5 Weight Training Myths That Need Breaking
Health Mastery | Edition Nº7
Last week I stumbled upon a great thread by Anthony Knobbe about the myths of weight training which inspired me to dissect some common beliefs people have that do more harm than good to our progress in the gym or at home.
Let’s get into them.
Myth #1: Weight Training > Cardio for Fat Loss
Many people believe cardio is the golden solution to fat loss and that if you want to build muscle, lifting weights is the way to go.
It’s not that simple.
You can use weight training to lose fat. It can even be better than cardio. But believing the contrary is one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen when training friends, doing research or reading other case studies.
The pushing, pulling, twisting or lifting movements against a weight or mechanical resistance encourages muscle growth and efficiency. And the increase in muscle strength enhances your musculoskeletal health by improving balance and joint stability, promoting good posture and preventing injury. You don’t get this type of effect from cardio. Especially cardio alone.
Further, when we lift weights, we tend to burn more calories over 24 hours from weightlifting than cardio, thanks to post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). One study found that resistance increase exercise elevates our metabolism for up to 38 hours post-workout. So, rather than burning 60 calories an hour while sitting down and watching TV, you burn 70. This is because you increase oxygen consumption to accommodate your body’s recovery from a workout. Even if you do steady-state cardio and weight training at the same intensity, your body tends to stop burning as many calories sooner from cardio. And the more muscle you have, the higher your calorie burn rate is and the better your results.
Cardio has a more considerable influence on your cardiovascular health as your heart and lungs work harder for longer. While you shouldn’t stop cardio completely, it should blend well with a good weight training programme. Trying to lose weight while ignoring weight training is only hurting yourself. Adding muscle mass will help you lose fat mass. And if you want to burn fat without getting muscular, you can. Because believe me, it’ll take a lot more effort to achieve that than to lift weights a few times a week.
Myth #2: Lifting Weights Will Not Make You Bulky
The end of the last myth leads me seamlessly to the next one. Since school, I’ve seen this belief prevent people (mostly women) from going anywhere near a weights section. Although this belief is slowly fading (which is excellent), it still needs to be clear.
The truth isn’t black and white here. Lifting weights promote hypertrophy, but muscle takes up a lot less space on your body compared to fat. Inimical to what people think, building muscle demands a great deal of hard work. Ignoring the newbie gains and recomping (simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth), you generally need to train hard and eat a bit more than you burn. Otherwise, we’re almost flattering ourselves to think it’s that easy to get “swole”. It’s unlikely you’ll wake up one day suddenly large.
The cause of “bulky” physiques is fat. If you worry about being bulky, it’s often a case of keeping too much fat around the muscles. Excess body fat causes that bulky look in people who are adding muscle without losing significant fat. It’s hard to do both simultaneously (see recomping) because both goals require different diets.
Overall, you may get bulky during a weight training plan—and it might be something you like—but you won’t have to stay bulky if you’re trying to lose fat and build muscle.
Myth #3: Ab Workouts Do NOT Eliminate Belly Fat
Defined abs have long been the symbol of exceptional health and fitness. This is why the internet, magazines, people, are obsessed with advising ab exercises to destroy belly fat. I know how terrible this advice is because I chased chiselled abs for most of my preadolescent and teenage years.
Your abs are popular muscles that help make up your core musculature. They help you breathe, move and protect internal organs and your spine, and they’re in charge of postural support and balance. Your abs also reduce back pain and increase flexibility and stability; however, having strong abs is not enough.
Many people believe ab exercise will help them lose belly fat. However, research says this isn’t as true as we think.
Spot reduction refers to the idea that we can lose belly fat in one spot by exercising that part of the body. While spot-training exercises can make you feel the burn there, they won’t help you get rid of belly fat.
This applies to all areas of our body too.
Conversely, one study found specific arm exercises increased fat loss in that area, and another found that blood flow and fat loss were higher in the subcutaneous fat that was close to an active muscle.
The evidence isn’t 100% clear, but many studies concluded that training one area of your body would not help you burn fat there; instead, whole-body exercises will quicken your metabolism and thus burn calories and fat. Aerobic and moderate to high-intensity exercise may also be good at this. But only if it’s frequent enough, such as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio, five days a week, or 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio, three days a week.
Myth #4: Muscle Does NOT Become Fat
“I stopped exercising and it turned into fat” is nonsense. It’s impossible. No process in our body allows muscle (made up of protein, amino acids and water) to turn into fat (adipose). The human body cannot magically turn one tissue into another.
People who see themselves getting fatter believe this misconception. While muscle becoming fat is a myth, your increasing body fat percentage isn’t. What’s also happening is simultaneous skeletal muscle mass loss combined with increasing fat mass at the same rate.
Although you may not notice it, you lose muscle all the time because your muscles depend on cell turnover and protein synthesis. In other words, your body continuously breaks down protein in your muscles and rebuilds them. This is what keeps you alive.
Partially used muscles (using ~20% of their maximum force) tend to begin atrophying over the long term. And muscles that aren’t used at all (like when you’re bedridden) can degrade even faster.
The excess fat comes from an energy surplus—eating more than you need or are burning. Although people know this, it still catches many of us out. Especially if we’re used to being athletic and fit, and it’s why many retired athletes tend to gain tremendous weight.
You need to eat many calories to build muscle. If you stopped working out and continued eating the same amount, then you will add fat. You don’t turn your muscles into fat; you just get fat.
It’s simple. If an overweight person trained at the gym and got ripped, they would lose the fat surrounding the muscle.
Myth #5: Weight Machines > Free Weights
Many people—especially beginners—tend to shy away from free weights, opting for a guided machine exercise instead. However, free weights and machine weights (or other types of resistance like mini-bands) can increase your strength. Although free weights are generally less expensive and more versatile, they also simulate real lifting scenarios and promote full-body stabilisation. People also worry about the safety of free weights, but with good technique, you should have nothing to worry about.
We often choose machine weights because they’re easier to learn and use quickly. However, one study found free-form training to increase strength and balance better than fixed-form training.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that machine weights are equally effective, as long as you use machines that actor to your body dimensions and allow your joints to move through their natural motion. Machine weights can be safer and equally as good as free weights for older people and new lifters.
Overall, it comes down to personal preference and that which fits into your lifestyle. However, free weights help you engage all the necessary muscles which train your stabilisers and improve your strength through your range of motion in a more natural way.