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Common Training Myths

By September 22, 2014January 13th, 2016Guest Blogs, Nutrition

Below is a guest blog by my favorite young female fitness writer – Sohee Lee. She recently created a resource with Dr. Layne Norton called Reverse Dieting. I use the same methods with my clients that Sohee and Layne recommend and can vouch for their effectiveness. The product is on sale for two more days so make sure you check it out.

Reverse Dieting

Common Training Myths
By Sohee Lee

1. You have to confuse your muscles.

If you’ve ever bought into the hype about muscles getting confused, pay attention.

Think about it. Do your pecs ever really say:

Hey, this is a new exercise. What’s going on? What’s this called – the decline pushup? Oh, okay, cool. Wasn’t quite sure what was going on for a second there.

— Whoa! What now… cable flyes? I’m totally confused out of my mind. Guess I have to work harder to grow even stronger and blast this fat.

This idea of “muscle confusion” was fabricated by some clever fitness marketing gurus eager to sell their products. You know who they are.

Simply put, muscle confusion states that you have to change up your workout from session to session or from week to week – different exercises, varying rep ranges, and switching up rest periods – in order to get leaner, faster, and stronger. And by never giving your body a chance to adapt to a specific routine, you’ll never plateau and consequently never stop making improvements.


Exercise ADHD seems to be all the rage, but it shouldn’t be. One look at the world’s elite lifters and you’ll learn that by and large, their training regimens do not vary wildly. They probably stick to the same basic lifts and they repeat them, over and over, over a long period of time.

That’s not to say that muscle confusion is 100% bogus; in fact, it does have one tiny kernel of truth to it. Spend too much time with any one specific stimuli and your body will adapt to it less and less.

That’s the problem with much of the information you read – we take an ounce of truth and turn it into two tons of BS.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

2. You can lose tons of fat and gain muscle at the same time if you train hard enough.

Ah, that would be a nice world to live in, wouldn’t it?

For the most part, the only types of people who can simultaneously pile on muscle and melt fat are beginner trainees, those who are just coming back to the gym after a long hiatus, very obese individuals, and folks on performance-enhancing drugs.

Let me save you a good deal of time right now and tell you that, unless you’re one of the above, you’ll be spinning your wheels if you really want to try and go down this route.

Now, can you embark on a fat loss journey and put on a little bit of muscle mass while dropping a good deal of fat via proper weight training and precise nutrition? Yes, it does happen.

But is it realistic to expect that you can gain 10lbs of muscle while losing 10lbs of fat? Probably not.

You want to lean out? Then you should be in a caloric deficit.

More concerned about building them biceps? Then caloric surplus it is.

Prioritize one over the other and keep up the intensity in the gym regardless of your goal.

3. Cardio will keep the fat off while you build muscle.

I had a friend say this to me once, and he was noticeably shocked – not to mention skeptical – when I told him that it didn’t quite work that way.

In his mind, he had categorized steady-state cardio as a fat-blasting exercise, while heavy lifting was strictly for building muscle. Combine the two, he believed, and you got the best of both worlds: an increasingly lean physique, plus boulder shoulders and arms that would make The Rock do a double-take.

I wish it were that easy.

Steady-state cardio is not inherently a fat loss modality. By itself, it does have mild benefits for cardiovascular health, but it’s not going to get you the lean, ripped physique you’re striving for. If you’re an endurance athlete interested in, say, improving your half-marathon time, then go right ahead, but if your focus is on aesthetics, then it’s probably best to lay off the jogging.


Think of it this way. The more cardio you do, the less room you leave for strength training. You not only have less time dedicated to lifting heavy weights, but you also don’t have as much energy to give each training session the intensity it deserves.

Not only that, but the more cardio you do, the more efficient your body becomes at burning calories. Sounds like a good thing at first glance, but if fat loss is your goal, this is the opposite of what you want.

If you used to burn 300 Calories running for 30 minutes, you now burn 250 Calories due to increased efficiency.

Put another way, your body now requires less energy to complete any given task. If you’re starving out in the wilderness with no food in sight, this is a very good thing, as it’ll increase your chances of survival. But that’s probably not you.

