Setting it straight: Truths and myths of strength and conditioning
By Brad Rilling, CSCS
Myth: Weight training for females will make you bulky, or I just want to “tone” up.
Truth: In general, women are not able to build monstrous muscle mass due to a number of physiological (not enough testosterone) and genetic factors. Unfortunately, the image that comes to mind is professional bodybuilders that supplement with anabolic steroids. No one, I repeat, no one should ever worry about getting too big. The reality is that the hardest thing to do as a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach is to get someone (male or female) to gain muscle mass. It takes years of proper training, nutrition and an exceptional work ethic.
“Tone is not a scientific word.” Mike Boyle, Boston University
Myth: I don’t want to get big so I’ll just lift lighter weights.
Truth: No one ever got better lifting light weights. “Light weight” is an oxymoron. A weight should be appropriate to the goal but, rarely, if ever intentionally light. The load should be based on the strength level of the person. The reality is if you are able to lift a weight ten times, number nine and ten should be difficult. If you can lift a weight 20 times but choose to do only ten, you are wasting your time.
The essence of effective strength training is a concept called progressive resistance. This means that even if the resistance may be light to begin with, it should not stay that way. Once you have passed the first three weeks of training you should lift a weight that is heavy but still allows good technique. Lifting a tiny weight for a hundred reps is a waste of time and it never really stresses your muscles enough to get stronger. (refer to myth #1 if you’re worried about getting bulky)
Myth: You can spot reduce the abdominal region by doing sit-ups or crunches.
Truth: It is amazing how many people still cling to the idea of spot reduction. No matter how many times I tell someone that doing abdominal work has no effect on body-fat reduction, you still see people cranking out hundreds of crunches. Body fat levels determine waist size. Fat levels are dependent on nutritional plans, and overall exercise patterns. Use the time you would have spent doing extra abs and do something that will actually help with fat loss, such as spin class or interval work. If you want better ab definition, eat less and train more. Don’t just train your abs.
“The best exercise for abdominal definition – table push aways.” Mike Boyle, Boston University
Myth: I should run to get fit.
Truth: You should run when you get fit. Over-use injuries like knee pain or shin splints will occur if you start running and your body is not strong enough to withstand the added pressure. Start by riding a bike, or elliptical machine, along with a sound strength-training program and gradually work jogging in.
Myth: Squats are bad for your knees and lower back.
Truth: Bad squats are bad. Good squats are great. If you use proper technique it’s the greatest strength training exercise you can do to strengthen your core and legs.
Myth: You will burn fat if you exercise longer at a lower intensity (fat burning zone).
Truth: You burn the most fat at rest and we know that doesn’t work very well.
It is not necessarily the percentage of energy coming from fat that should be your concern but the total energy cost. The faster you bike, run or swim the more calories you burn per minute. In a world where nobody has enough time, we should be more concerned with gradually increasing the intensity so we can exercise less and burn more calories.
Myth: You should stretch to warm-up.
Truth: You should warm-up to stretch. A five-minute warm-up using dynamic movement like jogging, biking, or walking should be performed before you perform a light stretch. A longer more advanced stretch should be done after your workout or activity to increase flexibility.