5 Natural Muscle Building Myths that could be holding you back.

Hello Fellow Bodybuilder,

There seems to be an avalanche of information on bodybuilding and fitness. When you combine what’s online with what’s in hardcopy magazines, there’s no shortage of advice on how to build a nice physique. So why with this myriad of information is there still multitudes of people who aren’t getting what they want; namely – a nice body?

Of course, in many instances the answer lies within the human tendency to default to procrastination. After imbibing some terrific bodybuilding information, many just sit on it and allow the impulse between enlightenment and action to get atrophied with the passing time. These individuals merely have yet to discover the power of moving before putting too much unnecessary thought in to it; a topic for another day.

But many aspiring muscle builders are getting faulty advice. This is not of their own lapse. They’re merely being fed the current trendy guidance that’s often innocuous at best and completely counterproductive at worst.

But what would one expect from an ‘industry’ containing two distinct addressees – natural on the one hand and steroid-injected on the other? The similarities between what proves effective for these two groups, as well as what’s dispensed as advice, should truly end with the equipment used. Yet that’s rarely the case. And both these audiences get their share of pontification from the arm-chair experts – those who’ve never lifted a finger to improve their own bodies, yet somehow have the know-how to share with everyone else.

I’m about to blow a hole in some sacred cows. If this causes you to initially abreact, hear me out when I back my reasoning.

Muscle Building Myth #1: The “mega-calorie” myth

If you have naturally small bones and muscles (i.e. you’re slender), you will not spur your muscles to grow faster by force-feeding them. That’s simply because:

  • Muscle tissue gets broken down during workouts.
  • Muscle tissue repairs and grows between workouts.
  • Muscle tissue repairs and grows at a certain rate.
  • Giving muscle tissue excess building blocks won’t increase that repair rate.

Think about this: If you cut your finger, it takes a couple weeks for the protein and other healing ingredients to fill it in and create scar tissue. You damned-well know the process won’t speed up by eating more food than you need. So why do people think it will speed up the repair of muscle tissue?

Big eating doesn't always result in bigger muscles.
Big eating doesn't always result in bigger muscles.

Two reasons:

  • They’re told they need to “gain weight” and the process between muscle gaining and fat gaining tends to get muddled.
  • They’re given ineffective workout/recuperation schemes and when they’re not making muscle gains – some guru tells them they’re not eating enough.

In reference to number one: Getting fat is a matter of consuming more calories than you’re burning off. But that doesn’t mean if you consume enough calories over what you burn off to gain two pounds of fat per week you’ll automatically produce two pounds of muscle per week by working out.

Number two is made obvious by what I just said about number one. It takes an effective weight training workout/recuperation scheme to build muscle. If you train your shoulders today after training them one week ago, they’ll stay the same size if one week was not enough time to repair the damage you inflicted on them last week. Even worse, all that excess protein and carbs you ate in the interim ended up in the sewer.

True – you can’t eat like a bird and expect to gain muscle. You need a gram of protein per pound of your current solid bodyweight. You need to split that up among five to six meals each day. You need to get enough fibrous and starchy carbohydrates (well-balanced diet) to keep your energy up – enough to repair muscle tissue and go about your daily activity.

But… if you’re skinny and you start slamming down 3000 calorie-per-day and higher meal plans, you could go from skinny to fat like I did. Even worse, your body could end up burning too much energy processing extra food – energy that could have gone to building muscle instead.

Muscle Building Myth #2: The “muscle confusion” myth

This muscle building myth almost sounds plausible until you stop and give it some serious thought. Who wouldn’t want to believe it in the name of variety? You know – keep changing up your routine so you can “shock” your muscles or “keep them guessing”.

  'Muscle Confusion' is a myth. Muscle growth requires 'Overload and Recuperation'.
'Muscle Confusion' is a myth. Muscle growth requires 'Overload and Recuperation'.

Changing up your routine a lot for the purpose of enhancing muscle growth is pure bunk, plain-and-simple. Muscles grow from “overload” followed by adequate recuperation. In fact, if you simply have a long series of successful workouts (causing muscle overload) coupled with intermittent successful recuperations (causing compensatory strength and growth), your muscles will get bigger – period! They won’t need to be “confused” at all.

