Separate fact from fiction and accelerate your gains

Some things are beyond question – planetary motion, Jacques Nienaber’s defensive structures – but when it comes to weightlifting advice, it pays to be a skeptic. “The gym is filled with false information,” says strength and conditioning coach Josh Henkin. Here are five weightlifting myths that might be holding you back, and the fast fixes that will have you seeing results again.

MYTH 1 Good form is everything in the gym

The claim Performing exercises the way they’re intended will maximise results.

The truth

Sometimes cheating can boost your gains. Using a bit of momentum in the lateral raise, for example, increases the torque of your shoulder joint, helping you raise a heavier weight to the point at which your deltoids take over, notes a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. “You can achieve a similar effect with biceps curls,” says sports biomechanist Bret Contreras. Just keep the body English to a minimum.

MYTH 2 Slow lifting builds huge muscles

The claim Deliberate, controlled lifts ensure proper form and accelerate muscular gains.

The truth

Slow and steady is a smart strategy for lowering a weight, but lifting it quickly activates more type II muscle fibres, which have the greatest growth potential. Bottom line: “Vary your lifting speed,” says Henkin. “In the bench press, for example, pause every 10cm on the way down, and then push up explosively.” Varying your pace will fatigue you faster, so start doing this on the last reps
of your final set.

MYTH 3 If you want to grow big, you have to lift big

The claim Heavy weights and low reps (five or fewer) trigger the greatest increase in muscle mass.

The truth

The sweet spot is six to 15 reps, says strength and conditioning specialist Brad Schoenfeld, author of The MAX Muscle Plan (R210, kalahari.com). Lifting a moderate weight in that rep range creates an optimal balance of muscular tension and metabolic stress. That in turn maximises your protein production after exercise as well as the number of contracting mechanisms within a muscle cell. The result: serious gains in size, strength and force production.

MYTH 4 Resting between sets is critical

The claim Giving your muscles a break lets you put your all into every set.

The truth

Staying active between sets boosts performance. “Doing low-intensity, non-competing moves, called fillers, between sets enhances mind-muscle communication without compromising recovery,” says strength coach Mike Wunsch, director of programming at Results Fitness. Try lateral band walks between lower-body sets and I-raises between upper-body sets.

MYTH 5 Post-workout shakes boost muscle growth

The claim There’s a window of opportunity after a workout when muscles are primed to respond to protein.

The truth

That idea is based on a small number of short-term studies that evaluated people who trained after fasting overnight, says Alan Aragon, a nutrition advisor. Your focus should be on total daily protein. “Shoot for one gram per kilogram of body weight a day,” he says. Falling short? Down a protein shake whenever it’s most convenient for you.