In bodybuilding fraternities The Myth refers to arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all-time, the Cuban colossus Sergio Oliva. The Myth was known as someone of unshakeable confidence and integrity which is a lot more than can be said for some of the myths promulgated in the name of science that we see today.
The fight back against Broscience starts today. Without any further ado let us look at some commonly held bodybuilding folklore legends and see if the myth matches the reality.
1. You Must Eat Six Times a Day
Myth: How many times have you heard fitness industry figures state the importance of eating several times a day. Reasons given for this include the need to keep blood sugar levels stable, provide the muscles with a continuous flow of nutrients and the fact the body can absorb only 30 grams of protein per meal.
Truth: There is no evidence showing 6 meals a day are superior. In fact, there is research showing less meals (3-4) can be at least as good when it comes to improving body composition. See our article on meal frequency. While 6 meals may be good for some people in terms of ensuring they stick to their diet there is no reason you must have 6 meals. So, if you find preparing and cooking 6 meals a day a hassle, feel free to ignore this myth safe in the knowledge you will not lose anything.
2. It’s All About The Pump
Myth: You haven’t had a good workout unless your muscles are pumped to the max bro!
Truth: While a pump may well be desirable for its visual appearance and to satisfy the requirement to feel like you have trained hard, there is no need to train specifically for muscle pumps. There is no evidence to support the role of the pump for strength training (it may even interfere with optimal power development). What about if the goal is muscle development? Muscle growth is comprised of myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic elements. The latter is associated with the kind of high rep, pump inducing workouts that bodybuilders typically perform. However, while this has its uses, of far greater importance is continued strength development over time. If this leads to a muscle pump then great, however you should never devote sessions purely to mindless low intensity, high rep work with no progression just because of the need to maximise muscle pumps.
3. You Gotta Spike Insulin
Myth: You simply must consume high glycemic index sugars after training due to all the carbs you have burnt during training and the need to get nutrients to the muscles as fast as possible.
Truth: After a strenuous workout the critical thing to provide the muscles is protein and amino acids. Research comparing protein post workout versus a combination of both shows no difference in post workout muscle protein synthesis. What does this mean? In a nutshell, you will repair and build new muscle tissue equally well with or without carbs. Does this mean you should ditch the carbs? Maybe, however while carbs do not build muscle they do promote the resynthesis of glycogen and, of more interest to bodybuilders, research supports their anti-proteolytic effect which is just a fancy way of saying they help prevent muscle breakdown. As such, when combining them with protein/amino acids’ ability to build muscle the net effect should be greater muscle gained over time. Note also, that outside of endurance activities, or more frequent training sessions, the requirement for high GI carbs is disputable, although their use after training certainly provides for a rapid and easily digestible source of calories. But it all comes down to being another bodybuiding myth.
4. Attack All Angles!
Myth: You can shape your muscles to work the inner chest, outer quad sweep and peak your biceps.
Truth: This one is easily checked. All muscles attach to bones via tendons. These muscle attachments do not move over time. How then do bodybuilders think that they can do things such as peaking their biceps closer to the elbow, or work their inner pecs? Quite simply, this is based on the repeating of folk wisdom which when repeated enough became accepted as fact. Unfortunately, no-one’s body can be shaped like a sculptor moving insertion points up and down the body. If you check pictures of bodybuilders who are posing in the same fashion over time you will see that nobody over time manages to move their biceps peak closer to the elbow or manages to build muscle in the inner chest region if they did not already have muscle there. What the myth implies is that people can build muscle in an area where no such muscle mass previously existed at all or build something out of nothing which is patently false.
5. Training Variety
Myth:You must change exercises regularly to keep the body guessing.
Truth: Many well known bodybuilders and fitness writers have suggested that changing exercises frequently prevents the body from adapting to your routine which leads to continued strength and muscle mass over time. At the advanced level it is often stated that no two workouts should ever be the same. Will muscles really stop getting bigger and stronger if exercises are not changed? Should we all have a list of 100 exercises per body part to rotate over the year?
People seem to confuse stagnation in strength development with the body adapting to the routine. However, strength adaptation is a normal consequence of training. Ever noticed how the first few weeks of performing a new exercise you generally always get stronger? If you then change exercises after four weeks you find you gain strength again on these exercises over the next four weeks whereas if you had remained with the same exercise as the first four weeks strength gains would inevitably have slowed down. On the surface constantly changing exercises makes sense then.
However, what happens when we go back after eight weeks to the exercise we started with? With eight weeks of strength gains across two different exercises you should be a lot stronger now surely? However, what people often find is that having not performed the first exercise for four weeks their strength has gone backwards on that movement and that the following few weeks are needed to get it back to where it was. Why is this?
The reason for this is that a large part of training is the learning and perfecting of exercise technique. Even the simplest exercise has a technical component and even if it is easy to perform your body will struggle after a break. As a consequence by constantly switching exercise you are always going to be reverting back to learning the correct exercise technique which as the weeks go by, improves a lot, explaining the strength gains associated with switching exercises frequently.
However, when it comes to muscle growth the overload applied to the muscles needs to group over time. If you improve your bench press from 100kg to 110kg over two months you will gain muscle. Whereas jumping from exercise to exercise in the belief that the motor learning associated with starting a new exercise is going to lead to muscle development is false. The simplest way to verify this is that those who always seem to switch exercises every other session are the ones who never get bigger and rely on obscure bodybuilding myths.