12 Workout Myths That Just Need To Go Away

by SELF
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12 Workout Myths That Just Need To Go Away

For every two fitness truths, there’s a lie, and sometimes it’s hard to determine which is which. (Especially when it’s something many of us have just assumed for as long as we can remember.) So, now presenting: Mythbusters, Fitness Edition. Letting go of these 12 fitness misconceptions will help you get better, faster, stronger, and more powerful. Flex on friend, flex on.

MYTH #1: STRENGTH TRAINING WILL MAKE YOU BULK UP

Truth: It’s pretty hard for women to bulk up from a normal strength-training routine because they don’t have as much testosterone as men (the difference in this hormone level makes men more prone to bulking up). In fact, if weight loss is your goal, strength training can actually help you lean out, but you have to keep your nutrition in check, too. “Muscle is metabolically active,” explains Adam Rosante, C.S.C.S., author of The 30-Second Body. Simply maintaining lean muscle mass requires higher energy, he explains. “So, the more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest.” #Science.

MYTH #2: YOU CAN FOCUS ON LOSING FAT FROM CERTAIN BODY PARTS

Truth: Spot-training is not a thing. “Fat cells are distributed across your entire body,” says Rosante. “If you want to lose fat from a specific spot, you need to lose overall body fat.” High-intensity interval training can work wonders—after an intense workout, your body needs to take in oxygen at a higher rate to help it return to its natural resting state. This process requires the body to work harder, burning more calories in the process. Incorporating strength training can help you hit your goals too, since having more lean muscle will help your body burn more calories at rest. (Psst—here are 10 workouts that are insanely effective for weight loss.)


READ MORE > TRAINERS REVEAL THE 5 WORST FITNESS HABITS


MYTH #3: DOING LOTS OF CARDIO IS THE BEST WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT

Truth: If your goal is weight loss, logging endless miles on the treadmill isn’t always the best approach. Yes, traditional cardio workouts will help create a day-to-day calorie deficit (in addition to a healthy diet), which is essential for losing weight. But in the long-term, since having more lean muscle mass helps your body burn more calories at rest, you’ll be adding to this deficit without doing a thing. A combination of both high-intensity cardio and strength training is a good idea. And don’t forget, when it comes to weight loss, having a smart nutrition plan is key.

MYTH #4: NOT FEELING SORE MEANS YOU DIDN’T GET A GOOD WORKOUT

Truth: While soreness and workout intensity are sometimes connected, how tired your muscles feel isn’t always a good indicator of a solid sweat session. “Being sore doesn’t necessarily mean it was a great workout—it just means that a significant amount of stress was applied to the tissue,” says exercise physiologist and trainer Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness podcast. “You can have a great workout and not be sore the next day,” he says. Proper recovery will help prevent achy muscles. “Refuel within the first 30 to 45 minutes post-exercise, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep—all of these things can help boost recovery and minimize soreness.”

MYTH #5: YOU SHOULD GIVE 100 PERCENT EFFORT DURING EVERY WORKOUT

Truth: Sort of. You should try your best to stay focused, be present, and give 100 percent during every workout. But not every gym session should require a balls-to-the-wall level of intensity. And if you are sore everyday, that may be a sign that you’re going too hard. “It’s not a good idea to exercise at too high of an intensity too frequently—it limits recovery and can lead to overtraining,” says McCall. Ideally, to avoid putting too much stress on your body, you should only be going extra hard two to three times per week.

MYTH #6: STRENGTH TRAINING MEANS USING MACHINES AND HEAVY WEIGHTS

Truth: Strength training means using resistance to work your muscles—and that resistance doesn’t necessarily have to come from a machine or a heavy weight. (Hello, killer bodyweight exercises!) Aside from your own bodyweight, you can also use tools like kettlebells, medicine balls, and resistance bands to add resistance. None of that around? Here are 13 incredible bodyweight moves you can do at home.

MYTH #7: SWEATING A TON MEANS YOU WORKED YOUR ASS OFF

Truth: Not necessarily. “You sweat because your core temperature increases,” explains exercise physiologist Tracy Hafen, founder of Affirmative Fitness. Yes, your muscles create heat when you exercise so a tough workout will increase your internal temp, she explains, but it also has to do with the temperature you’re working out in. “For example, you’re not going to sweat as much in 40-degree weather as you would in 80-degree weather,” Hafen explains.

