Like nearly every type of exercise, strength training is full of misconceptions. Most of these come from click-bait titles promising giant arms, rock-hard abs, or a massive chest in a short amount of time. This leads people to assume all sorts of weird things about what strength training will and won’t do, and what its purpose is. Let’s address the most common myths, so you can confidently choose a strength training program that works for you.
The biggest misconception
Strength training has a limited role in overall health
This is critical to address as strength training is foundational to good overall health. Strength training and the associated muscle gain greatly reduces your risk of osteoporosis, insulin resistance, type II diabetes, improves muscle balance for less injury risk and joint pain, and improves your quality of life well into your later years.
Insulin resistance and type II diabetes
After a meal, carbs are broken down into sugars and go into the blood stream to be used or stored for later. Insulin is released to help store sugars into fat and muscle, and lower your blood sugar to normal levels. Releasing a high amount of insulin over long periods of time to deal with high blood sugar can make your cells resistant to the effects of insulin, and can lead to type II diabetes.
Through various mechanisms, strength training can alone reduce your risk of insulin resistance. Also, the more muscle you have, the more storage you have. This means that less sugar is stored as fat, and the better your body can regulate its blood sugar. This leads to less risk of type II diabetes.
Bones get stronger in response to loading forces. Loading your bones in different directions is important to promote dense bones. Having stronger bones obviously reduces risk of fracture. However, as you get older, bones will naturally lose density over time. Developing strong, dense bones now reduces the risk of osteoporosis and fracture long into your later years.
Quality of life
One of the biggest differences you will notice as you get stronger is that you no longer need help lifting heavy objects, and everything gets easier. Carrying all your groceries inside in one trip will be limited by the number and size of items, not the weight. Moving furniture becomes much less daunting. Eventually, people will start asking you for help with lifting heavy objects.
In your later years, strength also means independence. Combined with balance training, improving strength greatly reduces your risk of falls. Being able to stand up from a seated position, picking things up from the ground, and the ability to climb stairs allows you to live life on your own terms. You’ll also spend less money on care staff, specialized equipment, and medical bills.
A good strength training program should address muscle balance. Throughout daily activities, there is more emphasis on some muscle groups than others. To make matters worse, some only exercise the muscles they see, or “mirror muscles,” which are usually chest, front shoulder, abs, and arms. Neglecting opposing muscle groups creates an imbalance. It is a sure-fire way to poor posture, joint problems, and injury. The best way to ensure proper balance is to match each push exercise with a pull (for example, bench press followed by seated row).
Strength training is only for big muscles
I hear a lot about how most women don’t want to get muscly, or men don’t want to get freakish, just fit. Again, these come from an entire industry lying about what’s realistic.
As a man, your muscles will grow, but huge gains require many years of very focused and specific training. Because of the hormonal differences, women have an even more difficult time gaining a significant amount of muscle mass. Simply put, of course you’ll gain some muscle, but no one became a body builder by accident.
Strength training isn’t good for fat loss
Cardio may have the spotlight for efficient fat loss, but strength training enhances cardio’s effects. Even only strength training can be an effective fat loss strategy. It takes a lot of energy to lift heavy weights. The stronger you get, the heavier the weight you can lift, and the more calories you can burn.
When cutting calories, your body uses both fat and muscle for energy. Strength training helps you preserve muscle and burns even more fat. Replacing fat tissue with muscle may not move the scale much, as muscle weighs more than fat, but you will get slimmer.
What kind of program to follow?
When choosing or designing a strength training program, you should keep a few things in mind. If you’re unsure where to start, check out my article about beginner programs. Decide what you want out of a program. If there’s something specific you’re training for or want to accomplish, then your program should address that. Don’t forget to make sure that you are balancing muscle groups. Be sure to include a variety of rep ranges to address both muscular endurance (16-22 rep range) as well as strength (1-6 rep range).
Most importantly, form is everything! Check ExRx, YouTube videos, work with a professional, or contact me for a form check.
With a good strength training program, you can burn more fat, improve your overall health, and make life easier.