True or false? When it comes to fitness there’s a lot of misinformation out there. (Looking at you, guy in the gym who wants to share all the advice.) Hint: It’s true.
Whether it’s a tip from a well-intentioned (but under-informed) friend or out-of-date research, it’s difficult to dig through the noise to get to the real meat of what you need to know about working out. So we asked three trainers to tell us the biggest fitness fallacies they hear on a day-to-day basis. Consider these myths ‘busted.’
Myth #1: Constantly Mixing Up Your Workouts Is The Fastest Way To Get Fit
Constantly changing up the exercises in your workouts can actually sabotage your hard work in the gym, especially when it comes to strength-training. If you’re always trying new moves, you don’t build the muscle memory and skill you need to perform exercises well, which can slow your progress, says Sean De Wispelaere, master trainer at MBSC Thrive, and owner of Sean D. Thrive. “I’d rather have someone get really great at the goblet squat, for example, over the course of eight weeks and increase the weight they lift, than try to learn 14 variations of the squat in that period,” he says.
Yes, putting new demand on your muscles will help them grow, but you don’t need to change your leg-day exercises every other workout, or even every other week. Often, adding weight or reps to your go-to moves every two to three weeks is all you need to do to stimulate your muscles, says De Wispelaere.
Myth #2: You Should Do The Same Exact Workout Every Day
We know, this seems to directly contradict what we just said—but hear us out. This myth isn’t about what you’re doing within each workout, but the overall picture of what your full week of workouts looks like.
If you do the same thing every time you walk into the gym, whether it’s 30 minutes on the treadmill or three sets of 12 reps of the same five strength moves, you put yourself in the fast lane to plateau city.
Instead, you want to create a weekly exercise schedule that will help you build well-rounded strength, says Francine Labiran, C.P.T., and owner of Fit Life with Fran. That means finding balance between cardio and strength-training. For example, you might lift weights two to three days a week, do Pilates once a week, and maybe go for a jog once a week.
Myth #3: No Pain, No Gain
Nope, harder isn’t always better. “This is one of the oldest and most widely-used gym mantras, and it needs to go,” says Jim O’Brien, C.P.T., and certified group fitness trainer for Orangetheory Fitness.
Sure, you may feel uncomfortable at points throughout a workout, but it’s important to draw the line between discomfort and pain. A little burn in your muscles indicates you’re working hard, but regularly pushing yourself to failure or fatigue will likely result in performance-limiting soreness or exhaustion the next few days, he explains. It’s hard to maintain a consistent workout program when you associate gym time with suffering and feel totally wrecked afterward, isn’t it?
More importantly, you should never push through any kind of sharp sting, zap, pull, or ache, warns O’Brien. When you push your body beyond these warning signs, you set yourself up for injury, keeping you down and out for days, weeks, or even months.
Myth #4: You Should Do Cardio To Get In Shape Before Starting Strength-Training
No, you don’t have to spend your first two months working out on the elliptical before busting into the weight room. Cardio, like running, is an important piece of overall fitness, but it’s not a prerequisite to strength training. In fact, performing tons of cardio without strength-training might even set you back. “If you’re not mobile and strong enough, a lot of high-impact cardio, like running, will likely just land you on the injured list,” says De Wispelaere. But why? The stronger the muscles around your joints are, the less likely you are to deal with nagging wear-and-tear injuries like runner’s knee (damage to cartilage beneath your knee cap).
Instead of hitting the cardio hard-io right off the bat, incorporate strength training into your workout routine from day one, recommends De Wispelaere. Start out with exercises like squats, lunges, and planks to build strength in your legs and core.
Myth #5: Distance Running Is The Best Workout For Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight you don’t have to run miles and miles. Instead think small: small spurts of intense work and small amounts of rest. You probably know this wonderful style by its moniker: interval training, says De Wispelaere.
Here’s how it works: Your muscles need to burn fuel to function, and part of that fuel comes in the form of oxygen. When you perform aerobic exercise, your muscles use oxygen at a rate that you can replenish with a little heavy breathing—that’s why you start to huff and puff when you jog. And while this burns a lot of calories while you’re working out, that’s pretty much the extent of it.