Think of it like a car: if you have a car that clocks in 25 miles per gallon, that’s not so great, is it? Yet if you upgraded your vehicle to one that yielded up to 40 miles per gallon, you would say that you now have increased efficiency.

In the case of the car, that’s a good thing: it requires less fuel, which means less money spent on gas. But with the human body, the same idea is not so opportune – especially if you love food.

Moreover, study after study has shown that exercise protocols involving steady-state cardio have led to negligible weight loss and that aerobic exercise by itself is not an effective form of weight loss therapy.

That’s a whole lot of work for increasingly diminishing returns.

4. More volume is better, no matter how you go about it.

It’s true that training volume is a critical component of hypertrophy. In fact, it’s one of the greatest determinants of muscle growth, much more than any other component of exercise.

But this doesn’t mean that more volume is necessarily better regardless of how that volume is achieved. For example, you can’t perform hundreds of lighter weight, high rep sets ad nauseum and expect to experience optimal gains. And on the flipside, while heavier, low rep sets will definitely make you stronger, again, by themselves they’ll be limited in how much muscle can be built.

When it comes to exercise, there are three primary mechanisms of muscle growth, all of which should be utilized appropriately to maximize gains: muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

Mechanical tension is the tension placed on muscles when lifting and is considered the most important element of the three. The more tension exerted on muscles, the more mechanotransduction occurs, a process by which mechanical signals initiate anabolic pathways. In this way, the heavier the weight that is lifted, the more tension the muscles undergo. And as conventional wisdom goes, those particular muscles will adapt to the tension – but only up to a certain point – by growing in size.

Then comes muscle damage. Ever heard of DOMS? That stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and is the sensation of sore, achy muscles after an exercise bout. This is what makes it difficult to sit down on the toilet or walk down the stairs after a particularly trying lower body day. In the general, DOMS sets in approximately 24 hours after a training session and can persist for up to 72 or more hours.

But the purpose of DOMS is not solely to give you a feeling of accomplishment. DOMS is a result of microtears in your working muscles. With this acute damage, an inflammatory response is induced, and in the process, cytokines are produced that then prompt the release of growth factors related to muscle development. This then strengthens your muscle tissue so that in the future, you’re better able to tolerate muscle damage.

(I should note, additionally, that DOMS, or lack or DOMS, is by no means an indicator of a good or bad workout. Keep in mind that DOMS is an adaptive response, and the more training you undergo, the better your body will be able to withstand the stress.)

Lastly is metabolic stress. This is the burning sensation you get when, say, you’re nearing the end of a high-rep set, or when you’re using a heavy load through full range of motion. Metabolic stress is brought about by a number of factors, including blood pooling (via muscle contractions), lack of oxygen supply, and buildup of metabolites, or metabolism by-product.

While the reasons are not currently fully understood, it is believed that cell swelling induces protein synthesis and hinders protein breakdown because the cell is adapting to a perceived threat. In turn, the cell strengthens its structure to protect itself against future stress.

By themselves, each of the components are limited in how much hypertrophy they can achieve. But when combined appropriately, they make for a powerful blend for muscle development.

So why won’t endless reps by themselves get the job done? It’s not a bad idea in theory, but if you stick to solely increasing volume by utilizing heavier weights, eventually you’ll reach a ceiling at which point no further hypertrophy occurs. The process of hypertrophy is incredibly complex, and you have to take into account the hormonal considerations as well. Throw some muscle damage and metabolic stress in there as well, and you’ll be getting much more out of your gym time.

5. As long as you train hard, you can eat whatever you want.

Oh boy.

What if I told you that lifting weights doesn’t burn as many calories as you think? That, although resistance training does continue to burn extra calories up to 48 hours following an exercise session, the effect is not infinite?

I’d be willing to bet a good deal of money that you didn’t just burn 2000 Calories in that one-hour training session. Actually, it’s not even close to 2,000 Calories. Based on research at Southern Maine and Arizona State, you’re looking at estimates of weight loss being anywhere between 800-1200 Calories for a non-stop 45-minute circuit workout. (Note that this is not the type of workout most people do.) Pretty dismal, huh?

