Whether they’re debunking long-held myths by citing specific research, drawing from personal experience, or just making an educated guess, our rotating panel of experts likes to put the smack down on some of the most pervasive gym myths that cloud our consciousness and keep us from building lean, muscular, powerful bodies.
But as any self-respecting GI Joe fan understands, knowing is half the battle. The other half? Well, it’s putting advice into practice. That’s up to you.
This isMythbusters Volume 7 with Dave Tate, Charles Staley, Lee Boyce, Jamie Hale, and Mark Young.
Myth: Compound movements trump isolation movements for strength and size gains.
Mythbuster: Dave Tate
Here’s the thing that cracks me up: how the fuck do you define what a compound movement is? People will say, “It’s a movement that works all muscles.” Well, let’s say I sit down to do a seated calf raise. I grab the handles and my forearms, biceps, triceps and lats are flexed. My calves are definitely working and the pad is smashing my quads. So it’s pretty much working every muscle in my body, right? Is that a compound movement?
Or they’ll flip it and say that every exercise like a squat is a compound movement. But I see people in the Body Pump class doing tons of squats, bobbing up and down like water toys. Is that a compound movement that’ll make them bigger? You see what I’m saying? It’s fucked up! People always fall back into the same dogma bullshit.
I’m not saying that what they classify as compound movements isn’t the way to go. I’m just saying there’s more to building a jacked body than doing squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses. When it comes down to it, I’ll take a guy who does nothing but “isolation exercises” and busts his ass over the guy who does compound movements with less intensity any day.
Let’s say you take a guy and make him do a full-body workout. During that session he might be lucky enough to do one set that’s worth a fuck. And out of that one set maybe he had two reps that actually stimulated the muscle enough to get stronger or bigger. So over a period of that full-body workout he walked away with maybe ten total reps that are worth anything.
So it doesn’t matter if it’s isolation or compound — it’s what you’re going to work hardest at.
There are also some isolation movements that will really help you add strength to your compound movements if you know where to place them in your program and build the bridge.
Say a guy who wants a huge bench press has weak triceps and it’s holding him back from pushing big weights. So he does some research and goes right to barbell skullcrushers.
Then four to six weeks later he’s bitching because his elbows hurt. Well, no shit! What he did was stupid. Let’s say his one-rep max on the bench was 300 pounds and he started doing sets of ten on skullcrushers with 100 pounds. He just added close to 4,000 pounds of workload with a movement that’s stressful on the joints. What he should have done was built a bridge.
If he would’ve started with band or triceps press-downs for a few weeks, switched to dumbbell skull crushers, and then started doing barbell extensions, he wouldn’t be having any problems. He would have effectively primed his joints and increased his workload at a manageable rate. Now when he goes back to the bench press he should see a huge jump.
So isolation movements have their place. I’d say they’re just as important as the compound ones if you’re hitting them hard and programming them correctly.
T Nation strength specialist Dave Tate is the owner of Elitefts and a world-renowned speaker and coach.
Myth: You must stick to your training program 100 percent to get the best results.
Mythbuster: Charles Staley
There’s a carpenter’s motto that says, “Measure twice, cut once.” It’s a great saying when you’re cutting a piece of wood and precision is key, but most guys treat their training program the same way.
They’ll create this intricately precise six-week program where everything is laid out; the exercises, sets, reps, rest periods, and progression are all detailed. Then they get to the gym and inevitably something will happen that shakes their confidence. They get sick or pull a hamstring. They miss a few reps, screw up an exercise, or realize dips hurt their shoulder.
Then they start all over.
Look, it’s not a moral failing to have a bad day at the gym or make tweaks to your program on the fly. If you acquire some new info that causes you to re-think your program, don’t scrap the whole thing and start fresh. Make a simple modification and keep going.
People are obsessed with new beginnings. That’s why they set New Year’s resolutions and buy “new car smell” air fresheners for their ’88 Pinto. That’s why everyone starts their diet on the first Monday of the new month.
If it motivates you, fine, but it’s all an illusion. You need to move from the inspiration phase into the perspiration phase where you’re lifting heavy weights and paying your dues.
The best athletes I’ve worked with have ideas on what they want to accomplish, but they’re always in the thick of training. They’re popping away when everyone else is starting over.
Your training program is not a piece of wood. Keep modifying it and quit looking for excuses.
Charles Staley, B.Sc., MSS: His colleagues call him an iconoclast, a visionary, a rule-breaker. His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Check out his website here.
Myth: Advanced lifting methods will result in more muscle and no plateaus.
Mythbuster: Lee Boyce
You’re tired of doing straight sets of barbell bench presses and you’ve hit a plateau where the weight just won’t budge, so you decide to add in some fancy-schmancy methods you read about on T Nation to boost your strength and add some much needed size to your chest. Good on you.
So you decide you’ll do clusters. And negatives. And one-and-a-half reps. And supramaximal holds. All in the same week.
See where I’m going with this?
Before long your central nervous system is fried, your neurotransmitters give you the finger, and you’re pressing weights your little sister could match. Most guys falsely believe that because all of the methods I described above are varied, that they’ll somehow complement each other in the same week. “You’ve got to change it up,” they say. But too much change can be a bad thing. In the quest for more strength and muscle they’ve gone and made everything worse. If only they had a four-week program that combined methods in a logical way so they could push past their plateau…
Aw hell, I can’t resist!
Week 1: Supramaximal negatives and functional isometrics
Supramaximal negatives: 5×5 with 120 percent of your 1RM. Rest three minutes. Use a spotter and don’t try to actually lift the bar. Let your spotter help you.
Functional isometrics: 4×5 with an empty bar. Rest three minutes.
