Training Fallacies

The health and fitness industry is riddled with training fallacies and myths based on nothing more than emotion and divine faith. Training programs should be based on proven scientific principles, not somebody's unfounded emotional opinions or desire to make some quick money!

Let’s take a look now at some of the more common fallacies and myths.

1. Women who lift weights get big, bulky muscles

Women do not have the levels of testosterone and human growth hormone required to increase lean muscle mass dramatically. The majority of women will only have the capability to replace the muscle that they have lost naturally since they turned 20 years of age. At most, an increase of a couple of kilograms of lean muscle mass, above and beyond what the genetics determine, may occur in a very small percent of LUCKY women. Lucky, because more muscle means a faster metabolism, faster fat burning and a major slow down of the ageing process!

2. Your beautiful, lean, hard muscles will turn to flabby fat if you stop lifting weights

“Muscle cannot be turned into fat. This is as impossible as turning metal into water or wood into plastic.” If you stop training you will naturally lose muscle size. You could possibly put on fat because you are still eating the same amounts of food that you were eating while you were active and training. Your metabolic rate will also decline because you are losing active muscle tissue. All of this will decrease daily energy expenditure and promote fat gain. So yes, if you stop training you could get fat but not because muscle turns to fat.You will get fat because you have lost muscle which causes fat gain – one cannot physiologically turn into the other!

3. Specific exercises are great for toning muscles

Toning is a slang term that really means low levels of body fat, leaving the muscles under the skin more visible. Obviously you need to lift weights so you have enough muscle to be visible. However, there is no such thing as an untoned muscle. Muscle is active tissue, it does not hang down, or hang off your bones and it cannot be ‘untoned’. The untoned appearance comes from having too much subcutaneous fat over the muscle.

4. Specific exercises are great for ‘spot reduction’ as they burn fat  from specific areas

Spot reduction exercises promote working a particular body part or muscle to burn fat from the worked area. Unfortunately, this theory goes against every scientific principle of exercise physiology. We cannot choose where we want to lose fat.

If you worked one leg and not the other with side leg raises, you wouldn’t get a fat leg and a thin leg! When you move more, eat less and lift weights, fat will come off from all over your body. Where from and how quickly is different for everyone dependent on your genetic make up and your general body shape. We also would not have fat on our bottoms, hips and legs, as we use all of these muscles for our daily, regular transportation – standing, walking, running, cycling, swimming and so on.

To use fat as a source of fuel, it can only be oxidised (burnt off) aerobically. This simply means while you are alive, breathing, sleeping, moving or exercising your body uses fat as a fuel source to survive. Move more, for longer and faster and you will burn fat, from all over your body faster. Exercises that work one body part at a time, such as crunches and side leg raises, create a ‘burning’ feeling or sensation in the muscle which people commonly misinterpret as exploding fat cells; this burning sensation is only a build-up of lactate – a substance produced by the body when you are working anaerobically, NOT aerobically! When you are using your anaerobic system to produce energy you will be using glycogen(carbohydrate) as the main source of energy. This means you are NOT burning any significant amounts of fat.

5. Lift weights at high repetitions and low weight for toning

As we now know, muscle tone comes from having adequate amounts of muscle that can be seen under low levels of body fat. Maintaining muscle (women) or building muscle (men) can only happen if the muscle is placed under significant overload (low reps). Overload can only come from a regular increase in the loads you are lifting. As your body adapts (gets stronger) to lifting a certain weight, that weight will now be easy to lift and you will need to lift more weight to create an overload effect.

Doing the exercise more times (reps) will force your body to ‘endure’ more weight but there will no longer be an overload. Put simply, get stronger, to maintain/build more muscle and to burn fat faster. If you are not getting stronger, your body does not have to work harder.

6. Men who get muscle bound cannot move around

Some people fear lifting weights because they will get really big. So big, their excessive size may restrict joint movements due to the increase in muscle mass between the two articulating bones. Completely irrelevant for women – as even if you are a lucky woman with the genetics to put on 1-2kgs of muscle, this amount will actually make you smaller (more fat burnt because you have more muscle) and less fat means you will have more energy and you will move around easier.

