Everywhere you turn, there are gym tips to help you get in better shape. Some come from magazines, some from trainers, and others from your fellow gym buddies. While everyone passing this information on really is probably just trying to help, the problem is that much of it is simply just wrong.
Do High Reps to Get Cut
Passed on by gym bros everywhere, this is one of the oldest gym tips you’ll find. It’s also completely wrong. The old idea was that if a guy wanted to start lifting weights, he should lift heavy for lower reps to get big, and lighter for higher reps if he wanted to get “cut”. So doing sets of 8-10 reps would put size on you, while sets of 15+ reps would strip away fat and improve muscle separation. This simply isn’t how it works.
While the 8-10 reps range can be good for hypertrophy, suddenly lowering the weight a little and upping the reps to 15+ won’t cause fat to magically start melting off your frame. Doing reps this high can have some positive effects on muscular endurance, but don’t expect it to help in your fat loss efforts. If muscle separation and a leaner physique is your goal, you’re way better served going into a caloric deficit and upping your cardio.
Lifting Weights will Make You Muscle Bound
While this fallacy isn’t as prevalent as it was decades back, there are still some people who believe it’s true. Where this erroneous notion seemed to be the most popular was with old school boxing trainers and coaches in particular sports. The (incorrect) thinking was that a fighter/athlete needs to be loose, flexible, and light on their feet. Lifting weights could cause them to get too big, too fast, get “muscle bound”, and radically reduce flexibility and agility.
Of course, it’s now fairly widely known that this isn’t correct. Muscle simply just isn’t built that quickly, so the myth of getting “too big, too fast” has been largely busted. It’s also been realized that lifting weights doesn’t make one inflexible. Rather, having severe muscular imbalances and never doing any sort of dynamic stretching is what leads to this. Read more on dynamic warm ups here.
Another contributing factor to this perception was when an athlete would perform strength training, but never do any work for power development. To get and be fast, you have to train fast. Lifting heavy/maximal weights is often done slowly, while power work means moving as quickly as possible. Learn about the different types of strength training here.
What happened with many athletes is that they would lift as heavy as possible, but then never do any corresponding speed training to keep their bodies moving quickly. Their CNS would adapt accordingly, thus resulting in them being slower and seeming “muscle bound”. However, when an athlete trains properly, they’ll actually have more flexibility and speed than one who doesn’t work out.
More Abdominal Work will Burn Belly Fat
Of all the gym tips that turned out to be a misconception, this is one of the oldest. Since the early days of exercise, people have been doing situps, crunches, and other intense core work for the sake of losing their belly, shrinking their waist, and getting ripped, “six-pack” abs. The truth is that none of this works.
Firstly, there’s the incorrect notion that you can “spot reduce” body fat. It’s getting more well-known, but many people think you can work a particular body part to burn the fat off of it. This is why you’ll see some women want to work on their “flabby triceps” and most all new exercisers wanting to do some sort of core training to burn belly fat. However, this is not how the body burns fat. Instead, the body burns fat all over the body at once.
Think if you had a pool in the shape of a star. Then say you went to one tip of the star with a bucket and started to scoop water out. The water level wouldn’t just go down in that one tip of the star – the water level of the entire pool would slowly drop. This is sort of how it works with body fat. It comes off the entire body at once, not just the one specific area you’re exercising.
Continuing, while a core workout can build strong abdominal muscles and could help in some muscle separation, it’s still never going to give you “ripped” or “six-pack” abs. You can only achieve this by drastically lowering your body fat. Truth of the matter is that everyone has “six pack” abs – they’re just covered by body fat. Lowering your body fat via diet and/or cardio is what’s going to give you visible abs. Only once your abs are visible can your core workout make an aesthetic difference.
Heavy Weight isn’t Necessary to Build Muscle
There have been a few articles published in recent years mentioning studies that supposedly prove that lifting heavy weight isn’t necessary to build muscle. While you might be able to build a little extra muscle by employing extreme methods such as absurdly slow reps or insanely high volume, the fact of the matter is that it’s just not the best way to go.
Firstly, any muscle you might build with these other methods likely won’t last as long. This is because they’re more about causing trauma and swelling to the muscle, rather that developing new/thicker muscle fibers. At the same time, your body is a naturally lazy organism. As such, changes it undergoes are usually to make things easier on itself for the sake of self-preservation.
This is one of the reasons lifting heavier weights builds muscle. You try to lift a weight, it’s too difficult for the body to do easily, and it adapts by building a bigger muscle. This bigger muscle makes lifting the heavy weight easier. You then increase the weight again, repeating the process. This is the way the body was naturally designed to put on muscle, and works the quickest and easiest.
Interval Training Is Best for Burning Calories
In what might be one of the most controversial gym tips you’ll come across, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is not the superior way to burn calories or lose weight. The thinking is that because HIIT is performed so much harder, it revs up the metabolism, causing it to continue burning calories long after the workout is over. This phenomena is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
While EPOC is a legit state, its calorie burning effects have been grossly exaggerated by the fitness industry. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences in 2006 stated that excess calories burned by the body after an HIIT workout only turned out to be around 14% of the original workout. In other words, if your interval training workout burned 400 calories total, you’d only burn another 56 calories over the next 18-36 hours.
Intervals can have excellent benefits on power production, muscle definition, and skyrocket your anaerobic conditioning (read about aerobic vs anaerobic here). However, as it relates to burning excess calories, they simply just fall short. Your best bet is still the old school method of long, slow, boring cardio done for more volume.
Some of these gym tips might sound like common sense, while others might surprise you. Either way, they’re all true. It would behoove you to take a look at your current exercise routine and if you’re basing any of it on erroneous assumptions. If you are, change things up to something more effective, or at least realize that your workout results may end up differing from what you originally thought.