I’ve been in the iron game for over 20 years and I’ve heard just about every negative and ignorant comment that has to do with weight training. Believe me, there are a lot.
I don’t necessarily agree with these sentiments, but I can understand where they’re coming from. You see, for a lot of us, we have a hard time accepting hard truths about something we don’t really understand. The average joe just doesn’t understand what weight training is really about nor does he care. Ask your average, out of shape person what they think weight training is, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get a response along the lines of “Why would I wanna weight train? I don’t need to get big and besides, all those guys you see with muscles are all on steroids”. Sound familiar?
For over 30 years, the myth that weight training and being big and bulky have been positively correlated to one another. I’m not a 100% sure why this correlation exists but I can guess it has something to do with the early days of body building when really, the only people who used weights were body builders (circa late 60’s and ‘70’s). Think of Arnold and you think of weights, think of Lou and you think of weights.
It wasn’t until the mid to late ‘80’s when the benefits of weight training started to get recognized by the general public. However, even during this time, I can vividly remember doctors and other health professionals frowning upon weight training as an acceptable form of fitness. Once again, the fear being that weight training would add bulk and heavy muscle that “might” impede a persons mobility and range of motion. I remember getting into heated discussions with our local nutritionist about this subject and it always boiled down to the same argument on her part, “weight training will make you big and bulky!”.
Back in the ‘80’s, weight training information was more or less localized to magazines and local folklore. Word didn’t quite spread like it does today and nothing ever, ever went viral. With the advent of the internet and viral web sites, information (right and wrong) is much more accessible and travels at a much faster speed. The problem lies with the fact that there is more misinformation about weight training than there are correct ones. Any kid with an internet connection can post anything and if they have a general understanding of search engine placement, that website site can possibly rank in the top 5 positions for certain keywords such as “The benefits of weight training”.
Imagine a web site full of wrong or misleading information being seen by thousands on a daily basis? Well, that’s what’s happening and it’s no wonder my email box is filled with questions that start like “…I was reading on such and such web site that says doing compound exercises is bad for building muscle…”. Complete and utter nonsense.
Here’s a perfect example. I was cruising the internet the other day and I came across a website for celebrity workouts. I started to take a look around and came across a workout for Ryan Reynolds. For those of you who don’t know who Ryan Reynolds is, he’s a pretty famous actor who’s been in a dozen movies such as The Green Lantern. Now, Mr. Reynold’s has been portrayed in the media as the poster child for health and fitness and I have to admit, some of the movies he’s been in, such as Blade, he’s is pretty good shape. I remember seeing Mr. Reynolds in the sitcom “2 guys a girl and a pizza place” back in the late ‘90’s and he looks completely different than he does today.
I was interested in what type of training he does because it seems to be working. Anyways, I read the article and the author mentions that if you want to look like Ryan Reynolds you have to stay away from heavy weights and compound exercises. Further, the article went on to explain that heavy weights and compound exercise will build massive muscles and this is something you want to avoid if you want to look like Mr. Reynolds. This website is listed in the top positions! This is the type of advice that drives me crazy! Mr. Reynolds is by no means a competitive body builder but at the same time, he has plenty of muscle mass.
We all know that in order to build quality muscle mass, one has to improve and excel at using the most efficient exercises possible. Now, I don’t know what Mr. Reynolds does in his weight training routines but I can almost guarantee that when he has to add additional muscle mass to his body, he’s going to go with those exercises that are the most effective and efficient. The most effective exercises for building quality muscle mass are those exercises that use multiple muscle systems such as:
• Dead lifts
• Bench press
• Shoulder press
• Bent rows
And other exercises. By incorporating these exercises into his overall fitness strategy, which I’m sure includes other components such as circuits and high intensity aerobics, Mr. Reynolds can effectively build quality muscle mass while at the same time, burn maximum levels of body fat. The question is whether or not compound exercises will make you “muscle bound?”. Here’s the definite answer, no they won’t. Building huge muscle mass takes years of dedicated work that involves a lot of other variables including weight used and diet. What these exercises are designed to do is work multiple muscle groups that act in natural cohesion.
Think of compound exercises as the most efficient and effective exercises to build and strengthen lean tissues such as ligaments, tendons, bone, and muscle mass. Since compound exercises uses multiple muscle groups, more energy is needed to complete the lift. This in turn burns more calories and aids in burning additional fat. Compound exercises also aid in improving mobility and overall balance.
Studies have proven that there are just too many benefits by incorporating weight training into your overall fitness strategy.
Regardless of who you are, your age, race, physical shape, or current lifestyle, weight training has been shown to improve:
• Muscle tone and strength;
• Tendon and ligament strength;
• Bone strength and density;
• Burn fat;
• Improve weight loss;
• Overall metabolism;
There are plenty of benefits and science has proven these benefits.
Let me give you an example. Last year, I started weight training at a local gym during the afternoons. Around the time I joined, an elderly lady about 80 years of age started to train. At first, she could barely walk and could only perform one or two exercises. She was in pretty rough shape. However, she would show up, at the same time I did and she would diligently do her exercises. After about two months, I started to notice that she was a little more mobile with an improved posture. She started doing a couple more exercises and added some light cardio (treadmill) to her workouts. After six months, her appearance and posture changed a 100% from the first time I saw her. She looked like a totally different person!
Weight training did not make her muscle bound, immobile or inflexible. In fact, it did the opposite. What it did do was help her with her posture, muscle tone, flexibility, mobility, balance and most notably her confidence. The next time I go back home, I’m going to have to take a trip to the gym to see how she’s doing.
Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is that the biggest weight training myth is a complete fabrication. Weight training will not make you a muscle bound meathead. Nor will it make you immobile, unbalanced, inflexible or slower. In fact, weight training will do the complete opposite.
A recent study suggests that weight training can help improve Parkinson’s disease symptoms. The study was completed at the University of Illinois which involved 48 people afflicted with Parkinson’s. Each participant was assigned to either weight training exercises or other exercises such as flexibility, balance, and strengthening exercises (non weight training). All variables such as medication were absent. The participants who weight trained showed a 7.3 improvement in their Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) after 24 months of exercise. This is a vast improvement in motor skills.
Studies have also shown that not only does weight training improve overall strength levels but improves bone density. A study done by Tufts University concluded that over a 12 month period, weight training helped post menopausal woman gain a 1% increase in hip and spin bone density. In fact, the group gained an additional 75% increase in strength and a 13% increase in dynamic balance.
There have been numerous studies done on weight training and it’s benefits to overall health. Studies have shown that weight training can:
• Improve overall balance;
• Improve bone strength and density;
• Help with weight maintenance;
• Improve fat burning efforts;
• Help improve glucose control;
• Improve state of mind
• Improve sleep;
• Improve heart tissue;
The myth that weight training makes you big, bulky and slow is a complete fallacy and something we can all agree on. In the last 30 years, I’ve witnessed a change in the medical and health field mind set that now recommends weight training as an acceptable course of physical therapy and recovery. Who knows where weight training will be in 30 years but I do know it has come a long way since the last 30 years.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.