This article will debunk five of the top myths in bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is a sport/leisure activity that is riddled with misinformation. This is due, in part, to a lack of scientific participation. The vast majority of the information about bodybuilding is from presumed experts who know nothing about physiology and often take steroids. Steroid use changes the whole training equation and that which works for a drug user (training routines etc.) usually does not work for a natural athlete. The purpose of this article is to educate the reader and allow him or her to escape the common pitfalls they would encounter in bodybuilding.
MYTH 1. Specific portions of a muscle can be trained
The gist of this myth goes something like this, “You can hit the lower portion of your pecs with decline presses.” Any statement similar to this is pure B.S. The implication is that doing decline presses will make the lower portion of your pecs larger. This is physiologically impossible. The pectoralis major are the two muscles that we commonly refer to as the chest. There are also the pectoralis minor which runs underneath the upper portion of the major. The pectoralis major, when stimulated with exercise and allowed to recover will grow. It will grow as a whole (as with all muscles), not in sections. So doing an incline, decline, or flat bench press will not make your pectoralis major grow in different fashions.
The shape of your muscle is genetically determined by its origin and insertion points and no training will change this. If individual muscle cells (within a specific fiber type) grew at different rates you would have very lumpy muscles. Think about it! When selecting an exercise for a specific muscle, you should pick the one that most closely mimics the muscle’s primary function (i.e. the pectoralis major’s primary function is to pull the arm across the chest and downward— so a decline press would be best amongst the presses). Another important factor in exercise selection is your own anatomy, the length of your bones and where your muscles insert and originate. Through experimentation, most experienced lifters learn which exercises work best for them.
MYTH 2. High exercise volume is necessary for growth
The adage amongst bodybuilders seems to be, “If a little is good, more is better!” Many bodybuilders read in books and magazines and hear from other bodybuilders that you must train with twenty plus sets per body part and five to six days per week. Others start off on a limited set program because that is what they are told to do, only to graduate to higher volume and frequency workouts as they progress. Nothing could be worse! The fact is that you have a limited ability to recover from exercise. Your strength levels can go up as much as three hundred percent (in males) through proper training, however, your ability to recover from exercise remains relatively constant or increases only slightly. Performing a set of ten reps of squats with two hundred pounds is much less taxing physically than ten reps with four hundred pounds (when done by the same individual). So, as the individual gets stronger each set he/she performs will require more and more of the finite ability to recover. The point is, as you get stronger you need more rest and should perform fewer sets.
This is exactly the opposite of what most magazines etc. will tell you! This is one of the major reasons most bodybuilders make little or no progress after a short time of bodybuilding. Of course, most of the major bodybuilding magazines promote the routines of people who take steroids. Steroids change the equation dramatically. Steroids, while they work, are very dangerous and will prematurely end your life sooner or later. Train intelligently, train hard, and you will grow without them!
Proper exercise volume involves three to five sets (not including warm ups) for major body parts and two to four for smaller ones. This is only a guideline and specific individuals may be able to benefit from a few more sets (extremely rare) and others may require even fewer sets.
MYTH 3. High reps for cuts/ low reps for size
Most bodybuilders believe that if they want to lose fat they should perform high repetition (15+) training schemes. They also believe that if they want to get big, they must use low reps. First off, a set done with twenty reps will burn only marginally more kcals than a set performed with five reps. If you wish to lose bodyfat then you should do so via diet and aerobic exercise (aerobic exercise is contradictory to strength training…but that is for another article). This will have a much more dramatic effect than increasing reps. Secondly, a set performed with twenty repetitions is not akin to aerobic exercise like jogging etc. (again in terms of fat and calorie burning).
High reps will build muscle. They are probably not optimal for most individuals, but will promote growth. The problem with high reps is that they will not do a lot to increase your maximum strength output. They don’t train the fast twitch muscle fibers (which are integral to high power output) like lower repetition sets. The exact number of repetitions to maximize muscle size is a topic for hot debate and can vary widely between individuals. I recommend that for maximum size and strength you employ both low and high reps in each workout. For example: For your first set of heavy bench presses you use three to five reps. Your next set is then performed with a lighter weight for twelve to fifteen reps. This scheme will work both your fast and intermediate twitch muscle fibers which are most prone to hypertrophy (growth).
MYTH 4. You must wait 48 hours before you train a specific muscle again / more than 1 week of rest will atrophy your muscles.
The amount of recovery time required varies widely among individuals, training routines, and strength levels. The finite recovery ability that was discussed above can vary quite dramatically between individuals. If two lifters are similar in body type and strength levels, this does not indicate they will have similar recovery requirements. The intensity, number of sets performed , and frequency of your workouts will also affect recovery time. Lastly, as discussed above, as one gets stronger more recovery is required. So, to state that you should wait forty-eight hours between workouts for particular body parts is foolish. Each trainee must determine for oneself how much recovery time is required. A simple guideline is that if you are stronger during your next workout you have recovered sufficiently. If you stimulate growth during a workout and are not ill or injured, you should be stronger the next time you train. This should continue until you reach whatever genetic limits you have. This is not to say that you will never reach plateaus in your training. It means that if you do reach a plateau it is because you either did not train with sufficient intensity to stimulate growth, or your recovery requirements have increased and you did not allow for this with sufficient rest between workouts.
For myself, I am at a point in my life where my strength levels combined with stresses (work, family etc.) dictate that I wait two to two and a half weeks between training sessions for a particular body part. This obviously demolishes the theory that, “more than seven days of rest will cause you to go backwards”. As a final note, recovery demands will vary between particular muscles. Your legs may require longer recovery periods than your biceps for example. Experiment and find your optimum recovery periods and remember that you will need to adjust them as you grow.
MYTH 5. There are “shaping” and “mass building” exercises.
This one always gives me a chuckle. It implies that certain exercises (i.e. flies, cable crossovers etc.) will only tone the muscle and not build mass. This is complete bullshit! Almost all of the exercises defined as “shaping” are isolation exercises. Now, lets discuss what causes muscular growth in very simple terms. Studies have shown that if a trainee stresses his/her muscles with seventy-five percent or greater of their maximum capacity in a particular exercise, growth will result (75% you say, then why go to failure? I will discuss this in an upcoming article.). Now, why would stressing your pecs with sufficient intensity using a fly be any different than using a bench press? It would not! In actuality, doing a pec-deck fly will build the pectoral muscles more efficiently than a bench press. This is because the fly removes the weak-links that the bench press has (triceps, deltoids) and isolates the pectoralis.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that you should train with only isolation movements. The beauty of compound exercises is that they target multiple muscle groups simultaneously. You have probably guessed the importance of that due to the discussions about finite recovery.
What I am trying to say is that the so called “shaping” exercises are normally more efficient at building the target muscle than some of the “mass” movements. Some of you may be thinking,”you can use more weight on compound exercises, that is why they are better—more stress on the muscle.” I call bullshit again! Your brain sends electrical impulses through the nervous system that cause your muscles to contract. It will adjust these impulses to increase the contraction’s intensity until the desired effect of joint movement is achieved (if possible). There are many factors that can affect this chain of events. In a compound movement there is more than 1 joint and muscle group involved. Each of these takes a portion of the “burden” imposed by the weight being lifted. Your muscle can only generate a finite maximum contraction at any given time. It does not matter if it is forced to do this in a single or multiple joint movement. Therefore, the single joint movement can generate as much of a stimulus to a given muscle as a compound movement and potentially even more.
Written by Chris Mason
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