Training myths

  1. Training myths

    Like my nutrition post I pulled this from a website a long time ago and can't remember which one it was:

    Training Mythology
    By Joel Marion
    Previously published in Muscle Media, July 2003

    A few months ago I wrote an article entitled "Nutritional Mythology" disclosing four ever so popular nutrition related myths and equipping you with the knowledge to combat advocators of these fairytales. Now, it's time to shine the light on four really ugly training myths, and again, provide you with sound arguments and information to bury these bad boys once and for all.

    Myth Number 1: Machines are the best way to train due to their ability to "isolate" individual muscle groups.

    The Real Deal: First off, training with machines isn't an optimal choice in that most of these devices don't require you to balance the selected load; the machine has a fixed range of motion and it will balance the load for you without much effort on your part. This leaves your stabilizing/supporting muscle groups weak and underdeveloped as they are generally not "called upon" when working with machines. "Come on, man; who cares about stabilizers? People just want to get huge!" Yes, I'm aware, and that's precisely the problem. You see, you're never going to "get huge" if you neglect to train the stabilizing muscle groups. Why? Well, if the major muscle groups continue to strengthen and hypertrophy at the expense of stabilizer strength and growth, you're going to have a major problem. Eventually, you won't be able to stand, walk, move, etc. (I wasn't lying when I said "major" problem), because your underlying muscle groups are not strong enough to support the imbalance. Now, before all you "machiners" out there get super freaked about the thought of waking up tomorrow in a paralyzed state, let me assure you that your body will never allow you to screw yourself up so badly. Your body will sense that your stabilizers are not strong enough to support further growth of the major muscle groups and will compensate by not allowing them to hypertrophy further. This phenomenon is known as "regulatory feedback" between muscle tissue and the brain, and yes, it will stop progress dead in its tracks.

    Secondly, whether you are referring to free weight or machine movements, the whole concept of "isolation" is hogwash. It's a huge marketing tool to give manufacturers an excuse to continually develop highly complex (and very expensive) exercise machines when simple barbells and dumbbells are far superior and less economically taxing. When performing isolation-type movements:

    You work only one muscle or muscle group at a time

    You neglect underrated muscle groups and put yourself at a predisposition for injury

    You use minimal weight

    You minimize strength gains

    However, when utilizing compound, multi-joint movements:

    You work many muscles or muscle groups simultaneously

    You heavily recruit underrated muscle groups as stabilizers and/or secondary movers

    You use maximal weight

    You maximize strength gains

    Machine/isolation movements or free weight/compound movements? Hopefully, it's a no-brainer by now.

    Myth Number 2: If you want to "tone up," lower the load and go for the "burn" with high reps.

    The Real Deal: Here is some insight from coach Pavel Tsatsouline to explain why this myth is indeed just that, a myth!

    " Your muscle fibers are like mouse traps-- they go off by themselves, but need energy to be reset to contract again. A dead body is out of ATP, the energy compound that relaxes the muscles...A high rep workout exhausts ATP in your muscle and leads to temporary hardness...The only way to make such 'tone' last is by killing yourself."

    Okay, so who's up for lethal injections after a nice, long, burning set of 20? Aww, no volunteers? Ok, seriously, if you men want to obtain a truly ripped, rugged, and dense physique, and if you ladies long to sport that lean, sexy, "tone" look, you'll actually have to do the exact opposite of what everyone has been recommending: throw a few extra plates on the bar and train heavy with low reps. You see, only heavy training (i.e. less than 6 repetitions) will improve your muscle density, A.K.A. myogenic tone (2,3,4), through the growth of the contractile proteins myosin and actin (6,7,8). After all, the contractile proteins are by far the densest components of skeletal muscle, and causing hypertrophy of these proteins will translate into a denser, harder look, even at rest.

    Another "muscle tone" benefit that can be attributed to heavy training is increased neurogenic tone (i.e. tone when movement or contractions occur) through the sensitizing of alpha and gamma motor neurons (5). Now, although some individuals will try to tell you that increasing the sensitivity of motor neurons will enhance your "tone" by keeping muscles partially contracted even at rest; don't be fooled; this isn't possible (1,2,3,4).

    However, increased neurogenic tone will be easily noticed when even the slightest of movements occur. For example, simply extending your arm to grab the glass of Myoplex off the countertop will have your triceps ripped to shreds. Cool stuff, huh? So unless you plan on joining the circus as a professional manikin, the benefits of increased neurogenic tone will be incredibly apparent and clearly visible.

    Also, amplified neurogenic tone will have you looking much harder and striated when purposefully, intensely contracting your muscles (i.e. flexing, posing). Who assesses their hardness in a relaxed state anyway? Anyway you look at it, regardless of whether you're trying to impress the BFL judges or just want to look good for the summer, increased neurogenic tone is what you want. It leaves you substantially harder and more striated than if you had neglected to train the nervous system. Couple it with myogenic tone and look out baby; you're ripped, rugged, dense, sexy, and hard all at once!

    Lastly, let's be real; a huge component of the "ripped" equation is your level of body fat. If your muscles are covered by a layer of fat, you wont be able to notice the benefits of heavy training until you lose the overlying adipose tissue. So, does this mean that you shouldn't train heavy if you've still have a bit of fat to lose? Of course not! You want to continually improve your muscle tone as you lose the fat so that when you finally reach your goal body fat percentage, you'll have the appearance you desire.

    Myth Number 3: You should never train a sore muscle, as it is counterproductive to recovery.