Put down those donuts and walk away slowly.

Technically, yes, you can eat whatever you want – but don’t be surprised if your jeans start feeling a little snug relatively quickly. And if your goal is to stay lean – or at least keep the fat gain to a minimum – while building some muscle, you unfortunately do still have to be mindful of not only what but how much you eat.

That’s where reverse dieting comes in.

Reverse dieting is a process in which you slowly increase your macronutrient intake in controlled quantities in order to increase your metabolism and build muscle while keeping the fat gain at bay. The key here is to bump up the calories at a slow enough rate that your metabolism can adapt to the caloric surplus without funneling all the extra energy into fat cells. Essentially, the goal is to reverse all the metabolic adaptation that occurred while you were in an energy deficit.

This is a sustainable, practical approach that allows you to not only enjoy your strength gains in the gym, but also experience hypertrophy without having to buy a whole new wardrobe.

If you’re ready to eat more food while still looking good, then this is for you.

My Reverse Dieting e-book is a comprehensive guide to not only the why’s behind reverse dieting, but it also walks you through exactly how to go about setting up your baseline intake. Furthermore, in this book, I teach you how and when to adjust your numbers, when to end this journey, and what you can expect from this process.

As well, I’ve tossed in some bonuses for you that should help you along the way: first, my How to Count Macros e-book as a complementary guide; second, a 6-week training program that’ll help you get started in the gym while you fire it up in the kitchen; and lastly, 10 different conditioning workouts that you can utilize in lieu of traditional interval sessions.

I’ve worked at this for many months with the help of Dr. Layne Norton, the main man behind reverse dieting. Our hope is that our work will help guide the masses toward a more scientific approach to fitness.

We’ve put together the latest scientific information regarding what works and what doesn’t to bring you a program that will give you the tools to put on muscle and heal your metabolism the right way.

To celebrate this launch, I’m running a 25% off sale for the first 3 days. You have until Thursday, September 25th to grab this product before the price goes up.

Author Bio

Sohee Lee graduated from Stanford University in June 2012 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Biology (Psychosocial and Biological Determinants of Health).

Since completing a summer internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass., she has worked as a strength coach and nutrition consultant at Tyler English Fitness in Canton, Connecticut as well as New York City’s renowned Peak Performance. She currently resides in Savannah, GA where she works as a fitness writer, coach, and entrepreneur.

She is also a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Sohee faced anorexia and bulimia in the past, thus her main interests include eating disorders and the psychology behind relationships and decisions that we make as humans. She loves to talk fitness and admires those fit-minded people who can push and pull heavy weights.

To contact Sohee on the worldwide web, check out her fan page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check out her website, through which she regularly writes about training, nutrition, and her love of pugs. Her website covers exercise, nutrition, psychology and other miscellaneous musings of the exercise world.



  • Patrik Looft says:

    Excellent article! Very well written and informative. I have a question though, you say that steady state cardio by itself has mild benefits for cardiovascular health. Are the benefits really only mild? I was under the impression that the benefits are good/very good and well researched.

    • sandy says:

      Good question.

      Personally Im getting a little tired of the latest trend, which seems to discourage people from doing cardio. Lets tell everyone it really cant help you lose weight, it really doesn’t make much of a difference, it can hinder strength gains, etc etc. Yes, good plan. How often do you see fat dudes who only lift weights? At commercial gyms that’s much of what you see.

      Lets use a little common sense instead. Of course cardiovascular exercise is good for your heart. And of course, what good is a great physique if you get winded walking up a flight of stairs?

  • Will Vatcher says:

    Damn that girl is hot… Oh yeah, good article too

  • Chris says:

    Hey, good article!

    Point 1: Good points, I´d like to add that you forgot to mention the no.1 measure we do provide to trigger adaptation: thats ofc the (increasing) weight used.

