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March 2013

“Muscle Myths”: ‘The PostGame’ nails it this time

Late in 2012, I wrote a blog article titled ‘Which Muscles do Women Like.’ This was in response to an entry of nearly the same title by The PostGame. I was fairly critical of that PostGame entry given that I think it links out to web pages containing bad workout advice. There are already enough frustrated gym members who are spinning their wheels; there’s no need for more of them.

Muscular Arm, Delt, PecBut with their recent ‘Muscle Myths’ entry, ‘The PostGame’ has hit a small homerun. I say “small” homerun only because there are just 4 ‘muscle myths’ that the article debunks. But these four are definitely worth exposing. The short article does that nicely. I commend the author for helping spare those new to bodybuilding from heading down a time-wasting path to which these muscle myths can lead.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the muscle myths cited by the PostGame entry don’t deserve some clarification. In my opinion, the author has accurately identified the myths while missing the mark on some of the reasoning and remedies. That’s what I’ll cover in this article. While doing so, I’ll also bring up some other muscle myths and attempt to debunk some of erroneous beliefs surrounding them. This is all in the name of clarifying and simplifying the process of natural muscle building, an endeavor for which many people get mired in frustrating progress plateaus.

So let’s begin with the muscle myths discussed in ‘The PostGame’ entry. 

‘Muscle Myths’: The PostGame’s four

  1. Muscle Confusion Spurs Muscle Growth
  2. You Can Digest Only 25 grams of Protein at a Time
  3. Body Weight Workout can Make You Big
  4. Lifting to Failure is Essential to Muscle Growth


Muscle Confusion Spurs Muscle Growth:

Here’s a ‘muscle myth’ started by Joe Weider and recently perpetuated by Tony Horton’s P90X marketing. I’ve written extensively about the muscle confusion myth in previous entries.

The shortcoming I see in the scant coverage of this muscle myth within the PostGame article is that the author (Michael Easter) rightly debunks the myth and then inadvertently gives it credence. Easter very wisely points out that ‘adaptation’ is not something we want to avoid; it’s actually what causes muscle growth. But he follows that terrific point by claiming that muscle growth can be sustained with “small weekly tweaks” such as “altering your grip, pace, or rest.”

Excuse me, but didn’t he just attempt to discredit muscle confusion by crediting it?

For muscle growth to occur, we need to systematically overload, adapt, and then re-overload the tissue. Each overload session (workout) needs to be followed by adequate recuperation, along with compensatory adaptation. This does not occur by adding “weekly tweaks” of “altered grips, pace, or rest.” On the contrary, these meaningless little tweaks will only lead to inconsistent stress being put on the muscles.

For example, let’s say you successfully engage your pectoral muscles with an optimal grip while doing bench presses this week. You then widen your grip next week, unknowingly putting more of the stress on your deltoids and less on your pectorals. The following week, you shorten your rest between sets, resulting in even more stress on your possibly over-worked deltoids. You’ve now gotten so off track on successfully overloading and recuperating your pectorals that it’s more difficult than ever to track your progress. That’s what leads to frustrating plateaus.

Yes, muscle confusion is a farce. But it needs to be replaced with workout clarity, not advice that’s simply a lighter version of muscle confusion nonsense.

Dumbbell Lunges
'Muscle Myths': Light weights are terrific for a photo opp. However, to think they'll build visually discernible muscle mass could be considered a muscle myth


You Can Digest only 25 Grams of Protein at a Time:

I agree that this is a myth, just as the PostGame article claims. I’ll even concede to the author’s claim that the body will “digest and absorb up to 125 grams of protein in a sitting.” However, this doesn’t mean the body needs or will efficiently utilize that much protein if it’s consumed in one sitting. As is so many times the case, people need to pay attention to wording. If not, they tend to equate “digest and absorb” with ‘convert into muscle.’ Forcing down more protein than the body needs in a given meal will not accelerate muscle growth.

