myths about strength training

Greatest myths about strength training

Myths about strength training have been around since people started training, there’s nothing new about that.

But it seems to me, that there’s an imbalance, with most of the myths being about women and strength training, often mostly believed by women, who therefore avoid proper strength training.

myths about strength training - fat guys

If you’re a guy, you’re over the age of 18, and you believe more than five of these myths about strength training, well sorry, you’re just a lazy man, and the only part of your body likely to be described as large will be your belly

You really should read on, and start lifting some serious weight.

The status is starting to change, with more women understanding the true benefits of proper strength training, and getting involved.  

But the topic of weight training has been blessed with a plethora of myths and misinformation.

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Let’s debunk some of these myths and find the truth behind them.

You can’t lose weight with strength training

‘Don’t bench press with so much weight! You’re already obese, if you lift weights the fat will become more solid and it will become even harder to lose’

‘You can’t lose weight with weight training. No one becomes thin while doing weight training; everyone gains weight.’

These two statements bring back teenage memories when I had illiterate mentors! Now I can probably write a book on this single myth about strength training alone.

The fact of the matter is that strength training is a form of exercise. You lift weights, you move your body and to do this, you need energy which is derived from the food you eat or from the fuel reserves (Fat) you have.

Strength training can help you lose weight in the following ways:

  • Strength training increases lean mass which needs energy to maintain. As a result you end up using calories just maintaining your muscle mass! This inevitably results in increased metabolic rate.
  • Calories are burnt during a particular workout.
  • Calories are burnt during the process of muscle hypertrophy


Just eat in front of the mirror. Naked.

You get really fat once you give up strength training

‘What happens is that once you give up weight training, the muscle mass you gained, starts to store excessive amounts of fat and you start to gain weight’

Repeat this sentence in front of anyone who knows basic human anatomy and they will probably call you an idiot! 

Muscle mass needs maintenance.

Once you stop working out your muscles, the body feels no need to maintain the same amount of muscle mass so your body starts to lose excess muscle mass that is not required by your daily routine.

The lean mass drop is very gradual.

This decrease in muscle mass doesn’t mean that fat starts to rush into the so called empty spaces.

Most weight trainers get fat because they give up weight training but they don’t give up their eating patterns which were designed to supplement their training routine.

This becomes simple mathematics, they start to eat more than what they burn and as a result they start to become fat.

You will ruin your spine!

‘If you lift weights daily, you will probably dislocate your spinal discs.’

This would have to be one of the all time biggest myths about strength training.

Really, you may or may not; it all depends on how safe you play.

If you lift with proper form for each exercise and the weight you use is well within your control, chances are that your spine will be alright.

The other thing to remember is that weight training actually strengthens your spine.

I’ve known many people with reported back problems whom I suggested light dead lifts coupled with a few other back exercises and the results were very satisfying. Most of them reported that their pain had improved or disappeared altogether.

When I stopped training for a number of years, and my muscles “relaxed” I developed bad back pain, both from previous sporting injury which became active because of the lack of muscle support and just the fact that I was spending hours sitting at a desk. 

I developed bad problems in my lower back, which progressed to my upper back, and then the middle of my back.  I was in my late twenties and sometimes felt crippled by the pain.  I fixed that by weight training to increase my muscle strength.

I told a champion power lifter, I don’t think I should do dead lifts because of my bad back. 

He asked me;

Are you crippled? Do you ever pick up your luggage, or the shopping? 

I understood the point. 

myths about strength training

I refused to accept my fear of doing more injury to my back, which was a natural protective instinct, just the same as when you have bad back pain, you don’t want to brush your teeth or sit in the one spot for too long.  

I started dead lifting, and never looked back. (No pun intended) Yes, sometimes I feel some weakness in my lower back.  Anyone training seriously with dead lifts usually will.  And I listen to my body and adjust my training sets to suite, but I always make sure that I’m working properly.  

As a result, after a period of about six months, I didn't have any more back pain. It feels strong and stable, and I have stopped paying the physios and chiropractors for what used to be almost weekly visits.

Yes, you will find lots of advice from physios and chiropractors, that will tell you to stay well away from moves such as the dead lift, and I’m not saying they’re always wrong. 

But please use some of your own judgment as well, and even just try some gentler strengthening moves for your back first.  