    The Real Deal: It is not uncommon for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to last four or even five days after the completion of an intense weight training session; however, many studies have concluded that complete metabolic recovery occurs within 48 hours of exercise. If metabolic recovery has taken place, a muscle can be worked again via the same training method, even if the muscle is still sore from a previous session. Moreover, numerous studies have shown that training a muscle while it is still recovering does not adversely affect recovery (9,10,11,12). Therefore, even if complete metabolic recovery has not yet occurred, the muscle can be trained again. There are two ways to effectively go about working a muscle for a second time within 48 hours of a previous session:

    1) Conduct an "active recovery" session. Many strength training gurus, including Muscle Media's own Pavel Tsatsouline, recommend conducting a light, less taxing training session after a heavy, demanding session in order to facilitate recovery, decrease DOMS, and actually maximize strength gains. Pavel notes, "As long as you keep stimulating the nervous system with the stimulus, even if your body is not totally recovered, you're going to make much better gains." An example of this would be to execute 3 sets of 6 reps with a 12RM load (half of what is possible) in the squat on Wednesday after conducting a high volume squat session on Monday.

    2) Change the stimulus and go all out again. Since your muscles are still recovering, it would not be profitable to train a given muscle via the same training method before recovery has taken place. Although studies have shown that doing so will not substantially, adversely affect metabolic recovery, it will not be of benefit either. However, what will be of benefit is training in a different rep range; this will stimulate different muscle fibers and will yield a different overall physiological response. For example, if you conducted 5 sets of 10 in the bench press on Monday, you may want to shoot for 10 sets of 5, or 4 sets of 15 come Wednesday.

    Obviously, you cannot use the above approach for every muscle group, but rather it should be utilized to bring up a lagging body part or to accelerate growth in an area you are highly motivated to train.

    Lastly, well-established strength coach Chad Waterbury points out, "Your body will only increase recovery if you force it to work more frequently. Initially, you may still have residual soreness from the previous workout, but don't worry. Instead, work through it and the body will improve its recovery rate to the point where soreness will subside." So, in essence, increasing the frequency of your training will cause you to experience less soreness in the long run.

    Myth Number 4: You can't gain substantial muscle mass with low rep training.

    The Real Deal: In response to the statement "I've used low reps in the past and I got stronger but not bigger," Canadian strength coach Christian Thibaudeau states "Maybe, but that's because you forgot that gains in muscle mass are stimulated via 3 factors (tension, total time under tension, and density). So, if you kept doing the same number of sets when using low reps as you did when you were using high reps you greatly diminished the total time under tension factor which probably negated the benefits of using very heavy weights." For instance, say you conduct 4 sets of 12 reps with a 100 lb load at a 312 tempo; later you decide to try a lower rep program and perform 4 sets of 4 reps with a 125 lb load at the same tempo. Yes, you increased the load, but you dramatically decreased the total time under tension, a fundamental variable in the mass building equation. With the 4x12 program, you conducted 48 repetitions at 6 seconds apiece; that totals 288 seconds under tension. Then, when you switched over to the 4x4 program, you performed only 16 repetitions at 6 seconds apiece, leaving you with only 96 seconds under tension. No wonder you didn't gain an appreciable amount of muscle mass; you decreased the TUT by 66% and only increased the load by 25%! But, should you have compensated for the drop in repetitions by adding more sets, such as 12 sets of 4, the TUT would have remained the same and you would have gained the additional benefit of increasing the load. Christian goes on to note, "When all other things are equal, the workout with the heaviest average weight will always stimulate more growth." If keeping the total volume high by means of increasing the number of sets performed, it is possible to put on even more muscle mass when training with low reps and heavier loads than when training with higher reps and lighter loads.

    Conclusion. The brights are on, and man, they're ugly! But maybe one day, with your help, we can send myths to the grave where they belong.


    1. Basmajian, J.V. 1974. Muscles Alive. The Williams & Wilkins Co., Baltimore.
    2. Hnik, P. "Controversial aspects of skeletal muscle tone." Biomed Biochim Acta. 1986;45(1-2):S139-43.
    3. Hnik, P. "What is muscle tone?" Physiol Bohemoslov. 1981;30(5):389-95.
    4. Hnik, P. "Myogenic and Neurogenic muscle tone." Journal of Physiology. 1998; 511P, 25S.
    5. Leonard, Charles. 1998. The Neuroscience of Human Movement. Mosby, Inc. St. Louis.
    6. Luthi JM et al. "Structural changes in skeletal muscle tissue with heavy-resistance exercise." Int J Sports Med. 1986 Jun;7(3):123-7.
    7. MacDougall et al. "Muscle ultrastructural characteristics of elite powerlifters and bodybuilders." Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1982;48(1):117-26.
    8. Tesch PA. "Skeletal muscle adaptations consequent to long-term heavy resistance exercise." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1988 Oct;20(5 Suppl):S132-4. Review.
    9. Nosaka K, Clarkson P.M. Muscle damage following repeated bouts of high force eccentric exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc., 27(9):1263-1269,1995.
    10. Smith LL., Fuylmer MG., Holbert D., McCammon MR., Houmard JA., Frazer DD., Nsien E., Isreal RG. The impact of repeated bout of eccentric exercise on muscular strength, muscle soreness and creatine kinase. Br J Sp Med 28(4):267-271, 1994.
    11. Chen, TC and S.S. Hsieh. The effects of a seven-day repeated eccentric training on recovery from muscle damage. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc. 31(5 Supp) pp. S71, 1999.
    12. Nosaka K and M Newton. Repeated eccentric exercise bouts do not exacerbate muscle damage and repair. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):117-22.

    © 2003-2004 Rugged Magazine, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

  2. Im a gansta, but yall knew that

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