The humidity in the air also plays a role. “It’s not sweating that cools you off, it’s the evaporation [of sweat]. You’ll feel like you’re sweating more when it’s humid because sweat can’t evaporate.” (This is also a reason to be careful exercising in hot, humid climates, because your body temperature will keep increasing.)

MYTH #8: CRUNCHES ARE A GREAT EXERCISE FOR YOUR ABS

Truth: Meh. Crunches probably aren’t going to hurt your core strength, but they’re not the most efficient exercise you can do to strengthen your midsection. “Your ab muscles are designed to work most effectively when you’re standing upright,” says McCall. Of course, there are plenty of great abs exercises that aren’t completely upright (for example, this perfect plank), but these four standing abs moves will set your whole core on fire.

MYTH #9: YOU HAVE TO DO AT LEAST 20 MINUTES OF CARDIO TO MAKE IT WORTH YOU WHILE

Truth: You can get an amazing cardio workout in less time by utilizing high-intensity interval training. “High-intensity cardio challenges the respiratory system to work efficiently to deliver oxygen to working muscles,” says McCall. “If the system is stressed hard enough, it doesn’t require a lengthy workout for results.” Plus, high-intensity training creates an afterburn effect, meaning you continue burning calories after you’re done. One approach is Tabata, or 20 seconds of hard work, 10 seconds of rest for eight rounds total, which adds up to a four-minute routine. Here’s what you need to know about Tabata.

MYTH #10: YOU NEED TO STRETCH BEFORE A WORKOUT

Truth: While it’s true that you shouldn’t just jump right into a workout, dynamic warm-ups are where it’s at—you can save those static stretches for afterwards. “Your pre-workout goal should be to improve mobility and elasticity in the muscles,” says Rosante. This is best done with foam rolling and a dynamic warm-up, where you keep your body moving (instead of holding stretches still). This preps your body for work and helps increase your range of motion, which means you can get deeper into exercises (and strengthen more of those ~muscles~). Try this five-minute warm-up, or the warm-up section from this 30-minute workout.


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MYTH #11: YOGA ISN’T A “REAL” WORKOUT

Truth: “People who write off yoga probably have an image of yoga as series of gentle stretches—they clearly haven’t taken a tough yoga class,” says Rosante. “The first time I took one was at Jivamukti Yoga Center, and was a radically humbling experience. It’s been one of the best additions to my routine, both for my body and mind.” While there are some blissfully relaxing yoga classes out there, tougher types (like Bikram and power Vinyasa yoga) can definitely leave you sweaty, sore, and satisfied. Can’t make it to class? Here’s a yoga-flow sequence for stronger abs you can do at home.

MYTH #12: YOU SHOULD WORK OUT EVERY DAY

Truth: Definitely not true—hallelujah! When you work out, you’re breaking down muscle fibers so they can rebuild stronger. However, to do this, you need to give your body time to recover from working out. Aim for one to two days per week of active recovery rest days—that means doing something that doesn’t put stress on your body, like gentle stretching or a walk. So, you’re definitely off the hook for that seven-days-a-week workout plan.


GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT

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  • Charlotte_Lucas

    “Myth #1: Strength training will make you bulk up.”

    This is not a total myth. First of all, most women are not concerned about bulking up like a bodybuilder (which admittedly would be very difficult without steroids). They are worried about getting bigger in areas that already are larger than they’d like, such as the butt and hips. If a woman has the genetics to store large amounts of fat in certain areas and is stuck with that fat no matter how much she diets, certain kinds of weight training will make her look worse, if aesthetics is part of her goal in working out.

    I don’t know why this is so difficult for trainers and so-called experts to understand.

    Furthermore, the muscle women add through exercise doesn’t burn that many calories so recommending strength training as a solution for getting rid of fat isn’t very helpful or losing weight in general. Strength training is useful for developing strength.

    To lose weight and create a pleasing shape (if that is your goal, unlike the goal of an athlete) you need to focus on diet and pay attention to how exercise affects the genetics you were born with. It also is essential to be realistic. Exercise cannot completely reshape a person who is naturally pear-shaped.

