The Most Common Myths About Strength Training, Debunked

NASM Certified Personal Trainer By Matt Scheetz, NASM-CPT
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Matt Scheetz is a brand strategist at mindbodygreen and a NASM-certified personal trainer.
Here's What (Almost) Everyone Gets Wrong About Strength Training

It wasn't long ago that lifting weights was synonymous with big, sweaty guys grunting in the mirror and saying things like "Spot me, bro."

In recent years, however, an influx of research has supported the claim that lifting weights is incredibly beneficial—regardless of gender, sex, body type, or goal. But even with this overwhelming evidence at our disposal, there are still a lot of misconceptions about strength training that need to be put to rest once and for all. Here are some of the biggest offenders:

1. Lifting weights will make women "bulky."

Just because that guy at the gym in the cutoff shirt drinking a whole gallon of water weighs over 200 pounds doesn't mean you're going to look like that if you lift weights. Truth is, his exercise habits are only part of the equation. There are a multitude of physiological factors that contribute to his body composition, but ultimately it comes down to hormones

Men are inherently equipped with a considerably higher amount of both testosterone and human growth hormone—the two hormones primarily responsible for building muscle. Women produce around 5 to 10% of the testosterone that men do, making them genetically unable to pack on muscle as easily as males can. That's not to say women can't gain a ton of muscle—they can—but it would take a lot of concerted effort, dietary changes, and a strict lifting regimen.

And beyond this, let's not forget that you are what you eat. You won't magically manifest 30 pounds of muscle out of thin air unless you're feeding your body with 30 pounds' worth of excess calories. And because it takes 3,500 surplus calories to gain 1 pound of body weight, it's unlikely you'll have the appetite to look like an NFL player. 


2. It's not an effective tool for weight loss.

You should know by now that if one of your goals is to lose weight, cardio isn't the most efficient way to do so. The analogy I always use is that lifting weights is like teaching a man to fish: Instead of burning a finite number of calories in a single session of cardio, lifting weights will transform your body into a more efficient calorie-burning machine by helping you develop lean muscle mass. So you could spend 30 minutes jogging on the treadmill or do a resistance workout of the same duration that will burn fewer calories in the moment but ultimately have more of an impact. Building muscle and becoming stronger will turn you into a highly efficient machine that burns more energy throughout the day—whether you're at the gym or sitting on your couch.  

3. Doing more reps with lighter weights will "tone" your muscles.

If there's one word you should eliminate from your wellness routine, it's "tone." Disproving the myth that you can "tone" your muscles by spot-reducing adipose fat has been a personal endeavor of mine ever since I became a certified trainer. Our bodies are great at burning fat, but they do it evenly throughout—you won't lose fat from your arms just because you're doing a lot of biceps curls, and a set of squats will use just as much of the fat in your legs as it does in your arms, hips, and everywhere else. 

Strength training won't change the shape of your muscles—it will merely change their size. Try picturing your muscles as miniature piles of building blocks, stacked one on top of the other, and surrounded by a "moat" of body fat. If your goal is to reveal more of your muscles (aka definition), your best bet is to focus on building these blocks higher, while draining the water low enough so that they peek out above the surface—in other words, reducing your body fat. 

4. It's not an effective method of aerobic exercise.

Cardiovascular exercise, simply put, is anything that gets your heart rate up. It's a great tool for boosting your lung capacity, improving your heart health, and alleviating your anxiety. Resistance training, though, can also get your heart rate up and, when combined with cardio, is a more effective exercise than running or jogging alone. Unlike a low-intensity jog, a cardio workout that utilizes weights can burn more calories in a shorter time, with the added benefit of building more muscle (see above). 

The beauty of these types of combination workouts is that you're not limited to one machine or one repetitive movement. Whether you prefer circuit training, HIIT, or tabata—using resistance techniques to get your heart rate up is a great method to keep your workouts fresh and to keep you from getting bored.

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