    Although I agree with your conclusion that cardio itself is not the main means to get rid of fat (because we know nutrition is) youre replacing one myth with another one: First, moderate duration, frequency and intensity of ss cardio has benefits for cardiovascular health and doesnt interfere much with strength training. Bret reported some studies here illustrating the not-so-bad relationship with moderate ss and strength training. Different types of endurance sports (cycling vs running) interfere with strength training differently. And the first modality that is affected is power, then strength or hypertrophy. Practically speaking, noone who does an easy half hour jog (and even less so with cycling) twice or three times a week needs to be concerned about any meaningful interference with his strength training.

    Second, the “efficiency” myth: See Lyle McDonalds article series which specifically tackles that question. Its a myth in that you almost dont get efficient at burning calories at all (a meagre low single digit percentage at most!). You do get efficient aka adapt to the training stimulus. And ofc u wont quit strength training bc “your body adapts to the weights and gets efficient lifting them”, will you? No, you power up the stimulus: weight in strength training (or any other suited variable), speed (or any other suited variable) in endurance training. Lyle rightfully mocks himself about this perception that ppl think u can change any stimulus in training – but with steady-state, they seem to freeze in awe and wave a white flag: “Sorry, theres no sense anymore – I got too efficient and cant do anything about that!” 🙂

    I find the other points well written and especially point 4 is an excellent summary of muscle hypertrophy as Brad Schoenfield discussed in his review.

    I tried to comment on the topic and facts and wont comment on the aesthetic qualities of the author – cause as men I think theres nothing to not agree about. 😉


  • Dunkman says:

    Good article – well written and logical. To further support your muscle confusion section I would add that early on in training a new movement, much of the adaptation is neurological with smaller proportion being muscular. By the time the body has “learned” the new exercise and is ready to adapt muscularly, you have moved on to another exercise.

  • Ron says:

    And this sort of reminds me of the one thing I hate the most about the fitness community, so much of what is taught to us as “fact” is actually “opinion”. It’s so hard to tell the difference sometimes and there’s always going to be people out there looking for a way to make money who’ll use this to their advantage. I’m NOT saying that about anybody here, but it does tie into the myths of fitness and gimmicks people use.

  • Will Vatcher says:

    Chris, some slightly dodgy information your putting out there yourself buddy. Some of your points are good but a lot of what you said is inaccurate.

    • Chris says:

      Well, lets see how “a lot of the information is inaccurate”. Lets see how you tackle the sports scientists who performed the studies. You could ask Chris or Bret to tell you where to exactly find the studies; they were reported a while ago on Chris´and Bret´s research review blog.

      Looking forward to your arguments!

      • Will Vatcher says:

        Chris, I didn’t say everything was wrong. I admit I should have read yr answer more clearly as there was less in there I disagree with than I originally thought. I apologise about that. But there one point of nonsense in your answer. And please don’t be so arrogant and ignorant, I regularly liase with top sports scientists and top coaches in the work in many subjects so I’m not attempting to pick fights. Would u care to argue with some of them on the “because we know nutrition is” the main means of losing fat” point? Is that a fact chris? It is THE most important element?

  • Will Vatcher says:

    But your definitely right about the moderate duration SS cardio. In moderate-small volumes it most certainly doesn’t interfere with strength training – on the contrary, a moderate-small volume session under the anaerobic threshold performed the day after a hard strength session can hasten recovery.

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    All of them = Individual variance.

    Which will keep the insufferable fitness “community” having angry sanctimonious tiffs with each other forever.

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    So I just watched a very interesting video by “Strength Sensei” Charles Poliquin. Mr. Poliquin is a well known strength coach with over 72,000 Facebook likes!

    The topic of the video was swapping out dips for presses, and potential adaptations.

    In this video, Mr. Poliquin makes the case that for about 70% of the people who train, changing the exercise for a specific body part should be done every 6-workouts. In fact, CP asserts that some athletes should switch their exercise every workout!

    I’m perplexed!

    In this blog, Ms. Lee states in Myth #1 that switching exercises, is a clever marketing scam. I believe that she is referring to another well known fitness celebrity, Tony Horton, founder of P-90X, which is one of the more popular exercise programs in infomercial mainstream fitness history. It was marketed by a fitness company known as Beach Body.

