We’ve each been given advice from well-meaning lifters that we later find out to be untrue. This article explores false muscle building beliefs that continue to be passed around.
When you’ve been around lifting as long as I have you tend to see the same muscle building myths passed around over and over again, ad nauseum. (That means to a ridiculous degree, for those of you keep score at home.)
While times change and lifting trends come and go, the following bodybuilding lies never seem to die. In this article I will do my best to put them to rest, but am certain that 10 years down the road they will still be going strong.
12 Bodybuilding Lies That Must Die
Lie #1 – You don’t need to get strong to get big
Lifters don’t need to use strength-centric training programs, or to try and set new one rep maxes each time they hit the gym. They do need to get a lot stronger than they are now. There are no weak top level bodybuilders. These guys are all very strong, even though they may not think so.
Progressive overload drives gains, regardless of the training protocol you use. You can’t simply train for a pump, or use rest-paused sets, without eventually adding weight to the bar in some form or fashion. The body will adapt to the demands of any approach very quickly, and will have no reason to grow unless more resistance is added over time.
I’ve trained with some of the best natural bodybuilders in the business over the years, and to a man, they all have rock solid strength levels. This tells us that if we want to get big – really big – we’re going to have to put some weight on the bar sooner or later.
Lie #2 – You can get as big as a pro bodybuilder without steroids; it just takes time
This is complete and utter nonsense. I don’t care how much you “believe”, and how hard “you work”, it ain’t happening.
If you think I’m limiting you then it’s time to attend a drug tested natural bodybuilder contest. These natural pro competitors have been training for 5, 10, 15, and 20 plus years. They train harder than most of us will ever train, yet remain light years behind the size of IFBB pros.
In fact, most pros I know (of average height) are lucky to reach 180 pounds ripped. The majority of pro natural bodybuilders I’ve met compete between 170-179 pounds. The best of the best manage to creep towards 185-190 pounds, or a hair over, but anything beyond that is natural fantasy land unless you are 6 foot tall and one of the best in the world.
Natural physiology prevents the accumulation of insane amounts of muscle tissue. The body is not built to expand to infinity, like some oversized balloon.
Lie #3 – You need to live in the gym to make progress
Want to know what I think? If you can’t get it done in 60 minutes of training, you have no business working out longer than that. What’s the point? If your gym efforts suck and leave you wanting to train more, maybe it’s time to focus on quality before quantity.
Are you maximizing every set? If not you need to be. What’s the point of performing a set if you’re not trying to turn it into a productive, muscle building effort?
Make every set count, and run with a consistent and tight rest between sets. Do your work, stay focused and you likely won’t need more than an hour of lifting – 75 minutes tops – per training day.
Lie #4 – You need to bulk like a pig
Unless you are underweight, the most amount of muscle mass you can expect to put on during your first year of training (naturally) is about 16 pounds, give or take. This number decreases by about half each subsequent year of training.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen guys start a bulk, gain 30-40 pounds in 6 months, and then complain that bulking only makes them fat. Then they immediately jump back to a cut. This cycle of futility is often repeated several times.
Insanely aggressive bulks are foolish and unnecessary. They only lead to rapid fat accumulation. You should be bulking in accordance with your gains expectations. If you want to add 15 pounds of muscle during your first year of training, aim for about a 22-25 pound total bodyweight increase during this timeframe.
Lie #5 – To get big you need to follow the current programs of the pros
This makes no sense. How a bodybuilder trains now has nothing to do with how they trained during their early years. Current programs are usually structured to target specific weaknesses, bring up lagging bodyparts and push a body that is reluctant to grow into gaining even more size.
The top pros evolved their own system of training over the years to…(wait for it)…fit their own needs. If a program is based around a bodybuilder’s current needs, it is safe to say that it is not designed to maximize your current needs.
If you really want to know how to train at the beginner to intermediate stages of lifting, find out how these guys trained during their first several years in the gym. Believe it or not, even Arnold utilized a fullbody workout to build his base, and not the “Arnold volume program” that everyone is so fond of talking about.
Lie #6 – You must use a bodypart split to grow
The idea that full body workouts or upper/lower splits are somehow inferior because they are not currently en vogue is a travesty.
Yes, naturals grow on splits. My point wasn’t to imply they didn’t. But just because splits work, and can work well, doesn’t mean that full body workouts should be dismissed. This is simply abhorrent logic.
