The TOP 10 Fitness Myths
Many people truly believe in certain fitness myths since so many talk about them that they consider they must be true. As common as these myths are, unfortunately they do more harm than good since people don’t achieve the results they thought they would, frustration builds, and even injuries start to crop up. Below is a list of common myths debunked in the hope to lay them to rest once and for all.
Fitness Myth #1: To achieve results, you need to feel some pain.
“No pain-no gain” is a familiar slogan in the fitness world which is often misused and misunderstood. The expression was first used to refer to the burn sensation (also ‘Feel the burn’ expression) when performing strenuous exercise resulting from the anaerobic production of lactate and other metabolites in working muscles. This sensation is the body’s response to stop us from over-working and preventing injury. Although many believe the only way to achieve results is to feel this burn, this is not necessarily the case and depends on your specific exercise goal. Yes, ‘burning’ muscles do indicate that you are challenging your body and this is good for it to adapt and improve, but observing your body during exercise to the point that you feel you are working hard you can still achieve results. The general rule is to feel some burn, rest and then go again. Any pain other than the normal ‘burning sensation’ during exercise relates to poor technique or a prevailing injury, so the key is to stop the activity and seek guidance for proper technique or consult a physician if pain persists. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the discomfort or stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after strenuous or unfamiliar activity caused from micro-damage of muscle fibers which should disappear after 72 hours after occurring; and if this doesn’t ease much after 7 days it may indicate injury.
Fitness Myth #2: Fat will turn into muscle when you exercise.
It’s as simple as this – muscle and fat are made up of completely different types of cells, therefore it is impossible for them to magically transform from either form to the next. Muscular development comes with consistent participation in resistance exercise, and fat is reduced if this is followed with other healthy habits. Prolonged good habits will lead to body composition changes whereby lean body mass increases and fat mass decreases, and you body begins to change shape. It may seem tissues just transform but this is not so.
Fitness Myth #3: To lose belly fat you need to focus on abdominal exercises.
If it was this easy, there would be many more people with toned abdominals walking the beaches, but fat reduction mechanisms in the body are much more complicated. ‘Spot reduction’ is the targeted reduction of fatty tissue from specific parts of the body. Sounds great…but this is unfortunately not possible which has much scientific backing behind it. There are some controversial studies showing possible spot reduction, however the test protocols allowed the total body fat of subjects to decrease and not just from the targeted region. To reduce total body fat, follow a moderate-high intensity progressive training program whilst eating a healthy diet and having a negative caloric deficit (eat less calories than your body uses in a day). The body loses fat proportionately and varies from person to person depending on age, gender and genetics; and stubborn areas like the waist, hips, and thighs are the toughest to reduce since these areas are predominantly the first areas that fat is stored. One of the major reasons spot reduction doesn’t work is that working muscles require fat to be broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids for it to be used as energy, and the triglycerides stored within muscle cells cannot directly be used as an energy source but first needs to be broken down; hence fat used during prolonged activity comes from all parts of the body and not just the muscles being worked the most. Just picture this…if spot-reduction worked then you could have a ripped six-pack but still have flabby arms, butt and thighs. Wouldn’t that look weird? Yep, the body works in mysterious ways.
Fitness Myth #4: The more your exercise, the better the results.
This is true only up to a certain point as the body needs enough rest to recover and sometimes the volume and intensity of exercise exceeds the capacity to recover. Exercise can be addictive due to mood-enhancing endorphins and physical effects and people often fall into the trap of ‘overtraining’. The volume of exercise possible varies strongly from person to person and depends on age, genetics, intensity and mode of training, as well as level of fitness. Elite athletes are able to exercise consistently for long-periods at high intensities because their bodies have adapted over time and follow strict nutritional guidelines, hence they are well accustomed to the activity and generally are able to recover faster. As a general rule, 1 to 2 days rest per week is sufficient enough, taking note that this is highly dependent on various factors as listed above. This topic is more complicated due to individual differences with regards to physiological, genetic, environmental and goal-specific factors, and will need further clarification in another article.
Fitness Myth #5: The amount you perspire determines how hard you are working out.
Sweating is the body’s natural process of maintaining a constant internal temperature (thermoregulation) as evaporation of sweat from the skin has a cooling effect on the body. To some extent, sweating can indicate exertion; however it depends on numerous environmental and individual physiological factors. Some people hardly break a sweat during exercise while others look like they’ve just been on a swim even though they are doing the same activity. To measure the intensity of exercise should rather be done by evaluating heart rates and not perspiration levels, and listening to your body’s response to exercise. Your body adapts to specific conditions and improves the operating mechanisms with consistent training. In fact, the body of an elite athlete adapts and becomes more efficient in keeping the core cooler by increased sweating during exercise, while losing minimal sodium.
