Myths are stubborn things – they never seem to go away. Maybe most myths are simply harmless, even amusing, widespread misconceptions. But, when they pertain to fitness, they result in discouraging people from exercising either through demotivation or injury. Here are my top 10 fitness myths debunked.
Myth #1: You Need to Go to a Gym to Exercise Finding workouts you enjoy and determining what motivates you to exercise are the keys to establishing a regular workout routine. For some, full-service gyms and clubs fit the bill. Gyms offer a social component and a variety of options. For these individuals who enjoy socializing or are most motivated by group exercise classes, joining a gym with a friend or two may provide the right motivation and enjoyment to make it a long-term commitment. But many of us, including yours truly, find exercising indoors too confining, machines boring, group classes uncomfortably awkward, and syncing schedules with workout buddies frustrating. Judging by statistics that show 67% of people with gym memberships don’t use them, there are quite a few of us. Yet, many are living fit lives without access to gyms. Bottom line: If gyms don’t offer you workout options you enjoy, joining a gym won’t motivate you to get fit.
Myth #2: Low-Intensity Exercise Burns More Fat than High Intensity Exercise My previous post on The Myth of the Fat-Burning Zone explains this ins and outs of fat burning. Bottom line: Total calorie burn and total fat burn will be greater if exercise is done at a higher intensity than at a lower intensity of the same duration. If one of your exercise goals is weight loss, choose exercise that will maximize total calorie burn, such as interval training.
Myth #3: Only Long, Vigorous Workouts Count I am often asked some form of the following questions: what is the best workout or which is better, workout A or workout B? Whatever your reasons for starting to exercise, my answer is always the same: the best form of exercise is the one that you will make the time to do because you enjoy it. If you don’t have the time for a long workout, do a shorter one. If you don’t enjoy heart-thumping, sweat-inducing exercise, do lower intensity exercise. Any exercise, even if it’s 10 minutes of walking here and there throughout the day, is better than none. All exercise counts. Truthfully, it is far healthier to walk in short spurts throughout a week to total 3 hours of walking in a week than to run for 3 hours once a week. Bottom line: Find exercise you enjoy doing and then do it as often as you can.
Myth #4: No Pain, No Gain While we all can expect to deal with occasional discomfort, difficultly gutting it through some workouts and mildly sore muscles the following day, exercise should not be painful. If you are experiencing pain during a workout, you should stop the workout. Cut back on the intensity if you feel like you just don’t have it on a given day. If your muscles are excessively sore the following day, you’ve pushed it too hard, take the day off and cut back on the intensity the next time you revisit that workout. Bottom line: Listen to your body. Ignoring warning signs like pain, cardiovascular fatigue and excessive muscle soreness won’t make you more fit but will lead to overtraining, illness and injury.
Myth #5: Sweat Equals Calorie Burn Excessive sweating doesn’t mean you’re burning more calories than exercise with little or no sweating. Perspiration is the body’s natural cooling system and has nothing to do with calorie burn. People who workout in excessive heat or overdress for their workouts in hopes that producing more sweat will mean a better workout are not only wrong, but running some pretty serious health risks. Bottom line: Perspiration is not a good measure of exercise quality.
Myth #6: Personal Trainers are Only for Athletes & Celebrities The world of fitness is vast and the average person shouldn’t be expected to separate fact from fiction, know proper form and how to set up a balanced fitness routine. See my previous post on the benefits of working with a trainer and how to find the right one for you. Bottom line: Ignore the hype of celebrity fitness trainers. Personal trainers are not only accessible to the general public but valuable resources for people wanting to become healthy and fit.
Myth #7: Strength Training Will Cause Women to Develop Bulky Muscles For the science-based facts on this myth, read The Myths Surrounding Female Strength Training. Bottom line: It is not possible for women to develop bulky muscles from strength training. Regular strength training is essential for fitness and is a valuable tool for weight loss.
Myth #8: Machines are Better than Free Weights If reading about Myth #7 convinces you to begin strength training, you’re going to want to know the best way to do that. The only advantage to weight machines is that they tend to force proper form to work isolated muscles. The problem is science has proven that strength training muscles in isolation doesn’t provide very much benefit in terms of overall strength and functional training. Strength training using body weight, balance challenges and external load (such as free weights, resistance tubes and medicine balls) with proper form is the best way. Bottom line: Rather than asking someone at the gym to show you how to use the weight machines, purchase a session or two with a personal trainer to teach you functional training.
Myth #9: Core-Specific Exercises Will Tone Your Abs Core workouts are an important part of the aforementioned functional training program. A strong core, abdominals and back, is essential to a fit lifestyle. But, if you’re expecting these exercises to give you six-pack abs, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, it is impossible to spot-tone any muscle group. Muscles won’t appear visibly toned until a person has reduced her percentage of body fat and increased lean muscle mass overall. However, even women who have very little abdominal fat may not be able to achieve visibly toned abs if they have had children. If the skin over the abdomen isn’t taut, it’s much harder to detect abdominal muscle toning. Bottom line: Muscles will not appear toned if a layer of body fat is covering them. The only way to achieve visibly toned muscles is to reduce total body fat, usually through weight loss, and strength train to increase lean mass. Women who have given birth may not be able to achieve visibly toned abs, even with high lean mass and low fat mass, because the previously stretched skin often isn’t taut enough across the abdomen to expose the muscle shape beneath.
Myth #10: You Should Always Stretch Before Exercising This myth just won’t die. Read all about it in the Myth of Pre-Workout Stretching. Bottom line: Exercise studies have shown no benefit to pre-workout static stretching and some have indicated a possible link between cold muscle static stretching and injury. Better to skip the stretching and add 5 minutes to your workout.
Knowledge is power. Use your new knowledge of the fact and fiction of fitness to make better choices for a fitter and happier you.