The Bespoken Word

7 Strength Training Myths Debunked 

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To lift or not to lift—that is the question. Plus, there’s a ton of misleading information about strength training and everyone has his or her opinion about the right (and wrong) way to lift. To help you weed through fact from fiction, we asked three trainers to debunk seven common strength training myths.

Myth: You’ll Get Bulky

Strength training is often associated with beefy bodybuilders, but you won’t automatically turn into the Hulk by stepping into the weight room. “Misinformation and associating body building with weight training has created quite a stir. The media in general has told these stories for so long that it’s become ingrained in our psyche as the truth,” says Lacey Stone, celebrity trainer, star of Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian, and creator of a new virtual training platform. “Underlying fat tissue is what contributes to bulkiness, not lifting weights.”

Fact: Your diet and hormones matter too. “How much muscle you put on is largely determined by your diet. In a caloric surplus with enough protein, you will put on more muscle,” says Cameron Yuen, senior physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments and strength and conditioning coach. “Even then, without the right hormone makeup, it is difficult to put on too much size.” For example, women don’t have as much testosterone as men, making a harder to “bulk up.”

Myth: You Should Be Sore

Not so fast. “Soreness isn’t actually correlated with progress,” says Yuen. “Soreness after a workout is usually an indication that you either increased the total volume of work, you added a new exercise, or your workout included a lot of eccentric muscle contractions.” Plus, excess soreness may set you up for injury.

Fact: Ditch the idea of “no pain, no gain,” says Pete McCall, ACE-certified trainer and author of Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple. “You don’t always need to go to the point of exhaustion, especially as you get older.” Instead, plan to work hard two to three times a week. Yuen also recommends focusing on small incremental increases in your workouts.

Myth: You’ll Burn Less Calories Than Cardio

Old school thinking has trained us to believe that cardio is the only way to slim down. If you want to boost your metabolism and burn more calories all day, step off the treadmill and pick up some weights.

Fact: “[Strength training] increases your basal metabolic rate, which is the rate at which you burn calories,” says Stone. “Muscle burns more calories at rest so building it helps you burn more calories over all!”

Myth: You’ll Hurt Your Joints

While it may seem like loading your joints with extra weight is a bad idea, weight lifting builds muscles that can help support your joints. In fact, one study found that people with knee pain who participated in a strength training program decreased pain by 43 percent and increased physical function by 44 percent, resulting in a higher quality of life.

Fact: You’ll actually strengthen your joints and prevent injury. “Total body weight training will increase bone density and connective tissues strength throughout the body,” says Yuen. Plus, stronger muscles offer better protection against injury too. “Injuries occur when demands placed on the tissues are greater than the tissue capacity. For example, if you are landing from a jump and your quadriceps and glute muscles are not strong enough to let the knees and hip flex, you will land with a stiffer knee and likely injure your ACL,” says Yuen.

Myth: You Should Always Vary Your Routine

To build strength and see results, you should keep your muscles guessing, right? Yes and no. “Adaptations from strength training take time, so if you hop from program to program, you are likely not going to get the results you were hoping for,” says Yuen.

Fact: “While it’s good to make changes periodically, it’s actually better to stick to a program for at least 6 weeks,” says Yuen. “Progressively increase the intensity, duration, or volume.”

Myth: You Don’t Need to Strength Train As You Get Older

“You should strength train at any age,” says McCall, especially as you get older. “It’s good for your bones, increases your resting metabolism, improves balance and coordination—preventing falls—and helps with cognitive function,” he says.

Fact: Keep hitting the weights no matter your age. As you get older, you skip the free weights and opt for machines, like the seated row, leg press and bench press machine, which can be safer, says McCall.