Weightlifting Myths Debunked

onearmrowdoubleHi Everyone!  Thank you for the wonderful feedback concerning my last few articles and I look forward to sharing more with you.  This week I’m focusing on unfounded myths concerning heavy weight lifting (heavy meaning around 60%  or more of your one rep max).  I have noticed there are many unfounded myths concerning the lifting of heavy weights in an exercise program that unfortunately persuades many of you not to strength train.  Strength training is one of the key components of physical fitness and is absolutely beneficial in bettering and maintaining your overall quality of life.  Therefore, I think it is important for me to take some time and to try to debunk some of these myths.

Myth #1 : Muscle weighs more than fat –  This perhaps the most popular myth in this category, but it is also untrue.  Let’s really think about this.  One pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat or one pound of feathers.  Seriously, a pound is a pound regardless of what it is made of, right?  The difference between muscle and fat is that one pound of muscle will take up less room than one pound of fat in your body and that’s a good thing!!!  Let me illustrate this point:  Take two women weighing 130 pounds of the exact same height and body type. One woman lifts heavy weights on a regular basis along with doing her cardio activities and has a body fat of only 12%. The other woman does not lift heavy weights and only does cardio activities for her exercise. Her body fat is much higher at 30%.  The woman that lifts heavy weights will be able to wear a much smaller dress size than the woman who does not lift heavy weights because her bodyweight is comprised of more muscle which takes up less room than fat. You might be surprised by this and ask “how could this be?”  Well, we already learned that muscle takes up less room than fat and increases your BMR which keeps your body mass lean and your metabolism running optimally.  Therefore the woman that lifts heavy weights in addition to her cardio workouts will be able to eat more food each day than the woman who does “cardio only” workouts.  Remember, “steady state cardio only” workouts burn limited fat and calories at the time of  the activity,  but they don’t carry forward the post exercise benefits that heavier weight lifting does. Plus the women who lifts weights will also be able to wear a much smaller dress size than the woman who does not lift heavy weights because her bodyweight is comprised of more muscle which takes up less room than fat.  So, hands down, having more muscle on your body is the way to go.

Myth #2 :  Lifting heavy weights will make you gain weight –  Excluding temporary weight gain from water retention, the only way to gain weight is to consume more calories than you burn. Lifting heavy weights burns calories, it does not add them to your body and thus it is impossible to gain weight from just lifting heavy weights.  For example, look at me, I’ve been lifting heavy weights for decades and I weigh less now than when I was in high school.   Even power lifters will lose weight if their calories consumed are less than their TDEE. So, no matter what your exercise, if you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight–Myth Busted!

Myth #3 :  Only light weights will lean you out –  This is also another very popular myth that is untrue and causes a lot of harm.  If you want to get cut you just have to eat less calories than you burn.  Getting “cut” is a result of decreasing your body’s subcutaneous fat and this only happens when you create a calorie deficit.   It does not matter what your rep range is or how heavy the weights are that you lift, getting cut comes from eating less than you burn – not your dumbbells.  Sure, it’s possible that you might burn more calories in a light weight high rep routine than in a low rep heavy weight workout, but you can get the same “cut” look by lifting heavy weights and burning some extra calories by adding a short cardio workout. In this case you have the added advantage of developing increased lean muscle mass making your “cuts’ more pronounced.

Myth #4: Heavy Weights will make Women Bulky –  Getting bulky means gaining weight and as I mentioned previously  the only way to gain weight is to eat more calories than you burn each day.  Since muscle takes up less space than fat if you just maintain your current body weight  and increase your lean muscle mass you will become smaller, not bigger.  Woman can build muscle, get stronger and improve their physique by lifting heavy weights, but they will certainly never build as much muscle mass as a man since they have a lower testosterone level. So unless you use steroids, and please, let’s never even consider going there,  you’ll always look feminine.  So why is it that some women insist that their legs get bulky when lifting heavier weights?  There are two reasons this can happen:  If your thighs increase in size after starting a heavy weight program it is either because of temporary water weight gain or because you are consuming more calories than you are burning. It is a scientific fact that changing your fitness and diet program to create a calorie deficit will result in weight loss and yes, that means your thighs shrinking in size too. Even if you lose one pound of fat in your thighs and gain one pound of muscle, your thighs will still shrink in size since muscle take up only about a third of the space fat does.  If you are trying to slim your thighs the key is to make sure you have a negative calorie balance and that you reduce your body fat while increasing your lean muscle mass. Your legs will not only be slimmer, but will look toned and healthier too!

Myth #5: Light weights are better for women– There really is no difference between the weights a man or a woman should use in their training program. Light weights are great to use in a circuit, endurance  or a low impact cardio program to burn extra calories, but they are not as efficient as heavy weights in developing lean muscle mass. To understand why this is true, you need to first understand how a muscle works.  When you lift a weight, or for that matter any heavy object, the muscle you’re using must contract.  What you may not know is your entire muscle does not contract, but instead just some of the thousands of muscle fibers that make up your muscle will contract. Your body learns through life experiences just how many muscle fibers it needs to contract to lift an object of a certain weight.  For instance, when you see a big bucket of water, your muscles contract much more forcefully and in greater abundance than say the muscles used to pick up a glass of water.  This is why you don’t throw a drinking glass across the room when you contract your muscles for this movement. To maximize efficiency your body only uses the minimum amount of muscle fibers necessary to lift an object. And each individual muscle fiber either contracts 100% or it doesn’t do anything at all. There is no such thing as an individual muscle fiber contracting at 20% or 50%.  This means when you only do an exercise with a light weight only a very small percentage of your muscle fibers in that particular muscle performing the exercise are doing any work at all. The rest of your muscle fibers within that particular muscle are doing absolutely nothing and getting pretty much zero benefit from the exercise. To work as much of the muscle as possible you need to engage as many muscle fibers within that particular muscle as possible and this usually means lifting heavy weights.

Myth #6: You can’t increase lean muscle mass while on a calorie deficit diet – It may be more difficult to do, but yes you can increase your lean muscle mass while on a calorie deficit diet. The only exception to this is a person who already has low body fat, like a body builder getting ready for competition.  I will admit it is easier to gain lean muscle mass when you’re eating more calories than you’re burning, but you can still increase your lean muscle mass while dieting too. I know some people who believe this myth first try to lose their weight before trying to increase their lean muscle mass, but I disagree with this approach and I feel the science backs me up on this.  Doing both weight training and cardio activities simultaneously is the better way to go in order to get optimal strength, endurance, cardiovascular, and body composition benefits….not to mention many other health benefits.

I hope this article convinces many of you who fear gaining weight as a result of heavier strength training to change your mind.  Cardio exercise may be better at burning calories in the short term, but lifting heavy weights  has long term benefits  and will add lean muscle to your body that will increase your BMR and turn your body into a fat burning machine even when you’re not working out. Mixing both cardio and heavy weights into your fitness routine is what I recommend as this combo will burn calories both in the short and long term as well as have the best overall health benefits.

by Cathe Friedrich

Hi, I'm Cathe

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