One thing I’ve learned is that everyone and their dog is an expert when it comes to fitness. Because of this, the fitness industry is filled with many myths and misconceptions. You and I can disagree on a few things. For example, we can disagree if the squat or deadlift is the king of exercises (I think it depends on the anatomical make-up of a person). What we cannot disagree on is the actual science. Problems happen when a person’s opinion gets in the way of what the science says. This is part 1 of a 2 part series dedicated to debunking a few of the biggest myths that I hear all the time that truly need to stop.
Myth #1- 12-20 Reps to Tone a Muscle
Batman is one bad dude. The baddest of the bad superheroes. Nobody in their right mind messes with him. Why? He uses science to defeat his villains. But every superhero needs a villain.
This time the villain’s name is The Toner.
The problem Batman faces is that The Toner doesn’t exist in the physical world. He’s a mystical being that’s infiltrated the minds of millions of women. Think of the movie ‘Inception’ but a thousand times worse. A complete bad ass that’s buried deep in the subconscious.
We’re not entirely sure how this myth started but Batman and Robin (Josh) have a few theories. The Toner has used a complex method of scaring women into thinking that lifting anything remotely heavy will make them big and bulky. He’s also infiltrated the minds of commercial gym owners who have set up a “Ladies Only” section. This area of darkness and despair is filled with weights so light you have to do 20 reps to feel anything.
The only way to defeat this ‘master of mental manipulation’ is with a massive amount of science bombs. Batman is about to do his worst on this psychotic being and his perpetual lies. Buckle up.
You cannot physiologically tone a muscle. You can lose fat around the muscle to make it more prominent. You can make it stronger, or you can make it bigger. When you say you just want to ‘tone up’ all that means is you want to lose some body fat. In other words, you want to get lean.
When you lift weights, regardless if you are a male or a female, your body releases a growth hormone[i]. Scary stuff for females that are already terrified of getting big and bulky. But Batman is a scientist so let’s see what he says about that. If lifting weights releases a growth hormone…why do males gain substantially more muscle than their female counterparts?
Women don’t produce nearly as much testosterone as males[ii]. Not even close. There is absolutely no difference between males and females as to the physiology of a muscle and how it’s built. So ladies, unless you’re taking copious amounts of testosterone pills, or indulge in the steroid scene on a regular basis, you will not turn into the Hulk’s twin sister by lifting heavier weights.
What’s the best way to ‘get lean’?
Try your absolute best to get big and bulky. I’m talking about in the weight room, not at the dinner table. Normally Batman doesn’t reveal his secrets, but these are dire circumstances. Below is the template he used to turn Catwoman (Kim) into a lean, nimble creature. To date, she’s the only person that Batman and Robin are afraid of;
· Lift heavier weights (low-medium reps) via compound movements (squats, deadlifts, etc.)
· Do some metabolic conditioning work (medium rep range in a circuit style fashion)
· Push a sled or sprint uphill
· Do some cardiac output training to build an indestructible aerobic base
· Do a variety of single leg work (low, medium, and high rep ranges)
· Move outside the sagittal plane on a daily basis. This means doing some lateral and rotary work
· Change the intensity and volume from week to week within the program
· Change the program every 4-6 weeks
The formula is that simple. Remember that nutrition, genetics, sleep, and recovery also play a large role in body composition.
As mentioned previously, The Toner has also infiltrated the minds of commercial gym owners by instilling a “Ladies Only” section with light weights and toning bars. If you want to have this section, by all means have one.
Batman gets it. There are a lot of weird dudes out there. Not everyone is a stand-up guy like Robin. Guys…quit asking random girls if they need a spot while they’re doing squats. That’s what the safety pins are for. They don’t need your help. Go back to gawking at yourself in the mirror as you do bicep curls. And quit being creepy.
Your “Ladies Only” section should be set up the exact same way as your main weight room area. Squat racks, platforms, heavy dumbbells, and a multi-directional cable machine will suffice. Learn the proper squat and deadlift pattern. Once your technique is stellar, start lifting some heavy weight. Have a goal to be able to do 3 strict chin-ups. The hard work that encompasses all of these exercises will get you that lean look you’re after.
Remember that bit about growth hormone and testosterone? That was Batman dropping science bombs in the minds of the millions of women that read this blog post. I can see this getting turned into a movie. He also spent his entire life fortune to equip all the “Ladies Only” sections of gyms with the proper equipment. Batman is a selfless superhero devoted to the complete destruction of The Toner. Like I said, he’s one bad dude. He’s all about science. And personal opinions and beliefs don’t stand a chance against it.
Myth #2- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is All You Need to Do
I used to think this was true. But then I started reading work by Joel Jamieson and got smarter. Our athletes have benefitted substantially from adding in some aerobic work. More specifically, cardiac output training. If you’re one of those people that believe HIIT is the “be all end all” approach to conditioning, read his work.
Mike Robertson did a fantastic job in this article showing why you need to incorporate some cardiac output work into your current training regimen. Read the link, he does a far better job than I ever could hammering home the point to include aerobic training.
I’m not bashing HIIT or saying it’s useless. In fact, HIIT is our primary conditioning tool we use for our athletes and everyday clientele. It has many benefits that aerobic training does not. But aerobic training also has benefits that HIIT doesn’t have (read the article!). I have no idea why people have a hard time understanding this concept. I have a problem with people that cherry pick research to support their claims. There are hundreds of studies they can cite that show the superiority of HIIT over aerobic training. The problem is they’re not presenting the entire body of evidence. His article does a great job showing the whole scientific picture. Science that looks at the whole picture defeats cherry picked research any day of the week.
There you have it, part 1 complete. I have a hate on for ignorance and misinformation in the fitness community. In part 2 I’ll look at muscle confusion and if it’s a real concept. I’ll also take a look at pilates and yoga to see if they create ‘long lean muscles.’
[i] Craig, B.W. (1989). Effect of progressive resistance training on growth hormone and testosterone levels. Mech Ageing Dev. 49(2):159-169
[ii] Kramer, W.J. (1998). Endocrine responses to resistance exercises. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 20 (5) (p. S152-S157)