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Weight Training Myths Debunked

Most of the myths surrounding weight training have a common thread: they are excuses for not working hard in the gym. Although these myths have been debunked many times, they seem to persist because they provide a convenient rationalization for people who want great results without exerting significant effort.

MYTH NUMBER ONE

"I just want to tone; I don't want to get big."

"Toning" is a ridiculous notion. Anyone who is mildly active has muscular tone; it is nothing more than the healthy and normal condition of a muscle which can remain contracted under resistance. If you can carry a small sack of groceries to your car, you have adequate muscular tone. A lack of muscular tone is what occurs when people are bedridden and their muscles begin to atrophy from disuse. It has nothing to do with the size of the muscle or muscular definition.

Just to have a "muscular" body requires dedicated and consistent weight training and a controlled diet. Getting "big" requires many years of near-obsessive weight training, a daily calorie intake well beyond what most people consume, and a strong genetic predisposition toward easy muscle growth. It often involves anabolic steroids, too. Even those who would like to get "big" will rarely be able to do so. The chances of it occurring unintentionally are nil.

In my experience, the true meaning of this statement is: "I really don't want to work very hard or control my diet, but I want a great body." Sorry. It doesn't work like that.

MYTH NUMBER TWO

"Lifting lighter weights for many repetitions creates muscular definition."

There is no support for this proposition. Low-weight, high-volume training may create a brief illusion of muscular definition because it will create some "pump," i.e., the engorgement of skeletal muscles with blood, but that is a temporary condition that will fade within hours. Muscular definition is created by [a] increasing the size of the muscles, and [b] reducing the amount of body fat covering the muscles. Increasing the size of the muscles requires heavy weight training. Reducing body fat requires a controlled diet. There is no special lifting routine for improving muscular definition.

Low-weight, high-volume training does not substantially improve strength, either. It may improve muscular endurance, and that may be beneficial in certain sport-specific training, but strength is largely the product of heavy weight training.

MYTH NUMBER THREE

"The only way to burn fat is to do aerobic exercise."

This proposition is simply untrue. There are numerous bodybuilders with amazingly low body fat percentages who do little or no aerobic exercise. The type of exercise generally referred to as "aerobic" (running, cycling, treadmill, stair-stepper, etc.) does burn fat, but it is not the only method. In fact, weight training may actually be a more efficient method of fat reduction. Aerobic exercise burns calories, and thus fat, during the period of exercise, while weight training burns calories not only during the exercise period, but also afterwards, when the muscles are recovering and growing. Furthermore, the body requires additional calories just to maintain the increased muscle mass achieved by strength training.

Although most "exercise gurus" consider an avoidance of aerobic exercise to be absolute heresy, some medical research has implied that aerobic exercise is not nearly important as it was formerly believed to be, even for cardiovascular health.

MYTH NUMBER FOUR

"Fancy fitness machines are designed to isolate certain muscle groups and are better than free weights."

Nonsense. Good, old "iron gyms" are suddenly turning into "fitness centers" with the addition shiny new machines that boast ergonomically-correct seats, cams, pulleys, cables, chains, and weight stacks. But are these machines more effective than free weights? No. In fact, they are often less effective.

The new "strength-training" machines, which some experienced lifters refer to as "foo foo" machines, are designed to limit movement and to isolate specific muscle groups. This is not a great advantage to someone trying to build all-around muscle mass. While these machines guide movement through a pre-determined path, free weights require the lifter to maintain a balanced movement without the assistance of artificial control. This need for balance causes many "stabilizing muscles" to be put into play. Thus, free-weight exercises incorporate more muscles into the same general exercise movement. If a single set with free weights develops more muscles than a single set on a "foo foo" machine, which is better?

Furthermore, the human body is designed and used to manipulate heavy objects in a free-moving environment. No matter how well designed a machine claims to be, its confined path of movement cannot approximate the movement which the body uses to propel heavy objects in the "real world." The best way to achieve strength and increased muscle mass is to move heavy weights through the path naturally dictated by the human body, not through a path determined by the machine manufacturer.

The occasional use "strength-training" machines may be beneficial for concentrating on specific muscle groups which are lagging in development, but the vast majority of weight training should be done with free weights. And the benefits of free weights are self-evident. "Strength-training" machines, such as Nautilus, have been around for more than 20 years. In that time, a new generation of young bodybuilders has come of age, knowing all the options available to them. Yet upon entering nearly any gym, where do you find the "big guys"? You know the answer. The true reason that such machines are filling gyms and "fitness centers" everywhere is not because they are more effective; their purpose is to attract more members by making weightlifting appear to be easy and painless. And as I said before: it doesn't work that way.

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