If your workout buddy says sit-ups help tone your tummy and get rid of the spare tire, she must know, right? Well, maybe not. Your friend’s top workout moves could lead to injuries, not a loss of inches from your waistline.
“People create beliefs based on partial truths and pass them on as law,” says Dallas-based ACE-certified personal trainer and exercise specialist Kelli Calabrese.
Plus, we all want to believe in fast fitness fixes.
“People give full credence to one ‘magical’ fix. In reality, it’s a combination of things – better sleep, eating less, working out more, drinking plenty of water – that yields true results.”
Chances are you’ve fallen for one or more of the following 10 fitness myths. Who hasn’t?
Fitness Myth #1: No pain, no gain.
If you haven’t worked out in a while – or you’re trying a new kind of workout plan – you’ll probably be sore the next day. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
These aches are called “delayed onset muscle soreness,” says Wendy Repovich, Ph.D., a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and Director of Exercise Science at Eastern Washington University.
It means that the workout created “good” micro-tears in the muscles, which heal on their own and make you stronger.
But how can you tell the difference between soreness and muscle damage?
“If soreness lasts more than 48 hours, you’ve overdone it,” she says. “This level of muscle damage can take six weeks to heal.”
Fitness Myth #2: You need to break a sweat for exercise to work.
Many women think, If I’m not dripping with sweat, I’m not working hard enough.
But sweat isn’t a good indicator of how hard you’re working. That’s because too many factors affect perspiration, Repovich says. “People sweat at different rates.”
Plus, weather – the temperature and humidity – makes a difference too.
A better measure of effort is your heart rate – check out Lifescript’s Target Heart Rate Tool - or the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which ranks how hard you feel your body is working.
It’s based on several physical sensations, including increased heart and breathing rates and muscle fatigue. On a basic RPE scale, zero is “no effort,” such as sitting on a couch, and 10 is “exhaustion.”
The recommended RPE for most people is usually 3 (moderate) to 5 (strong), according to the American Council of Exercise.
Even easier? The talk test, which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During moderate-intensity exercise, you should be able to speak but not sing.
Fitness Myth #3: Sit-ups blast belly fat.
If you do 100 crunches, you’d expect to burn major belly fat. Unfortunately, your body just doesn’t work that way.
There’s no direct metabolic connection between abdominal muscles and the fat cells surrounding them, says Sherri McMillan, personal trainer and owner of Northwest Personal Training & Northwest Women’s Fitness Club.
The body pulls fat from all over. It’s sent to the liver to be converted into fatty acids, which travel back to your muscles as fuel, McMillan explains.
That means any fat your body recruits for energy when you’re doing repeated sit-ups could come from the arms, thighs, butt and tummy.
So what’s the secret to shedding belly fat – or any fat? Follow a balanced program of cardio and strength training, plus eat a healthy diet.
But don’t give up the crunches. Even if you’re not losing tummy fat, an ab workout plan helps tone and suck in that flabby belly, giving the appearance of a slimmer waist.
Plus, toning happens faster than weight loss. It’s one of the speediest ways to see changes in your body.
Fitness Myth #4: A short workout is a waste of time.
Who wants to spend hours pounding a treadmill? You don’t have to. Shorter workouts can get you in the best shape of your life and still allow time for work, raising kids and cuddle time with your honey.
Mini-workouts – 10 minutes three times a day – are just as effective as a continuous 30-minute workout, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
But there’s a catch: You have to work harder.
“The key to spending less time in the gym is to keep the intensity high,” Calabrese says.
How? She recommends revving your heart rate with intervals, plyometrics (explosive movements, like jumping) and a variety of exercises.
Fitness Myth #5: If I work out, I can eat what I want.
True, exercise burns calories, but not enough to make up for a daily French fry habit.
Weight loss requires burning more calories than you take in. It’s just easier (not to mention smarter) to control what you take in.
For example, running a mile is hard, yet it only burns 100 calories. And a grueling 3-mile run (300 calories used) won’t make up for a large 500-calorie packet of fries.
But there’s good news: Great workouts can help balance an occasional high-calorie splurge.
“Exercise allows you to eat some of the things you crave, but you still have to eat well [regularly] to balance your diet,” Repovich says.
Fitness Myth #6: Lifting weights is only for men.
Sure, a weight room can be intimidating for women, but it’s not a men-only zone. Lifting weights can help women tone up, slim down and still keep their girlish figures.
Don’t worry about getting muscle-bound: Women aren’t wired to build bulky muscles because they don’t produce enough testosterone. (Yes, women make the male hormone too.) Weight-lifting can help women develop sleek muscle, which improves body shape and fitness, McMillan says. Plus, resistance training increases a woman’s bone density and allows more efficient fat burning. It also improves posture, muscle tone, endurance and strength.
Fitness Myth #7: Morning is the best time to work out.
There’s no single perfect time to get in those workout moves. It depends on you. If you constantly hit the snooze button to postpone a 5 a.m. workout, rethink your goals.
The best time of day to exercise is whenever you’ll actually do it. That could mean lunchtime, after work or later in the evening when the kids are in bed.
“If working out in the evening replaces sitting on the couch, watching TV and eating junk food, do it,” Calabrese says.
For many people, a morning workout planis best because they’re less likely to be distracted later on.
“As the day goes on, excuses tend to pile up and eventually workouts are skipped altogether,” Calabrese says. So pick a time when you have the most energy, need the stress release or have the best chance of making exercise a habit.
Fitness Myth #8: If the scale hasn’t budged, you’re not making progress.
Don’t be a slave to the scale. A pound is a pound, whether it’s made up of muscle, fat or feathers.
Density, not weight, is what matters.
“Picture a pound of lean ground hamburger you buy at the grocery store – that’s what a pound of muscle looks like,” Repovich says.
Double that, and you have a good idea of how big a pound of fat is.
Muscle is more compact than fat, so it takes up less space in your body. Which explains why the scale may not budge, even as your belt gets looser and clothes fit better.
Fitness Myth #9: Exercise doesn’t help shed pounds, so why bother?
Most of us want to drop a few pounds, but weight loss shouldn’t be the only reason to get moving.
In fact, if you stopped focusing on the scale and how your body looks, you might notice that exercise makes you feel better.
A regular dose of cardio, strength-training, flexibility and balance exercises fights stress and improves brain and nervous system function.
Fitness Myth #10: A sports drink is a workout must-have.
Staying hydrated during a workout is important, but unless you’ll be sweating it out for 90 minutes or more, don’t drink anything but water.
The body’s not working so hard that it’ll run out of electrolytes or glucose, so a sports drink will only add unnecessary calories to your diet.