    The company Beach Body pumps out quite a few products that are fitness related, P-90X being one of them. I did notice that another well known strength coach, Chad Waterbury, teamed up with Debbie Siebers on another Beach Body fitness product, this one was called Total Body Solutions.

    I first learned about Charles Poliquin, and Chad Waterbury on a website called “T-Nation”. Has anyone heard of it?

    Let me circle back around to the original source of confusion. Should I switch exercises frequently or not?
    One person says it’s a myth and a scam, another guy with 72,000 likes who coached Olympic athletes says it is useful for most, as does the creator of one of the most popular fitness products out there!

    So much conflicting information!

    Please, can anyone shed some light on the issue? I want so badly to get to the bottom of this, because I take my training very, very seriously.

    Oh, and one more question: can I get strong using kettle bells?

  • Will Vatcher says:

    Well that’s cool then derrick. Bret writes for t-natiin and I have written for them too. Charles poliquin is a big moomin.

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Hi Will Vatcher!

      What’s cool? Not following you here, sorry. Also, I am not familiar with the term, “moomin”. Does that mean like, “big player”, or “big Kahuna” or something? I was under the impression that Poliquin, and possibly Ian King, were big players, (big “moomins”?) in the startup of T-Nation, the website that you write for. It’s been an exciting resource for me to learn many things over the years.

      Anyway, Will Vatcher, I’m just a guy trying to learn stuff here. Can you help me out?

      In your opinion then, should I switch out my exercises out every six weeks as Strength Sensei Charles Poliquin says, or is this just a myth designed to get my hard earned money, as this post suggests?

      If it is a myth, then is Poliquin in on the marketing scam with Tony Horton, and Beach Body? I didn’t see a product that Mr. Poliquin was selling, he seemed to be talking honestly from the results of his experiences in the video. He didn’t ask me for any money or anything, so it didn’t appear that he was in on the alleged marketing scam.

      It’s just so difficult to know whose information to trust sometimes! Thanks Will Vatcher, if you have time to respond. As I said before, I just want to get my training right, and I’m trying to sort through lots of conflicting views.

      • Will Vatcher says:

        Derrick, my intent was not to offend you at all, it was a friendly jibe. You may or may not no this but Mr.p is renown for making up some crap. At the same time, much of what he says is good. Being a reader of Bret’s blogs you should be aware of his grill the guru of Charles poliquin. If you want advice on switching exercises in and out of programs and their design i suggest you get reading some sports science books and articles. Verkhoshansky, zatsiorsky, bondarchuk, issurin are among the best. That’s likely where poliquin got the info from in the first place.

        • Will Vatcher says:

          And I don’t recall criticising poliquins exercise rotations, he’s a big proponent of undulating periodization, a very effective method.

        • Derrick Blanton says:

          Not at all, Will, I’m trying to take the discussion where it needs to go. Simply, I want to follow the trail of evidence where it naturally leads.

          I find that when one does this with any degree of intensity, they will QUICKLY start running into powerful interests, or friendly alliances, that make it difficult to rigorously explore. They may find themselves banned on certain websites, or their comments deleted on others.

          There is an explicit premise in this blog that switching out exercises is part of a marketing scam to sell a protocol. Whether P-90X is in fact a scam is something I could devote 3,000 words to right now, but there may soon be a better venue for that in the works.

          What do you suspect Poliquin’s motivation for making up stuff is? Is he a sociopath that enjoys playing with inquiring minds like a cat toys with a mouse?

          Specific to this discussion, is he selling a product related to “muscle confusion”? Not that I can tell. Poliquin may be a calculating shark in the water, I don’t know the man, but I can find no ulterior motive for taking this position.

          He seems candid, thoughtful, intelligent.

          In your view, then, is he bullshitting on this particular issue, and if so, why?

          • Derrick Blanton says:

            Hey Will, Just for shits and giggles here, let’s think in the hypothetical.

            I can tell that you are like me: you probably hate it when people “make up crap”, as you state Poliquin is known to do. So annoying, isn’t it?

            Just spitballing here. Let’s say a large entity did in fact, WANT to “make up crap”, say, manipulate data, or information, for the express and specific purpose of marketing a scam.

