13 Resistance Training Myths That Are Keeping People Out of the Gym

To state that Americans aren’t getting enough exercise would be the understatement of the century. In fact, a mere 23.2% of Americans were getting enough aerobic and strength exercise back in 2018. Turns out, what Americans think they know about resistance training might not exactly be true. 

There are plenty of resistance training myths out there. For instance, some believe that women shouldn’t lift weights because it’ll make them look bulky or too masculine. Others believe that weightlifting is dangerous or that doing any type of cardio will slow your strength gains.

It’s time to learn the truth about resistance training. So, let’s go over 13 common resistance training myths that are keeping people out of the gym! Plus, we’ll debunk each of these myths with scientific evidence.

1. Women shouldn’t lift weights.

Photo by Sabel Blanco on Pexels.com

You might be surprised to find out that men and women are about equally as likely to have a gym membership. But there’s a striking difference between the exercise trends in men and women.

For the most part, men are more active than women. Yet, there’s also a difference in the type of exercise that both genders are engaging in.

One study revealed that about 44.3% of men engaged in heavy resistance training in the last month. Only about 13.7% of women in the study said the same. In fact, the study showed that women were much more likely to get exercise via light housework, walking, and dancing.

A lot of these trends come down to the societal gender norms and incorrect assumptions about exercise. For example, men are more likely to lift heavy weights in order to boost muscle mass and look more masculine. On the other hand, women seem to want the opposite result.

But that doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t be lifting weights.

That’s because weightlifting can help to boost muscle, joint, and bone strength (which we’ll go over in greater depth later). This is particularly useful when you consider the fact that about 80% of cases of osteoporosis are women.

If anything, weightlifting may be way more important for women!

2. Ab exercises will help you to lose belly fat.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

If you’re looking to shed a few pounds before summer, then you’re not alone. In fact, about 49.1% of Americans will try to lose weight in any given year. But if you were planning to knock out 100 crunches a day to burn belly fat, you’re going to be let down.

This is called “spot reduction” and, unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

Actually, a study conducted in 2011 found that ab exercises won’t do much for your body composition at all. That includes losing body fat in your abdominal area as well as losing body fat anywhere across your body.

What you can do is build strength, power, and endurance in your core muscles.

If you’re really looking to burn body fat anywhere on your body, you’re going to have to create a caloric deficit. So you need to be eating fewer calories than you’re burning over the course of the day.

That means you need to exercise and diet.

3. Weightlifting will make you bulky.

Photo by Pikx By Panther on Pexels.com

One study found that about 48% of women don’t participate in resistance training because they’re afraid to get “bulky.” There’s an assumption that lifting weights, especially heavy weights, will cause women to look more masculine or even “Hulk-like.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

To understand why, you have to take a look at the differences in hormones and overall strength in the average man and woman. Men naturally have greater levels of testosterone, which makes building muscle mass and bulking up a much simpler task.

Women who lift weights will definitely gain strength and endurance, but the gains will be nothing like the gains of men. It’s also important to note that muscle growth usually takes 8 weeks or more in beginners, so you can easily cut down on the training if you feel you’re getting too bulky.

You don’t have to worry about getting bulky or masculine with regular resistance training unless you’re using steroids.

4. You should only exercise each muscle once a week.

Photo by Leon Martinez on Pexels.com

Exercising each muscle group only once per week does have its benefits. For example, you’re giving your muscles about 6 days of rest between workouts. That reduces your risk of straining your muscles and allows for optimal muscle growth between workouts.

This method of resistance training is great if you’re low on time to hit the gym.

Interestingly enough, a study from 2016 found that targeting major muscle groups twice per week was most beneficial when it comes to building muscle mass and strength. As long as there are 2 or 3 days of rest between workouts, there should be no concern about overuse.

Other studies focused on another key concept: Volume. This describes how much total weight you’re lifting during a workout or even over the course of the week. 

