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Dispelling the 10 absolute worst muscle building myths and mistakes, Part I

“I don’t want to get too bulky”, “Muscles make you look too manly”, “I just want to get toned muscles”.

How often have you heard these phrases uttered at the gym or by your girlfriends? Maybe you have even said these phrases, but I’m here to reassure you that you don’t have the time or energy necessary to get “too bulky”, muscle makes you healthy not manly, and “getting toned” really means losing body fat, improving your muscle mass and eating high quality food to keep your cells and skin healthy.

You know I’m always observing people’s form and trying to figure out what they are doing at the gym. In fact, I can’t resist taking a video to share with other coaches to make sure I’m not missing something when I don’t understand what someone is doing. I could write several articles on the mistakes people make in the gym but here are the key principles people violate on a regular basis:

  1. They don't move through a full range of motion or can’t move through full ROM correctly.

  2. They overtrain or under develop certain muscle groups and cause imbalances in their body’s natural force couples.

  3. They have never been taught how to perform technical movements/lifts.

  4. They use weights that are too heavy or too light.

  5. They waste time on ineffective isolation exercises.

  6. They rest too much or too little between sets.

  7. They don’t train, they just exercise.

I want to explain the last one by saying, exercise is simple physical activity for the sake of moving and burning calories. That’s great if you don’t have any specific goals and it definitely beats doing nothing. Training on the other hand is a systematic method of exercising to achieve a specific, long term outcome like increasing muscle mass, muscle definition, strength, mobility, and/or athleticism. Exercise is necessary to make you healthier but it’s like going on a road trip without a map, you have no guarantee you are going to arrive at your intended destination.

Unfortunately, most people at the gym don’t understand this and they are left confused after months or even years of going to the gym and seeing the same old body in the mirror every morning. I think this point deserves specific emphasis for women because most women are the victims of this struggle. This causes frustration and eventually leads to giving up on the physique they want because these mistakes and myths make building lean muscle far more difficult than it should be.

Now let’s talk about the specifics of each of these myths and give you some science to back up the truth.

Myth #1


Marketing can’t sell “make your muscles bigger by doing the fundamentals like working hard, resting appropriately, and eating the right foods.” So they feel compelled to say “Tone your butt” and “shape your arms, abs and thighs” in order to sell magazines, programs, and bullshit exercise equipment. Not to burst your bubble but you can’t “shape” or “tone” your muscles because this would fundamentally change how they are shaped. The word tone should say, increase the muscle belly size and decrease body fat so you can see the muscle better, doesn’t sound quite as sexy, huh! Shaping a muscle should say, no matter what type of exercise you do, yoga, gymnastics or heavy weightlifting, it will build muscle, just at different rates and to different extents.

What I’m trying to say is you can have a great butt, rockin arms, and sexy legs. They might not look like your favorite Instagram models body because of genetics but work hard and maybe yours will look better!

To wrap up this myth, don't believe that you are supposed to do certain “sculpting” exercises with lots of high repetitions, low weight and isolated movements. This is basically the opposite of what you should do in order to achieve a muscular and toned physique as quickly as possible. Are you doubting what I’m saying? Maybe you are thinking, “That will make me ‘bulky’ and too muscular.” Let’s see what the next myth says about that…

Myth #2


This is by far the most predominant myth that causes the most damage when it comes to a woman optimizing her composition and physique. I know, bold statement, so let’s see why I said that.

Every woman thinks if they lift heavy weights, they will get too muscular, too bulky, and too manly. Well not to burst your bubble, but it takes more time, skill and effort than most people can and are willing to put out. You have to put in years of concerted effort in the gym several hours a day AND in the kitchen. If elite genetics aren’t involved then typically anabolic steroids are because muscle is expensive and hard to maintain. You might be thinking, “I see women that are bulky and muscular in the gym all the time”. The harsh truth is that they have to much body fat and that is why they look bulky. You can’t see their toned legs, curvy butt, muscular arms, and defined stomach because when you add 15 pounds of body fat to them, they just look think and blocky. Fat accumulates inside, on top and around muscle so the more fat and muscle you have, the larger and more “dense” and “blocky” you look. No definition, no shape, just density and logs for limbs. The key is to reduce your body fat levels and the muscle you have worked hard for is revealed...logs become muscular and defined.

Want to see the difference of women’s bodies at different body fat percentages:

So I don’t just discourage you, I want to give you a basic principle: If you want to be lean, toned, and defined, the more muscle you have, the less body fat you must have to avoid looking “bulky”.

Here is another way to look at it, if you gain 10-15 pounds of muscle it will be easier to get down to 18-20% body fat because muscle is expensive. That means more calories have to be dedicated to build and maintain it. The scale might stay the same but now you have muscle and less body fat, this = tone.

Myth #3


Weightlifting, especially heavy weightlifting, gets a lot of negative attention. If you google it or just check out social media, you see all kinds of horrific stories about people getting injured. BUT I don’t like anecdotal evidence, I like studies and science. While any sport has it’s risks, heck I see patients on a daily basis that have hurt themselves walking their dog, weightlifting done properly is one of the safest athletic activities you can do. In a review of 20 studies conducted by scientists at Bond University, bodybuilding produced an average of just one injury for every 1,000 hours of training. What that means for the average person is you could lift weights 5 hours a week for almost four years before you could experience any kind of injury. Those are pretty damn good odds especially when the most common injuries are tendon irritations that just need a little rest and soft tissue work.

Let’s put this in perspective of other athletic activities. Sports like football, soccer, and rugby have injury rates from 6 to 260 per 1,000 hours, I know those are rough sports but long distance running can expect about 10 injuries per 1,000 hours of training!

So we have established its relative safety, now let’s look at it’s benefits.

  • More and better distributed bone density

  • Decreased risk of fracture

  • More muscle mass = faster metabolism + healthier metabolism

  • Better heart, brain and circulatory system health

  • Increased longevity and quality of life

  • Stronger, healthier joints

Weigh all that against the negligible risk of injury and the minor severity of the injuries and the answer is clear: dedicating 2-4 hours a week to lifting weights is an excellent investment of your time so don’t let fear of getting hurt stop you. Everything in life is risk vs. reward and in the case of lifting weights, the reward far outweighs the risk.

If you are nervous about weightlifting, I would advise you to get a coach. Find a reputable personal trainer or preferably a rehabilitation professional (OT, PT, ATC) that is also a well educated fitness professional. Learn how to move correctly, learn the benefits of compound movements, unilateral movements, and isolation exercises. Once you have the basics down of how to squat, deadlift, press and pull correctly then you are really buffered from injury in the gym.

If you move well, you will move pain free and that will lead to moving throughout your lifetime.

Move Well, Move Often

~Coach Brant

Check out our YouTube video to watch Coach Brant talk about Muscle Building Myths and Mistakes!

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