Bad health and fitness advice is, and always has been, plentiful and pervasive. Wanting to look and feel our best is a universal desire, so it’s no surprise we’re constantly being inundated with recommendations for pills, products, exercises, and regimens purported to help us achieve that goal. But how many of us can separate fitness myths from the facts?
Some fitness myths and falsehoods are harmless, even well-intentioned (Aunt Wendy swears drinking raw vinegar and lemon juice will boost your energy...except no, and yuck). Many false claims and trendy products will cost you time and money (Fat-burning belts? Weight-loss sunglasses? Umm, no) and leave you with poor results. In the worst-case scenario, trusting a false health or fitness hack can be downright dangerous (Tiffany Haddish recommends turpentine. P.S. DON’T DRINK TURPENTINE!).
At TruFit Personal Training Studios Evanston, we are blessed to have a diverse group of personal trainers (with an equally diverse knowledge base) sweating it out and sharing their wisdom under one roof! So we asked them: What are the most common fitness myths you hear or get asked about? Check out their answers below!
10 Common Fitness Myths (Debunked by TruFit)
Fitness Myth #1: Lifting weights makes women “bulky”
The Truth: While lifting weights gives muscles more of a "shape" (which some people call "tone" or “definition”), women do not have the hormonal makeup to get "bulky" like male lifters do. And just like lifting heavy weights won't "bulk up” women like a bodybuilder, doing exercises like Barre Method will not create "long dancer muscles" either. TruFit trainer Izzy Libmann points out, “Your body's reaction to your training loads is largely based on genetics! So if you’re looking for a certain type of body shape, you may be out of luck depending on your genetic makeup.” But with all of this being said, if getting bulky is a concern, we won’t turn a deaf ear. Always discuss this with your trainer! The best you can do is perform your exercises and monitor your progress.
Fitness Myth #2: Eating throughout the day quickens your metabolism
The Truth: While digesting a meal does temporarily spike your metabolism, there is no evidence that eating more frequently will increase your metabolic rate. The REAL difference-maker is the total number of daily calories consumed. Also, individuals who eat several small meals per day tend to consume MORE total calories (and feel less satiated after eating) than those who eat 3-4 square meals per day. So unless you’re a rockstar calorie counter, you’re probably better off just eating three healthy meals per day!
Fitness Myth #3: High intensity is the only way to get results
The Truth: While high intensity exercise has its time and place (we're talking sprints, Tabata training, CrossFit, high-intensity interval training), overdoing it can lead to overtraining and injury. We recommend mixing in "light" and "medium" days during the week to complement the "heavy" day(s). And remember, the harder you train, the harder you have to recover (eating well, sleeping enough, meditation, getting massages, etc). If high intensity is your jam, do watch for signs of overtraining. Some of these are: Feeling more tired/wiped out than usual; feeling dread before a workout; chronic soreness, like you can’t get over your last workout; a sudden drop in your training performance; getting sick more often. If you’re experiencing these, it might be a good idea to back off of the intensity to ward off an injury that will sideline you for weeks or months.
Fitness Myth #4: Lots of crunches or sit-ups will give you a six-pack
The Truth: “In order to see a six-pack, you need to lower your body fat percentage with proper nutrition and workouts, not with 1000 crunches or sit-ups,” says TruFit trainer Marco Gonzalez. We’re talking a combination of a variety of exercises (not just exercises targeting your six-pack itself) and a HUGE dose of nutritional support (eating mostly whole foods, watching your carb/fat/protein ratio, consuming little to no sugar or alcohol). We highly recommend checking out this Precision Nutrition infographic to give you an idea of how much six-packs cost. In fact, crunches and sit-ups are likely doing you more bad than good when it comes to your lower back! If you want to train your “core,” perform more anti-rotation exercises like this or this or do total-body exercises like deadlifts, push-ups, squats, etc (yes, those ARE also core exercises).
