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11 MUSCLE-BUILDING MYTHS THAT ARE PREVENTING YOUR FROM REACHING YOUR GOALS


Rebecca Strong,Joey Thurman
Thu, March 25, 2021, 12:51 PM

Muscle doesn't weight more than fat, it's just more compact and takes up less space. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

  • Following these common muscle-building myths can increase your risk of injury.

  • Therefore, it's important that you focus on building a routine that's best for you.

  • And take time to rest instead of worrying about stressing your body to its maximum limit.

  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

There are many misconceptions about what it takes to build muscle, and exercise experts say that buying into them may be precisely what's preventing you from achieving your fitness goals.

According to Marques Garcia, MS, a certified clinical exercise physiologist and strength and conditioning specialist, one reason why many of these myths persist is that the sports science field is still relatively new.

"We have just begun to understand the intricate connection between the physiological, psychological, and external anatomy of how muscles grow and respond to exercise and nutrition," he says.

Whether you've hit a plateau in your workout results, or you're just curious about how to build and maintain muscle, here are some of the more common myths that have been debunked by science research and experts alike.

Myth 1: If unused, muscle tissue converts to fat

tummy fat

Muscle does not convert to fat if it's unused, it's just that if you're losing muscle you're most likely following a lifestyle that will also lead to fat accumulation. GSO Images/Getty Images

According to certified personal trainer and CEO of Innovative Fitness Curtis Christopherson, it's true that muscles will start to shrink if you stop using them.

And if you continue consuming the same amount of calories as you did when weight lifting, those extra calories will likely be stored in the form of body fat since they're not being used as fuel.

Thus, it's not that muscle converts to fat, it's that you might lose muscle mass while simultaneously gaining fat if you don't adjust your diet.

Garcia also says that it's physically impossible for muscle tissue to turn into fat since the cells that make up these tissues have completely different structures.

Myth 2: You build more muscle if you train first thing in the morning

morning weights

The regimen that you stick to most consistently is what's going to be most effective in helping you reach your goals - regardless of what time of day you exercise. adamkaz/Getty Images

Some studies have demonstrated that many people tend to be naturally stronger in the afternoon and evening.

What the research says: A small 2016 study showed that men experienced larger gains in muscle mass when they completed strength and endurance training in the evening compared to the morning.

However, other research has indicated that when you train might not have much of an impact on your ability to build muscle.

Christopherson says it's all about finding a regimen that you can consistently stick to, so if you have more energy earlier in the day, then work out in the morning.

Myth 3: You should stretch before training muscles

stretch

Focus on dynamic warm ups instead of static stretching. Yagi Studio/Getty Images

When it comes to stretching before your workout, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) reports that "static stretches" held in place - such as reaching for your toes - have not been proven to improve performance.

Instead, the ACSM recommends doing a dynamic warm-up that will elevate your heart-rate and encourage blood flow as well as a full range of motion, such as jogging or jumping jacks, followed by lunges, leg swings, and arm circles. These types of movements may enhance your overall performance while reducing your risk of injury, according to the ACSM.

Garcia advises pre-exercise static stretching for sports requiring flexibility, and dynamic stretching before weight lifting or any activities that require explosive exercise movements, such as jump squats, box jumps, and burpees. A 2018 study showed that performing dynamic stretches prior to exercising can help prepare your muscles for the activity.

Myth 4: Muscle weighs more than fat

scales

A pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same. Sellwell/Getty Images

If you put a pound of fat and a pound of muscle on the scale, they'd weigh the same - and Garcia says the same is true in your body.

However, muscle and fat don't have the same composition: Muscle is more compact, meaning it occupies less space in the body - which is why two people with the same weight can look very different, depending on their body composition, or percentage of fat versus muscle.

Myth 5: Lifting weights makes women bulky

weights

Because females naturally have less testosterone - which is important for building bulky muscles - it's less likely they will become bulky from lifting. Getty Images

Research has shown testosterone plays a massive role in your capacity for muscle growth, and females don't produce nearly as much testosterone as males.

According to Christopherson, the average female will gain muscle at roughly half the rate of a male.

Seeing as testosterone levels are roughly 10 times higher in men than they are in women on average, it would be extremely difficult for a woman to appear "bulky," even with consistent strength training involving heavy weights.

Myth 6: You need to lift heavy weights to build muscle

weights

It's not about how much weight you lift, it's about how often you lift it. Tetra Images/Getty Images

The key to stimulating muscle growth, according to Christopherson, is simply keeping your muscles under tension for as long as possible - which you can do without heavy weights or access to the gym.