For the guys, most guys will also find it very difficult to put on any more than 5-10 kg of muscle (without drug support). Just ask the men who are strength training regularly and seeing very small increases in muscle. If you are one of the genetically gifted males who can put on large amounts of muscle (be sure to balance your strength training with cardiovascular exercise and flexibility training).

7. Men and women need different exercise programs

Men and women have the same functional anatomy and physiology in terms of muscles and exercise response – we have the same musculoskeletal structure, which means...both men and women require progressive overload to stimulate physiological adaptations in muscle strength, endurance and power.

Therefore men’s and women’s exercise programs, including their strength training programs, should basically be the same. There are no special exercises that women should do instead of men and vice versa. We have the same muscles and they need to get stronger. The only difference is men have a higher capacity for muscle hypertrophy (bigger muscles) due to higher hormonal levels.

8. Specific exercises will shape a muscle

A muscle shape is pre-determined by a person’s genetics, this is known as the elastic properties of muscle. Muscle will always return to its resting shape and length and a muscle can gain or lose size but it is impossible to re-shape a muscle to a desired shape by performing a specific type of exercise. If two different people perform the same exercise routine, over a set period of time, they will NOT end up with exactly the same body shape or gain the same amount of muscle size. You can change your body shape by gaining or losing muscle but the shape of your muscle is genetically determined so we strength train to reach our genetic potential!

9) You can eat and drink protein powders to build extra muscle

People spend thousands of pounds on protein shakes, powders and bars in the hope that the extra protein will add more muscle than they can build in the gym. Sadly for the people who have spent the money, there is no published research to show that extra protein, beyond the body's requirements of 1 to 2 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight, will add extra muscle to the body. 

The body uses stores and then oxidises any extra protein eaten beyond what is needed. It is not converted then it is stored as fat and it is not stuffed into the muscle to make it bigger.

10. You must take supplements to enhance muscle strength, power and size.

There is very limited research that shows taking added extra forms of (drug free) supplementation will enhance muscle strength, power and size. The food supplementation that has shown to have an anabolic effect is carbohydrate. In other words, eat more quality calories that your body can use for energy to help you train harder. Creatine monohydrate is a supplement that has shown some positive benefit for muscle growth, however, only in about 50% of people and there is no added benefit if you do not first have a sensible training, eating, hydration and sleeping plan suited to your training schedule.

11. You can take fat metabolisers, fat burning pills and use cellulite cream to burn unwanted fat.

Please do not waste your money on such products. Fat is stored in the fat cell and can only be utilised as a source of energy in the aerobic energy system – your body has to burn it off! There are many fat burning supplements on the market but none of them have been scientifically proven to increase the oxidation of fat. Cellulite is a non-scientific term for fat that originated in the beauty therapy industry. It is the result of the fat bulging against the skin which is restricted by vertical fibrous bands that keep the skin in place relative to the muscle. Males fibrous bands are more elongated therefore have a lot less cellulite. Rubbing a cream onto the surface of the skin, which is water resistant, has no physiological effect on lipolysis (the release of fat from the fat cell). Lipolysis is caused by a complex hormonal response to aerobic exercise and stress.

12. You should go on a diet if you want to lose weight

Diets are generally based on calorie restriction which promotes the loss of muscle tissue as an energy source. This decreases metabolic rate which causes extra fat gain in the long term. The enzymes responsible for lipogenesis – the storing of fat in the fat cells will increase in concentration during a diet, especially in women. Both these changes are a protective response for the preservation of life, again especially in women. Once you start a diet you have to end a diet and go back to normal eating. This generally occurs before the diet is completed due to physiological and psychological deprivation. Once you have gone back to normal eating, or eating more than before because you have deprived yourself during the diet, you will gain extra fat due to a lower metabolic rate and an alteration in the lipogenetic enzyme concentrations.

13. Elite people only get where they are due to great genetics

Elite athletes definitely have superior genetics, however there are many other factors involved in developing elite level physiques and performances. The lifestyle required, discipline, nutrition, training time required, behind the scenes support group such as coaches, dieticians, sports therapists and in some instances even pharmacological factors (drugs) also play a role in the life of the elite.

Author: Matt McElligott