You’ve heard it all and then some.
So called “facts” about how to build muscle and lean out.
Words like must, always, and never are thrown around like the law of the land. Self-proclaimed experts and know-it-alls cascade the internet with fitness rhetoric that is downright BS. Advice that's taken as gospel one minute is thrown out as garbage the next.
One rule of building muscle is that there are no rules. Everyone is a bit different regarding how they build muscle, but there are a few general concepts that help the majority.
Some long-believed notions, however, can be disputed when it comes to creating your own program. Below are 7 common “facts” that I am calling BS on.
1. You Must go to Failure on Every Single Set
Training to failure has been debated for quite some time. You need to stimulate the muscle and coax it to grow back and recover larger and stronger than before, but taking every set to muscular failure is a bit extreme.
Taking it a step further, some gym-goers load up each set with tons of intensity techniques like forced reps, negatives, and strip sets. They end up beating their bodies into the ground with little hope to fully and effectively recover. For the first few sets of a series, pyramid up in weight going just a rep or two short of failure then take your top few sets to muscular failure. Use intensity techniques sparingly.
2. You Build Muscle Only Through Low Reps and Heavy Weight
You’ve heard the old adage that you have to lift big to get big. But at what expense? I’ve seen countless lifters squat tons of weight for low rep sets and have little muscle to show for it. Yes, some lifters can lift super heavy and stay in the low rep ranges and grow. But the majority of us who find it difficult to pack on muscle need a higher rep range (8 to 12) to place the stress on the muscle, not our joints.
Heavier sets and lower reps are still fine to do every now and then, but the majority of your training should be performed with controlled technique and weights you can handle.
3. You Have to eat Tons of Food
Stuffing your face is fun and takes a lot less self-discipline than adhering to a strict, get lean diet. But is it necessary for gaining muscle? If a little is good, a lot must be better, right?
If your goal is to stay lean while building muscle, you'll want to make small increases in calories (the healthy kind). This allows you to gain muscle at a slow and steady rate without the added body fat. Increasing calories 300 to 500 over maintenance is all it takes to start gaining muscle. Once you have completed about 4 weeks of a steady but slight surplus, reevaluate your plan and see if you need to make any minor adjustments.
4. To Lean Out, You have to Switch to High Reps
I bet someone has told you that to lean out you must go on a super low calorie diet coupled with a weight training regimen of higher "fat burning" reps. The theory goes that the higher reps will burn the cuts into the muscle (or something like that). Nonsense.
Contrary to that belief, heavier weight in moderate rep ranges (as discussed before) will enable you to reach your goals faster. Since the heavier weight will build more muscle, it will also burn more fat at rest and help you get leaner.
5. You Must Avoid Carbs to Lose Fat
The low carb craze is still in full effect. Cutting carbs a little or carb cycling is one thing, but cutting them out completely, or to severely low levels, is a muscle building disaster.
If your goal is to build muscle you need carbs. Carbs give you energy for intense training. They are also protein sparing, meaning that they fuel energy stores while letting protein do its job: build muscle. Of course a little goes a long way, so it’s not a green light to go overboard and adopt an all-you-can-eat mentality.
Related: Should You Cut Carbs To Lose Fat?
6. You Can't Do Isolation Exercises
You'll probably hear that using compound, multi-joint exercises is best for building muscle and getting stronger. Some even use these lifts exclusively without any consideration for unilateral lifts (using one side of the body at a time) or other key isolation lifts.
Isolation exercises have their place in most routines. Barbell curls, triceps work, shoulder lateral raises, and shoring up weak sides of the body all have their advantages. The majority of your lifts should be multi-joint, but including some smaller isolation lifts will fill in the gaps and put the finishing touches on your physique.
7. You Must Eat as much Protein as Possible
Just as you would adopt the mentality of all-you-can eat, you may also think you need to eat boatloads of protein for any hopes of building muscle. The debate over how much protein the body can digest at any given meal is ongoing, but whatever the body doesn’t use it will most likely store. And its preferred method of storage is body fat.
Whether you care to believe it or not, you don’t need massive amounts of protein to build muscle. You see the mass monsters in magazines claiming to eat 400 or 500 grams of protein per day. For us mere mortals, start with 1 gram per pound of bodyweight as a rule of thumb. That should be plenty to support your intense training efforts on the gym.