For those who desire to change their routine for boredom’s sake, I only ask two things:

  • What is your clear and unequivocal reason for working out?
  • Do you know whether you’re reaching that objective?

The reason for the first question is that you might be working out just for the sake of activity. If that’s the case, go on and change your routine every day if you want. Just don’t expect much body improvement since that’s not the objective you’re seeking anyway.

The second question is more pertinent to those wanting to improve their physique’s appearance. Quite simply, if changing your routine a lot is causing you to get unclear feedback as to whether you’re making long-term progress, then you need to reduce the changes.

Above all, don’t let ‘muscle confusion’ or ‘muscle shocking’ lead you astray from what really creates muscle growth: Overload/Recuperation.

Muscle Building Myth #3: The fast post-workout meal myth
Bodybuilding supplement marketers love the 'fast post workout meal myth'.
Bodybuilding supplement marketers love the 'fast post workout meal myth'.

Someone emailed me recently to tell me that a friend of his told him to drink his protein powder within thirty minutes of finishing his workout. The notion is that muscle recuperation can begin faster – and thus be more efficient – during this “window of opportunity”. Is this really an important element in building bigger muscles?

Well, let’s just analyze it rationally. How would your body even know that you’ve finished your workout so that it can so eagerly use the nutrients from this strategically placed meal? I’ve had workouts in which I’ve stopped and talked to someone for thirty minutes before I performed my final exercise (I wasn’t busy that day). I’ve also had workouts in which I became hungry in the last one-fourth of the training session and decided to down a liquid meal right on the spot. Uh-oh… that was before my workout was even finished; talk about “muscle confusion” – Haha!

Is this ‘window of opportunity’ notion real or just a gimmick created by protein powder marketers? My experience, along with validation from Dr. Scott Connelly (creator of Met-RX) leads me to conclude the latter. Years ago, Dr. Connelly stated in an interview with Bill Phillips that there was no evidence whatsoever to support the notion that a “window of opportunity” in which nutrient uptake is maximized exists immediately concluding a workout.

This doesn’t mean I’m saying you should allow post-workout starvation to set in. You’ll probably be hungry after a bodybuilding workout. Go ahead and feed yourself as soon as you can. Just don’t sweat it if you happen to put down those calories nearly an hour or so later rather than within some imagined small window of time.

A funny side note:  Most of the guys who are preaching the importance of these post-workout meals are also espousing 6-meal per day eating plans. If you’re already consuming six meals a day, what’s the likelihood your muscles will be deprived of nutrients after your workout? You might not even be finished digesting your last meal before you’ve finished the damned training session.

Another point: If I hear one more person recommend “fast digesting” protein powder, I’m going to start laughing – especially if they say it’s important after a workout. Why? Think about this:

You finish your weight training workout at 7:00 PM. You drink your fast-digesting protein powder at 7:15 PM. It’s digested and in your system by 7:30 PM.

The next day you eat a turkey sandwich at 5:12 PM and go start your workout. It takes the turkey about… say… two hours and eighteen minutes to digest and hit your system (just a guess). You have a long workout and it’s again over at seven.

You have muscle building protein in your system at the same post workout time; WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

You can certainly eat immediately after your body building workouts. Actually, there’s nothing saying you can’t eat even during your workouts (best not to leave food on the equipment though). Just don’t expect this to be the all important muscle building factor that some are making it out to be.

Muscle Building Myth #4: The “focus on compound movements” myth

I might tick off a few people by saying this, but it has to be said: Any bodybuilding exercise for which overload and recuperation are successfully applied will build muscle. That means a leg extension is NOT a “body shaping” movement; it can slap muscle mass on you.

By the same reasoning, free weight squats can be useless if a proper tissue breakdown/recuperation ratio does not accompany their practice.  Believe me – I know from experience.

Bench presses don't always produce bigger pectoral muscles.
Bench presses don't always produce bigger pectoral muscles.

