The myth: Lifting as heavy as you can will maximise your gains
If you’ve ever started a class by picking a weight that’s a little too heavy because you think that’s where the gains lie, listen up: a Brazilian study published in PLOS One suggests that it’s not quite so simple. Participants performed sets of seven to nine reps, or 21 to 36 reps. The first group lifted more weight, but both showed similar muscle growth. Should you lift heavy at times? Yes. But if you’re tired, you won’t lose any muscle (and you may even gain some) by trading barbell back squats for a few more sets with a kettlebell.
Lifting heavy can help build muscle, but it’s not the only way, says PT Dan Meek. “You’re
better off basing a good chunk (75 per cent) of your workout in the six to 12 rep range to build muscle, using a load that you can lift for that rep range. The last 25 per cent of your session can be spent lifting heavier for fewer reps, or lifting lighter for more reps – your choice.” It’s all relative though. Meek adds, “Heavy weights soon become lighter if you’re training well; what’s important is tracking your workouts so you can gauge your progress and push yourself beyond what you’ve done [before].” Got a notebook handy?
The myth: Isolation exercises are a waste of your time
An isolation exercise works just one muscle (think: bicep curls). But the rise of CrossFit has now convinced some trainers that such moves are surplus to requirements. Why do a curl when you can do a chin-up? Surely moves that help activate more muscles build more real-world strength? Not so, according to a recent review of research on the leg extension. The move is simple, requiring you to straighten your knee. But a Tufts University study found that doing that alone still increased walking speed by almost 50 per cent. Even isolation exercises recruit stabilising muscles – like your glutes and core – if done correctly.
“Isolation moves can actually be really useful to improve areas of your body you want to change,” Meek says. Think: more defined triceps with skull crushers, or stronger hamstrings for your runs with hamstring curls. Still, compound moves are a more time-efficient way to work out and should still form the bulk of your session. Meek suggests at least three strength sessions a week made up of mostly compound lifts.
The myth: You have a 30-minute window after lifting to feed your muscles protein
We’ve been sold the idea of a brief ‘anabolic window’ of time in which you need to consume your protein post session. This is partly true: you need protein if you’re chasing muscle, and post-lift shakes count, sure – but they don’t need to be guzzled before the sweat dries. According to a study in the Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, your muscles are primed for protein for a far longer window of up to four hours after your workout. Phew.
Focus on eating well at mealtimes to get your muscle-fuelling protein within the actual anabolic window. If you eat three to five serves of protein daily, you’re good, says Meek. If muscle growth is what you’re chasing, studies suggest consuming 1.2g to 1.7g of protein for every kilo you weigh. For a woman who weighs 60kg, this means eating between 72g and 102g of protein per day. For context, there’s about 35g of protein in a chicken breast and 19g in 100g of chickpeas. Eat up!
The myth: You’re either an explosive athlete or a plodder
Scientists have long divided muscle fibres into two: slow-twitch fibres – the kind that get you through a marathon – and fast-twitch fibres – the ones that power you through a sprint. Researchers used to believe distribution was genetic, so no training could turn a skinny, slow-twitch distance runner into a muscular sprinter (or vice versa). But a landmark 2018 study on identical twins – one sedentary and one a lifelong distance runner – changed all that. Thanks to years of running, the active brother’s muscles were almost entirely slow-twitch. The sedentary bro’s? A 50/50 split between fast and slow kinds.
To build total-body function and overall health, include both fast and slow-twitch exercises in every
workout. Lead with a fast-twitch move, such as an explosive tuck jump. End with slow exercises, such as bent-over rows, in which you take three seconds to lower the weight. Cover all bases.
The myth: Muscle soreness is essential to muscle growth
You may consider the pain and tightness you feel a day or two after blasting a muscle – known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) – a badge of honour. Identified in 1902, it’s often a result of muscle fibre micro-tears. If you’re new to training, these can spur growth. But more damage doesn’t equal more gains. Studies have shown that muscle soreness doesn’t need to occur for muscle growth.
“DOMS is just an indication that you’re doing something new,” explains Meek. “Often, people change up their program, trying to chase DOMS because they think it’s going to help, but program hopping every week is actually less likely to lead to muscle growth as you can’t measure progress.” Very good to know!
Don’t judge a workout based on how hard it is to hobble to the loo the next day. Choose key
exercises, like squats, and do them at least once a week. If you’re improving reps, form or load each month, you’re on track, even if you only feel a little tender afterwards.
“Sticking to the same
plan for a good six to 12-week period is vital, as you can use the amount of weight you lift (or the number of reps you can do with the same weight) as an indicator of progress,” adds Meek.
If either of those is increasing and your form is good, then you’re getting stronger. “Repeating an exercise regularly is [how] to get stronger at it, and getting stronger is necessary for muscle growth, not DOMS.”
The myth: Stretching before your workout will prevent injuries
If your school PE teacher taught you anything, it was that static stretching before a session reduces injury risk, right? Well, not so – research has shown that it may do more harm than good, and even hamper your strength, power and speed. A 2013 study in The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research found that including static stretches in a warm-up could impede lifters’ one rep maximum and lower-body stability by 8 and 23 per cent respectively. Not exactly ideal when weight training safely is your goal.
How to warm up minus your trusty stretches? Swap them for dynamic stretches – think: leg swings, arm circles, high knees or body weight versions of the exercises you’re about to do – to increase your body temperature and get blood flowing to the muscles starring in your workout. If you’re a sucker for a static stretch, fret not: they still have a place in your routine – after your workout. Hold stretches of targeted muscles for 20 seconds or more. Why? Doing so will relax them while increasing flexibility – a big-time win-win.