Five muscle-building myths that need to be busted
The fitness industry has a tendency of overcomplicating everything
Whether it's online, in the changing rooms, from PTs or fellow gym users, there is often a culture of information overload that muddies the waters when it comes to understanding what works.
Here are five of the most common myths you'll encounter, and what you really need for greater gains:
1. Always follow a 'bro' split
The standard bodybuilding-style training plan is known as a bro split, in gyms up-and-down the country. It's characterised by training one muscle group per day - think chest on Monday, back on Tuesday and so on.
This works for professional bodybuilders, but it may not be optimal for you. The pros are genetically-gifted, and can get away with only training a muscle once per week.
You'll likely need much greater frequency. You could try following a full-body split, three times a week or a push-pull-legs over six days with one day's rest in-between.
2. You should only use free weights
Free weights such as barbells and dumbbells are fantastic, that is true. In addition to working all your major muscle groups they'll also stimulate much smaller, stabilising muscles plus tendons and ligaments.
Machines still have a purpose, though. The fixed range of motion that a machine brings may not increase strength as much as a free weight exercise does, but they are great for learning movement patterns, and teaching yourself how to flex a muscle.
With newbies who are novices to hitting the gym, learning a complex compound lift can be problematic and so learning how to activate the muscles you'll need on a machine is not a bad way of beginning.
3. High reps are best for building lean muscle
One of the most sketchy bits of advice you'll find is that you should train for high reps with light weights, in order to carve out defined muscle.
This is wrong for two reasons, as we previously explained.
Definition and lean muscle are achieved by a combination of training and diet. You can only reveal 'hidden' muscle tissue by losing body fat, and for that you need to be dieting in a calorie deficit.
When it comes to training, heavier, strength-based lifting could be the best bet. Think back to GCSE Physics. You use more energy when you're moving a heavy object.
Greek researchers discovered people lifting weights at 80-85% of their maximum have a better metabolic rate than those working with 40-45% of their personal best.
4. Cardio melts muscle
Too much cardio can increase how much muscle tissue is burned for energy, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be doing any.
If you're concerned with losing size, you shouldn't be. Just ensure you're consuming 20-30 grams of protein prior to your cardio training. The amino acids will feed your body and prevent as much muscle being used for fuel.
Cardio still possesses protective properties, too.
If you're feeling sore after the gym and are experiencing the much-dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), then you will have probably accumulated a lot of lactic acid.
Active recovery such as swimming and hiking can flush out that lactic acid, reducing your cramping so you can get back in the gym free from aches and pains.
5. You have to work out for hours
A common sight at the gym is people training for hours on end in the hope of gaining more muscle size, but this is quite excessive.
It's worth remembering that you don't actually 'grow' in the gym, but outside of it. When you're lifting weights, you're actually breaking down and fatiguing muscle fibres.
You only need around 45 minutes to work out and stimulate your target muscle groups. Beyond this, spending too long in the gym could hinder your rate of recovery.
Training provides the physical stimulus for growth, but it is fed and maintained by the amount of protein you're consuming throughout the day. The American College of Sports Medicine recommend a daily intake of 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight.