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The Six Biggest Bodybuilding Myths, Debunked

Misinformation about weightlifting is as pervasive as ever, trainers say.

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“What is that you’re drinking?”

“It’s just a protein shake.”

My coworker’s  eyes widen, then her brow furrows with a mix of confusion and something else… Mild disgust, maybe?

“EW, why would you drink that? Isn’t that going to make you all manly looking?”

Had I not been as involved in the fitness world for some time already, I might have been offended by this or felt the need to defend myself. To many others, and myself, the fact that someone would totally confuse protein with steroids, or think they do the same thing, seems absurd. However, at this point, I have realized that there is such a huge amount of misinformation out there about fitness, and it’s just sort of amusing to me when I am faced with yet another blatant untruth. When it comes to misinformation in the fitness world, some of the most common and longstanding ones are about weightlifting.  There is quite a bit of confusion out there regarding its relationship with diet, health benefits, and then some. I spoke with a couple of expert longtime personal trainers about the most common misconceptions regarding weightlifting.

  1. If a woman so much as touches a weight over 10 pounds, she will instantly turn into a giant, manly hulk.

    This one is the biggest and most perpetuated myths out there.  Marla Gibson-Soukup is an ACE certified personal trainer with over 20 years of training experience and director of personal training at Bodytech Fitness. ” “I try to encourage women to venture away from the cardio and the group workouts and into the weight room,” Marla says, “But with a lot of them, it’s like pulling teeth. I tell them they can only get so far with 20-pound weights and interval training, but often they very hesitant, sometimes even resistant.” Many women (and quite a few men) seem to believe that lifting moderate to heavyweight will make them look like a bodybuilder. In reality, weights alone can’t do that. No woman’s body is capable of completely morphing into that type of physique without specifically training to be that way; also, most of the “manly” or large, masculine looking bodybuilders take different hormones and substances, some legal and some not, to achieve that. The truth is, regularly lifting moderate or heavyweight will build lean muscle, fill out, define, and firm the physique, and provide an extensive list of health benefits.

  2. Weights don’t lend much to your health, they just make you bigger.

    This couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the benefits of regular strength training include strengthening bones, managing weight, improving mental clarity, and managing numerous chronic health conditions. Building more lean muscle mass encourages more fat burning and better metabolism, which can reduce being overweight or maintain a healthy one. This is especially important at a time when, as reported by the National Institutes of Health, overweight/obesity is the number two leading cause of preventable death in the United States. One of the professional trainers I spoke with, Bill Quick, stated that he has had numerous clients over the years report being taken off of their insulin or other diabetes medications after following a proper low carb diet along with weight training.

  3. Cardio is the only way to burn fat.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, if your goal is to drop weight, cardio is imperative. It should be implemented for anyone looking to have overall good health, really. However, it’s not the only way to burn fat. Bill Quick, a NASM certified personal trainer with 40 years of experience in weightlifting, points out, speeding metabolism due to more muscle is one of the many perks. Not only does weightlifting burn calories, but the more lean muscle you build, the more fat you are burning, even when in a resting state. Implementing both weights AND cardio will provide your body benefits for all systems. Workouts that incorporate both, such as HIIT (high-intensity interval training) are also a great option.

    (Getty)
  4. If I’m weightlifting, I have to be on a “bodybuilding” diet.

    Often, people start picturing themselves having to eat chicken six times a day and learn about concepts like carb-loading. Personal trainer Heidi Rago, an ACE certified personal trainer with credentials in diet and stress management and 13 years of experience, points out another misconception: the thought process that food intake will be minimal, and that you will be starving and deprived. She points out that it is quite the opposite, and that, “a lean, well-developed physique needs to be fed often, every day.” And honestly? Common sense is a heavy hitter here. Eating clean isn’t terribly difficult when you break it down to the basics. Stay away from fast food, greasy food, and tons of processed stuff. Implement more lean protein, complex, cleaner carbs, and fresh vegetables, and believe me, you will see a difference from that alone. How far you want to take it is up to you. Bonus? Your body and mind will feel WAY better if you put more of the latter and less of the processed, high fat, low nutritional content garbage into it.

  5. Weightlifting is for people who are already at least somewhat in shape.

    Listen, everybody has to start somewhere right? Even if you know so little, or are so far out that you start using just the bar, or no weight at all, it doesn’t mean you can’t make significant progress in a relatively short period. The human body is quite amazing in its ability to adjust and progress. One day, you will stop and realize you are now doing high reps of what used to be your one repetition max. Those are the moments that will truly motivate you to stick with it. Heidi emphasizes this, stating “some of the best bodybuilding and physique competitors were scrawny little kids or overweight teens. The human body is capable of great transformation because it can adapt, not just because it’s been physically fit longer than the next guy.”

  6. Weight training is just for your muscles.

    This is a huge factor to consider, especially if you may be a person who struggles with anything from self-esteem issues to stress overload to anxiety or depression. While exercise is not some sort of miracle cure, the reality is that it is totally underestimated in the day and age of pharmaceutical band-aids and quick fixes. As a mental health and substance abuse professional and recovering addict myself, alongside my fitness experience, this is something I can truly personally vouch for. The connection between our mental and physical health is something we could all benefit from being more aware of and in tune with. The natural endorphin production, the physical benefits, the sense of accomplishment…these are all byproducts of regular exercise that can truly have a lasting, positive effect on our mental and emotional state.

The long and short of this is that we often dismiss opportunities for growth based on oft-repeated untruths. Don’t let silly stereotypes or fear of the unknown keep you from giving something a try that could truly change your life for the better on all fronts.