There are a lot of myths and misconceptions in the health and fitness world. A lot of these are perpetrated by misinformed individuals or those with financial interests behind the lies. Marketing, social media and anecdotal evidence are the enemies of the evolution of health and fitness training. It is time we learned what is real and what is not.
Myth #1. Lifting Weights Makes Women Bulky
This is a common misconception which may be more damaging than we realise. The fear of gaining too much unsightly muscle often leaves women fearful of following a strength training programme which may have helped them achieve their goals a lot faster. In order to build a toned physique, you need to build muscle and strip away the fat sitting on top of the muscle, and strength training is a great way to achieve this.
The truth: Most women do not produce enough testosterone to gain a lot of muscle in a relatively fast amount of time. Testosterone is one of the main anabolic (muscle building) hormones in the body, and men produce on average 8 times more testosterone than women and subsequently gain muscle at a faster rate (1). There are exceptions of course, but these are rare. Female athletes with "unnaturally" muscular physiques often obtain this through steroid use or a genetic predisposition towards muscle growth.
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Myth #2. Weight Lifting Leads To Lots Of Injuries
Lifting weights does not directly lead to lots of injuries. If anything, weight lifting can actually help to alleviate joint pain by strengthening tendons surrounding a joint and improving movement efficiency, muscular balance and neuromuscular pathways (2).
The truth: Injuries which occur due to lifting weights are often down to improper form, training too frequently, dehydration or using weights which are too heavy for your ability - or dropping an 80kg barbell on your toe whilst bailing on a snatch, as I can attest to! Heavy weightlifting such as powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting does not lead to an increase in injuries compared to other non-contact sports requiring strength and power and leads to a reduced amount of injuries compared to contact sports (3).
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Myth #3. Weight Lifting Makes You Inflexible
After a resistance training session, your muscles may feel stiff and/or sore. This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and is a perfectly normal consequence of resistance training as microtears are created due to the resistance which leads to soreness in the following days. While your muscles may be sore for a few days, it hasn’t made you less flexible or mobile.
The truth: Lifting weights with correct form through a complete range of motion can actually help to improve flexibility as much as, if not more than, static stretching (4) (5). Moving through a full range of motion is beneficial for obvious reasons, but increasing strength in muscles also improves their flexibility. The stretch reflex is what inhibits a muscle extending during a stretch by contracting the muscle being stretched to avoid injury caused by the excessive elastic tension. This is the tightness you feel when you stretch a certain muscle. By strengthening the muscle you increase the amount of tension it can withstand, thus increasing its flexibility. Olympic weightlifters who train and compete with extremely heavy weights are some of the most flexible athletes around.
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Myth #4. Weight Training Won't Improve Your Cardiovascular Fitness
The aim of cardiovascular training is to improve the efficiency of the cardiovascular and aerobic systems - the heart, blood vessels and lungs. The common consensus seems to be that aerobic training is the main way in which to improve these systems and that people who train primarily with weights have poor CV fitness.
The truth: A combination of resistance training and aerobic training produced better results in cardiovascular health markers than either aerobic or resistance training alone (6). Research also shows that resistance training improved sub-maximal cardiovascular performance in older men (7). If you still don’t think that resistance training can improve your cardiovascular fitness, just try performing 5 sets of heavy front squats for 5+ reps and come back to us!
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Myth #5. Children Shouldn’t Perform Weighted Exercise
Properly performed and supervised strength training amongst adolescents will NOT stunt their growth in any way. This myth originated in the 1970s and 80s when some case reports and studies reported an increase in epiphyseal injuries amongst young lifters. This led to the misconception that the increased risk and incidences of injuries to these areas of the bones led to “stunted growth” as the epiphyseal plates are the regions in which new bone growth occurs. Subsequent evaluation of these case reports and studies shows that injuries are attributed more to improper technique, using weights which are too heavy and poor programme design (8).
The truth: Strength training when correctly administered, supervised and programmed is a great way to improve the strength, balance, coordination, power and endurance of any athlete, including those who are still growing. For young athletes who are still growing, the emphasis of any programme should be of correct technique and form. Focus on compound exercises which work the highest amount of muscles and only increase difficulty when the athlete seems comfortable.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Maitland is a personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience. He has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEO's, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.