Myths have been the basis of storytelling from the beginning of time. They are widely popular beliefs or ideas which lack determinable facts supporting their statements. Unfortunately, the fitness industry has its share of misconceptions and myths that many individuals follow or assume are true. Fortunately, unlike the ancient stories of Hercules, these myths can be demystified. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to debunk commonly believed misconceptions within the fitness world. Without further ado, let the myth-busting begin!
#1 Lifting weights will bulk you.
FALSE! This has to be the biggest misconception within the fitness industry. It never seems to die, especially with women! Lifting heavy weights will not make a female have the muscularity of a male. It’s physiologically impossible. Studies show that males have 8-10 times more testosterone than females, therefore females simply don’t have enough testosterone to get to that level of muscle growth. Furthermore, in order to “bulk up”, one needs to be consuming a large surplus of calories which they are burning daily. In conclusion, without hormone enhancing drugs and a massive diet, lifting heavy weights will help women lose fat and look “toned”. They will NOT look like a bodybuilder.
#2 You can localize fat loss.
FALSE! Unfortunately, you can’t target fat loss. The body decides which fat stores to use and doesn’t take into consideration which exercises you’ve been doing most. Everyone’s bodies are different, therefore, everyone will lose fat in different ways. If you’re looking to get rid of those “love handles”, focus on big compound movements with progressive overload, intense conditioning, and good eating habits rather than doing side crunches every day.
#3 You can crunch your way to great abs.
FALSE! Doing 1000s of crunches a day will not give you a six-pack. Your abdominals are just like any other muscle in your body. They need time to recover and grow. If you want bulging abs, your first step will be to get your body fat percentage down. Secondly, do heavy compound movements like squats, deadlifts and carries. The heavy resistance will cause muscle adaptations and hypertrophy (allowing them to grow) and will also burn more calories than crunches.
#4 Cardio is king for fat loss
FALSE! One can’t deny that cardio is the king for burning calories and it should definitely be a part of one’s exercise routine. However, strictly doing aerobic exercises like running, cycling or elliptical is not the ideal way to lose fat. Due to the high number of calories burned, we also see a loss of muscle mass included with the fat loss. Therefore, because muscle is metabolically active, the loss of it results in a lowered metabolism and ability to burn fat. The key is to have a program that combines both strength training and cardiovascular work. Having a proper amount of weight training and cardio will ensure continued muscle maintenance or growth as well as calories burned. For more information on how we burn calories, check out our previous blog: http://www.purewinnipeg.com/the-problem-with-low-calorie-diets/
#5 You can “tone muscle”.
FALSE! You CANNOT tone muscle. You can only lose fat or make your muscles bigger. Your muscles are already toned and are the reason why you can move and stand erect. Doing lighter weights and higher reps (15+ reps) will NOT make your muscles looked tone. Muscles respond to overload, meaning they adapt and grow to overcome a resistance they haven’t experienced before. Research shows that the ideal rep range for muscle growth is 8-12 with the intensity of failure towards your last few reps. The simple answer is: your muscles aren’t visible either because of the layer of fat around them or the lack of muscle mass. Therefore, in order to look “toned”, you need to lower your body fat percentage and increase your muscle mass.
#6 Men and Women should do different exercises.
FALSE! We hear it all the time! Men want to work on their arms, chest and abs, whereas women want to work on their glutes and legs. Yes, it’s true that men and women have a different hormone make-up, however, they have the same musculoskeletal structure. Therefore, they shouldn’t be neglecting one body part for another as it’s impractical and not functional. Women may not be pushing as much weight as men do but there is no reason they can’t do the same exercises. Our bodies move the same so we should train them in the same way.
#7 More is better.
IT DEPENDS! If you aren’t very physically active, then more is better (e.g. going from 30 mins/ 2 x week to 60 mins/ 2 x week). However, if you’re already training 3+ times a week for 60-90 mins bouts, more might not be better. Exercise is a stressor! It is a good one but still a stressor nonetheless. Therefore, you need to let your body recover from it. Continually adding intensity and duration to your workouts may not necessarily benefit you if you aren’t getting enough recovery time. The old saying “no pain, no gain” isn’t very accurate. Don’t think that you need to be sore the next day to have had a good workout. You can’t always be going at 110% as your body and muscle need time to recover. If not, this could lead to a “stress overload” also known as “overtraining” causing you to feel sluggish, tired, and weak. You may also notice a decrease in performance, plateauing and physical injuries. Training for hours on end 7 days a week may seem like a good idea a first, but with time, it will be detrimental to your performance and body. Aim for 5-7 hrs of intense physical activity per week, ideally splitting them in 60-90 minute bouts.