One small 2017 study showed that participants who performed bodyweight push-ups for eight weeks experienced the same muscle gains in their pecs and triceps as those who did loaded bench presses.

Another small 2019 study found that women who performed more reps with a lighter weight achieved about the same strength increases as women who performed fewer reps with a much heavier weight. These findings suggest that you can still build muscle without using heavy weights, as long as you perform a high number of repetitions.

Myth 7: You should eat protein after a workout

protein powder

You can eat protein before or after a workout. Your body will use it the same way, regardless. Gabriel Vergani / EyeEm / Getty Images

While there is a correlation between protein intake and muscle mass gains, a small 2019 study discovered that protein shakes are no more effective at rebuilding muscle and promoting recovery than high-carbohydrate sports drinks.

A small 2017 study found that when men drank a post-workout beverage with 22 grams of protein, they didn't build more muscle compared to those who did not consume a protein drink.

Another 2017 study found that consuming protein before and after exercise yielded essentially the same muscle-building results, indicating that the timing of your protein consumption won't affect muscle gain.

Myth 8: Soreness is a sign you're getting stronger

sore

Soreness is a sign that you've taxes your muscles, but you shouldn't measure how sore you are as an indicator of how much strength you're building. boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images

The ACSM refutes the "no pain, no gain" motto: Research suggests that muscle soreness isn't a reliable indicator of muscle damage or growth.

"The reason you feel sore after a workout is because there are microscopic tears that take place in your muscles," says Garcia. "It's simply a physiological reaction to exercise and not a sign of strength gain."

Myth 9: You need to "confuse" your muscles to improve your workout results

muscle confusion

You can't confuse your muscles and it won't make them any stronger. mihailomilovanovic/Getty Images

While Christopherson recommends mixing things up in your workout routine to challenge your body in new and different ways, he says the concept of "muscle confusion" is mostly a myth perpetuated by popular fitness programs like P90X.

A small 2019 study found that while men who varied their routines did have more motivation to work out, they saw almost identical gains in muscle size and strength as those who stuck to one routine with fixed exercises.

General advice: According to the ACSM, the most important elements to consider for a strength training program are working your muscles to fatigue, performing multi-joint exercises that engage all the major muscle groups, and progressively increasing the weight you're lifting over time.

Myth 10: You should always do 8-12 reps

weights

The number of reps isn't as important as making sure you're challenging your muscles. Grace Cary/Getty Images

Experts agree that while 8-12 reps is considered the standard for strength training, a wide variety of rep ranges can be effective for building muscle. Ultimately, Christopherson says the most important thing is to make sure that you are challenging your muscles.

"You can use light weights or even use your own body and do high reps of 15 to 25 and still increase muscle mass," says Garcia.

A small 2016 study of experienced male weight lifters revealed that lifting relatively light weights for about 20 to 25 reps is just as efficient at building strength and muscle size as lifting heavier weights for 8 to 12 reps.

Myth 11: Your workouts need to be long to be effective

crunches

Overtaxing your muscles by working out for too long is a surefire way to injure yourself and set you back from your goals. FilippoBacci/Getty Images

According to Christopherson, one of the top myths about muscle building is that if you're not getting stronger, it's because you're not training long enough.

"Many people often believe that the solution is adding more sets, more reps, or more training sessions," he says. "What most people fail to consider is that training is the stimulus for growth, but growth actually happens while we're recovering. Your nutrition, sleep, and even stress management practices will all significantly impact your ability to build muscle."

A 2019 review, which compared the results of one long workout versus several shorter workouts done in multiple bouts over the course of a day, found no difference in terms of their effects on fitness.

Experts have indicated that the intensity of your training matters far more than the duration of your workout, meaning it's possible to achieve the same results in less time as long as you're working your muscles to fatigue.

Insider's takeaway

Rather than looking for the "magic bullet" to building muscle, Christopherson recommends working out consistently four to six times a week and continually adding more weight or reps as your body adapts to the training. He also stresses the importance of getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night to ensure your muscles can recover and repair themselves properly.

In order to ensure you're getting accurate guidance on building muscle, Garcia advises hiring a certified trainer or strength coach and getting your facts from reputable sources in exercise science such as the American College of Sports Science, National Strength & Conditioning Association, and Mayo Clinic.

He also notes that nutrition plays a significant role in muscle building. In order to build muscle, your body needs "a balanced diet that has enough macro and micronutrients to replenish your body," Garcia tells Insider.

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