The notion that compound movements are for producing size and isolation movements are for shaping can even hinder progress. Pro bodybuilder Scott Wilson had an entire article in one of the top magazines of the 1980s devoted to the switch that finally brought him respectable pectoral growth. He claimed it happened when he stopped using bench pressing as the cornerstone of his chest routine and started using flyes instead.

Think about the basis of this notion. The proponents say that you can go “heavier” on compound movements, so that means you can get bigger with them.

But “heavy” is a relative term. And we can only going heavier on compound movements because… err… they’re compound! That means you’re using a combination of different muscles to perform them. If I perform bench presses, I’m using more weight than when I perform flye movements. But that additional weight is being moved by my shoulders, triceps, and even a bit of my lats.  So let me ask you:

How is this more stress on my pectorals?

It isn’t necessarily – and that’s why there are power lifters who can perform extremely heavy bench presses while possessing pectorals that… well, don’t even look much like pectorals.

Some people claim that compound movements provide a greater release of testosterone compared with isolation exercises.

But a natural question arises: How much more testosterone and how long does the elevation last? Studies have shown that guys get a boost in testosterone by increasing sexual activity or watching their favorite football team in a big game. Does this mean we should all spend more time as sex maniacal, football watching couch potatoes in our off-time to build more muscle?

Even 'isolation exercises' can build muscle mass.
Even 'isolation exercises' can build muscle mass.

Remember two things about testosterone:

  • It stands to reason that you’ll benefit from higher levels of it between workouts when you’re recuperating (maybe the sex and TV football makes sense). I’m still not sure why people think higher levels during a workout are beneficial.
  • Overtraining (i.e. training too often) can definitely lead to chronically low testosterone levels.

I utilize both compound movements and isolation movements for muscle building. In fact, I still do deep and heavy squats. But I’ve made my best gains after making my isolation movements outnumber the compound ones by about three to one.  

You can certainly use a routine consisting of predominantly compound movements if it works for you. But don’t buy into the notion that those will guarantee you better size gains over isolation movements that are coupled with a good recuperation strategy.

Muscle Building Myth #5: The “short workouts” myth

Much like the myth that makes compound movements into exercises to be revered, the short workout myth promises to deliver big muscles via higher testosterone levels – or at least through the prevention of lowering those levels. It’s said that if a trainee keeps his training sessions below one hour in duration, testosterone won’t drop and higher net muscle gains will be the result.

Unchain your muscle building progress by focusing on what matters.
Unchain your muscle building progress by focusing on what matters.

There’s really nothing wrong with someone wanting to keep his or her workouts short if that person’s meeting his or her goals by so doing. But there is something wrong with dispensing this as a hard-and-fast muscle building principle that stands as a requirement for maximum muscle growth. If there were any evidence that bigger net muscle gains resulted from extremely short workouts, believe me; I’d be an ardent supporter.

But successful natural muscle building is a balance. It demands that we hit the white fast-twitch fibers for maximum growth. This requires adequate rest time between sets so as to bypass the cardio building capacity of muscle tissue. With a demand for a bit more rest time between sets and a decent number of exercises for well-rounded development, workouts often need to be more than one hour.

Is this a detriment?

Hardly! In fact, I’ve witnessed more net muscle gains from training sessions of over one hour compared with those of under that time.

What about testosterone levels?

If they drop at all, the difference is insignificant. What’s more, testosterone bounces right back up after an hour or so. With muscle growth occurring between workouts rather than during the tissue breakdown phase of a training session, why worry about insignificant shifts in hormones during workouts?


Gaining more success at anything requires that we first jettison all presumed yet invalid ingredients that are necessary for that success. Nowhere does this become more apparent than in natural bodybuilding – where pseudo-scientific principles have simultaneously run rampant with the growing frustration of adherents.

In short: Ridding yourself of what doesn’t help get you a nicer body will help get you focused on what does.

About the author: Scott Abbett is a physique consultant and a sports mental trainer with thirty years of fitness experience - including two tours through U.S. Navy SEAL Training.

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