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If you want to increase your strength and build muscle, weightlifting should definitely be part of your workout routine. That being said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
Many inexperienced gym-goers worry that lifting heavy weights will increase the risk of injury or cause them to become too bulky. Experienced lifters find themselves defending their methods, often without strong, science-backed reasons.
Whichever category you fall into, understanding the truth about weightlifting and dispelling the myths can help you embrace the lifestyle and see real results. Here’s a look at the top 10 weightlifting myths and why they shouldn’t stop you.
Myth #1: Weightlifting Makes You Bulky
It’s often assumed that weightlifting will make you big and bulky, but the truth is, adding muscle and lean body mass is difficult to do with lifting alone. For both men or women, gaining muscle mass comes from a combination of heavy weightlifting and following a protein-rich diet.(1)
The key to improving your body composition to become stronger and leaner is to perform compound lifting movements like squatting and deadlifting.(2)
Myth #2: Weightlifting is Bad for Your Joints
You may have heard that lifting weights puts unsafe strain on your joints but that’s only likely to happen if you lift the wrong way.
In fact, with proper form and plenty of recovery time between workouts, weightlifting exercises can actually improve joint stability and reduce pain, particularly from arthritis.(3)
Myth #3: Cardio is Better for Fat Loss
True, you’ll burn more calories while you’re doing cardio than you will lifting weights, but that’s only half the equation. On top of being more effective for building muscle, weight training also helps to spike your metabolism for longer after your workout in comparison to cardio.
Keeping your metabolism elevated ultimately helps your body burn more calories at rest.(4) Research shows that a combination of weightlifting and cardio such as HIIT may help to maximize your fat loss potential.(5)
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Myth #4: Weightlifting Causes High Blood Pressure
Weightlifting may cause a temporary rise in blood pressure, however, research shows that a consistent routine can actually lower both your systolic and diastolic pressures over time.(6)
Normal blood pressure is essential for cardiovascular health, so strength training is actually good for your heart. On top of that, improved blood flow also decreases the risk of sexual health issues like erectile dysfunction (ED) for men.
Myth #5: Higher Reps Will Tone Your Body Without Gaining Muscle
The fact is, toning itself is a myth – muscles simply grow or shrink in size, they don’t change in tone. If you want your muscles to become more visible, you may want to focus on losing body fat.
Research shows that lifting higher reps with lighter weights yields similar results to lifting more weight for fewer reps.(7) So, if you want to achieve a lean, toned look, you may want to consider pairing weightlifting with cardio to shed fat and gain lean mass.
Myth #6: Weightlifting is Only for Men
Weightlifting has benefits for everyone, regardless of sex. Unless a woman spends seven days a week in the gym and consumes massive amounts of calories and protein every day, she’s unlikely to become bulky. In fact, most women are able to build significant amounts of strength and lean muscle mass without appearing bulky at all.
On top of the most obvious benefits, weightlifting also helps to trigger your body’s production of somatotropin and human growth hormone (yes in women too) which have been shown to increase fat metabolism and reduce some of the biological effects of aging.(8)
Myth #7: Machines Are Better Than Free Weights
New gym-goers tend to stick to machines because they come with instructions and they may be less intimidating than free weights.
The truth is, however, weight machines limit your body to a single plane of motion which may ultimately limit the amount of muscle activation you get from the exercise.
For instance, one study showed a 43% increase in muscle activity in the quads during traditional weighted squats in comparison to squats that were done using a Smith machine.(9)
No need to worry if you’re new to lifting, bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and lunges can be just as effective as their weighted counterparts – it’s all about resistance.
Myth #8: Weightlifting is Bad for Flexibility
Flexibility refers to the ease with which your joints move through their complete range of motion. Some people are naturally more flexible than others, though stretching and certain exercises like yoga can improve flexibility.
While it’s commonly assumed that weightlifting is bad for flexibility because bigger muscles may impinge on your range of motion, the truth is, full-range resistance training can actually improve flexibility, perhaps even better than static stretching routines.(10)
Myth #9: You Should Only Work One Muscle Group Each Day
You’ve seen the memes about “leg day” and it’s true, bodybuilders and heavy gym-goers often focus an entire workout on a single muscle group. Unless you’re going to the gym every day, however, you’re likely to see better results with a more comprehensive workout.
Full-body workouts with ample recovery time in between are great for burning fat and improving strength without accumulating too much mass.(11)
Myth #10: You Have to Lift Heavy to See Results
Research shows that lifting lighter weights for more reps may be just as effective as lifting heavier weights for fewer reps when it comes to building muscle.(12) The key to seeing results is to push your muscles to the point of fatigue – that’s when growth happens.
You don’t want to overdo it, but whichever approach works best to help you achieve that goal is the right way to go. If you’re new to weightlifting or concerned about aggravating an old injury, stick to lighter weights with more reps.
Regular exercise is the key to improving and maintaining your health but when we say exercise, we’re not just about cardio. With proper training, correct form, and timely recovery, weightlifting can be a great addition to your workout routine and your lifestyle.
So, remember what you’ve learned about these weightlifting myths and get started on your journey towards stronger muscles and improved confidence.
- “Dietary Protein to Maximize Resistance Training: A Review and Examination of Protein Spread and Change Theories”Bosse, J.D., and Dixon, B.M. Journal of the Internationl Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012.
- “How to Add Compound Exercises to Your Workout Routine”Chertoff, J. Healthline. Jun. 2018.
- “Strength Training Can Crush Arthritis Pain. Arthritis Health.”DeVries, C. Arthritis Health. 2015.
- “Specific Metabolic Rates of Major Organs and Tissues Across Adulthood: Evaluation by Mechanistic Model of Resting Energy Expenditure.”Wang, ZiMian, et al.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010.
- “ 7 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)”Tinsley, G. Healthline. Healthline. 2017.
- “ Progressive Resistance Exercise and Resting Blood Pressure”Kelley, G. A., Kelley, K.S. Hypertension. 2000.
- “ Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men”Burd, N.A., et al. PLoS One. 2010.
- “ 4 Myths About Strength Training for Women”McCall, P. Ace Fitness. 2014.
- “A Comparison of Free Weights to Smith Machine Squat Using Electromyography”Schwanbeck, S., et al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009.
- “Resistance Training Improves Flexibility Too”Laino, C. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
- “What Are the Benefits of Full Body Workouts vs. Split?”Garnas, E. Trainer Development Center.
- “Resistance Exercise Does Not Determine Training-Mediated Hypertrophic Gains in Young Men”Mitchell, C.J. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012.