Tag Archives: Broscience

5 gym ‘facts’ debunked

The gym is full of shit science. Also known as bro-science. Also known as bullshit. As funny as it is to hear, it ultimately signals ignorance of basic biology and training which isn’t all that funny. These sort of ideas seem to stick around and really spread their way through the gym community – especially young lifters. I’ve even heard popular trainers falling foul to these. It seems easier to spread bullshit then actual facts and science these days so in my never ending battle against pseudoscience and false facts I’ve put this article together so YOU, dear reader, can stand head and shoulders above everyone else with your vast, newly-acquired knowledge.

Don’t fall for this crap when you hear it in the gym. You are better than that. If you are feeling brave you may even want to challenge the gym-goon that spouts nonsense but that doesn’t always end well…

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So here it is. A quick run through of some of the most commonly heard gym ‘facts’ which are either only true to some extent or completely made up.

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#1 Perform sit ups and crunches to target tummy fat

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This one is ALWAYS over-heard in my gym and almost certainly yours as well. I commend people smashing out ab work when they are perhaps a bit overweight but all that does is DEVELOP YOUR ABDOMINALS. It will have almost no bearing on the visibility of ‘abs’. Obtaining a sweet set of herculean abs all comes down to your body fat percentage. The simple truth is that you MUST HAVE a low body fat percentage to see definition in the abdominals and obliques. Abs are visible at a range of body fat percentages, usually from about 15% downwards – obviously the lower your percentage the tighter and more visible your abs become. If you are overweight or oven just holding a little extra, no amount of abdominal work alone will lead you to a washboard stomach.

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The second important point here is that targeted fat loss through exercise isn’t really a thing. No single exercise burns fat from one particular area. Lots of shitty online fat-loss products will say something like ‘…burns through stubborn belly fat!’. They always go on about belly fat. The truth again, as always, is harder than what these arses would have you believe. In order to target belly fat you need to target ALL your fat reserves. That’s the only way – to reduce your overall body fat percentage. The best way to do this is frequent well rounded exercise involving cardio and weight training plus tighter control of your diet. Take a look at my big lift guide which can help you develop greater all-round strength as well as a really solid core. Alternatively check out this body-weight exercise guide – great for a quick and challenging workout.

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So if you are spending ages ab crunching away you would be much better off hitting some big tiring lifts like squatting or dead-lifting (both of which help build a great core and burn way more calories than crunches and sit ups) or getting going with some Interval Training on the bike or treadmill.

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#2 Creatine is a steroid

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This is simple to refute. As someone who has studied endocrinology for years – creatine isn’t a steroid!

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Who wouldn’t trust that face?

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I’ve written a complete guide to creatine, what it is, what it does to your body and how it can positively effect your training. There is a HUGE amount of false information online regarding creatine (and all supplements for that matter). As a scientist, I cite and support any claims with solid peer-reviewed research and this linked article is no different.

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Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid. It’s main role is to recycle ATP – the universal energy currency of our cells. I won’t go into the details (all can be found in the article above) but put briefly, supplementing with creatine slightly increases the stores of available ATP in muscle cells, allowing you to train harder and longer. Due to this – people often think creatine is a steroid. After all the main training benefit of steroid is that you can train harder and longer with less recovery in between training sessions. Creatine can certainly help you in training and has been shown to primarily benefit anaerobic and repetitive work i.e. weight lifting. However, creatine will provide you with no where near the benefit that steroids will. Creatine use provides your muscles with a bit more usable energy, steroids can alter major aspects of you entire physiology – hence the inherent risk with using them.

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Creatine is not a steroid but can certainly benefit your training.

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#3 You need specific protein for specific body parts

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This is definitely one of the more silly ‘facts’ I’ve over heard but unfortunately I’ve heard similar things more than once. The basic summary of what I heard was that if you train multiple muscles in one session and then drink a protein shake, either the protein gets ‘confused’ and doesn’t know where to go, or you are using the wrong protein for the muscles that you have trained. As stupid as this sounds it’s actually surprisingly hard to debunk directly with the literature as no studies (that I can find) have thought to explore this!

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So, just by using common sense and a very basic understanding of biology we can debunk this fact. In regards to the idea that every muscle has specific protein – that doesn’t make sense. It is true that we possess different kinds of muscles. For example, cardiac muscle cells do differ to skeletal muscle cells in both form and function, smooth muscle differs even further. However we are primarily training skeletal muscle when we weight train. Skeletal muscles are made from the same components and this does not differ from muscle to muscle, so any protein you ingest can just as easily go towards building your legs as it does your back. The idea of a protein for each muscle also falls flat on it’s face when you consider that the human body has 640 muscles and that it is also, practically speaking, impossible to train a single muscle. Even when doing isolation bicep curls we are really utilising many muscles at once. Any protein you ingest will be broken down into amino acids and ultimately used to synthesis new muscle tissue at the required site.

