As health professionals, we know the benefits of resistance training, including the use of weights to improve strength. However, all too often patients are misinformed about the potential negative consequences of weight training, and subsequently concerned about starting. Here are the top 5 myths about weight training:
Lifting weights will make you too bulky
Developing muscle mass is more difficult than simply participating in resistance training. Programming, resistance levels, diet and hormones all play a role, and need to be optimised to increase muscle mass. Furthermore, building muscle takes a lot of time, so it is unlikely you will become big without specifically trying to put on size.
High repetitions/light weights will make you more "toned"
Tone in a physiological sense refers to the underlying level on contraction occuring in a muscle. Even at rest, our muscles aren't completely relaxed, there is always a minor amount of contraction present which is controlled by the nervous system.
The public perception of tone is a muscle that is more visible. How defined your muscles is the result of 3 primary factors; the size of the muscle, the amount of sub-cutaneous fat over the muscle, and how hydrated your are/how much fluid the body is holding. While performing high repetitions with lower weight can still result in muscle growth, it's not going to help how visible the muscles are any more than performing heavy lifts with minimal repetition will.
Lifting weights will make you stiff and inflexible
Whilst it is true that having ridiculously huge muscles (like a bodybuilder) can impede joint range of motion, research has previously shown that for the normal person. strength training can improve flexibility. Working with heavy weights into an end-of-range position can help improve the range of your joints by helping to reduce the tightness in the ligaments/capsule around those joints. Strength training also has a beneficial influnce of the structure of muscles as well. Muscles not only grow outwards in size, they also get slightly longer which can help with feelings of stiffness and tightness.
While it can be common to feel a bit stiff and sore after your first workout or two, this is only short-term and often won't continue if you stick to the same well-structured program.
Squatting is bad for your knees
As physios, we hear this statement often. The perception is that loading the knees is a bad thing, when in fact it is quite the opposite. The process of loading and unloading a joint actually serves to improve joint health by helping to maintain cartilage nutrients, improve quadricep, glute, and hamstring strength, and maintain bone density. Some people may find that squatting makes their knees sore, and this normally means that the type of squat or the technique should be modified while they continue to build the capacity of the tissues in and around the knees.
Issues with techinque such as asymmetric loading (placing more weight through one side of the body) or a lack of a proper hip-hinge movement can potentially place more stress on the knees, or other parts of the body. If you're having pain with your squats, it's a good idea to have them assessed by a qualified Physio or Exercise Physiologist.
Deadlifting is bad for your back
Just like the squat, completing a deadlift with poor technique can lead to injuries. However, completing deadlifts with proper technique, appropriate weight and smart programming can actually improve back pain and strength, as well as increase power through the posterior chain and legs.
It is a common misconception that back pain can be due to a weak/inactive core which needs to be strengthened, however in more cases this is not the case. For the major of people, gradual exposure to load and strengthening the back itself is the answer. Deadlifts can be a great way to do this, by building the capacity of the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. This way the back is more robust and less likely to become irritated or injured when performing normal daily activities.