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Myths & Misconceptions: Strength Training Edition

We are switching things up this go round to discuss some of the most prevalent myths and misunderstandings that we come across in regards to strength training. Our goal is to highlight some of the most frequent misconceptions and false narratives that arise with patients. Below are some examples of how we address and attempt to re-frame these narratives to facilitate patient self-efficacy and improved outcomes.

“Runners don't need to strength train.”

Runners often benefit immensely from the addition of strength training as a supplement to their running program. Running is inherently a very impactful activity which requires a considerable amount of muscular strength and endurance to tolerate the repetitive forces encountered. Additionally, strength training can be used to enhance lower extremity strength and power which often translates into faster running speeds due to increased force output.

“Getting stronger will reduce pain.”

Context is king. In some instances there may be an association between lack of muscular force output and an associated pain condition; however, this should not be held as the norm. There are a plethora of conditions and presentations in which strength/force output remains very high in spite of continued pain. This also begs the question of "how are you measuring strength?" In other instances, you may witness alterations in movement due to true lack of force production which contribute to excessive-use pain conditions.

“Using unstable surfaces with strength training will improve coordination and balance.”

Just because something is harder, does not at all mean it is more effective. Doing a loaded squat standing on a bosu ball or unstable surface offers very little utility as compared to performing the same squat with heavier load on a stable surface. The more unstable and uncertain the situation, the harder it will be to elicit desirable adaptations. Adding too many variables to an exercise often drives conflicting demands and severely minimizes long term change.

"Lifting weights will make you bulky" 

False. Greatly increasing muscle mass takes a considerable amount of time, intensive efforts, and appropriate hormonal and nutritional prerequisites. Simply beginning a strength training program will not lead to immediate increases in muscle mass. The degree of muscle mass acquired will also be largely associated with the volume and style of training. 

"I just want to get toned" 

The idea of getting "toned" is often associated with the idea of getting lean and reducing fat mass. Ironically, increasing lean muscle mass acts to increase resting and active metabolic rates which promotes additional utilization of energy and available fatty tissue. From this standpoint, adding some muscle mass will have compounding positive effects as compared to solely reducing fat mass through caloric restriction or exercise. 

“You should be sore after every strength session.”

This is a very common belief that "if you are not sore after a workout, it didn't do anything." This idea is unfounded. Not every strength training session should leave you feeling as though you can barely move. Just the opposite, in fact. More intense sessions will likely incur muscular soreness, or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). However, it is not ideal if every session immobilizes you and limits your ability to perform subsequent sessions. 

"Free weights are better than machines"

The belief that free weights intrinsically have more value or transferability to activity as compared to use of machines is a common belief. As with most things, absolutes do not hold true. Yes, in some instances utilizing free weights may be more advantages for a specific desired adaptation (ex free weights encourage the ability to carry and lift unfixed loads in variable positions). However, there are other instances where the use of machines may be more beneficial or specific to training certain tissues (ex using a knee extension to isolate quadriceps without hip strategy). 

"Core training will slim your midsection.”

Increasing muscle strength and/or size by itself will not reduce abdominal visceral fat. Increasing overall body lean muscle mass may be beneficial for burning additional fat (see above), but it is not by itself a guarantee of reducing fatty tissue. The saying, "abs are made in the kitchen" is a bit more realistic in this instance. We all have abdominal muscles, but in many instances they are veiled by a layer of fatty tissue. 

“More repetitions with light weight is very similar to doing fewer reps with more weight.”

Incorrect. Intensity is the key here. Higher intensity elicits very different effects than lower intensity for longer duration/repetitions. Performing higher repetitions with lower loads may improve local muscular endurance, but will do very little for improving overall strength and lean muscle mass. Performing fewer repetitions with higher loads/intensities will promote greater tissue and neurological changes along with improved muscular force and power. Both can be useful -- it depends upon the intent. 

“You need to spend >15 minutes on mobility/foam rolling/stretching prior to lifting.”

Firstly, stretching has NOT been shown to reduce injury risk or improve performance when performed prior to physical activity. Secondly, while promoting adequate mobility is important, it should also be relevant to the demands of the upcoming session. If you are planning on doing a barbell squat day, performing a few sets of kettlebell or preparatory squat work as part of a warm-up would likely be a logical sequence. Conversely, indiscriminate stretching and foam rolling of each and every muscle used during a squat will provide minimal carry over to the squat itself. Warm-up in a similar fashion to how you train. 

Did we miss any? What are your thoughts? Shoot us a message or tag us in a post on Instagram!

- Dr. Michael Reinhardt, Site Director, Rehab 2 Perform - Germantown @miker_oly_dpt


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Social Follow: Kyle Dobbs, @compoundperformance_ 

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Book: The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance -  Steven Kotler 

  • This is one of our all-time favorite books that perfectly blends the fields of human performance with the growing body of science related to the phenomenon of “flow states’.  It begs the question, “ what are the limits of human capabilities?”

Podcast: More Train, Less Pain; Engineering the Adaptable Athlete Episode 2: Models, SO Much More Than Selling Fit Tea on Instagram

  • We are very excited for Michelle Boland and Dr. Tim Richardt’s new podcast! In this episode they discuss the importance of anchoring your training or rehab processes with models and principles. They go on to explain how they utilize these in real life scenarios. They do an excellent job of making otherwise abstract topics, understandable and actionable. 

Article: A Mechanistic Approach to Blood Flow Occlusion

  • Loenneke JP, Wilson GJ, Wilson JM. A mechanistic approach to blood flow occlusion. Int J Sports Med. 2010;31(01):1-4.
  • Looking for a deep dive into the physiology of BFR training that won’t give you nightmare flashbacks to undergrad physiology? Look no further. Loenneke et al do an excellent job of providing a robust overview of the multiple mechanisms at play with BFR without being overwhelming.