6 Resistance Training Myths That Never Die

You head the myths before: weight lifting stunts growth, women who lift get bulky, higher reps are better for toning. Set aside the nonsense and find out the real truth.

Resistance training (i.e. lifting weights) really should be the foundation of most any individual’s gym routine, even if their goal isn’t to be a competitive athlete or “bodybuilder”. Even endurance athletes can stand to benefit by incorporating resistance training in their workout regimen.

There seems to be a variety of misconceptions attached to lifting weights, like the typical fear many females have that they will suddenly “get bulky” if they train with weights, and the idea that weight lifting stunts the growth of teenagers. So to dispel some of these myths, I figured it would be worthwhile to focus on the reality of things and provide some insights into the myriad of benefits resistance training provides not only to overall health and longevity, but to one’s body composition.

Myth: Weight training isn’t useful for overweight individuals.

Reality: This is actually a rather odd supposition given that weight training helps increase muscle mass, which in turn increases metabolic rate since muscle is more metabolically demanding than fat tissue. Moreover, anaerobic training stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis and thus increases mitochondria levels within cells; mitochondria are cell organelles responsible for large productions of oxidative energy.[1]

Myth: Weight training is bad for your bones.

Reality: Contrary to popular belief, weight training (especially at high-intensity) can actually stimulate osteogenesis and increase bone mineral density.[2] The key to keep in mind here is that the osteogenic effects appear to be most pronounced when training intensity is at or beyond the lactate threshold. In fact, this one of the reasons weight training is often recommended for elderly individuals, especially those with bone health issues.

Myth: Teenagers should not lift weights since it will stunt their growth.

Reality: This theory is derived from the idea that weight training can damage the epiphysis which would subsequently disrupt normal bone growth, but the reality is that weight training, if anything, could actually serve to prevent such damage.[3] As noted above, weight training is actually beneficial for bone health/development, and this effect is conducive to the healthy maturation of adolescents.

Also, it’s important to remember that (unfortunately) weight training is often associated with steroid and other performance-enhancing drugs, which may in fact stunt bone growth in adolescents. So don’t confuse resistance training with steroid/PED use.

Toning workout

Myth: Weight training, especially with heavy resistance, is a bad idea for women since it will make them “bulky”.

Reality: Probably one of the most annoying myths about females that train with relatively heavy weights is the idea that it will randomly turn them into the male equivalent of The Incredible Hulk. Reality is that females should train with heavy weights just like their male counterparts often do and no it won’t make you “bulky”. If a female really wanted to get “bulky” they would have to eat like a horse and commit to years of intense training just like any other person (regardless their gender) would have to.

Myth: Training with light weights and higher repetitions is better for “toning” muscles.

Reality: Well, aside from the fact that “toning” is a nonsensical term when it comes to muscle morphology, there is little rational for the idea that using light weights and doing many repetitions is superior for muscle hypertrophy over more conventional training. Reality is that muscle hypertrophy is muscle hypertrophy; muscles grow or shrink.

Also, you cannot preferentially “spot-reduce” certain body areas no matter how much you target/stimulate them. If you want that six-pack of abdominals to show, forget doing marathon sets of sit-ups, work instead on providing progressive overload to the abdominals and losing sufficient body-fat.

Myth:  Weight training is damaging to the joints.

Reality: As with the “bone health” myth, weight training, especially at high-intensity, appears to actually alleviate many arthritic symptoms in comparison to no training.[4] On the contrary, running and other forms of cardio may actually induce osteoarthritic changes.[5] Hence the rationale for doing tons of cardio (specifically running) to “save your joints” is rather baseless.

Train with weights, you’ll thank yourself later.

Wrap Up

So there you have it, a few myths about weight training that don’t have much bearing in reality. If you’ve been omitting resistance training from your regimen in favor of endurance/aerobic training, I would strongly advise you to reconsider your training routine, regardless of what your goals are; I truly think most any individual can benefit from weight training.

References:

1. J.O. Holloszy. Biochemical adaptations in muscle. Effects of exercise on mitochondrial oxygen uptake and respiratory enzyme activity in skeletal muscle. J. Biol. Chem., 242 (1967), pp. 2278–2282

2. Maddalozzo, G. F., & Snow, C. M. (2000). High intensity resistance training: effects on bone in older men and women. Calcified Tissue International, 66(6), 399-404.

3. Sothern, M. S., Loftin, M., Suskind, R. M., Udall, J. N., & Blecker, U. (1999). The health benefits of physical activity in children and adolescents: implications for chronic disease prevention. European journal of pediatrics, 158(4), 271-274.

4. De Jong, Z., Munneke, M., Zwinderman, A. H., Kroon, H. M., Ronday, K. H., Lems, W. F., ... & Huizinga, T. W. J. (2004). Long term high intensity exercise and damage of small joints in rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 63(11), 1399-1405.

5. Pap, G., Eberhardt, R., Stürmer, I., Machner, A., Schwarzberg, H., Roessner, A., & Neumann, W. (1998). Development of osteoarthritis in the knee joints of Wistar rats after strenuous running exercise in a running wheel by intracranial self-stimulation. Pathology-Research and Practice, 194(1), 41-47.