There are so many myths about gaining muscle, I could probably write a list of over 1,000 different things here. But for brevity’s sake, I will cut things off at 9. Rest assured, all the common ones you’ve heard from the “big guy” at your gym are likely untrue! That being said, it remains nearly everyone’s goal to gain muscle, and with 70% of the United States now overweight (and 30% obese) it is an admirable (and somewhat necessary) goal to have in mind.
It’s important to strike out the myths, and stick to the facts. Remember in the 1980s and 90s, when “low fat” was supposedly the key to success? Well, we in the Paleo community clearly know that is a myth! How about when you first watched Rocky, and then tried to drink 30 eggs at once? As you can clearly see, the entertainment industry is not a good place to get your facts from, but hopefully I can dispel some of that misinformation today! So without further adieu, let’s take a look at some of those myths.
1. Lifting Weights Will Make You “Bulky”
From the first client I ever trained, to the ones I continue to work with now, I hear this at least three times a day. But it could not be further from the truth. Lifting weights will actually help you lose fat and gain muscle, provided you are eating enough protein. As with all myths, there is a kernel of truth here, however.
One way to work through this common issue? Take progress pictures! You will clearly see that you are getting leaner and meaner, and not bulky and blocky! And don’t step on the scale—it doesn’t measure muscle or fat, and will likely mess with your head. The real bottom line here is that it is far healthier to be lifting weights than not lifting weights, especially as we age—male or female.
2. It Takes FOREVER
Okay, this one has some truth to it, but it’s not what you think. Gaining muscle can take forever—but it doesn’t have to. And the other kernel of truth here is that the older we get, the longer and harder it is to gain. That’s also why 20 year olds can tend to get away with a lot more unhealthy choices (pulling all-nighters during finals week, binging on fast food, etc.) than 40 year olds can. It is also the reason why the phrase “I can’t eat that, it will go right to my hips” exists.
(Read: The 7 Best Ways To Build Muscle)
Make sure to always get enough sleep, protein and healthy fats. Work out hard, but make sure you rest just as much, if not more. This is the real formula to quickly building muscle, and it doesn’t require supplements, fancy shakes or products. You’re welcome.
3. You Need To Overdose On Protein
This is one of the oldest and most prevalent myths (even in 2015). This typically came from “old timers” who were really overdosing on steroids, not protein! The science behind protein is clear—around 0.63 grams per pound of bodyweight is the most you need. Athletes who consumed more than that were no more muscular. Instead, load up on some brain-healthy veggies!
4. You Can’t Lose Fat At The Same Time
This is another myth with a small slice of truth. While it is certainly easier to either add muscle or lose fat, they can also be done concurrently. The trick is to stay at a low calorie deficit (around 100-200 calories below your baseline level) and to get plenty of protein. It would also be very important to do a mix of weightlifting and cardio, or perform some HIIT workouts. I will add that because life is very complicated and stressful, it may be a better idea to do one at a time, but ultimately, that is up to you.
5. You Have To Train Like A Bodybuilder
I really owe a lot to the 1970s for this piece. With most of these myths originating in the decade when “short shorts” and disco were in, I owe a big thank you to the bodybuilders on Venice Beach, who tried to tell everyone the only way to gain muscle was to train like them.
Again—this has a kernel of truth. While hitting most muscles in your body, and doing 3 sets of 8 is good general advice, these guys were training 7 days a week, and drinking a gallon of milk per day. Again, the real truth? They were taking large amounts of (then legal) steroids. Just lifting anything caused them to gain muscle. A little weight lifting and some cardiovascular activity will help you get leaner and more muscular—that’s all you truly need!
6. You Can’t Do Cardio
Oh boy, as my grandmother used to say, “If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that one!” Cardio is very important for a variety of reasons, and not doing it is one of the reasons why we are currently in an obesity pandemic. You should always be doing some cardiovascular activity, no matter what phase of muscle building or fat burning you are in. To discover the benefits exercise has besides muscle building, check out our article on brain health and physical activity.
7. You Need To Do One Body Part Per Day
Another 1970s classic, this one has very little truth to it, and comes from the old split routines of the time of Smokey and the Bandit and Star Wars. While you certainly can do this type of split routine, you do not need to, and there are many other ways to build muscle. In fact, 3 HIIT workouts per week, with some walking and rest days thrown in, is one of the easiest ways to add some lifting power to your frame. Don’t believe the hype on this myth.
8. You Need To “Shock” Your Muscles
Another classic from the “bro scientists” at your local gym! There is almost zero truth here, even though millions of dollars have been made from those touting this claim via books, websites, etc. Your muscles do have a memory—but there is no real benefit to shocking them—unless you want to be very sore for the next 5-10 days, or even worse, injured. As with most things in life, a slow, steady progression is best, and things will go just fine! Run far away from anyone claiming that you need to shock your muscles, and stick with science and logic, instead.
9. All You Need Is Egg Whites
Oh man, what I want to do when I hear this still uttered! There are so many ways to incorporate eggs into a healthy routine, and the yolk is arguably more important than the white! Containing choline, which is an essential nutrient for human health, egg yolks also have the very valuable omega-3 fatty acids, if you choose to buy eggs which are enriched. In short, it would be better to say “all you need is the egg yolk”— but in reality, you should eat the whole thing. You won’t die—you will actually feel younger as a result.
The Bottom Line
Lifting weights and doing some cardiovascular activity (walking, jogging, etc.) are all you really need to build muscle. Yes, a sound diet with lots of protein and some quality sleep are just as important —but that’s really it! I know it sounds easy, but real life blocks us from these things all the time—which is part of why we start to believe these crazy-sounding “theories” and “secrets.” Like death and taxes, human biology, physiology and anatomy are always going to be here, and they don’t allow for any of these crazy myths outlined above.