15 Exercise Myths That Just Won't Go Away

Since the time we learned that exercise has health benefits, the fitness industry has been plagued by myths. Some of them had good intentions behind them, while others are down right dangerous.

Lifting Weights Will Make You Bulky

This myth is very common especially with women. But it simply is not true. To become bulky, as you see with men/women body builders, one would need to workout 2-3 hours per day, with very high intensity. In addition, many body builders consume a large amount of calories, along with many supplements. For the average person that lifts weights this ‘bulky' claim is simply false, especially if combined with a good cardiovascular program.

Don't Eat Before Exercising

Obviously you shouldn't have a 7-course meal before jogging as it will weigh you down and it will feel very uncomfortable. But from a health perspective there is no harm. In addition, having a small snack (e.g. a fruit) about half hour before a workout is probably going to benefit you by supplying the muscles with energy.

No Pain No Gain

Until a few years ago many people, even experts, believed this to be true. But now we know better. There are two factors to consider here. First, what are your goals. For example, if you are just interested in general fitness then you should not do anything that makes you feel pain. If you are a professional athlete, then some pain may be unavoidable. Second, what kind of pain is it? If it is the kind of pain from muscles being fatigued, then this is necessary if you are training to be e.g. a power lifter. However, if you are experiencing pain in the joints, then you are simply risking serious injury, and there are no benefits from this kind of pain. Similar to stretching, if there is pain then what you are doing is stretching tissue beyond its capacity and you are simply causing tearing which will lead to scar tissue.

If you do something brand new then some muscle soreness is normal for the next 2-3 days. But this soreness should go away within approximately 3-4 days, and should not occur again unless you do a new type of exercise.

Protein Supplements Are Vital For Bulking Up

The truth is very few people suffer from lack of protein intake. While there is some confusion as to how much protein one needs in their diet, there are very few instances of someone being diagnosed with protein dificiency. Most people consume plenty of protein by eating a variety of foods, via 3 regular meals. Warning: protein supplements contain calories!! If you start consuming extra protein, regardless of the form, and you don't burn those extra calories, they will be converted to fat!

Exercise Will Convert Fat Into Muscle

Sure, and I can change copper into gold. The fact is fat can not be converted to anything else except fat. However, during exercise calories from fat can be used up, and muscle mass can increase, which, from the outside, makes it seem as if fat was converted into muscle.

If I Stop Exercising My Muscle Will Turn into Fat

Again, this is false. However, if you continue to eat as you did when you were active those calories are now ‘extra' and will become fat storage. In addition, over time, the muscles will break down and be used for energy (or stored as fat if not used), which will make it seem as if muscle turned into fat.

Spot Reducing Works

This myth is still quite prevalent. You can not lose fat from any one specific body part! For example, you can do millions of abdominal crunches and see no difference at all. Now, you may lose a bit of fat all over because you exercised, but the fat content around your belly will remain relatively the same. Unless you are going to opt for liposuction, fat loss location can not be controlled any more than the location of fat gain.

Exercise Burns Tons of Calories

Well, it burns a few extra calories, but very few compared to what most people think. Example, going jogging for 30 minutes will burn about 300 calories (a bit more or less pending on the intensity). If you sit on the couch for 30 minutes you will still burn about 50-100 calories. That's only a difference of about 200 calories. What do you have to consume to replace this? One single small can of pop will do the trick, or one chocolate bar, or a big glass of milk, a small sandwich, get the idea? The point here is, while exercise has many benefits, don't expect it to cure all weight gain issues on its own. A healthy diet is also crucial. I raise this myth because I've seen many people sweating it all out thinking they're burning thousands of extra calories, only to pig out afterwards. Then they wonder why they aren't losing fat.

Exercise, Especially Endurance Activities, Can Cause a Heart Attack

Guy Eating Pizza

This is something that usually gets publicity in the summer during marathon and triathlon season. As thousands of athletes take to these events, when one has a heart attack it makes the front page the next day. What doesn't make the front page though is how many people have heart attacks sitting on the couch eating chips and drinking beer. Now, while there is a slightly increased risk during ultra events, these risks are usually caused by an underlying heart condition that went undetected. So, if you do decide to do these type of events always start out with a thorough physical check up (tell your doctor what you want to do), start slowly, and listen to your body.

Running is Bad for the Knees

I'm raising this one cause I've heard it many times. But the truth is, most people with bad knees have them because they weigh too much which causes a lot of stress on the joints, or they've had an actual injury to the area. If you wear proper shoes, listen to your body for any warning signs, treat injuries immediately if/when they occur, knees can last a lifetime. In fact, bones, muscles, and joints become stronger with weight bearing exercise. And always remember, no one ever died from sore knees, but plenty have died from heart disease.

The More You Work Out, The Fitter You Will Be

This may be something you've heard in the media, or by people that only know a little bit about fitness, and create a situation where little knowledge is dangerous knowledge. This statement simply isn't true. If you look at top athletes their focus is on quality, not quantity. There are a few sports, e.g. swimming, which is not as hard on your body as others and you can spend more time doing. But most sports are very hard on the body, and without moderation over training can quickly develop.

To explain this further, any adaptation from exercise does not happen during exercise, it occurs during rest. If not enough time is given to rest the body will not be able to recover. Poor recovery can result in things like injuries.

The best way to approach exercise is to workout hard, but allow plenty of time for recovery e.g. with Weight lifting, the norm is to allow at least 48 between working out a muscle group.

Watch out for these warning signs of over training:

  • A drop in strength
  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Loss of appetite or a significant appetite increase
  • Irritable and anxious for no apparent reason
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Sore joints, or muscle soreness that doesn't go away
  • Increased resting heart rate throughout the day
  • Increased resting breathing rate throughout the day
  • Getting sick regularly, e.g. colds

The only solution to over training is rest.

Stretching Prevents Injuries and Muscle Soreness

This is something we've all been taught since gym class in public school. And it may make sense, but, there is no scientific proof to prove or dispute this claim. In fact, stretching when you are cold may cause an injury. This may occur because trying to stretch a cold muscle is like pulling on an old elastic that is beginning to crack. Ideally, you should do a light jog first to increase body temperature, then stretch, if you like to stretch. There is also no proof that stretching after exercise will reduce muscle soreness, especially since no one knows for sure why muscle soreness occurs in the first place.

Consuming Protein Shakes Will Make Muscles Grow

While it is true that protein is the main building block, and necessary for proper body function, it is also true that in industrialized societies protein malnutrition is not something that occurs very often. In fact, most people get more than enough protein. Something else to keep in mind, protein is also calories. If you consume protein that your body does not use it will be converted to fat. But, fat can not be converted to protein.

Muscle Turns into Fat

If this were true then we should also be able to change copper into gold. Fact is, muscle does not turn into fat. Now, you may have noticed that someone that is very muscular, and stops working out, they gain fat while their muscles atrophy. What is happening though is two fold. First, their muscles start to atrophy because they are not using them. This is the case with muscle, if you don't use it you lose it. But, it doesn't turn into fat, it is just broken down and the protein is used by the body for whatever it needs. Second thing that happens is that if the person continues to eat the same number of calories while they were working out they will now gain fat as they are not burning all the consumed calories.

Cross Training is Critcal

Cross training has a few advantages. For example, it may help you avoid over use injuries, or it can help you maintain fitness during an injury (e.g. swimming while recovering from a knee injury if you are a runner), it's benefits for your specific sport will be minimal. For example, if you are a cyclist you need to cycle. All the swimming in the world is only going to help a little bit for improving your cycling.

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