6 Strength Training Myths Debunked

 If you've ever done crunches to get six-pack abs or leg lifts to get thin thighs (and haven't we all?), you've fallen prey to the myth of spot reduction. This myth suggests that doing specific exercises for specific body parts will help you lose body fat there. But, the truth is, how and where we lose fat depends on, among other things, genetics, hormones, and age.


Myth 1: I Can Reduce Fat Around the Abs or Thighs With Specific Exercises

Woman doing sit-up on the floor at a gym

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If you want to lose fat around the thighs or belly, you have to create a calorie deficit (through exercise and diet), lose body fat and see how your body responds. What you'll find is that wherever you store excess fat is that last place you'll lose it. For women, that's often the hips, thighs and lower belly and for men, it's often the belly and waist.

One reason this myth is still hanging around is that of how aggressively it's perpetuated by the infomercials, diets, and magazines promising thin thighs, flat abs and other extreme results for very little work.

Instead of wasting money on false promises and silly gadgets, try a healthier approach so that you can get your best body rather than an idealized body that always seems out of reach:

A study done by the University of Massachusetts had 13 males do vigorous ab exercises for 27 days, and fat biopsies were taken both before and after the exercise. The results? Subjects decreased fat from different areas of the body, not just the abs.


Myth 2: To Tone My Muscles, I Should Use Lighter Weights and High Reps

Two pink 0.5 kg dumbbells

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This is another myth, what I call 'The Pink Dumbbell Myth' that is often perpetuated by magazines and infomercials, convincing us that we should use lighter weights (e.g., pink dumbbells) for higher reps to tone our bodies. There's also a belief that this approach somehow burns more fat and that women should lift weights this way to avoid getting big and bulky.

The truth is that this type of strength training doesn't burn more fat and the only way it will 'tone' your body is if you've created a calorie deficit that allows you to lose body fat. Using lighter weights for higher reps will help you increase muscular endurance and it does have a place in training routines, but that lean, defined look comes from losing body fat.

So, does that mean you shouldn't use the lightweight, high-rep approach with strength training? Not necessarily. How you lift weights depends on your goals and fitness level. But, for weight loss, it's great to use a variety rep and weight ranges.

Choosing Your Reps

  • For strength gains: 1-6 reps, heavy weights
  • For gaining muscle and size: 8-12 reps, medium-heavy weights
  • For endurance: 12-16 reps (or more), light-medium weights

No matter what range you choose, you should always lift enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired reps. If you're doing 12 bicep curls, choose a weight that allows you to 12 reps with good form. If you can do more than that, increase your weight.

Using all three ranges, whether you use them each week, each month or change them every few weeks, is a great way to challenge your body in different ways. 


Myth 3: For Fat Burning or Weight Loss, I Should Only Do Cardio Exercise

Woman's feet running on a treadmill in a gym

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While cardio is important for burning fat and losing weight, it isn't the only type of exercise that can help you lose fat.

Strength training helps you preserve the muscle you have as well as increase your muscle mass and the more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn all day long.

Why You Need Strength Training

Remember, muscle is more active than fat. In fact, a pound of muscle can burn anywhere from 10-20 calories a day while a pound of fat burns only 2-5 calories a day. And, don't forget, muscle is more dense than fat and takes up less space. That means when you lose fat and gain muscle, you'll be slimmer and trimmer.

Plenty of people, especially women, avoid strength training like the plague, either because they think they'll gain weight or because they like cardio better. But strength training has a number of benefits such as:

  • It builds lean muscle tissue.
  • It strengthens muscles, bones and connective tissue.
  • It keeps your body strong and injury-free for your cardio workouts.
  • It raises metabolism.

An effective fat loss program will include regular strength training and cardio workouts, done either separately or together, depending on your schedule and goals. Another important component is, of course, eating a healthy diet as well. By implementing all three components, you can maximize your weight loss and your health.


Myth 4: I Should Be Sore After Every Workout

Woman rubbing her sore shoulder

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How do you know if you've gotten a good strength training workout? A lot of people would measure their workouts by how sore they are the next day, but that isn't the best way to gauge your workout.

Soreness (often called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS)is normal if you're a beginner, if you've changed your usual routine or if you're trying new activities. But, that soreness should lessen over time and, if you're sore after every workout, you may need more recovery days or to reduce the intensity of your workouts to allow your body time to adapt and grow stronger.

Soreness is actually caused by small tears in your muscle fibers, which is how muscles respond when overloaded. Rest and recovery are essential for growing stronger and building lean muscle tissue. If you're sore after every workout, you may need more time to recover or you risk overtraining and injury.

How Do You Know if You're Getting a Good Workout?

  • Lift enough weight. When strength training, you always want to choose a weight heavy enough that you can only complete the desired number of reps. If you stop at the end of a set and realize you could do more, increase your weight so that the last rep is difficult, but not impossible to complete.
  • Work out all your muscle groups. Whether you do a total body workout or a split routine, make sure you hit all your muscle groups 2-3 times each week, with at least one exercise per muscle group (more if you're more advanced).
  • Change your program. Make sure you change your routine every 4-6 weeks to avoid plateaus.

To help mitigate soreness, you should warm up before your workout and cool down and stretch the muscles you've used after the workout.


Myth 5: Strength Training Makes Women Big and Bulky

Woman doing squats with dumbbells in a gym

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This is another popular myth that persists despite the fact that women typically don't have the number of hormones (namely, testosterone) necessary to build huge muscles. In fact, even men struggle to gain muscle which is one reason steroids are such a popular drug with men who want to build big muscles.

This myth goes hand in hand with myth #2, convincing women that strength training is for men and that, if they do lift weights, they should stick with the pink dumbbells.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Why Women Need to Lift Heavy

Lifting heavy weights can benefit both men and women and, in fact, challenging your body with heavy weights is the only way you'll really see results and get stronger. I've been lifting heavy weights for years and have never even come close to looking like a bodybuilder. Most women who lift weights would agree. Remember, muscle takes up less space than fat. When you add muscle, that helps you lose fat (along with your cardio and healthy diet, of course), which means you'll be leaner and more defined.

If you're still reluctant to lift weights because you've never tried and you have no idea where to start, try the Total Body Strength for Beginners workout, which starts you out with the basics of a solid strength program.


Myth 6: I'm Too Old to Lift Weights

Senior woman in the strength training area of a gym
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Of course, if you have medical issues or conditions you would need to visit the doctor to get clearance but, beyond that, there's no age limit on beginning a strength program and, even better, the improvements you see will make your life better.

The Benefits of Exercise

  • Better functioning
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Greater strength and flexibility
  • Weight management
  • More confidence
  • Reduced risk of falling down
  • Building strong, lean muscle

In fact, the risks associated with not exercising and lifting weights are much greater than a safe, effective strength program. In fact, without exercise, we could lose 3-5% of our muscle mass per decade after age 40, what experts call sarcopenia. This loss of muscle doesn't just cause weight gain, but it also contributes to reduced functionality and strength.

You don't have to spend hours lifting heavy weights to get the benefits, either. 

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