Fitness Myth #5: Running is the best way to lose weight
The Truth: Losing weight will happen when there is a calorie deficit (meaning more total calories are burned than consumed). While running does burn some calories and helps people lose weight, the bigger bang for the calorie-burning buck is actually in lifting weights! The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism will be. That does not mean you shouldn't run if you like it and it makes you feel good! "It's always best to cross-train," adds Izzy. "When we do too much of one thing, like only running without strength training for example, we may be asking for trouble." So do try to get a good mix of movement in throughout the week for overall health.
Fitness Myth #6: Regular sugar is less fattening than high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
The Truth: The amount of fructose found in regular table sugar and HFCS is almost the same. The difference between the amount is negligible; the body processes them the same way, meaning that if we have too much of it, it gets converted to fat and can lead to type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. A very important note: While, yes, fresh fruit does contain some fructose, that fruit also has plenty of fiber and other nutrients to offset the absorption of fructose into your bloodstream! Also, one serving of fruit has a LOT less fructose in it than, let's say, juice or a candy bar. In other words, added sugars--all added sugars--aren’t doing you any favors, so try to consume them as little as possible and stick to whole, unprocessed foods.
Fitness Myth #7: You can spot reduce problem areas
The Truth: “When a client says, ‘I want to get rid of the fat on my thighs,’ they are expecting to target this area with exercise and think the body fat will go away from that area only,” explains TruFit trainer Megan Davies. “When you lose body fat, your overall body will reduce fat, not only in specific areas. We all tend to gain and lose weight in certain areas and that can be dictated by our body type. The cool thing is, while we can’t target fat loss in one specific area, we CAN strengthen every single body part!” Getting lean and burning fat requires a diet of mostly whole foods (with little sugar and alcohol), getting your heart rate up multiple days per week, and a combo of total-body exercises (think push-ups vs just doing tricep kickbacks, or squats vs only the leg extension machine)!
Fitness Myth #8: Training to “failure” is good for you
The Truth: You know the saying "keep a quarter in the tank" so your car doesn't run out of gas? Same goes for training. “The biggest negative effect of training to failure is how it affects your central nervous system,” explains TruFit trainer Kathryn Lehner. “It has the potential to overload your CNS, making it hard to train frequently, causing lots of fatigue, and making recovery time last longer. As a result, it can affect the rest of that workout as well as workouts later in the week. Also, form has the potential to break down when fatigue gets too high. Might as well end on a good rep!” Aim to feel like you can do 1-2 more reps in your set at the stopping point. If you want to keep a good relationship with exercise and stay free of injury, keep a quarter in the tank.
Fitness Myth #9: Squats and lunges are bad for your knees
The Truth: To quote Dan John, “It's not the squats that are bad for your knees; it could be the way you're doing the squats that's bad for your knees.” TruFit trainer Brian Kirshenbaum says, “When properly executed, the squat and lunge (in its various forms) are terrific for strengthening your quads and glutes. It’s these very muscles that when strong, help prevent problems with our knees in the first place!” If squats and lunges have hurt you in the past, it could be good to get a trusted pro to help you out!
Fitness Myth #10: There's no point in strength training until you lose that extra 5, 10, or 15 pounds
The Truth: “First off, strength training does burn calories,” says TruFit trainer Sarah Laspas. “It does NOT have to be slow-paced, and depending on how you structure your workouts, it's possible to sweat A LOT. Second, unlike cardio, you'll continue to burn calories for 1-2 days after a solid strength training session--basically, you're shedding fat and building muscle at the same time. Hooray for efficiency!”
We hope this information was helpful, or at the least, gave you some tidbits to ponder on your health and fitness journey! Regarding other health and fitness claims, we strongly suggest you exercise (pun intended!) caution. Seek out reviews or conclusions from credentialed medical experts, fitness professionals, and peer-reviewed research studies to help you make smart choices.
Got a fitness question that you need help with? Want to bust some more fitness myths? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.