As you feel it improving, your confidence will also improve and you can continue to advance.

As you do that, you will leave the back pain behind.  I’m sorry, but your back pain will be replaced by sore leg muscles if you are dead lifting, but I’m sure you’ll find that positively enjoyable, when you start to see the muscle gains that change your body.

In fact, I have known a chiropractor who is a power lifting champion, who has set dead lifting records. 

Yes, he handles extreme weight, and so puts his joints out from time to time, but I’m sure that he doesn’t advise people to stay away from weight training to protect their joints.

The secret is that weight training improves muscle mass and bone density. Your spine is supported by multiple muscle groups and these muscle groups improve their muscle fiber density by virtue of strength training.

Stronger and larger the muscle, the safer is your spine!

This article by the Harvard medical school actually says that weight training increases the strength of bones in the hips, spine and wrists, which they also say are the points most likely to suffer fractures.

You will start using steroids

myths about strength training - steroids

Unless you really want to - there’s no compulsion that you really have to get into steroids while you strength train.

It’s a form of exercise, not a cult!

You are solely responsible for the choices and decisions you make.

Although steroids are strongly associated to body building (the same way rock n roll is associated with drugs.) there are a plenty of body builders, weight trainers, and fitness enthusiast who do it without steroids; some even do it without any supplements; there are a few who even do it without meat (Vegans)!

Keeping this in mind, you will not start using steroids unless you really want to, and I certainly won’t recommend that you do.

Strength training ruins flexibility

There are countless athletes who have a considerable amount of muscle mass but they are equally flexible.

There is no particular relation between lean body mass and flexibility.

Watch a replay of Usane Bolt running the hundred meters, and see flexible muscle mass working like a fine symphony.

Yoga being all about flexibility of the body; there are numerous Yoga instructors that are as flexible as Gumby but as buffed as He-man!

Forgive my analogies but if there’s any relation between strength training and flexibility, it is that strength training actually improves flexibility.

When you train, your joints go through a full range of motion. Your muscles contract & relax and these movements actually improve flexibility.

Just don’t be lazy, and remember to incorporate a good stretching regime into your program.

Strength training is good for building muscle but bad for the heart

This one actually elevates my blood pressure whenever I hear it!

Taking into account, eleven clinical trials that have been conducted on Cholesterol and strength training suggest that strength training helps in reduction of LDL Cholesterol.

This kind of Cholesterol (The unhealthy kind) is responsible for clogging the arteries and increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. This is true for most anaerobic exercises.

This evidence suggests that strength training is actually good for the heart.

On the other hand, if we analyze aerobic exercise, we see that this kind of training additionally helps improve HDL cholesterol (Healthy kind).

This isn’t true for anaerobic exercise. So we may conclude that aerobic exercise is healthier for the heart than its anaerobic counterpart but nevertheless anaerobic exercise like strength training improves the heart’s health.

Another thing to consider is blood flow. Strength training helps reduce blood pressure.

This is true for aerobic exercise as well.

This article from Medical News Today lists some more hearth health benefits of strength training.

Weight training is bad for your joints

‘If you do weight training you will end up with hollow joints!’

I actually got this suggestion from a running coach; maybe he was trying to get me into his running team.

Weight training involves controlled, non-impact movement which improves the health of your joints, ligaments and the muscles surrounding the joint.

So yes, the myth is actually a myth.  

Just a note of caution, some Olympic lifts can put incredible strain on your joints, but we aren’t talking about that type of training here.  

Unless you are gifted, and training to compete in Olympic lifting competitions, you won’t encounter those problems.

If you are, then you should already be aware of what the future holds for some of you.  If you’re not, ask your coach at your next session, and make an informed decision about how much you are prepared to sacrifice.  

It’s a similar decision that most professional athletes will have to make in one way or another.

Doing weights will make you bulky

myths about strength training steroids

‘I don’t train with weights because I don’t want to get bulky!’

This is one of the biggest myths that prevent women from engaging with proper strength training.

If they’ve got a hang up with this belief, then at most you’ll find them using really light weights for higher reps, in the belief that this will help with “toning” and develop “thin muscles”

Firstly, the way muscles are shaped on your body is largely as a result of your natural anatomy, not the type of weight training you’ve done. 

