Weighing In: Weightlifting Myths vs. The Truth

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Oh, Weightlifting.

The world of weight-lifting is as full of tall tales as a celebrity’s publicist. “Weight-lifting stunts growth“, “lifting will give you hemorrhoids,” and the ever famous “lifting isn’t a girl thing.” For example, Lara Smith at  Lara’s Happy Lifestyle gets asked by women all the time if they’ll get bulky lifting weights. “I tell them that I’ve been lifting weights for 14 years,” Lara says, “and it’s toned my muscles instead of making me bulky. Lifting weights has given me my high-school body back.”

Thanks to a hefty conversation with the lovely female weightlifter and personal trainer, here are six myths about weightlifting and what to think about them:

1) You need heavy weights to build muscle.Wrong! Lifting lighter weights is just as effective as lifting heavier weights, as long as you continue repetitions until muscle failure. A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that lighter weights lifted more times built as much muscle as heavier weights lifted fewer times. In fact, the study group that lifted smaller weights for three sets gained twice as much strength as the group that lifted heavier weights for just one set. So if you have joint pain or just don’t want to throw your body into a big weight, reach for the smaller weights and pump until you can’t pump no more!

2) Lifting weights multiple times per week will automatically make me bulky. If only gaining muscle were so easy. To gain muscle mass you need to lift and seriously commit to eating right. To grow muscle, you need to take in more calories than you burn. Lara recommends consuming 250-500 extra calories per day, depending on how much you tend to gain fat (lower calories if you tend to gain easily, higher if you don’t). “And don’t forget lean protein!” she says.

3) Lifting weights will make me too bulky, and I don’t want to look like a man. Wrong again! Unless you have the freakishly high levels of testosterone of Vera de Milo, women simply don’t have the necessary testosterone for extreme muscle gain. In fact, men typically have 20 times as much of the hormone and they still struggle to put on muscle. If anything, according to Livestrong, more muscle means more calorie burn, which leads to slimming down, not bulking up.

“Muscle is denser than fat, which means you squeeze more weight into a smaller area.” Lara says. “Adding all those extra pounds of sleek, sexy muscles means a revved up resting metabolic rate.”

Ha, and you were worried!

4) Protein loading leads to muscle growth. Half-true. You MUST eat lean protein after a workout to give your damaged muscle tissue the amino acids it needs to repair itself. But, according to Lara, carbohydrates are necessary as well. That’s right, carbs are not the enemy. “Most experts recommend consuming four grams of carbohydrates for every one gram of protein after a workout,” she says. Otherwise if your body has no carbs (and fat) to burn, it will turn the protein into energy, and there goes your muscle gain.

5) Muscle turns into fat when you stop exercising. Even though the belief in alchemy went out with the Middle Ages, many still hang on to this magical belief that substances can transmute into other substances. Say what? Can iron turn to gold? Can broccoli become cheesecake? Muscle and fat are two different substances. Muscle will never be fat, as sure as Taylor Swift will never be Beyonce. As the New York Times explains muscle does shrink when not used. However, since people often consume the same calories when not exercising as they did when they were exercising, those bulging muscles just shrink down make room for fluffy fat to keep them company.

6) Exercise improves your sex life. NOT A MYTH – hallelujah! Exercise gets your heart pumping, and that increases blood flow. The blood flows to… well, you know, parts. That can increase desire and improve performance. As Lara points out, “regular exercise also increases levels of hormones such as adrenaline and testosterone, which also increases your sex drive!”

Bam, myths exposed!