Published March 17, 2013
Some things are beyond question—planetary motion, LeBron James's defense. But when it comes to weight-lifting advice, it pays to be a skeptic.
"The gym is filled with false information," says strength and conditioning coach Josh Henkin, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
Here are five weightlifting myths that might be holding you back, and the fast fixes that will have you seeing results again.
MYTH 1: GOOD FORM IS EVERYTHING IN THE GYM
The claim: Performing exercises the way they're intended will maximize results.
The truth: Sometimes cheating can boost your gains. Using a bit of momentum in the lateral raise, for example, increases the torque of your shoulder joint, helping you raise a heavier weight to the point at which your deltoids take over, notes a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.
"You can achieve a similar effect with biceps curls," says sports biomechanist Bret Contreras, also a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Just keep the body English to a minimum.
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MYTH 2: SLOW LIFTING BUILDS HUGE MUSCLES
The claim: Deliberate, controlled lifts ensure proper form and accelerate muscular gains.
The truth: Slow and steady is a smart strategy for lowering a weight, but lifting it quickly activates more type II muscle fibers, which have the greatest growth potential.
Bottom line: "Vary your lifting speed," says Henkin. "In the bench press, for example, pause every 5 inches on the way down, and then push up explosively." Varying your pace will fatigue you faster, so start doing this on the last reps of your final set. (Want more ways secrets to size and strength? Try the Maximum Mass Workout to get bigger, faster.)
MYTH 3: IF YOU WANT TO GROW BIG, YOU HAVE TO LIFT BIG
The claim: Heavy weights and low reps (5 or fewer) trigger the greatest increase in muscle mass.
The truth: The sweet spot is 6 to 15 reps, says Brad Schoenfeld, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of The MAX Muscle Plan. Lifting a moderate weight in that rep range creates an optimal balance of muscular tension and metabolic stress. That in turn maximizes your protein production after exercise as well as the number of contracting mechanisms within a muscle cell. The result: serious gains in size, strength, and force production.
MYTH 4: RESTING BETWEEN SETS IS CRITICAL
The claim: Giving your muscles a break lets you put your all into every set.
The truth: Staying active between sets boosts performance. "Doing low-intensity, noncompeting moves, called fillers, between sets enhances mind-muscle communication without compromising recovery," says Mike Wunsch, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and director of programming at Results Fitness. Try lateral band walks between lower-body sets and I-raises between upper-body sets.
(Consistent workouts mean better results. Learn How to Squeeze Exercise into Any Day.)
MYTH 5: POSTWORKOUT SHAKES BOOST MUSCLE GROWTH
The claim: There's a window of opportunity after a workout when muscles are primed to respond to protein.
The truth: That idea is based on a small number of short-term studies that evaluated people who trained after fasting overnight, says Alan Aragon, a Men's Health nutrition advisor. Your focus should be on total daily protein.
"Shoot for one gram per pound of body weight a day," he says. Falling short? Down a protein shake whenever it's most convenient for you. (Store-bought shakes can be overpriced and low on protein. Fuel your muscles with The Ultimate Shake You Can Blend At Home.)