Given two people of equal strength, one short in stature with short limbs, the other tall with long limbs, the shorter one will appear to have larger muscles.

Due to the lack of testosterone, and the presence of estrogen, around 90% of women will never be physiologically able to build the amount of muscle that it takes to look bulky.

So all you are doing by avoiding proper strength straining, is cheating your body out of the results that is could be achieving which would result in a feminine physique with curves in all the right places.

Cardio burns more calories than strength training

Women can often be seen spending hours at the gym running on tread mills, developing scrawny run down systems, sometimes to the extent that they end up suffering from overtraining.

They are likely suffering from this myth.

The truth is that your muscles continue burning calories for longer even after you’ve finished strength training, as apposed to a cardio session.

And someone with a more muscular physique can burn up to an extra 50% more calories than that of a runner, just moving around throughout the day. 

 That can add up to a lot of extra calories used up, just by living, making strength training a really good option if it’s calorie’s out that you’re worried about

Body weight exercises are as good as weight training

weight training

While I love body weight exercises, and it is true that you can build a really wonderful physique full of athletic strength and performance, you cannot achieve the same level of stresses placed on the body as training with heavy weights does. 

And it is that additional stress that you are able to apply to the body through proper weight training, that will achieve the great results that I believe we should all aspire to.

I really like incorporating calisthenics into my training routines, and think that disciplines like yoga and pilates have loads of benefits, but nothing can beat the shear bang for your buck that you get from time spent progressing a proper strength training program.

You should be sore after every strength training workout

Lots of people think that they should feel sore after every weights workout, and that if they don’t then it mustn’t have been a good workout.

While beginners will almost always feel soreness because their muscles are not at all used to handling these types of stresses, as your body becomes more adapted, fitter and stronger, it’s recovery will become better as well.

You will likely still feel soreness after you make changes to a workout routine, or add significant volume or intensity, but if your body is sore all the time, then you may need to allow more time for recovery. 

It is during recovery that your body strengthens and grows new muscles fibers, so this is a critically important part of the process. 

If you are not recovering properly, your progress will suffer.

Instead of using a really bad arbitrary measure like, “how sore do I feel” to gauge how effective your workouts are, you should follow a proper program, and measure your results to ensure that you achieve progressive overload.

Doing this will ensure consistent progress, and avoid improper over training, because you don't want to end up here;

myths about strength training - sore muscles

Women and men should train differently

In most commercial gyms anywhere around the world, you will find trainers who are putting their male clients through workouts that include squats, deadlifts, military presses and bench pressing all with reasonably heavy weights. (most should go heavier)

In those same gyms, and often with the same trainers, women are being “worked out” using light dumb bells, weight machines with only a few plates on the peg, and loads more cardio.

This is rubbish.

There is absolutely no reason that women cannot, and should not complete the same type of exercises that men can.

In fact, training that way will give most women the best chance of obtaining the body which they really want.

While a man may train with weights in a certain way, to grow bigger, a woman training in the same way will achieve the tight, toned look that most want.

Strength training is only for young people

That’s almost as bad as saying that sex is only for young people, and we all know that’s just not true, because we’re never intending to stop doing that.

Do we ever really intend to stop doing the things we enjoy?

myths about strength training

Well, why would picking an age when it suddenly becomes unsafe to lift weights be any different?

 Unless your doctor has advised you, or told you outright to stop strength training, then it’s pretty safe to expect that you will still actually be achieving great benefits from it.

Decreasing the risk of osteoporosis, better balance, weight loss and better mental health are all assisted by strength training, which makes it a great thing for older people to be doing.

This article lists 13 benefits for people over the age of fifty achieved by strength training.

Wrapping up our myths about strength training

You might be able to find more myths about strength training if you go looking and really research it, but if you are motivated enough to do that, then the reality is that your commitment to being lazy and fat is just far too strong.

Better to spend your time researching the benefits, or better yet, just go and start strength training.

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If you are ready to get started, this post on leg workouts or this one about weight training for body sculpting will help.

Ana Maria

As a certified strength coach and nutritionist, with a passion for living life and continual improvement, Ana Maria believes that every woman should bring out her inner goddess. A healthy active lifestyle, commitment to training and good nutrition are the keys. As the creator of Sara Crave, Ana Maria shares her passions for fitness, fun and fashion with you.

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