    • Anna dee

      I disagree Charlotte. As someone who is naturally pear-shaped, strength training , coupled with “if it fits your macros/carb cycling 1500 -1900 calorie” eating style rather than cardio and a 1200 calorie diet restriction helped to completely reshape my body. As stated in myth number 1: “Muscle is metabolically active,” explains Adam Rosante, C.S.C.S., author of The 30-Second Body.
      Simply maintaining lean muscle mass requires higher energy, he
      explains. “So, the more lean muscle you have, the more calories your
      body will burn at rest.” #Science ” Do some more reading 🙂

      • Charlotte_Lucas

        We’ll have to agree to disagree.

        • DaBoss

          No I think we will agree that you are wrong.

          • Anonymous Is A Woman

            Actually Charlotte is not wrong and this article has as many myths as it is attempting to debunk.

            First some women do bulk up around the hips and thighs with the wrong type of training for their bodies. There is no one size fits all.

            Second, just because somebody had one type of experience with a certain type of workout, doesn’t mean others will have the same experience. See paragraph above about one size. Plus, your experience, while interesting, is an anecdote. It’s not scientific data.

            And the science does not bear out the ridiculously hyped up claim about muscle burning tons more calories than fat. It certainly burns some more calories than fat, but only about 100 extra calories a day, less than the extra donut you think you’d be able to eat.

            And most scientific studies also debunk the huge after burn effect of exercise. There is moderate after burn of calories, even from HIIT, for about an hour afterward. But you do not continue to burn high amounts of calories all day.

            HIIT is still excellent because it burns more calories in a shorter period of time than steady and slow cardio. But both are important. Likewise, strength training is important. And as every serious body builder will tell you, you can’t out train bad eating habit. Good nutrition and watching calories also is important. It’s all a package deal.

          • DaBoss

            I have been involved with the fitness industry for over 30 years, including sports science research. The biggest change over that time has been the availability of bad advice and nonsensical opinions. The underlying principles remain the same and are based on human physiology and endocrinology. ‘Bulking up’ is a specific term used by body builders and misused by the uninformed. An alternating program of weight training and HIIT, combined with effective nutrition will not bulk up a female participant. Short term increases in the size of main muscle groups may result from blood being forced into those muscles under heavy load, but it will soon dissipate. Finally; losing fat and increasing muscle will increase calorie burning, but effective training for three months, which would probably produce about 2 kgs of lean muscle would only increase calorie burn at the most by about 30 per day. By far the most effective way to lose excess weight, shape up and increase general fitness is to get your head in the right place first. You have to want all that more than you want that plate of chips or bottle of wine.

          • Anonymous Is A Woman

            I don’t necessarily disagree with you, except I think some women who are pear shaped may appear to bulk up I’m using the term bulk up as a layman to mean their hips, thighs, and even calves look bulky rather than lean even with workouts.

            It may be that it is just their shape and just as their lower bodies were disproportionately large when they were carrying fat, carrying more muscle has not changed their shape or given them the slim look they want.

            That said, I agree that weight training, HIIT, and cardio all belong in the mix. But so does proper nutrition. Most people can’t lose weight or maintain either weight loss or even health if they eat a crappy diet. It’s a myth that you can work out and then eat anything you want in large portions all the time.

            If you do the right things 80% of the time, you can splurge 20% of the time. And we all need that special treat too but it can’t be all the time.

            Unfortunately, the original article, which was supposed to debunk weight loss myths, perpetuated a few instead.

        • deborah

          I do know that I tend to be heavy around the hips/thighs and when I did the training, I didn’t lose and my thighs got a lot bigger and yes, I was eating right also. So I understand what you are saying Charlotte. It was not a fun time for me and I continued doing it because I was told, it’ll start going the other way, it didn’t and even my pants would not fit anymore.

          • Charlotte_Lucas

            deborah,

            I don’t know why this myth — that weight work doesn’t make you get bigger — persists. People usually work out with the purpose of developing bigger muscles, so why would one part of the body respond differently?

            I also don’t understand why trainers refuse to accept that for most women it’s not an issue of getting bulky, they don’t want even the smallest increase in size to a body part that they already think is too big.

      • chexwarrior

        Also even if an area is not reduced in size by exchanging muscle for fat it won’t make a person “look worse” as Charlotte asserts, since most people would agree that toned and shaped arms/legs/glutes/etc… look better than an equal volume of flab.