But when you perform sprint intervals—or reps of any short-burst power movement—your body is put in an anaerobic state, meaning you’ve depleted your muscles’ oxygen stores enough that your body can’t immediately replenish it. (Think sharp, heaving breaths instead of light huffing and puffing.) As a result, you burn calories both during and after exercise as your body replenishes that oxygen.
Myth #6: You Can Work Out To Lose Weight In Certain Areas
When people talk about their so-called problem areas, they usually want to ditch some extra fat in that place. While having qualms over our flabby arms or soft tummies is totally normal, it’s actually impossible to zero in on those specific areas and zap the fat away, says O’Brien. So, no, the 100 bench dips a day probably aren’t worth it.
“Spot reduction is like asking the sun to only melt the snow in your driveway,” he says. Your body loses fat as a whole, not in one specific place at a time. When you lose weight, you might notice that your face or neck looks slimmer first, but that doesn’t mean you’re only losing flab in those areas.
The best way to melt fat is by performing exercises that use your biggest muscles—your legs and glutes—because they fire up your calorie burn the most, O’Brien says. By hitting these muscles hard, burning calories, and shedding fat all over the place, you’ll start to reveal the shapes of your other muscles, like those in your ‘problematic’ arms and abs.
Myth #7: Lifting Weights Makes Women Bulky
Can we all just stop perpetuating this myth? “Too many women avoid lifting weights because they fear they’ll get too big,” says Labrian. “But it really just doesn’t work that way.”
‘Bulking up’ takes a lot of concentrated effort, time, and specific nutrition (we’re talking lots and lots of calories) for both men and women. Plus, women lack the high levels of testosterone that fuel muscle growth in men, so it’s even harder to get big, she suggests.
Strength-training—especially lifting heavy weights for just a few reps at a time—counts as a form of that anaerobic exercise we mentioned earlier. So, women who lift heavy are more likely to get lean than get large. The truth couldn’t be any farther form the myth!
Myth #8: More Workouts = More Progress
Consider this your invitation to take a rest day. “You don’t need to spend hours in the gym, seven days a week to see results,” says Labrian. Working out every single day may actually hinder your progress.
When you work out, you put stress on your muscles, breaking them down bit by bit. But afterwards, when you rest, your muscles recover and adapt, making them more able to handle that stress again by getting larger and stronger.
If you constantly stress your muscles without giving them the time they need to repair, you’re just doing damage on top of damage. Take heed, because you’ll be setting yourself up for possible injury, while feeling sluggish, Labrian explains.
Labrian recommends capping workouts to an hour (or less!) three to four times a week if you’re a beginner, and five to six times a week if you’ve been exercising for a while. But even if you prioritize rest days, external factors—like work stress, poor nutrition, and insufficient sleep—can also slow your recovery. So if you’re sore for days and days or feel ultra-tired performing exercises that aren’t usually difficult for you, Labrian recommends taking a day or two off from breaking a sweat.
Myth #9: Stretching Before Your Workout Messes With Your Performance
Ok, this one is technically true. Some studies show that static stretching (where you sit or stand still while holding a certain position) before big-time power movements, like a vertical jump or a serious lift, can hold you back. However, unless you’re taking part in a competition, you probably don’t need to worry, according to De Wispelaere.
In fact, De Wispelaere recommends moving through a dynamic stretching routine (where you actively stretch your body with different movements) before getting started. This will help you activate your muscles and get warm and limber before your workout.
Myth #10: Muscle Can Turn Into Fat
Here’s where this misconception comes from: Often, when people start building muscle, they start losing fat. Then when they stop building muscle, they start gaining fat. So, then the muscle must be magically morphing into fat, right? Wrong.
“Muscle and fat are two totally different substances—they don’t shape shift,” says O’Brien. Muscle requires more calories to maintain, so when you have a lot of muscle your metabolism is faster than when you have a lot of fat, he explains.
When you stop working out your muscle starts to break down because you are no longer stimulating it. Then your metabolism responds by slowing down, which leads to fat gain, he explains.
Your best bet for keeping that metabolism revved up and warding off fat is to maintain or build the muscle on your body. So, make sure strength-training is a regular part of your exercise routine.