Functional isometrics can help you push past a sticking point in the lift. To do them, grab an empty bar and find a squat rack and a bench. Set the safety pins to where the halfway point on your bench press would be. Push the bar explosively off your chest and into the pins, and squeeze the shit out of your chest and triceps the whole time. Perform five total reps and then rest.
Week 2: High Volume — GVT
Barbell Bench Press: 10×10 at 60-70 percent of your 1RM. Rest 75 seconds between sets.
Incline Chest Fly: 3×12. Rest two minutes.
Week 3: Clusters
Take your 6RM and perform five reps with it on the bench press. Rack the weight. Rest for ten seconds, then immediately try to get two to three more reps. Rest three minutes between sets for a total of five sets. This is a great way to trick your muscles into lifting heavy weight for more reps.
Week 4: High Volume — Pyramid
Barbell Bench Press:
70% of your 1RM x 10
75% x 8
80% x 6
85% x 4
90% x 2
Then reverse the order and go back up the pyramid. (The percentages are just guidelines. Rest as long as needed.)
After Week 5 go ahead and test your 1RM on the bench press. Don’t be surprised if your weight jumps up by a few pounds!
Lee Boyce is a CPTN certified Elite Trainer at Extreme Fitness in Canada. As a former competitive track athlete, Boyce trains performance athletes for rapid strength and power enhancement.
Myth: You need to eat every two to three hours to optimally lose fat and get shredded.
Mythbuster: Jamie Hale
This is another common belief held by bodybuilders that often does more harm than good. I mean, who the hell wants to carry around Tupperware containers full of rice and chicken all the time? It’s just so damn inconvenient. The reason most bodybuilders eat every couple of hours is because…well, because someone told them to. But if they did some research, they’d see that resting energy expenditure isn’t really decreased at all! In fact, there was a study done a while back that showed subjects who did a three-day fast — absolutely no food — had their resting energy expenditure rate actually increase.
Now I’ve experimented on myself and on my bodybuilder clients with a variety of meal frequency plans and have even tried a couple of 37-hour fasts for experimental purposes. And honestly, I haven’t seen that much of a difference between three meals and seven meals a day, if the calories are equal.
The important thing to know is that after you eat a meal, you’re still in a “fed state” and absorbing nutrients for six to ten hours after that meal.
True, after about four to six hours you do get an increase in gluconeogenesis, the generation of glucose from non-carbohydrate substances, which is a good reason to eat some more protein to stop any muscle breakdown. But eating seven meals is still ridiculous to me.
My bodybuilders have had great success eating three to five meals per day. As long as macronutrients and energy intake are equal, there really is no difference in the outcome. Of course, it’s up to what you like. If you want to eat more often, that’s fine.
But I’ll leave the Tupperware at home.
Jamie Hale is sports conditioning coach, author, researcher, and fitness and nutrition consultant. He works with bodybuilders and professional athletes.
Myth: When a muscle appears weak, it always needs strengthening.
Mythbuster: Mark Young
When a muscle is weak we hammer it with different exercises, loads, and methods until the strength comes up to par. Most of the time this works. But what happens if weakness of the muscle itself isn’t the problem?
Muscular weakness can be caused by tightness of the opposing muscle (tight hip flexors can inhibit the glutes), a trapped nerve (the long thoracic nerve can get trapped in the scalenes of the neck shutting down the serratus anterior), or an unstable joint. This “blockage” means you won’t be able to build as much muscle or gain as much strength as you could if you were healthy.
For example, if one of your shoulders appears weaker than the other your first inclination might be to pound it with presses and lateral raises until it improves. However, if the muscle is weak for another reason, the body will masterfully compensate with other muscles to still allow you to do the exercise, but with poor form, which could possibly result in an injury. So now you’re nursing a nagging supraspinatus or upper trap and still haven’t addressed the original problem!
More important for bodybuilders and guys who want huge muscles, the strength and muscular development of that shoulder will never improve regardless of the amount of pressing you do if the original problem goes unsolved.
Weakness isn’t always weakness and strengthening the muscle isn’t always the answer.
So for those of you with a bum shoulder, I’d like you to try this test with your training partner. Put your arm out to the side and have him put his hand on top of your wrist. Push up into his hand and then have him add an additional five percent of force, pushing down against your wrist for a few seconds. This doesn’t take much strength on the part of the tester. (The downward force should be brief since anyone’s arm will give out if you hold it long enough.) If your arm has collapsed to your side after only a second or two it has tested weak.
The cause of such a failure often has little to do with the muscle itself, but with instability at the acromioclavicular joint (the joint where your collarbone meets your scapula). When a joint is unstable, the muscles around it can shut down as a protective mechanism.
To test whether this is the cause, have your training partner manually hold the joint together by placing his fingers on your collarbone and his thumb on the spine of your scapula as it approaches the shoulder. Repeat the test above while he holds the joint together firmly. If your strength is improved and you’re able to resist the downward force, your AC joint is unstable and you can benefit from providing some stability to this joint.
To do that, put your arm out to the side and press forward for five seconds and backwards for five seconds into a fixed object such as the hand of your training partner or a door frame. Repeat this five times in each direction.
The strength in this muscle will often be immediately restored as if by magic and you can train as usual. Keep doing this daily until the shoulder is able to maintain its strength on testing without doing this drill. In the meantime, I highly suggest using athletic tape to manually hold the joint together until stability has returned.
Mark Young is an exercise and nutrition consultant, and owner of Mark Young Training Systems. He has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, and has performed graduate level research in biomechanics and exercise physiology at McMaster University.
Got a myth that needs busting? Let us know in the comments!