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The notion that protein gets confused about where it’s going throws up a number of red flags and I truly wonder what it must be like to live on this planet and genuinely believe things like that. Protein doesn’t have a memory, it isn’t alive and it doesn’t rely on chemo-attraction or some other sort of homing beacon to tell it where to go. It is perfectly fine to train multiple body parts in one training session and you will get stronger and bigger if you train hard and eat well. Protein will be transported to where your body needs it most. It won’t get lost on the way!

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#4 Steroids shrink your dick and gives you ‘ROID RAGE’

 

This one is an absolute classic. Roid rage is usually the first thing people discuss when bringing up recreational steroid use. Specifically, the term roid rage is applied to muscle building, anabolic steroids. Those used by competitive body builders for example (and an increasing number of average gym goers). Now, on the surface the concept of roid rage is plausible. Many anabolic steroids are based on or mimic the functions of natural testosterone. Testosterone is a powerful anabolic hormone which is essentially  what makes men ‘manly’ and goes towards explaining why men, on average are bigger, stronger and more aggressive than women.

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All natural baby!

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Women do posses testosterone but at no where near the same level as men. Testosterone is a fantastic muscle builder hence the use of steroids in the gym. The term roid rage began to gain popularity following high profile crimes involving sports and wrestling personalities who were heavily muscled individuals and known to take steroids. Perhaps the most famous of these was the tragic case of the pro wrestler Chris Benoit. 

Whether or not roid rage exists as it is popularly portrayed i.e. an unstoppable, violent,  muscle-bound goon, remains up for debate. Studies have linked testosterone with increased aggression however studies looking directly at the use of anabolic steroids and random fits of rage are not conclusive and show conflicting results. Anecdotal evidence from heavy users does show that a number of them suffer from increased aggression – some report becoming angry at minor things that, before steroid use, they would have just shrugged off. If true, violent and dangerous roid rage exists it is very rare and probably restricted to heavy and long term steroid users. However, even mild users might develop ‘shorter fuses’ and be more easily wound up than prior to use – this is something you will see discussed a lot online. A common theory is that steroid use will amplify the disposition of the user. If a user was intolerant and easily riled before use, this will likely get worse with steroid use.

Ultimately, the jury is still out on this. Although roid rage isn’t a complete myth it is no where near as common as many believe and doesn’t always manifest as violent fits of anger.

Regarding the idea that steroid use shrinks your dick specifically. This is incorrect and probably came about for two reasons.

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  • Professional body builders, in their tiny posing pants, do look like they have  minuscule nobs – this is because they are absolutely enormous human beings. Their legs are like that of a race horse so proportionally the penis looks like that of a pixie. In reality the size will not have changed with steroid use.

 

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#5 Training legs ‘spikes’  testosterone and makes you bigger all over 

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Similar to the concept of roid rage (above), studies have shown conflicting results regarding testosterone spiking during leg training and whether or not this makes you bigger and stronger overall. I hear trainers in my gym saying this a lot to their new clients – perhaps in an effort to get them in the habit of training their legs hard and well.

We know that testosterone is a major driver of muscle growth and that any natural way to increase testosterone production for weight lifters would offer a large advantage in the gym in both muscle mass and ultimately strength development.

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So the question is really two smaller questions…

  1. If I train my legs will I have increased testosterone production?
  2. If so, does this lead to increased muscle mass in other body areas?

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A number of factors influence your testosterone levels – your weight, age and also the time of day. In regards to question 1, it has been established that testosterone levels do increase following exercise but only briefly. Short, intense bouts of exercise and compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift appear to promote the greater release. What is harder to determine is if this actually leads to growth or gains elsewhere…

Two of the most relevant studies looking to answer this question directly show almost completely opposing results

One study performed by West et al in 2009 showed that if some male participants engaged in a high volume leg workout after a bicep workout and others just did the bicep workout without the leg exercises, there was NO DIFFERENCE in bicep size or strength between the groups by the end of the 12 week study…the theory was that the testosterone boost afforded by leg exercises would lead to a greater increase in bicep mass in the group that trained legs. This was shown to not be the case. 

Another study, with a similar design, undertaken by Ronnestad, B.R. et al in 2011, showed the exact opposite. They DID see an increase in bicep mass in the group that had trained legs. An important distinction between the studies is that in the West 2009 study, participants trained legs after their biceps, in this 2011 study, they trained legs before biceps.

So what to make of all this…

Both of these were well designed studies yet they demonstrate opposite outcomes. Perhaps the order of exercises is very important? However physiology is hugely complicated and increasing testosterone in the blood doesn’t necessarily lead to a direct increase in muscle mass.

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  • Large compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift do lead to increased circulating testosterone but this is short lived and does not lead to increased overall muscle mass

 

  • There is no doubt that big lower body lifts leads to the development of greater lower body mass – as we expect, train a muscle well and that muscle gets bigger and stronger – simple.

Whether or not training legs ultimately makes you get bigger all over should be less important than the fact that training your lower body is very important regardless. You are only as strong as your weakest part and having a balanced and developed physique all over will translate into much greater functional strength and better lifting numbers. You also wont get laughed at for your baby legs.

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Check out this big ass-lifting guide for mass monster in you!

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Thanks for reading! Hit me up in the comments

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-ScienceGuy