Advice about how to best train to gain muscle abound. Everyone has an opinion about the best way to train, but science doesn’t back many of these recommendations. Even when you look at the science of gaining muscle, information is sometimes conflicting. However, there are some common myths about weight training and muscle hypertrophy that science no longer supports. Here are some you should be aware of.
Myth #1: Higher Training Maximizes Muscle Gains
People sometimes believe that if some strength training is good, more must be better. However, that doesn’t apply to weight training beyond a certain point. Research shows shorter workouts that use progressive overload and with an emphasis on good training form can accomplish as much or more than workouts that last an hour or more.
Another downside to long training sessions is it’s harder to stay focused during long training sessions, and focus is a big factor in maximizing the return on your time. The key is to hit your muscles hard without overtraining them. Long training sessions are mentally demanding too. You’re less likely to experience burnout if you keep your training sessions reasonable. Most people can complete a strength training session in 30 to 45 minutes.
Training seven days per week isn’t the answer either; you shouldn’t train the same muscle group more often than every 48 hours. Muscles need downtime to repair and rebuild. Plus, your brain needs a break too. If your motivation suffers, so will your performance when you lift. Emphasize workout quality, not quantity.
Myth #2: Feeling Sore is a Good Indicator or How Hard You Worked
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs when you work your muscles in a way they’re unaccustomed to. While shocking your muscles by working them differently or harder than they’re used to can boost muscle gains, but science doesn’t directly correlate DOMS with markers of muscle damage and inflammation. Research shows you can gain muscle without experiencing DOMS, so you can’t count on it to be a measure of how effectively you’re training.
In fact, a 2012 study showed you can experience muscle hypertrophy in the absence of a boost in markers of damage and muscle inflammation. Plus, you can have DOMS without a rise in inflammatory markers. So, it’s not clear whether muscle damage correlates with muscle soreness. Humans have varying degrees of pain tolerance. One person may experience little or no pain while another, doing the same workout, may have a hard time walking the next day. So, DOMS doesn’t always equate with muscle damage or the amount of hypertrophy.
Myth #3: You Must Train to Failure to Hypertrophy Muscles
Another common myth about gaining muscle is you must train your muscles to failure to build significant muscle. Research doesn’t support this idea. In fact, a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that men who trained to failure made similar improvements in upper and lower body muscle strength as those who didn’t lift to failure over 16 weeks. Power gains between the two groups were also similar.
What about gains in muscle size? Research shows you don’t have to lift to failure to build muscle and you can maximize muscle fiber recruitment without lifting to failure. However, research is less clear about whether taking sets to failure leads to greater muscle hypertrophy gains. Studies looking at this are conflicting.
One downside to lifting to failure is it’s so demanding that you may have to lower your training volume due to muscle exhaustion and that could limit your gains. If you lift to failure, do it only on your last set and don’t do it every time you train. Once or twice a week is enough to get benefits.
Myth #4: You Need a High-Protein Diet to Gain Muscle
You need more protein in your diet if you’re trying to build muscle tissue, but some people think you need to more than you do. That’s why protein supplements and shakes are so popular. Most people don’t need over 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and consuming more than that is unlikely to boost gains. Plus, there’s a limit to how much protein your body can absorb and use at one time. That amount seems to be around 30 grams. So, it’s best to space that protein across several meals and snacks.
Also, make sure you eat a protein and carbohydrate snack within a few hours after a workout. The ideal ratio is around 3 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein. Going super high protein offers no added benefits over a moderate protein diet and your body, contrary to popular belief, your body can store extra protein calories as fat. That’s true of calories from any source.
Myth #5: Doing Cardio Will Interfere with Muscle Gains
Lifting builds muscle, but aerobic exercise has more benefits for your heart, although some studies show that resistance training has heart-health benefits too. Still, it’s best to include some of both in your routine. Some fitness trainers tell clients that they shouldn’t do moderate-intensity cardio because it will jeopardize their muscle gains. However, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that in steady-state cardio exercise, such as cycling, didn’t interfere with gains in muscle strength and size.
However, there are variables to consider. Aerobic exercise turns on the AMPK pathway that improves insulin sensitivity and plays a role in some health benefits you get from aerobic exercise. However, the AMPK pathway also dials back mTOR, the major pathway for muscle protein synthesis. So, it’s best not to prioritize long periods of moderate-intensity cardio if you’re trying to build muscle, as too much cardio can boost cortisol, a stress hormone that breaks down muscle tissue. A better option might be to do short periods of high-intensity interval training to improve cardiovascular fitness and limit long-duration cardio.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, this article dispels some of the most common muscle gain myths. Knowledge, discipline, and consistency are the keys to building muscle, so make sure you aren’t falling short in these areas. Most importantly, keep training!
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