There is strong evidence that reveals protein synthesis levels return to normal (baseline) after 48 hours. This means that if you are using a split workout, each body part is likely to be put on ice for 5 days until it is trained again. By using a fullbody workout you can stimulate a muscle more frequently and keep protein synthesis levels elevated to a greater average weekly level. This could potentially yield slightly better gains.
Lie #7 – There is no overtraining, so you should just man up!
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone proclaim “there is no overtraining”, well, I would have a lot of money.
Here is some logic I want you to consider…just because overtraining might not exist, or is hard to achieve, doesn’t mean you need to train like a madman. The body can take a lot of punishment, but this doesn’t mean it’s necessary for growth.
Train smart, and focus on progress. Progress should always trump punishment. The point of training isn’t to cripple the body, but rather to challenge it during each workout.
Lie #8 – You should switch how you train when trying to lose fat
High rep ranges are for cutting, right? Wrong. This myth will never die.
You should train about the same way on a cut as you do on a bulk. If you switch to using lighter weights while dropping calories, you are signaling to your body that some of the extra muscle is not needed.
If you want to hold on to existing muscle mass, continue to train for progressive overload. It doesn’t matter if you lose some strength while dropping the fat…keep trying. Do what you can do.
Lie #9 – A pump equals muscle gains
It doesn’t. You can get a muscle pump from doing many things. Try locking your elbows and holding your arms at your side parallel to the ground for several minutes. You will get a muscle pump. Is this building muscle? No.
Armies of lifters have never trained for the pump yet have made incredible gains. A pump is non-essential. It’s neither necessary, nor is it a bad thing. Some muscle groups “pump” more easily, while others are stubborn.
Train for progression using conventional hypertrophy ranges. This is the long term key to gains. A pump using light weight is nothing more than an illusion. It might be painful, and you might feel exhilarated, but if you don’t start adding weight to the bar your body will adapt to this method very quickly.
Lie #10 – All big and strong lifters understand the essential rules of training
This might offend a few seasoned lifters, but it’s the truth. You don’t have to understand the true engine that drives gains to make decent progress.
I’ve met many advanced lifters who like to focus less experienced trainees on things that are non-essential. Most times lifters like this have adopted a certain dogma, or set of beliefs, that they believe to be better than everyone else’s. This often results in confusion for beginning lifters who are seeking information from them.
One experienced lifter will advocate supersets as the be all, end all, while another pushes time under tension. Another one low volume, while yet another high volume. Each of these lifters means well, but they fail to see what they have in common: consistent effort, great improvements in strength, proper food intake, patience, etc. This is the real magic.
When someone tries to sell you on their “magic secret that will re-ignite gains”, take it with a grain of salt. Tools obviously can help, but rarely is one advanced training technique or training principle “magic” compared to another.
Lie #11 – You should never eat more than 150 grams of protein per day
At one point there was a study (or studies) revealing that for muscle building, you really don’t need to eat more than 150 grams of protein per day to build muscle.
Here’s the thing: just because the average lifter may not need more than 150 grams of protein per day to build muscle doesn’t mean they should never eat more than 150 grams of protein per day. There are several reasons to eat more protein.
First, there is no harm in playing it safe and eating a little more protein, say 180-220 grams per day. Just because some science guy in a white coat tells you to never eat more than 150 grams per day doesn’t mean you can’t eat a little more just in case. We are in this game to build muscle, not to play it safe. If you’re like me, you would rather eat a little more protein each day just as an insurance policy.
Second, if you are eating a lot of food each day it makes sense to balance your macronutrient intake just for the sake of convenience. An early 20-something lifter that requires 4,000 calories per day to grow doesn’t need to stay chained to 150 grams of protein and 600 grams of carbs. It makes perfect sense to eat with a little more balance, say 200-250 grams of protein and 500-550 grams of carbs.
Lie #12 – You need to frequently deload
This is a modern myth, but it is gaining steam rapidly. You don’t need to deload every 4 weeks. You don’t even need to deload every 8 weeks if things are running smoothly. The lifting community is rapidly becoming obsessed with the deloading process, and I see many guys deloading more than they need to.
For those of you on a more straightforward type of training program, meaning you are not using a form of training that involves extended periodization or peaking, or are not on a program that aims for planned overreaching, you should deload when you feel like you need to deload.
When you feel fatigued, beat up, or just mentally in need of a break, insert a light week or week off from training. One week off every 8-12 weeks isn’t going to hurt anything. These types of deload weeks can be good for recovery.
You can certainly training longer than 8-12 weeks without a break if your body feels fine. There is no need to deload when you are feeling great and rocking the progress. Bottom line…only deload when you feel you need to.