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Bodybuilding Myths - Pitfalls to Avoid

By Pete Sisco - developer of Static Contraction Training

A few weeks ago we talked about three different popular myths that can lead to a lot of wasted time and frustration in the gym. Now let's take a look at three more myths I can almost guarantee you've heard.

As I mentioned, there's a ton of free advice dispensed in gyms that, if taken as gospel, can really set back your progress. That can lead to the kind of frustration that makes guys think they are "hard gainers" or need to resort to the needle to get the physique they desire. Not true. Let's take a look at more of the pitfalls to avoid while you train rationally.

Myth #1 "You need high reps for definition and low reps for mass."

A muscle can only do one of three things. It can get bigger, it can get smaller, or it can stay the same size.

The way to make a muscle bigger is to subject it to a progressive intensity of overload. That is, the intensity of today's workout needs to be a little higher than your last workout for that muscle. If you want to keep a muscle the same size you can just perform the same workout every time. And making a muscle smaller is easy... just don't exercise it.

However, the idea that one type of exercise "defines" muscle and another type of exercise makes it bigger has no basis in reality. Muscle definition is a function of two characteristics in the body: muscle size and the absence of bodyfat. So if you want better definition you need to increase the size of your muscles through the aforementioned progressive intensity and you need to reduce your bodyfat.

So I can hear someone asking, "But don't high reps burn off bodyfat the way running or cycling would?" Well, yes, any long duration activity will burn more calories. But if you use light weights and high reps to burn calories how will you make your muscles bigger? You won't. It makes much more sense to burn calories and reduce bodyfat through jogging or cycling or some other repetitive activity and to simultaneously build more muscle mass through heavier, lower rep weight training. As a bonus, your new muscle mass will also burn more calories and contribute to fat loss.

So next time you hear this myth, correct it by thinking: "Low, heavy reps for mass, lower overall bodyfat for definition."

Myth #2 "New muscle gains diminish after 48 hours."

Here's a myth that has led to more wasted man-hours than the search for perpetual motion. The idea is that you need to go to the gym and lift weights every two days because after 48 hours your body starts to lose whatever muscle you build recently.

I'm amazed this myth hangs on because anybody can test this for himself and find out it's pure BS. Back in 1992 I was doing Power Factor Training and working my way up to a milestone of a one million pound workout. Around the point where I was hoisting about 400,000 pounds per workout (calculated by multiplying weight x reps x sets for five exercises) I decided I'd try a lift I'd never done before.

I saw a guy doing a clean and press, which involves lifting a barbell from the floor to your chest and then pressing it overhead. I tried it for the first time with 250 pounds and as I held it overhead my balance shifted and I felt something go "click" in my low back. Well, that put me out of the gym for six weeks. When I came back for my first workout after that long layoff it was my intention to only try to approximate my last workout. Instead, I set personal records in all five exercises!

After a six-week layoff I'd returned to the gym much stronger. That's 1008 hours off and my body hadn't lost a scrap of muscle. Nowadays I work with advanced trainees who only train half their body every six weeks. That means it takes them twelve weeks between training each muscle group... and these trainees show progress on every exercise, every workout. We just laugh at that "48 hour" nonsense. You should too.

Myth #3 "For best results, you need to train 'instinctively'."

"Dr. Freud, can you please tell us about man's bodybuilding 'instinct'?" Yeah, right.

As myths go, this one is fairly new and likely sprang out of the New Age movement. It is sometimes more generally expressed as "Listen to your body."

Admittedly, listening to your body does work when some part of it is screaming in agonizing pain. But the notion that an "instinct" will tell you whether the intensity of 13 reps with 125 pounds in 45 seconds is higher than 9 reps with 155 pound in 60 seconds is just too much to hope for.

As I have said one hundred thousands times before, you make muscle-building progress by progressively increasing the intensity of your workouts. When the tools of reason and math are right in front of us and deliver very exact answers regarding this progression, why would we rely on a vaguely defined "instinct" to guide us?

Would competitive runners and swimmers throw away their stopwatches and do all their training by instinct? Would a pole-vaulter or long-jumper stop measuring his progress with feet and inches? Of course not. So why should a bodybuilder throw away the proven, effective tools of reason and math in favor of a bodybuilding instinct that has never been proven to exist?

Now you know six myths and pitfalls to avoid in the gym. I hope the exercise of understanding how these ideas are flawed will help you spot other time wasting, freely dispensed gym lore.

Q. Is there a way to workout with relatively little weight using your principles?

A. The human body reacts to various forms of stress with a so-called "adaptive response." For example, when bright sunlight shines on light colored skin the adaptive response is to darken the skin with a tan. That tan protects you during future exposure. But if that future exposure involves more intense sunlight then the tan is made darker.

In the realm of strength training the adaptive response is very similar. If you expose your muscle to higher rates of overload they will adapt by getting bigger and stronger. If the subsequent overload is greater, the adaptive response is greater. So, if you restrict yourself to "relatively light weight" you will get a relatively small adaptive response; likely not enough to change your physical appearance in any way.

The fact is the average adult male has muscles capable of enormous strength. His legs can lift over one thousand pounds, his trapezius muscles can lift hundreds of pounds. The only practical way to get those muscles to be bigger is to work them at the limits of their capacity. So light weights aren't much help, just as shade is not much help in building a good suntan.

All the best,