If you get most of your health and fitness knowledge online, it can be tough to know what’s real and what’s just bluster. Some of the false claims you’ll find are harmless. But if you’re following bad intel, in the best case scenario your gains might suffer—in the worst, you might be in line for an injury.
Time to debunk Instagram bro-science and other internet BS to help you see better results, faster. Let’s put these zombie myths in their graves for good.
1. Muscle Soreness Is Essential for Muscle Growth
THE MYTH: You may think the ache and tightness you feel a day or two after you’ve blasted a muscle, technically known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS),
is a gym badge of honor. First described in 1902, it’s sometimes a result of muscle-fiber micro tears that occur as you lift. New to training? These can spur growth. But more damage doesn’t equal more growth, says Andy Galpin, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D, an associate professor of exercise physiology at California State University, Fullerton: “On a scale of 1 to 10, pushing yourself to a level 7 of soreness might stimulate some growth, or it might not.”
YOUR MOVE: Track your workouts based strictly on effectiveness. Choose key exercises (e.g., the squat, the pushup, and the pullup) and do them at least once a week. If you’re improving your reps, form, or weight on these movements on a monthly basis, you’re on the right track, even if you’re only mildly sore.
2. You’re Born an Explosive Athlete or a Slow Plodder
THE MYTH: Exercise scientists long divided muscle fibers into two categories: slow-twitch fibers, the kind that get you through a marathon, and fast-twitch fibers, the ones that power a dunk. Decades ago, researchers believed their distribution was genetic, so no training could turn a skinny, slow-twitch distance runner into a muscular sprinter (or vice versa). A landmark 2018 study, coauthored by Galpin, of identical twins—one sedentary and one a lifelong distance runner—changed that. Thanks to miles of running, the active brother’s muscles were almost entirely slow-twitch. The sedentary brother’s? Fifty-fifty split between fast- and slow-twitch, which is what happened because he didn’t train at all. Translation: You can work toward dunking a basketball.
YOUR MOVE: To build total-body function, resilience, and overall health, include both fast- and slow-twitch exercises in every workout. Lead with a fast-twitch move, like an explosive bench press. End with slow exercises, like rows in which you take three seconds to lower the weight.
3. If You Binge on Pizza, You Need to Do a Longer Workout the Next Day
THE MYTH: It seems logical—working out burns calories, so to burn more calories, just work out more. Except that’s not what researchers at New York’s Hunter College found when studying the Hadza, northern Tanzanian hunter-gatherers. The Hadza got about four times as much exercise as an averageAmerican, yet they burned virtually the same number of calories. Here’s why: Exercise pushes your body to burn calories, but there’s a cutoff point, one that’s different for every person. Approach that cutoff in your workout and your body starts burning far fewer calories, instead possibly shutting down certain functions—like building new muscle tissue—to operate efficiently.
YOUR MOVE: If you’re trying to maintain a calorie deficit, calculate that over the course of a week, not a day. This allows you to have cheat days. And schedule workouts so that you’re consistently burning calories. If you want to burn a few extra, don’t make your workout longer. Just spend the last ten minutes doing high-intensity interval training.
4. You Should Never Do Isolation Exercises
THE MYTH: An isolation exercise works just one muscle (think biceps curl). But the rise of CrossFit convinced most trainers that you don’t need moves like that. Why do a curl when you can squat or deadlift? These moves use more muscles, so wouldn’t they build real-world strength?
Not so, according to a recent review of research on the leg extension. The weighted leg extension is simple, asking you to straighten your knee. But a Tufts University study found that doing just that still increased the walking speed of elderly men by almost 50 percent. Even isolation exercises recruit stabilizing muscles if done correctly.
YOUR MOVE: Turn every move, whether a squat or an isolation move like a skull-crusher, into a full-body move by starting with three steps: Flex your abs, squeeze your glutes, and tighten your shoulder blades.
5. Lifting Maximum Weights Is the Fastest Way to Max Muscle Growth
THE MYTH: The biggest guys in your gym are the ones lifting the most weight. So you’ve got to go heavy, right? A Brazilian study published in PLOS One indicates it’s not that simple. Scientists had young men do sets of either 7 to 9 reps or 21 to 36 reps. The first group lifted more weight, but both of the groups showed similar muscle growth. Should you lift heavy sometimes? Definitely. But if you’re feeling beat, you won’t lose any muscle (and you just might gain some) by ditching heavy bench presses for pushups.
YOUR MOVE: Try varying your rep ranges every few weeks, says action-star trainer Don Saladino, NASM. For 2 weeks, do 12 to 15 reps per set; for the next 2 weeks, do 8 to 10 reps per set; and for the final 2 weeks, do 4 to 6 reps per set. “The body needs to train with a variety of rep ranges,” says Saladino.
6. You Have a 30-Minute Window After Lifting to Feed Your Muscles Protein
THE MYTH: Gyms sell protein shakes because bro-science states there’s a 30-minute post workout “anabolic window” for protein. Part of this is true: You need protein. If you’re chasing muscle, you require about 0.7 to 1 gram of it per pound of bodyweight daily.
The easiest way to consume that is in three to five small meals—an after-lift shake makes sense. But according to a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition review, your muscles are primed for protein within three to four hours of your workout.
YOUR MOVE: Focus on your daily protein intake by eating those three to five small meals. Funny thing about that: You’ll likely eat protein within the three- to four-hour “anabolic win-dow” before or after your lift.
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