There’s something about springtime that makes everyone an “expert” on the best ways to get in shape for summer. And if you spend too much time following the different trends promising six-pack abs before you step on the beach, you’re guaranteed to encounter some bad advice on your mission to get fit.
So, whether you are relatively new to exercise, have been on an exercise hiatus, or you’ve simply bought into the many myths that make for “click worthy” headlines, it’s important to get the real truth behind some of the most common health and fitness myths before you lace up your shoes and get your sweat on.
1. You Can Spot Reduce
The idea that you can target fat from a specific part of your body is one of the oldest and craziest fitness myths around. When you lose weight, you cannot dictate which part of your body it comes from. Bottom line is this: Working out can reduce your overall body fat, but you can’t control where that fat comes from. Instead of focusing on how to fix one problem area, spend your time doing exercises that use your biggest muscles (legs and glutes), with special consideration to compound movements that help torch calories and strengthen muscles.
2. Women Bulk Up If They Lift
This myth is like the wort that never goes away. Women do not need to shy away from weight training simply because they think they will end up with 15 inch guns for arms. Females aren’t built to bulk up the same way men do because they don’t have the testosterone levels necessary to make this happen. It’s critical that women include strength training as part of their fitness plan to help increase wellness, bone density, and overall health.
3. Always Opt for Cardio Over Lifting to Lose Weight
The truth is, you need both. Spending hours on the treadmill, without setting foot in the weight room, will leave your body tired, slow on the calorie burn, and lacking progress. If you want to burn more calories, you must include weight training as part of your overall plan. And if you only have time to do one of these modes of exercise, opt for strength training. If you keep moving between sets by adding cardio movements such as jump rope, box jumps, or running in place, you’ll still get your cardio in, strengthen your heart and lungs, and burn calories.
4. Stretching Is All You Need Before a Workout
Starting with a dynamic warm-up before exercise is much more effective than stretching alone. Dynamic exercise will get blood flowing and warm up your muscles, which can help prevent injury. It’s best to save the static stretching for after you workout.
5. Work Out Longer to Get Fit
Actually, quite the opposite. Shorter, high intensity workouts are proven to be more efficient and better for your health. Slaving away on the treadmill for hours at the same speed is not going to do help your fitness level, but cutting your time in half and alternating between high and low speeds will increase your fitness level and burn more calories.
6. If You Aren’t Sore, You’re Aren’t Working
The “no pain, no gain” mentality is what lands many fitness enthusiasts flat on their butt with injuries. Muscle soreness is to be expected during a workout, especially if you are trying a new exercise of lifting a heavier weight, but if you’re in serious pain, stop what you’re doing. It doesn’t mean you’re working harder—it probably means you’re injuring yourself. Harder isn’t always better.
7. Working Out Means I Can Eat Whatever I Want
Experts and serial dieters will tell you that pounds are definitely lost in the kitchen. Exercise will help strengthen your bones, muscles (especially your heart), boost your metabolism, and improve your mood, but unfortunately that is not enough in the battle to lose weight. The bottom line is that you can’t out-exercise a poor diet. Any kind of weight loss, or fat loss for that matter, will come through a diet of healthy foods and proper nutrition.
8. Weight Training Helps Convert Fat to Muscle
Oh, if only this were true. But the reality is, it is physically impossible to convert fat to muscle, especially when you consider the two tissues are completely different substances. Exercises such as strength training will help to build muscle—which encourages fat loss by increasing your resting metabolism—so you can burn more calories throughout the day. But, one does not magically become the other.
9. More is Better
The saying goes something like this: If some exercise is good, then doubling its intensity and volume is even better. Better think again, because it’s quality not quantity that matters in the quest to get fit. One of the best things you can do for your body is to give it a rest—especially if you’re hitting it hard. Muscles need time to rest, repair and grow. If you workout every day and place constant stress on your body, you will actually stall your progress.
Image: ThoroughlyReviewed, CC-BY
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and wellness.