Harmful gym myths could be holding you back, says Mark Bailey

To help fight fiction with fact, we detonate ten gym myths with the help of personal trainer Scott Laidler (scottlaidler.com), whose authentic advice has transformed the physiques of Oscar-winning actors, professional athletes and elite military personnel.

Myth: To build muscle you have to lift to failure

Pushing yourself to failure isn’t the only way to build muscle. ‘There are plenty of regimes that utilise the overall volume of the workout to successfully stimulate muscle growth instead,’ says Laidler. A popular example would be German Volume Training (GVT). To perform GVT, reduce the weight you lift to 60% of your one-rep max but pump up the overall volume by aiming for ten sets of ten reps.

Myth: Weight lifting leads to muscle injuries

Research shows that strength training actually prevents muscle injuries. A study of over 25,000 athletes, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed that those who performed strength training experienced less than a third of the sports injuries of gym-dodgers who never lifted weights.

Myth: You should only train one body part each day

Switching to regular full-body workouts can spark serious muscle growth. ‘The 15×4 programme, which involves performing 15 sets of 4 reps of different exercises, can be effective. Each exercise hits a separate body part – so you work your arms, back, shoulders, chest and legs on the same day. In this method, muscle growth is triggered not by the intensity or maximal peak of the workout, but by the overall cumulative load on the body,’ says Laidler.

Myth: Weight training will cause you to pile on the pounds

Lifting weights not only spikes your heart rate and burns calories but the subsequent increase in muscle mass ramps up your basal metabolic rate – the number of calories you burn during the day – to zap even more body fat while you rest.

Myth: You must lift at least 6-10 reps to achieve muscle growth

‘It all depends on whether your workouts keep you in a state of “over-reaching”,’ says Laidler. To ‘over-reach’ you need to make small gains in progress each time, whether by lifting heavier weights, or achieving a higher intensity, volume or overall load. ‘If you are working hard enough, you could gain muscle by doing just five reps,’ he continues. Those shorter reps should involve heavier lifts with longer 3-4 minute rest intervals.

Myth: Lifting heavy weights will wreck your back

Weight lifting helps to prevent more spinal injuries than it causes. Most back injuries are the result of poor form, bad advice or swollen egos. The truth is that weight training stimulates the development of bone osteoblasts – the cells which build bones – to help strengthen your back.

Myth: You need to work out for over an hour

Short but regular sessions can be much more effective than grim half-day slogs in the weights room. ‘Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST) is a modern and focused approach which works on what we would consider the minimal effective stimulus for muscle growth, in combination with training muscle groups more frequently,’ explains Ladler.

A sample six-week programme of HST would be: two sets of three heavy lifts, repeated 3-4 times a week, with two weeks at 15 reps per set, two weeks at 10 reps, and two weeks at 5 reps. In this game-changing method, the muscle growth is triggered by the frequency – not the intensity or volume – of the workout.

Myth: Gym training is bad for your tendons and joints

A review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy confirmed that strength training actually increases the number and diameter of collagen fibrils in the tendons to make them stronger and more injury-resistant. And research in Isokinetics and Exercise Science showed that strength training aids joint flexibility to make you a more mobile and dynamic athlete.

Myth: Supersets are the best way to speed up muscle gains

Supersets (moving quickly from one exercise to another without a break) can help to crank up the intensity and volume of your workout. However, rushing your reps can result in poor form or a failure to complete the full lifting range. Where supersets may be most useful is in pairing unrelated muscle groups together, so you can usually switch between leg and upper body exercises without suffering a dip in quality.

Myth: Lifting weights will make you angry and aggressive

Research in Frontiers in Psychology has shown that low to moderate intensity resistance training has a powerful ‘anxiolytic’ effect, which means it helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Additional research in the Archives of Internal Medicine has shown that weight training also boosts mental focus and cognitive function.