Ten Common Exercise Myths Debunked
Ali Othman, NSCA-CPT®
When looking for health and fitness advice, be sure you know the information originated from a trusted source before accepting it as the standard. Find an expert in the field and ask your questions. An expert will point you in the right direction and steer you clear of common misconceptions that continue to spread across the internet. The health and fitness industries are no stranger to these misconceptions. Discover the truth behind ten common myths so that the next time you hear one, you can set the record straight.
Myth: You can turn fat into muscle.
Fact: Fat and muscle are different in many ways, all the way down to the cellular level. Muscle tissue is active: it moves and works as our organs function and our bodies move. Muscle burns calories because movement requires energy. Fat tissue is, in large part, a storage mechanism for energy and vitamins. Body fat plays an essential role in many of the body’s daily functions, such as regulating metabolism, maintaining hormonal balance, and promoting neurological function.
By eating a healthier diet and exercising properly, you can build muscle and reduce body fat at the same time. This might give the illusion of turning fat into muscle, but there are two different processes at play. The same is true for the reverse. When a body builder stops exercising due to age or injury, muscle mass decreases and body fat likely increases. However, the muscle itself will not turn into fat.
Myth: Doing crunches will give you a six pack.
Fact: Sadly, crunches alone are not the magic answer to a chiseled six pack. Crunches work the abdominal muscles, the muscles that form the six pack, but they only work the muscles in a single direction. The abdomen is composed of many intertwined muscles wrapping around the spine, ribs, pelvis, and internal organs. Rather than concentrating on one set of muscles, do exercises that work the entire core and strengthen and tone all the muscles harmoniously. Add some exercises that move the trunk side to side and in a twisting motion. For example, the Russian Twist requires constant flexion of your abdominals in order to keep your feet off the ground while simultaneously working your core muscles in several directions.
As you build your six pack, you’ll need to cut some body fat as well; otherwise, all your hard work will be hidden under a motivation-killing layer of fat. Dedicate some of your workouts to fat-burning sessions by keeping your intensity around seventy percent of your maximum ability throughout the session. Combine these with dedication to a diet without much excess, and you have the recipe for toned abs.
Myth: You should do cardio before your weight training.
Fact: Base your answer to this myth on your goals. For those who are trying to build muscle or strength, hit the weights first because your training should focus on moving your muscles until you can’t any longer. Before you call it a day, spend your remaining energy doing cardiovascular training. This order of training will result in the desired increase in strength or muscle mass while also accommodating your heart health routine.
For those with a goal of weight loss, fat burning, or overall wellbeing, move to the cardio section first. Whether it is cardio equipment, group classes, or circuit training, your workouts should be focused on keeping your heart rate in your target zone. After each workout, hit the weights with your remaining energy.
Separating weight training and cardio into two sessions is another option if it fits into your schedule. When you separate the routines, you don’t have to split your attention between the two. For those with limited time, combine weight training and cardio into one fast-paced resistance training session that works your muscles while keeping your heart rate sky high.
Myth: Cardiovascular exercise machines are the best way to lose weight.
Fact: Cardio machines are the go-to equipment for weight loss, but they are not necessarily the best choice for everyone. Running, skiing, climbing, and rowing are terrific exercises that require using most major muscle groups. They are, however, limited by repetitive motions and lack of variation. Most people can walk or ride an exercise bike without thinking about the exercise.
Try exercises that require continued focus, working the mind and body together as one unit. A new routine or group exercise class that requires you to anticipate your next move might hit you harder than the usual incline treadmill run.
Myth: Lifting weights will make you look bulky.
Fact: Weight training will tone and shape your muscles; that is true. But adding a well-rounded weight training routine to your exercise plan will not make you look bulky. Body builders and athletes spend their entire lives working towards the bulky look. It’s not something that happens suddenly or by accident.
Lifting weights is the best tool to reshape your body. You can’t lose fat in a targeted area, but you can train a muscle group that will reshape the area. The gluteus maximus, or glutes, can be lifted and tightened with a weight training routine. Working the muscles of the upper and outer back gives the torso a V-shape and creates the illusion of a slim waistline. With proper elongating movements, you can work your muscles, increase your flexibility, and make yourself look thinner. You can lift, tuck, and round the curves with a weight training routine. Everyone who is capable should consider incorporating one into their lifestyle.
Myth: Women shouldn’t lift weights.
Fact: Weight training helps develop and maintain muscle strength and slow bone loss. These two factors play important roles in quality of life as we age, as both muscular strength and bone density steadily decrease throughout adulthood. Women are especially susceptible to age-related bone density loss, so a weight training routine is strongly recommended. Strong bones are the framework of our posture and help prevent fractures in case of a fall. Strong muscles help maintain coordination, keep us from falling, and can cushion the bones during certain falls. Ladies, strength is in style.
Myth: You should stretch before your workout.
Fact: Stretching can improve a joint’s range of motion, which creates a healthier environment for your muscles and connective tissue and a happier you. Stretching, however, shouldn’t be confused with a pre-exercise warm-up. Instead of stretching before a workout, warm up the mind and body with some light activity that gradually increases in intensity. This can include jumping jacks, shadow punches, or simply walking. You can also do a movement specific warm up that targets the area that you are about to train. If today’s workout is the stair climber, you might want to get on the equipment and begin at a lower intensity, gradually working your way up to your regular exercise intensity.
Before a workout, the objective is to get blood flowing through muscles that may be shortened and tight from inactivity. This prepares the muscles and connective tissue for the intense movement of exercise. Incorporating different types of stretching into your daily routine is recommended, but always be sure to warm up muscles before stretching them.
Myth: A scale is the best tool for measuring your fitness progress.
Fact: For those who are trying to gain or lose weight, the scale is the correct standard of measurement. For most other health and fitness goals, however, the scale is not always the best measuring tool. Try using any of the following to check your exercise progress:
Myth: Carbs are evil.
Fact: Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and used as the body’s primary source of energy. Eaten at the proper time and in the right amount, carbohydrates are a staple of a balanced diet. Simple carbohydrates are easily digested and provide the body with an almost immediate energy source. Because they are digested so quickly, simple carbohydrates cause a spike in blood sugar that triggers a release of insulin, moving sugar into the cells to be transformed into energy.
This is a fast process with simple carbohydrates, which can leave you feeling lethargic and hungry. Complex carbohydrates, like those found in whole-grain fiber and starchy vegetables, are digested more slowly and provide the body with a sustained energy source without the extreme spike in insulin. These types of carbohydrates are needed for optimal body function and should be a part of all healthy diets.
Myth: It’s all or nothing.
Fact: Instead of judging your eating and exercise habits each time you slip, try looking at your habits in terms of your overall lifestyle. If you had an unplanned high-calorie meal, don’t let it wreck the rest of your day. Use it as motivation to increase your exercise intensity later that evening or the next morning. Cut a few calories from tomorrow’s food intake, and before the end of the week, you’re back on track. Things like missing workouts and eating too much pizza happen, so plan your health and fitness goals with these in mind. Aim for moderation in your diet and dedication to your exercise. Keep these fundamentals in mind so that the next time you hear an exercise myth, you can set the record straight once and for all.
Ali Othman is an NSCA-certified personal trainer with over a decade of experience in the health and wellness industry. He also works in the Technical Department at IFANCA® and manages IFANCA business activities in South Korea.