There are also gender differences according to Japanese scientific research in 2012 which concluded that men are more effective at perspiring during exercise than women, and women have to work harder to start sweating. This makes the adage “Men perspire, Women glow’ during exercise rather true. It is thought to be an adaptation strategy since the female body generally has less body fluid and are more susceptible to dehydration. The study offers some interesting insight, however other factors such as level of fitness, body size, hormone activity and others play a role. Further studies are needed to clarify further. Medical conditions also cause various levels of sweating. Studies show up to 3% of society suffer from hyperhidrosis (a medical condition which causes excessive sweating), many of which are not diagnosed due to lack of awareness. There is also a condition called anhidrosis where there is a lack of sweating and can lead to overheating and even heat stroke since the body battles to cool itself. Contacting your doctor is advised if you experience any symptoms related to these conditions.
Maintaining hydration by drinking water throughout the day and during exercise is key, even more so during prolonged exercise such as marathons where water loss through perspiration is high.
Fitness Myth #6: Holding weights when walking or running has many benefits.
It sounds simple, right? Hold more weight during exercise and you will burn more energy because intensity increases. This is true but the advantages are minimal and risks outweigh benefits because the increased weight can place excessive stress on joints which can lead to injury. Preferably avoid such interventions to boost results and rather follow a progressive program that is safe and effective. There are alternative ways that are more effective and the last thing you want is to injure a joint that limits your movement ability making training difficult.
Fitness Myth #7: Yoga can help ease lower back pain.
In some sense this is true, but relates only to non-traumatic muscular pain. Back pain inferred by joint issues of the lumbosacral region such as nerve irritation, herniated discs, and arthritis needed to be treated with special care and consulting your physician would be advised for any chronic lower back pain so a diagnosis can be attained and treatment procedures advised. Yoga can worsen the symptoms if the injury is of a more serious nature than acute muscular pain. Yoga is a great for improving the strength and flexibility of the core muscles which help to stabilize the back and enhance posture. Technique is vital as overdoing it can lead to injury so the key is to observe your instructor and listen to your body.
Fitness Myth #8: Lifting weights will make women bulky.
Many ladies assume performing resistance exercises such as weight-lifting will make them bulk-up, yet this is not true mainly due to the fact that females have minimal levels of testosterone compare to that of males which allow men to have increased strength and hypertrophy. Resistance training will develop and strengthen muscles, which ultimately results in higher resting metabolism (you will burn more energy throughout the day); decreases the risk of osteoporosis since the bones strengthen from tendons pulling on them; and injury risk is reduced since the supporting connective tissues of joints are better conditioned. A balanced program of cardio, resistance and flexibility training specific to your goals together with a sound eating plan will be the answer to your success. Also as you age, muscle mass and strength decreases, therefore starting resistance training can slow the process down and even reverse it, along with a list of health benefits that will increase quality of life.
Fitness Myth #9: Having bigger muscles means you are stronger.
Differences in muscular strength come from 3 major factors: 1) the physiological capacity such as muscle size, response to training and cross-sectional area; 2) the neurological efficiency of nerve impulses when contracting muscle; and 3) mechanical differences such as limb length, joint range of motion, and angle of muscle attachment. This explains there are more elements involved in muscle strength than muscular size alone; however the myth is true to some extent as one will get stronger with more muscle mass if the aim of training is for strength improvements. Of course, body builders will have increased strength abilities since the cross-sectional area of their muscles are far above the average individual. Now think of martial arts professionals…they are exceptionally strong even though they are relatively small, mainly because increased size will limit their speed potential thus their training focuses on power (speed and strength). The take home message: everybody has their own unique potential for strength development and size alone does not determine this.
Fitness Myth #10: It’s better to exercise on an empty stomach in the morning.
Since the body needs energy to exercise, it will need to tap into alternative energy sources such as glycogen (stored in the muscles and liver), fat and protein if exercising in a depleted state. One would assume that this will mean more fat being used as an energy source; however research suggests that the amount of calories burnt from fat is the same even if you did not eat before the work out. The body enters ‘survival mode’ and begins to convert protein from muscles into energy, consequently resulting in reduced muscle mass. Do this often and your metabolism will slow down. Due to the fact that you have less energy, this also affects performance during exercise so you are most likely not to achieve the results you would have if you had eaten before. A study also indicated that eating before your morning workout is linked to eating fewer calories throughout the day than would be the case if you skipped your pre-exercise meal. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, it is important to consume some food before your workout. This could be a piece of fruit around 30 minutes prior to exercise but it also depends what intensity you will be training at. This relates to a workout at any time of the day, especially if you haven’t eaten for more than a few hours; and beware of those energy bars which are stacked with way too many calories.