Common Training Myths

Train Better

By: Tessa Thomas

 Do you even lift? | Photo by  Binyamin Mellish

Do you even lift? | Photo by Binyamin Mellish

With all of the health and fitness information available online, it can be really difficult to discern what to believe and what to put your energy into. For every article that says counting calories matters you can find another one that supports the antithesis. It can be overwhelming! To help, I thought it would be fun to debunk a few common training myths – while these myths still prevail, the truth behind them is widely accepted by health and fitness professionals and supported by scientific research. 

1. You need to constantly change-up your routine to get results

 Crossfit | Photo by Omar Prestwich

Crossfit | Photo by Omar Prestwich

The theory of “muscle confusion” has gained popularity over the past decade or so. The truth is that, for the average person looking to lose weight while building lean muscle and reducing fat, this theory just doesn’t hold up. For starters, your muscles do not have the same cognitive abilities as your brain; they cannot be “confused.” Muscles simply react and adapt to different stressors. Believe it or not, you can actually do the exact same exercises repeatedly and still build muscle, as long as there is progressive resistance (lifting progressively heavier weights). 

There’s a story often told in the fitness world that illustrates this point beautifully: Milo and the Calf. Milo of Croton (6th c. BCE) was a six-time Olympic games champion in wrestling (that’s 24 years of awesomeness!) and seven-time winner of the Pythian games; he was undoubtedly one of the greatest strength athletes of his time. How did Milo do this? He did the exact same thing every day, but with progressive resistance. He lifted the same newborn calf every day and, as it grew over several years, he was eventually hoisting a full-grown bull onto his shoulders1. Sounds crazy right? But think about it, the difference in weight from day to day would have been quite small, likely only a few ounces or a pound maximum. Milo’s profound strategy reinforces the basic principles of strength training – it’s not about “confusing” the muscles – but rather, starting small, being consistent, and incrementally increasing what you are doing. Not surprisingly, these principles can be widely applied to any other physical discipline: running, yoga, swimming, and cycling are good examples.

2. “No pain, no gain”

 Gains sans pain | Photo by  Pixabay

Gains sans pain | Photo by Pixabay

Former US Jr. National Gymnastic Team coach and founder of GymnasticBodies Christopher Sommer knows a thing or two about developing foundational strength, flexibility, mobility, and athleticism. What is Coach Sommer’s approach? “No brain, no gain.”2 Continuously pushing your body to extremes is a sure fire way to overuse and injury. As mentioned in a previous Good Read Magazine article, “…for a workout to be effective it doesn’t have to end with you lying sweaty and nonverbal on a gym floor.” If you want to achieve sustainable fitness, the key is to focus on the basics – the best athletes in the world master the basics first, laying a solid foundation for more intense workouts when needed. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sweat inducing, blood flowing workout, but intensity should not come at the expense of everything else, and, as previously illustrated by Milo, a lot can be achieved through small, incremental gains. Use your brain, and don’t overdo it, injuries and setbacks will only slow your progress.

3. Only Pilates and yoga can build long, lean muscles

 Lean out | Photo by  Scott Webb

Lean out | Photo by Scott Webb

Ok ladies, I’m looking at you with this one. The biggest influence on the actual shape of your muscles is your genetics.3 The way in which your muscles grow – whether you’re doing strength training, yoga, or Pilates – has already been predetermined for the most part. There are no specific exercises that can radically affect muscle shape. The long, lean muscles often sought after are a combination of both muscle building and body fat reduction, but even if you are just as lean (having the same body fat percentage) and doing the exact same exercises as your favourite Pilates instructor or movie star, it doesn’t mean that your muscles will have the same shape. Look at Venus and Serena Williams, even within the same family and exposed to very similar training regimens, muscle shape can vary significantly. Control the controllables – muscle shape isn’t one of them.

4. Men and women need to train differently

 Train like a woman/man | Photo by  Pixabay

Train like a woman/man | Photo by Pixabay

Here are the facts: women can be trained with programs that are almost identical to those that are used for men; while women have fewer and smaller muscle fibres than men, women do have the same array of muscle fibre types (Type I – slow twitch, Type II – fast twitch); both men and women have resting circulatory concentrations of testosterone (the primary hormonal driver of muscle growth), however, the resting concentrations in men are 10-20 times higher than in women; and without anabolic drugs there is little chance of women looking like men through strength training, the fear of getting big is simply unfounded.4

One of the major differences between men and women is the considerable difference in the upper-body strength and size of men, for that reason, training programs for female athletes should emphasize working on the musculature of the upper-body, particularly for sports such as volleyball, basketball and sprinting, where the development of the upper-body plays a significant role in performance.5 Also, while still a topic of intense investigation, it has been observed that ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries are also more common in women, however, the exact cause remains unknown.

If you are particularly interested in this topic, further reading can be found here.

5. You burn more fat with low-intensity exercise or steady-state cardio

 Cardio | Photo by   Clem Onojeghuo

Cardio | Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo

We’ve all seen it, that deceptive “fat-burning zone” on the treadmill, a pace that puts you at about 60% of your maximum heart rate and leads you to believe that this is the zone where your ability to lose fat is optimal. The issue with the fat burning zone is that it doesn’t take into account that at higher intensities, though a smaller percentage of your fat stores is being used for energy compared to your glycogen (carbohydrate) stores, the overall demand is higher. Here’s an example6:


The differences here are relative, rather than absolute, values. The percentage of calories from fat in the high-intensity workout (35%) is lower relative to the percentage of calories from fat in the low-intensity workout (65%), but the absolute value of calories from fat is higher for the high-intensity workout, 105 compared to only 60 for the low-intensity workout. At higher intensities our bodies prefer to use glycogen as an energy source because it is more efficient than fat, but that doesn’t mean that fat isn’t being used as well, it is just in a smaller percentage compared to glycogen.  

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), brief, intense cardio training, such as sprinting or cycling “all out” for 30 seconds at a time, has been shown to produce equivalent responses in cardiovascular fitness while further developing or maintaining lean mass in far less time than what is required with steady-state cardio. Research has shown that over a two-week period, 2.5 hours of HIIT (four to six repeats of 30 second bursts with 4 minutes of recovery between repeats) had an equivalent effect on exercise performance as 10.5 hours of high volume (90-120 minutes of continuous cycling) endurance training.7 That’s a difference of 4 hours of training time each week! Unless your goal is to compete as an endurance athlete, or you simply love running, save your time and skip the “fat burning zone.”

I hope you have found this debunkery helpful. If there are any other training myths that you are curious about let us know in the comments below.

1 “Milo of Croton.”

2 “No Brain, No Gain: Coach Sommer’s Guide to Achieving Athletic Excellence.”

3 Matthews, Michael. Thinner Leaner Stronger. 70. 2014. Oculus.

4 Zatsiorsky, V. and William Kraemer. Science and Practice of Strength Training. 173-189. 2006. Human Kinetics.

5 Science and Practice of Strength Training, 174

6 Perry, Mark. “The Fat Burning Zone Myth: Don’t Be Fooled.” BuiltLean.

7 Gibala M. J. et al. “Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance.” The Journal of Physiology. 2006 Sep 15;575(Pt 3):901-11.

Disclaimer: Good Read Magazine and its contributors are not responsible in any manner for any injuries that may occur through following the instructions contained in this material; this article is solely for information and educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a medical or health professional before beginning any exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.