The article quotes fitness expert Alan Aragon as claiming people should shoot for 1 gram of protein per pound of the bodyweight for which they’re aiming. I agree with this; it’s old-school wisdom that’s stood the test of time against a scientific community that’s never reached a concession on protein intake.

I just think that an important caveat to this is to keep in mind that excessive protein CAN make you fat. Yes, many people will improve their fat loss by increasing protein intake. But there’s a point of diminishing return, and a point just beyond that at which the calories from excessive protein will add up like any others. That’s when protein foods start making you fat rather than fighting your fat.


Body Weight Workouts Can Make You Big:

In this section of the ‘PostGame’ article on ‘muscle myths’, the author gets a bit nonsensical by once again alluding to muscle confusion. He does this with the following sentence:

‘Using your body as your barbell is a smart way to vary your routine and boost overall fitness, but it won't help you pack on serious size.’

He’s right; it won’t help you pack on serious size. But how does varying a routine necessarily boost overall fitness? This is an assumption that millions of people make without any reasoning to back it up. Furthermore, if it were true, what’s the reason that doing it with body weight exercises is a “smart” method of choice?

When I was in the U.S. Navy’s basic SEAL Training, we did an extraordinary amount of body weight exercises. We became exceptionally good at doing them. But what became increasingly noticeable from our exercise routines is that we weren’t developing anything even resembling balanced or aesthetically pleasing bodies. The little bit of pectorals we possessed were underdeveloped in the upper region, giving them a feminine appearance. Our deltoids were puny compared to our chests. Our lats were puny compared to our deltoids. And our arms had a little bit of triceps development with almost imperceptible biceps improvement. Granted, physique development was not the purpose of the training. But you probably get my point; there’s no logical reason that body weight exercises should be automatically labeled a “smart” addition to a workout routine.

Having said this, I’ll agree that it’s worth emphasizing that body weight exercises are a terrible choice for anyone wanting to add even a little bit of muscle size. Michael Easter is smart in quoting Bill Hartman as asserting the following: Curling Dumbbells

"You need sufficient overload to spur growth; that's where weights come in."

However, he should have added something else. It’d be of more help to people if he’d defined what overload is. Bodybuilders need to ‘overload’ the muscles with a certain amount of volume within a specific time constraint. Then they need to recuperate sufficiently so the muscle tissue can improve this performance. Then they should be able to overload the muscle again in the subsequent workout. And then successfully do this over and over in order that muscles become stronger and bigger.


Lifting To Failure is Essential To Muscle Growth:

The last of the muscle myths listed is another piece of good advice in dire need of clarity. If you don’t agree, just think about the absurdity of the first sentence in the section:

“Be wary of any advice that promises positive results from negative actions.”

What? Do writers sometimes think what they’re scribing is so clever that they never stop to think about it? There’s plenty of research in weight training that shows eccentric repetitions (negatives) as being extremely effective for making strength and size gains.

Aside from that, a blanket statement that claims ‘lifting to failure is counterproductive’ is incomplete advice, at best, and a progress detriment at worst.

How do I know this?

Because years of natural bodybuilding experience has shown me the following:

If a person lifts way too short of failure (inadequate intensity), that individual will undermine gains and likely make less progress than the person who lifts to failure while providing adequate recuperation for the higher degree of intensity.

More importantly, advising trainees to “not lift to failure” without telling them how close to failure they need to get is woefully inadequate information. Building muscle requires a minimum amount of intensity-of-effort that’s fairly high. Stopping much to short of that minimum is a very common mistake that doesn’t need to be encouraged. For that reason, I’ll give you a simple but powerful bit of advice that the ‘The Postgame’ muscle myths article didn’t:

Push your repetitions to one rep short of failure on your final set of an exercise. This provides just about the perfect amount of intensity without risking under-training or overtraining.

‘Muscle Myths’… to be continued

When it comes to muscle myths, the four listed in ‘The Postgame’ article are not even close to being exhaustive. There are numerous other myths within this realm that need to be dispelled. Moreover, the truths surrounding those myths need clearer explanation so as not to be the cause of tangential myths. Stay tuned.