#8 Workout machines are safer because you have perfect form
FALSE! This myth is often believed by newcomers who don’t feel confident in the gym. Unfortunately, workout machines aren’t necessarily safer than free weights or other types of exercises. The misconceptions that machines place you in perfect form for every rep is false. It’s true that machines allow for a more controlled and precise movement, however the downfall is that not everyone moves the same. People come in different shapes and sizes, resulting in different movement patterns with different movement angles. Therefore, since each machine has a limited amount of manufactured presets (height and length adjustments), they might not suit everyone’s needs. Furthermore, most individuals probably don’t truly know which preset they should be using, resulting in faulting movement patterns. This is not to say that all machines are bad but please be aware that you may not be getting the full benefit of the exercise if you are strictly using machines.
If you’re looking to get stronger, leaner and more functional, free weights are the way to go. They require more muscle activation and recruitment because of the stability aspect. Therefore, this results in better stimulation for muscle growth and strength. That being said, free weights can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. For this reason, I would suggest finding a certified trainer or knowledgeable friend who can help you teach proper technique.
#9 You should always stretch before exercising
IT DEPENDS! What do you consider stretching? If your definition of stretching is holding a position for a period of time in order to lengthen a muscle, then this myth is false. However, if you think of stretching as more of dynamic/flow movements and mobility drills, then this myth is true. The notion that we should be doing static stretches before exercising is old news and no longer validated. Research shows that foam rolling with a combination of dynamic movements is a more optimal way of warming up prior to exercising. The reason is that this increases the range of motion and simulates the movements of the exercises. This neurologically gets the body ready for the upcoming session and allows for better movement patterns, reducing the risk of injury. Most exercises involve movement through ranges of motions, so your warm-up should simulate the same. Therefore, get in with the new and out with the old! Start adding a foam rolling and dynamic movement flows in your warm up.
#10 Don’t Squat past your toes/squats are bad for your knees
IT DEPENDS! This one is a little controversial and depends on the circumstances. The common belief that your knees should not pass your toes while squatting isn’t actually accurate. The squat requires a lot of range of motion through multiple joints. Therefore, for a proper squat to be performed, adequate mobility within these joints is required. Knowledge of proper movement mechanics is also required to squat efficiently and safely. Unfortunately the majority of the general population doesn’t have adequate mobility or a proper movement pattern to perform a deep squat.
In consequence, the saying of “not allowing your knees to pass your toes” has been used by coaches around the world as a cue to help people understand the proper movement pattern of the squat. It’s simply been used as a teaching tool and not necessarily as a fact. If an individual has adequate hip and ankle mobility with proper movement pattern, their knees will eventually surpass their toes in the bottom of the squat. When there is proper range of motion and good mechanics, the load will be evenly distributed throughout the hip and not in the knees. As a result there is a very low risk of knee injury!
The common mistake for individuals with poor mobility and movement patterns performing the squat is leading the movement with their knees. This causes the load to be placed on the knees rather than the hips. Since knees weren’t designed to take on a load in such a manner, this causes knee pain which reinforces the misconception that “squats are bad for your knees”. The fact of the matter is, that proper squats aren’t bad for your knees however the way people are squatting make them bad for their knees. This leads to the final point of this argument; individuals with poor mobility and movement pattern should consider following the cue of “don’t let your knees pass your toes” until they are able to properly load their hips within the squat.
There you have it! The 10 most common fitness myths busted! Hopefully, this will help clear up a few wondering questions about these topics. Unfortunately, because of how vast the health and fitness industry is, there are many more myths out there. One, in particular, is the dreadful cholesterol question! Is it good or bad? Can eating too much high cholesterol foods affect your health? Stay tuned for our next installment of Mythbusters! Just remember: don’t believe everything you hear or read. If you’re truly unsure, ask a professional for advice.
- ACurry, B., Chengkalath, D., Crouch, G., Romance, M., & Manns, P. (2009, September). Acute Effects of Dynamic Stretching, Static Stretching, and Light Aerobic Activity on Muscular Performance in Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(6), 1811-1819.
- Baechle, T. R.; Earle, R. W. & National Strength and Conditioning Association. (200). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Berardi, J., & Andrews, R. (2015). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition Certification Manual (Second ed.). Precision Nutrition Inc.
- Colquhoun, R., Gai, C., Aguilar, D., Bove, D., Dolan, J., Vargas, A., . . .Campbell, B. (2018). Training Volume, Not Frequency, Indicative of Maximal Strength Adaptations to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(5), 1207-1213.
- Madoni, S., Costa, P., Coburn, J., & Galpin, A. (2018, July). Effects of Foam Rolling on Range of Motion, Peak Torque, Muscle Activation, and the Hamstrings-to-Quadriceps Strength Ratios. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(7), 1821-1830.
- McArdle, W., Katch, F., & Katch, V. (2010). Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance (7 ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Ramírez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D., Campos-Jara, C., Henríquez-Olguín, C., Alvarez-Lepín, C., & Izquierdo, M. (2013). Regional Fat Changes Induced by Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(8), 2219-2224.
- Vispute, S., Smith, J., LeCheminant, J., & Hurley, K. (2011, September). The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(9), 2559-2564.
- Weiss, L., Cureton, K., & Thompson, F. (1983). Comparison of Serum Testosterone and Androstenedione Responses to Weight Lifting in Men and Women. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 50(3), 413-419.