Top 10 Strength Training Myths That Won't Go Away

Updated on February 26, 2020
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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

Mariusz knows how to train for size and strength.
Mariusz knows how to train for size and strength. | Source

The fitness world is filled with all kinds of myths, half-truths and conflicting information. This causes a lot of confusion for people and misdirects them 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

  1. Lifting weights for high reps will tone and define your muscles.
  2. Doing hundreds of sit-ups per day is the way to get a six-pack.
  3. The "bodybuilder style" bench press gives better chest isolation.
  4. Wide grip pull-ups and pulldowns develop wider lats.
  5. Lower reps are for strength only, not size.
  6. You should constantly change your workouts to "confuse your muscles."
  7. You should always train to failure.
  8. Soreness is a good indicator of an effective workout.
  9. Women shouldn't lift weights, or they'll get bulky.
  10. If you stop training, your muscle will turn to fat.

Myth 1: Lifting Light Weights for High Reps Will Tone and Define Your Muscles

The idea that training with light weights will somehow “tone” or define your muscles 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 create a calorie deficit by eating less and/or doing more cardiovascular training.

That, coupled with a sensible weight training program, where you use moderately heavy weights for a moderate number of reps, is the way to 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. To get a six-pack involves building up the abdominal muscles and removing the fat that is covering them.

And, once again, 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 incorporating some effective cardio workouts into your weekly routine 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 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 doubtful it will be enough to actually 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 cause stress/damage to your shoulders. So just use a medium (or close) grip on these exercises.

Myth 5: Lower Reps Are for Strength Only, Not Size

There’s a common belief that only sets of 8–12 reps will build muscle, and anything less than 8 is only good for strength gains.

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”

If you keep making major changes to your workouts, you will 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 simply for the sake of change is of no use at all.

Myth 7: You Should Always Train to Failure

Training to failure is a useful tool to help accelerate muscle growth (as it provides the strongest muscle building stimulus), but you should not do it all the time and on every set, or you will soon run into recovery issues.

By training to failure all the time, you will overtax your central nervous system, your endocrine system, and your immune system too. And this will only hinder your progress. So only do it on an occasional basis, 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 if they are sore the day after training, they must have had a good, productive workout. But actually, that’s not the case. Sure, soreness is a good indicator that you actually activated the target muscles, but it tells you nothing at all 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 irrelevant. And in fact, if you are getting 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 huge amounts of steroids, or other androgenic drugs, as well as training and eating in a way that is specifically designed to achieve that.

Without the drugs, women just don’t have the levels of testosterone necessary 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 the result of that will be a leaner, shapelier body that still looks feminine and sexy.

And no, women should not stick to lifting light weights for high reps either. That’s a waste of 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

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 will 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 look as though your muscles have turned to fat.

The way to avoid this, of course, is to reduce your calorie intake when you stop weight training, and stay as active as possible in other areas.

So those are my top 10 strength training myths that just won’t go away. There are dozens of others of course, and if you believe any of them, chances are your training is not going 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 do something about that.

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.


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