            How might they go about it?

            Perhaps they would begin with aggressive ad copy, making claims that large 27-lb increases of muscle mass were possible in a very short time, say 6-weeks, by using this product.

            They might then follow by co-opting a brilliant strength mind who is also a briliant strength athlete, well versed in the authors that you listed. Heck, maybe the guy they select has even written a few top quality books of his own!

            So then, you take this guy, and you work him into the mix. You make dubious claims about his own personal performance and data improvements, which fall well outside the normal bell curve of even heavily juiced elite athletes.

            You might even claim that he made a 150-lb. increase on a multi-joint explosive lift in only two weeks. You might claim he performed a set of five on a lift that would rival the strongest men to ever walk the planet, while weighting 100-lbs less than these men.

            You might make claim after claim of startling, incredible results with multiple subjects.

            And yet, strangely, there would be no scientific record, no objectively recorded data from a wholly independent scientific third party of these gains.

            You have to ask yourself…If these results were, in fact, legitimate; and said entity knew they “had the goods”, would they not, in fact, submit said product to the largest, most rigorous, most audaciously PUBLIC, experiment demonstrating these results.

            Would not the study be repeated over and over, by different scientific bodies all over the world? Wouldn’t it be in fact, an utter muscle building revolution, beyond the scope of anything we have ever seen?

            Throw all that aside, though. Let’s look at another metric.

            If the product created the results that it claimed, would it not QUICKLY be the top selling supplement ever created? In a landslide, right?

            And yet, strangely, despite the documented, INCREDIBLE results that this product ABSOLUTELY delivered, it would be no longer available, after a few, short years. That would be crazy, woudn’t it, Will?

            Who knows, maybe some of the bright people you encounter as part of your strength writing endeavors, might be able to shed some light on these types of “making up crap” sorts of things. Dunno.

            Anyway, Will, I just enjoy a good, candid discussion. Again, just trying to examine the evidence of my senses with what limited understanding that I possess…

            Thanks for listening!

  • Kenny Croxdale says:

    1. You have to confuse your muscles.

    My criticism with this is that the information you presented is vague.

    As research indicates, changes in a program in part is reliant on “Training Age”, how many years one has been training.

    Novice Lifters need little change while Advanced Lifters require more change to make progress.

    “Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength.”
    J Strength Cond Res. 2014 May 14.

    This research examined four different training protocols. It found the two that were the most effective at increasing strength were:

    1) Varied Intensity-Varied Exercise

    2) Constant Intensity-Varied Exercise

    Thus, the take home message was that at some point, varying the exercise is a vital component of increasing strength.

    As you know, varying an exercise can be as simple changing from the wide grip bench press to a narrow grip bench press.

    The Bulgarian Weightlifters are the “Poster Children” of this method.

    Conjugate Training (NSCA podcast)
    Matt Wenning (MS and Powerlifter)

    Wenning’s podcast goes into how varying exercises is a vital component of increasing strength.

    “Exercise ADHD seems to be all the rage…”

    This is certainly he Cross Fit cult’s Workout of The Day, is a prime example of changing thing too often.

    This is also true with P90X, Insanity, etc.

    Kenny Croxdale, CSCS

  • Katie says:

    To say ‘steady-state cardio … itself, does have mild benefits for cardiovascular health’ is patently untrue. As a doctor I can assure you there is strong evidence for marked benefits.

  • Brandon Green says:

    Agree with you for the most part. But do have some issues.
    First aerobic exercise (steady state type) has significant value
    in the recovery process. It has been discovered that slow steady
    aerobic work is more restful to the CNS than passive rest after
    some intense workout(s).Two if one desires to have a maximally
    capable anaerobic system an aerobic “base” is needed. Much
    more than has been originally thought. Check out the work of
    Seluyanov to find out why.

  • Brandon Green says:


    Muscles are never really confused. The CNS does require variety however.
    At least if you want maximal results. The only people who make significant gains
    on monotonous routines are certain elite athletes such as Bulgarian Olympic lifters.
    And not even all world class athletes can thrive on such monotony . Basically the more
    advanced one is the greater the variety needed.

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