Resistance Training 101: Common Myths

When someone thinks of resistance training, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I can almost guarantee their thought process will not go much further than images of Arnold Schwarzenegger or some other muscle bound actor/athlete. While there have been countless studies and articles documenting the health benefits of aerobic conditioning; the effects of resistance training still seem to be continually underappreciated and misunderstood by the general public. With that in mind, I would like to dispel a few of these myths…

Myth #1: If a woman lifts weights they become bulky and acquire masculine features.

I cannot believe how many individuals, typically women, believe if you lift weights your physique will transform into that of a body builder. You have to try to have the build of Venus Williams… you cannot lift a couple weights and POOF! You are now 200 lbs of solid muscle. Muscle gain is a gradual process that can be manipulated by proper exercise program design. If you do not train and eat like a body builder, you will not become one.

Also, many individuals have been put under the impression that the musculature of men is drastically different than that of women. While men are typically stronger in terms of absolute strength, women have been shown to be equal to men in terms of relative strength (strength compared to body composition) and histochemical composition of muscle. The largest factor contributing to differences in muscle gain of women versus that of men is the hormonal differences between the sexes. Men have a considerably higher concentration of testosterone, which is responsible for protein synthesis and is a key process in the growth of muscular tissue. So, it is the hormonal make-up, not the actual muscular tissue that is the deciding factor in the difference in muscle growth between the sexes.

Myth #2: I’m trying to lose weight, so I don’t need to lift weights.

There is a perception by most individuals that the number on the scale determines an individual’s physical fitness. I am often confronted with the concern that, “I know muscle weighs more than fat, so if I lift weights I’ll gain weight.” Yes, muscle does weigh more than fat, but this is often irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Your weight does not matter! The proportion of your weight that is composed of body fat does! If you gain 5 pounds, but you drop from 28% body fat to 22%, I guarantee you will look better and feel healthier. Also, resistance training has been shown to aide in weight loss. During the day following resistance training, your body needs additional calories to repair the tissues involved in your training. Because of this, additional calories are expended, thus not only are you expending calories during resistance training, but you will continue to burn additional calories the following day. While weight training typically will not and should not be the main focus of a weight-loss program, it is still an area that should be addressed.

Myth #3: Weight lifting is bad for your joints.

Many people believe that if you stress your joints, you will automatically cause harm. If you are continually putting yourself in vulnerable positions by using poor technique, then yes, this is very true. However, if you are training properly, the stress exerted on your joints will actually have beneficial effects; even if you have osteoarthritis (OA) or osteoporosis. During the loading of a joint, the articular cartilage is compressed, which causes fluid to be released. When the compressive force is removed, the fluid is absorbed, which provides the cartilage with important nutrition. When the joint is not loaded routinely, the joint lacks nutrients, which can lead to degenerative changes eventually progressing to OA. Also, with decreased loading, fluid is not released in sufficient amount, thus removing an important lubricant and causing increased friction across the joint surfaces. Weight training is an important aspect of the management of osteoporosis and by stressing the bone through weight-bearing exercise; new bone can be laid down increasing or maintaining an individual’s bone mineral density.

References:

1. Baechle TR, Earle RW. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008.
2. Mueller MJ, Maluf KS. Tissue Adaptation to Physical Stress: A Proposed “Physical Stress Theory” to Guide Physical Therapist Practice, Education, and Research. Physical Therapy, 2002, 82(4), 383–403.

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