A few studies have actually discovered that the volume of your workouts is more important than the frequency. That means lifting 5,000 pounds with your chest in one workout should produce similar results to lifting 2,500 pounds with your chest twice a week.

The benefit of this is that you can choose a frequency that best fits your schedule without sacrificing results.

5. Weightlifting will cause muscle, bone, and joint injuries.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It would be inaccurate to say that weightlifting is completely safe. In fact, even professional weightlifters are prone to shoulder, knee, and back injuries. One study found that weightlifters will experience 3.3 injuries for every 1,000 hours spent at the gym.

Yet, you have to consider where these injuries are coming from.

When it comes to professional weightlifters, some spend hours a day at the gym, lift extremely heavy weights, and give their muscles very little time to rest. That means you shouldn’t be worried about injuries unless you’re overworking your body or using improper form.

On the other hand, weightlifting can actually help to reduce the instances of muscle, bone, and joint injuries. That manifests itself in several ways.

Many studies have proven that resistance training can help with bone mass as well as muscle density. For those with conditions like osteoporosis or arthritis, this helps with functional strength, mobility, and even reduces pain.

But you need to be sure that you’re slowly progressing in terms of intensity and not overwhelming already weak bones, joints, or muscles.

READ MORE: Is Weightlifting Harmful?

6. You have to stretch before weightlifting.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

There’s the age-old tale that you need to stretch before working out unless you want to pull a muscle. There’s a theory that increased blood flow to the muscles makes injury less likely. 

That’s exactly why most people will do static stretching before any type of exercise. This is a type of stretch where you’re not moving (i.e. Bending over and touching your toes). This is the go-to style of stretching because many people don’t know any other.

But whether you stretch or not doesn’t seem to impact weightlifting performance.

This has been the target of several studies in recent years, one in 2014 and another in 2016. Between the two, it was discovered that there were no significant differences in bench press or squat performance in those who stretched and those who didn’t.

If you truly value stretching before exercise, you’ll want to do a 5-minute dynamic warm-up instead. This type of warm-up consists of movement-related stretches. That might be anything from jumping jacks to high knees across the gym.

Dynamic warm-ups are known to improve power, flexibility, and reduce the risk of injury.

7. The only way to get fit is by going to the gym.

Photo by Leon Martinez on Pexels.com

There’s no doubt that Americans love their gym memberships. That’s exactly why about 61 million Americans paid for a gym membership in the year 2017 alone. The problem is that only about 1 in 5 Americans use their gym memberships consistently.

But it’s important to point out that a gym membership doesn’t guarantee fitness just like not having a gym membership guarantees unhealthiness. That’s because there are plenty of ways to get fit without ever stepping foot into a gym.

You can always invest in your own home gym equipment.

There are also bodyweight exercises, sometimes called calisthenics. These exercises include things like push-ups, bodyweight squats, and pull-ups. 

Though there’s a limit to how much resistance you can work against and how much strength you can gain, these exercises are easy to do, don’t need much equipment, and can help to build muscular endurance.

READ MORE: The Beginner’s Guide to Getting Fit Without Equipment

8. Doing cardio will keep you from building muscle.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It’s completely true that doing cardio will burn calories. In fact, you might actually be able to burn 400 calories or more by simply spending 30 minutes on the elliptical, stepper machine, or rowing machine.

The good news is that the calories you’re burning don’t have to impact your muscle gains.

The only time that cardio will become a problem is if it’s forcing you to burn more calories than you’re taking in during the day. Since muscle growth requires more calories, you might slow your hypertrophy or lose muscle mass if you’re overdoing it on cardio.

On the other hand, some studies show that cardio can actually help you with your mass.

That’s especially the case when your cardio activities include high-powered activities involving the lower body, like running, biking, and the stepping machine. You might be able to improve the gains in your quads by up to 8%.

