7 Muscle Myths

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7 Muscle Myths

“Lies that start with well-intentioned gym teachers trickle down to students who become coaches, trainers, or know-it-all gym-rat preachers,” Scott Quill writes in Men’s Health. “Lies morph into myths that endure because we don't ask questions, for fear of looking stupid.”

Scientific facts often fly in the face of gym fiction, but your health can depend on learning the truth. The top seven muscle myths according to Men’s Health:

Myth #1: Weight lifting using the super-slow method builds bigger muscles.

In a recent University of Alabama research study, two groups of lifters performed a 29-minute workout, one using the super slow technique. According to the study, the faster group burned 71 percent more calories and lifted 250 percent more weight than the superslow lifters.

Myth #2: Eating more protein builds more muscle.

Protein is necessary for building muscle, but consuming more than 0.9 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight is a waste, according to John Ivy, Ph.D., coauthor of Nutrient Timing. Protein promotes the muscle-building process, called protein synthesis, "but you don't need exorbitant amounts to do this," says Ivy. “Excess protein breaks down into amino acids and nitrogen, which are either excreted or converted into carbohydrates and stored.”

When is more important than how much when it comes to protein consumption. “Have a postworkout shake of three parts carbohydrates and one part protein,” Ivy says. “Eat a meal several hours later, and then reverse that ratio in your snack after another few hours.”This will keep protein synthesis going by maintaining high amino acid concentrations in the blood."

Myth #3: Leg extensions are safer for your knees than squats.

It’s all a matter of form. A Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study concluded that "open-chain" exercises--those in which a single joint is activated, such as the leg extension--are potentially more dangerous than closed-chain moves--those that engage multiple joints, such as the squat and the leg press. The study found that leg extensions activate your quadriceps muscles slightly independently of each other, and just a 5-millisecond difference in activation causes uneven compression between the patella (kneecap) and thighbone, says Anki Stensdotter, the lead study author.

”The knee joint is controlled by the quadriceps and the hamstrings,” says Stensdotter. “Balanced muscle activity keeps the patella in place and appears to be more easily attained in closed-chain exercises."

Myth #4: Never exercise a sore muscle.

Never is an awfully long time, plus it’s a sweeping generalization. If the soreness limits your range of motion or the muscle is sore to the touch, then go ahead and rest it, says Alan Mikesky, Ph.D., director of the human performance and biomechanics laboratory at Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis. In less severe instances, an "active rest" involving light aerobic activity and stretching, and even light lifting, can help alleviate some of the soreness. "Light activity stimulates bloodflow through the muscles, which removes waste products to help in the repair process," says David Docherty, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at the University of Victoria in Canada.

Myth #5: Stretching prevents injuries.

This one will not die. Recent studies have concluded that stretching is virtually worthless. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers reviewed more than 350 studies and articles examining the relationship between stretching and injuries and concluded that stretching during a warmup has little effect on injury prevention. "Stretching increases flexibility, but most injuries occur within the normal range of motion," says Julie Gilchrist, M.D., one of the study's researchers. She says that warming up is what prevents injury, by slowly increasing your bloodflow and giving your muscles a chance to prepare for the upcoming activity.

Myth #6: You need a Swiss ball to build a stronger chest and shoulders.

"The reason people are using the ball and getting gains is because they're weak as kittens to begin with," says Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S.

Ballantyne says that a Swiss ball is great for variety, but you should center your chest and shoulder routines on exercises that are performed on a stable surface, Ballantyne says.

Myth #7: Always work out with free weights.

Sometimes machines can build muscle better--for instance, when you need to isolate specific muscles after an injury, or when you're too inexperienced to perform a free-weight exercise. Lat pulldowns in the place of pull-ups, for example.

"Initially, novice athletes will see benefits with either machines or free weights, but as you become more trained, free weights should make up the major portion of your training program," says Greg Haff, Ph.D., director of the strength research laboratory at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.