Muscle turns to fat when you stop lifting weights, right? You've heard that conversion formula before, now find out why it doesn't add up physiologically. We sought to debunk this and other weight training myths with the help of certified strength and conditioning specialist Everett Aaberg, director of education and personal training for International Athletic Club Management in Dallas and author of Muscle Mechanics. What we discovered will insure that you don't end up feeling like a dumbbell.
Myth: One week in the gym and I'll look like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Fact: Hypertrophy-the ability of a muscle to grow in size and strength-takes time. It also takes the right combination of stress (on the muscle), recovery, nutrition, hormones and genetics. Simply put, unless you're taking steroids, you won't see rapid changes in size, although you might notice some quick improvement in strength in the beginning. While this holds true for both men and women, most female weight trainers won't notice appreciable differences in bulk even after several weeks (unless they make a dedicated effort to build muscle). In general, if you're lifting weights three times a week, you can expect to see results in an average of 10 weeks, faster if you're eating a low-fat diet or have low body fat.
Myth: Lift weights, gain weight.
Fact: This is true, but it can be misleading. If you add muscle you will add weight, but it will take up less space than the same amount of fat so you'll look better. Plus, muscle speeds up your metabolism so you burn more calories day and night trying to maintain that muscle mass. No weight loss plan is complete without strength training.
Myth: Lighter loads equal long, lean muscles.
Fact: If you can lift a weight 40 times without feeling fatigued, you're not challenging the muscle enough to develop good muscle tone or get significantly stronger. And doing 40 reps doesn't get your heart rate up either, so you're certainly not burning fat. Instead, choose a weight that will cause muscle fatigue after no more than 15 repetitions. For the best results in endurance, muscle tone and strength, mix up your workout by using a variety of weights (from 50 to 90 percent of maximum capacity) and repetitions (between 5 to 20 per set). Doing higher reps with lower loads helps build endurance; lower reps with higher loads helps build strength.
Myth: If I hit the gym, I'll ruin my speed.
Fact: Weight training, especially at a high-intensity or with explosive movements, can actually help runners, cyclists and other speedsters get faster by building strong, powerful muscles that can rapidly react when called upon to accelerate. Bonus: A well-rounded weight-training plan also reduces injuries by balancing key muscle groups and reinforcing vulnerable joints.
Myth: The only way to get stronger is to load on the iron.
Fact: Heavier weights are optimal to build strength but they aren't the only means toward a powerful physique. Slowing down the tempo while lifting and lowering weights-heavy or light-stresses the muscle and forces it to build more and stronger fibers.
Myth: If I quit lifting weights, my muscles will turn to fat.
Fact: Muscle and fat are two distinct types of tissue, so it's physiologically impossible for one to "turn into" the other. Muscle will lose tone, however, if it's not used, which may result in a flabby appearance where you used to be solid. And if you don't adjust your diet and workout after you quit training, some of that food you're eating will turn to fat.