So don’t be afraid to add some cardio to your routine, even if you’re currently bulking. Just be sure that you’re eating enough during the day and that you’re not burning too many calories in total.

9. Weightlifting will turn fat into muscle.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

It’s a wide-held belief that it’s possible to turn fat into muscle, and vice versa. Yet, the loss of body fat and gain of muscle mass doesn’t mean that one turned into the other.

That’s because these two types of tissue are nothing alike.

That means you’re going to have to target fat loss and muscle growth separately. But what you might not know is that weightlifting can help to make this more of a reality without having to strictly stick to running or biking.

One particular study noted that weightlifting can improve your metabolism by up to 7%. So engaging in a consistent weightlifting routine can help you to burn more calories naturally, which results in fat loss. Unfortunately, this is easier in men than women.

10. Weightlifting is only for people who want to build muscle.

Photo by Anush Gorak on Pexels.com

One of the major reasons that men go to the gym to lift weights is to build muscle mass. But muscle growth is just scraping the surface when it comes to the benefits of lifting weights.

Here’s a look at the benefits of weightlifting.

  • Greater bone strength and bone density (lower risk of conditions like osteoporosis)
  • Improved heart health and cardiovascular endurance
  • Limited fat build-up
  • Lower risk of losing muscle mass with age (can be up to 10% each decade)
  • Improved metabolism and ease of weight loss
  • Reduced risk of developing diabetes and heart disease

Even if you don’t care all that much about packing on muscle mass, you should care about the things mentioned above. So do your best to add some resistance training to your routine, even if it’s only once or twice per week.

Even a little bit is better than nothing.

11. Muscle gains will happen immediately.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

There’s nothing more disappointing than going to the gym 5 days a week for 2 weeks and having nothing to show for it. What you need to know is that muscle gains don’t happen immediately and you’ll have to give these results time.

In most cases, this will take up to 8 weeks.

Yet, that doesn’t mean doing one workout right now will suddenly make you look more muscular two months out. To see these results, you’ll need to be working each muscle group about 2 to 3 times per week consistently. There also needs to be progression with your lifting.

You might be surprised to hear the “8 weeks” projection because you’ve noticed some gains well before that. That’s because some gains happen immediately in the form of muscular swelling, which happens when your muscles are recovering and rebuilding from a workout.

Muscle growth is slow, but it’s worth it. Make sure you give your body time to adapt to your workouts before giving up.

12. You have to lift heavy weights to make weightlifting worth it.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Many people assume that you have to lift heavy weights at the gym in order to guarantee mass and power. There’s also the assumption that using lighter weights is only useful if you’re looking to tone your muscles.

There’s a little bit of truth to that. 

One study from the last few years found that using heavy weights when lifting was the most efficient way to build muscle mass and strength across the body. But that doesn’t mean that using lighter weights won’t help in the same aspect.

In fact, another study in older adults found that both high and low intensity exercise could help with strength, power, and mobility quite equally. So while there’s likely a point where your gains will start slowing with low intensity exercise, that doesn’t mean it’s not useful at all.

Low intensity exercise is a great way to stay active, improve your functional strength, and keep your muscles from degrading.

13. Weightlifting will stunt your growth.

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

There’s always been a theory that weightlifting was dangerous to children and adolescents. That stems from the concept of unfused growth plates and the idea that heavy weights could force them to fuse sooner. Many once believed that this could slow or even stop growth altogether.

That’s not true though.

In recent years, scientists have spent a lot of time on this exact concept. One study from earlier in the decade completely debunked this myth. It found that the only danger to growth of children through weightlifting was the use of improper form or a lack of supervision during workouts.

In fact, young people can greatly benefit from lifting weights as long as they’re following an appropriate routine with guidance.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, many of these myths are keeping people out of the gym at alarming rates. But understanding the basics of resistance training can help you to create reasonable goals and stick to your routine. Remember that it takes time to see results, so anticipate putting in a good amount of time and effort.