        • Anna dee

          Exactly chexwarrior. I am super happy about the inches lost from my legs and hips (they got smaller) and being able to wear skinny jeans off the shelf without being self conscious. The aim now is to recomp, and be stronger functionally.

      • Marie

        One thing a trainer said during an exercise video (Urban Rebounder): “Big comes from eating, and that’s a fact!”

        I guess the caveat is you have to be eating at a calorie deficit. But all things being equal (or less, as it were), you’re not just gonna gain a ton of muscle under your flabby heine, making it huger

      • robinbishop34

        in order to build muscle a person has to engage in a progressive overload routine while consuming a high protein, calorie surplus… there is no other way. That said, there is what are called “newbie gains,” that describe a short period where people new to weight training will build some initial muscle, but unless you regularly increase the weight(s) to cause failure by the last rep of the final set (6-8), you will just be burning calories.

        If you are using the same weights day in and day out you really aren’t weight training, you are just engaging in high intensity aerobics… more or less. If you’re not hitting your protein macros while doing this in a calorie deficit, you run the likely risk that your body will utilize amino acids that would otherwise synthesize into muscle tissue for fuel.

        This is why you see people in the gym who lift weights year after year and never seem to get any bigger.

    • Yissy Dubin

      Ye, they definitely overdo the the “muscles burn more calories than fat while resting,” but overall, muscle is denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space than fat. That’s a good thing!!!

  • WOW! I don’t here about the myths before.

    Thanks for this awesome article.Keep it up

  • mrprytania

    “Myth #1: Strength training will make you bulk up.” I’m amazed at people who are afraid of bulking up. Go ahead and try it! Its very difficult to bulk up and takes a lot of dedication and effort. You’re not going to trip over it and say “Wow I’m now muscle bound.” You’ll see it months before anything happens. Its like educating your body and you can’t cram for it in one weekend – think years.

  • aj2345

    This myth of overtraining has to go away also!!!

  • Toro

    For an article that tries to debunk myths, it sure relies on a lot of myths.

    multiple studies have shown that steady state cardio is best paired with strength training: intense HIIT training can actually interfere with muscle development due to excessive strain, and only elite athletes can maintain the intensity duration required to match steady-state caloric burn; 80+% of participants do not push themselves hard enough or long enough.

  • Janey Moen

    I wonder how much of what is written about exercise is fueled by authors with a dog in the fight, so to speak. Franchised gyms, equipment, supplements, trainers…like any other industry, there are special interests. Add to it the role of online advertising revenue and zero accountability. I’m not saying this blog, or any of the commenters, are dancing to a tune, just that there are a lot of tunes playing. Learning how to improve fitness shouldn’t require reading reams of conflicting opinions. I want fitness to complement my life, not run it or become it.

    • Anonymous Is A Woman

      Too much of what is written is written by people who indeed have a dog in the fight. And that big dog is their advertisers who own the gyms, books on diet and exercise, and the trainers.

      Most of the actual advice is good. Eat right, do a mix of cardio, HIIT, and strength training. Watch your diet, get enough protein, some healthy fats, and some complex carbs. Enjoy an occasional splurge but then go back to healthy eating. They all say that. And most of the actual workouts they publish are good.

      My quarrel is they overhype the benefits. You do not continue to burn tons of calories for hours after an intense workout. You continue to burn calories for an hour or two afterwards. And you don’t torch ridiculous amounts of calories (torch is their favorite new word). But if you exercise consistently and eat right, you will burn more calories than you take in and eventually lose weight.

      And muscle does burn more calories than fat. Just not that much more. Tops would be an extra 100 calories a day. Less than an extra donut. But still nothing to make fun of. An extra 100 calories a day is still beneficial over the long haul.

      What I object to is the hype that sets up false and unrealistic expectations. That can lead to disappointment and demotivation.

  • jessicag

    Behind every health myth, there is a clear kernel of reality, which science has already debunked.

  • The one about workout duration is a nice reminder. Even for my *runners* who are super tight on schedules some days, if they can only fit in a 10-20 minute jog, that’s great! Better than 0 minutes, you know! And those 10-20 minute jogs add up over time 🙂

  • Terry Orzechowski

    Here is a myth you have to stop believing. Resting muscle does not burn more energy than fat. You kept saying it does.