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10 myths you probably believe about exercise (and why they’re wrong)

If you’ve ever had a sleepless night and found yourself staring like a zombie at the TV, you’ve probably seen those late-night infomercials touting fitness gadgets and workouts that guarantee results.

With all these gimmicky products and conflicting information, it can be tough to know what’s true. We’re here to help bust some of the most common myths about exercise and fitness.

Myth #1: Ab exercises will burn body fat where I need it most

The facts: Unfortunately, you can’t spot-reduce body fat. To lose belly fat, you have to lower your overall body fat through regular exercise and good nutrition. Ab exercises can strengthen the abdominal muscles, but some can do more harm than good.

Myth #2: Muscle turns to fat if I stop working out

 The facts: Muscle and fat are two different tissues, so one can’t be converted into the other. You do lose muscle mass when you stop weight training or working out, which can lead to a slower metabolism and weight gain.

Myth#3: Women shouldn’t lift heavy weights because they’ll bulk up

The facts: Generally, women naturally lack the amount of testosterone necessary to build bulky muscles. Most men and women who are considered “bulky” carry a higher percentage of body fat, which is related to nutrition, not the amount of weight you may be lifting.

Most women would benefit from lifting something heavier than 5-pound dumbbells. Resistance training can increase lean body mass, help you burn more calories and maintain bone density as you age.

Myth #4 Muscle weighs more than fat

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The facts: A pound of muscle weighs the same amount as a pound of fat. Muscle is denser than fat, taking up less room in your body than a pound of fat.

Simply put: a pound is a pound.

Compare two women:

  • Woman no. 1 is 5’7″, weighs 150 pounds, with 20 percent body fat.
  • Woman no. 2 is 5’7″, weighs 150 pounds, and has 30 percent body fat

Woman no. 1 will appear smaller and more fit than woman no. 2 because she has less body fat.

Myth #5: If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want

 The facts: You can’t out-train a bad diet. Someone who exercises regularly but takes in more calories than they expend will gain weight.

Myth #6: More exercise equals better results

 The facts: You have to make time for recovery. Overtraining will result in fatigue, which will decrease the effectiveness of your workouts. Overtraining also causes a decrease in muscle strength and size because you are not giving your body a chance to repair and rebuild after workouts.

Myth #7: To get a good workout, you need a gym or machines

The facts: You don’t need expensive equipment or a gym membership to improve your heart health and overall fitness. There are many bodyweight exercises to choose from to get the most from your workout.

Invest in inexpensive home or office equipment like resistance bands and a stability ball or take advantage of online resources and fitness platforms to get inspired and stay motivated.

You can get a great workout without the gym with some creative program design.

Myth #8: Stretching before a workout will prevent injuries and soreness

The facts: Studies that have compared injury rates or muscle soreness in people who stretch before exercise and those who don’t have found little benefit to stretching before a workout.

Stretching cold, tight muscles before a resistance training session may do more harm than good. When you pre-stretch muscles, they lose some of their ability to contract. You can also create some instability in the muscles. Instead, start your workouts with foam rolling and a dynamic warm-up and save the static stretching for your post-workout time.

Myth 9: Running will make you fit

The facts: The human body is designed for walking great distances and for sprinting. Our ancestors migrated to follow food sources and, on occasion, had to run very fast to escape from hungry predators.

There are body types predisposed to running long distances. The rest of us can force our bodies to perform like this, but most of us will likely sustain injuries.

Myth 10: Squats are bad for the knees

 The facts: Squatting is a basic, primal movement pattern. Our bodies are made for deep squatting. Just watch a toddler squat to pick up a toy or other cultures that “sit” in a deep squat to rest or eat.

It’s a basic movement that we have “unlearned” over time in our Western modern society. Our muscles are stiff, our glutes don’t work and our posture is terrible. With some good mobility work and corrective exercise programming, most people can safely and effectively squat.

So, put aside the gimmicks, “secrets” and tips and tricks from fitness “gurus” and stick to what’s best for your body. Even brief periods of movement can go a long way to boost your fitness and your mood.

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10 myths you probably believe about exercise (and why they’re wrong)