to experience some soreness the day after training (and often the day after that too), but when you’ve been training for some time, you’ll probably only get sore when you make changes to your routine.
Either way though, it’s not really relevant. And in fact, if you are experiencing too much soreness on a regular basis, it’s probably an indicator that you are doing too much, so you may need to back off a bit.
Myth 9: Women Shouldn’t Lift Weights, or They’ll Get Bulky
This is another myth that just won’t go away, probably because of all the bodybuilding magazines that show female bodybuilders with massive muscles and other masculine characteristics. But these women are all taking a huge amount of steroids, and/or other androgenic drugs, and they are also training and eating in a way that is specifically designed to achieve that.
Without the drugs, women don’t have anything like the levels of testosterone required to build much in the way of muscle size. So lifting weights will not make you look bulky or manly. You will build some muscle of course, but that's desirable, and the result of it will be a leaner, shapelier body that still looks feminine and sexy.
And women should not stick to lifting light weights for high reps either. That will just be a waste of your time. You can train hard and heavy just like a man would, but your results will be entirely different.
Myth 10: If You Stop Training, Your Muscle Will Turn to Fat
I hear this a lot, but actually muscle cannot turn into fat, as these are two completely different types of tissue. That's like saying that gold can turn into brass. It’s just not possible.
What does happen, however, is that when you stop training, your muscles start to shrink. And if you keep eating the same way as you did when you were training (or if you relax your diet and eat even more) you will gain fat over the top of your muscles. So it will appear as though your muscles have turned to fat.
But the way to avoid this is simply to reduce your calorie intake when you stop weight training, and stay as active as possible in other areas.
So those are 10 of the main strength training myths that just won’t go away. But there are dozens of others, and if you believe any of them, then your training will likely not to be as effective as it could be, and you won’t be getting the results that you should be getting. But now of course, you can start to address that, and train in a more productive way as a result.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.