Chances are you’ve heard these myths everywhere from the office to the gym to last Thanksgiving at your grandma’s. Some of these age-old sayings are so prevalent that we have come to accept them as truth – but which ones (if any) really deserve our attention?
1. THE MYTH: You need to stretch before a workout to warm-up the muscles.
THE TRUTH: You should warm-up your muscles before a workout, and save the stretches for your post-workout cool-down!
THE WHY: Stretching is aimed at improving flexibility and mobility, or reducing tightness or possible muscle imbalances and adhesion (knots), and does not serve to actually warm up your muscles.
You should be warming up your muscles before beginning your workout, but try opting for a dynamic warm-up – something that gets your body moving and heart rate elevated – instead. We love a good jump-rope warm-up, or even dynamic-balance moves to engage your core right away!
Stretching makes an excellent cool-down after your workout. It is much easier and safer to stretch muscles that are already warmed up rather than stretching cold muscles as part of your warm-up, and stretching as part of your cool-down promotes blood flow that will prevent blood from pooling in the limbs, which can cause major soreness.
2. THE MYTH: You can use resistance training to reduce fatty areas via ‘spot reduction.’
THE TRUTH: Resistance training promotes muscle growth that is extremely muscle-specific, while fat loss occurs in areas in the opposite order that it was accumulated.
THE WHY: Resistance training (weight lifting or strength training) targets the breakdown and regrowth of muscle fibers to increase muscle strength and size. The muscles grow stronger and larger by being slowly introduced to more and more resistance (i.e., heavier weights), and adapting to that workload.
Fat cells are not stored within muscles, so targeting the muscles through strength training will not eliminate stored fat cells. Of course, any type of physical activity can contribute to weight loss, so don’t put down those dumbbells quite yet!
When it comes to fat loss, or reduction of stored fat in adipose tissue (fat cells) in the body, the body will lose fat in the reverse order in which it was gained. In other words; if you first noticed fat gain in your thighs, that will be the last place you notice it start to disappear – so don’t quit!
3. THE MYTH: You should eat more protein and avoid carbs and fats.
THE TRUTH: Your body uses – and needs – all major nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) to function properly and be healthy.
THE WHY: Your body uses protein to assist with muscle refuel and repair, but cannot store excess protein consumed in the body. Any protein consumed that is not used during the digestion and absorption process is broken down and stored as glucose (sugar) in adipose tissue (fat cells) to be used for energy later, when needed.
Your body uses the energy from carbohydrates and fats ingested to burn for immediate fuel and energy needs. Most importantly, you should always strive for balance in your diet to ensure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals! A diet that cuts out sources of healthy carbs and fats may leave you with a vitamin or mineral deficiency that can manifest in decreased performance and results.
4. THE MYTH: You should push through pain when working out to get results.
THE TRUTH: While it’s normal to “feel the burn” and experience mild discomfort in the targeted muscles, you should not be in pain if using the proper form.
THE WHY: Nearly every exercise movement will employ several muscles or muscle groups to complete the movement and, when exercising with good form and posture, you will feel a burning sensation in the working muscles. It’s okay to push through the burn and any muscle shake you experience!
However, if you are feeling pain – like a sharp or stabbing pain, pain that makes it difficult to breathe, or pain accompanied by a popping or tearing sound – you should stop immediately and address the pain. Please remember to always seek medical attention for injuries or when in doubt!
If you are feeling pain in a joint or an area other than the targeted or engaged muscles – such as knee pain when squatting or low back pain when chest-pressing – you should also stop and evaluate your form and position. If it is difficult to maintain good form with the weights or machine you are using, you may need to perform a drop set or lower your weights. Proper form is essential for not only seeing results, but also in injury prevention!
5. THE MYTH: Lifting weights will make you bulky or inflexible.
THE TRUTH: Most people do not possess the genetic potential to achieve massive muscle hypertrophy (bulking up) naturally and without the use of steroids and/or hormone supplementation.
THE WHY: There are 3 basic categories of muscle growth – muscular strength, muscular endurance, and muscular hypertrophy. A standard weightlifting routine can and will target and promote increases in muscular strength and endurance and may present small gains in muscular hypertrophy if specifically targeted.
The amount of hypertrophy needed to achieve a bulky, bodybuilder look is extremely specific and will involve a specific diet as well as a closely monitored exercise routine. In other words, it is very difficult to obtain a bulky appearance when you’re trying to, so the chances of it happening accidentally are very small!
Lifting weights is an important part of maintaining your physical health and fitness and has a myriad of benefits – including increased fat loss, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (even in the absence of weight loss!), reduced blood pressure, and increased bone strength.
6. THE MYTH: If you stop working out, your muscle gains turn into fat.
THE TRUTH: If you stop working out, you will lose muscle gains but will not necessaily gain fat.
THE WHY: Muscle and fat are made up of two completely different types of tissues within the body, and one cannot turn into or convert to the other. While it is true that muscle gains made will be lost in about half the time-frame of inactivity (i.e., muscle gains that took you 6 months to achieve will diminish back to your starting point after 3 months of inactivity), the muscle fibers and cells are not converting to fat.
More often, people experience a decrease in muscle size and strength due to discontinued use (atrophy) and a simultaneous increase in stored fat (adipose tissue) due to consuming more calories than are being burned in a day. The fat gain does not necessarily happen because you stopped strength training, but more so because your activity levels decreased (you are burning less calories a day) and are still consuming the same amount of calories, which creates a surplus of calories and thus, weight gain.
7. THE MYTH: You shouldn’t work out every day.
THE TRUTH: Active recovery and/or rest days should be a scheduled part of your workout regiment for you to be safely active every day.
THE WHY: When you do any activity that stimulates muscle growth (resistance training and even some body weight routines or running!), your muscles need time to recover to repair themselves. Recovery time can be anywhere from 24 – 72 hours depending on how hard you worked them. For intense heavy-lifting strength training, allow the full 72 hours for the soreness to subside and your muscles to repair before working the same muscle groups again (it’s okay to work different muscle groups or do non-resistance activity in the meantime!).
Active recovery days are days where you work at about hald effort or less to allow your body some gentle movement while still allowing proper recovery time between workouts. Great examples of active recovery workouts include yoga, stretching, and foam rolling; light-moderate paced walks, hikes, or bike rides; or gentle aerobics or water aerobics.
Remember that recovery time in between workouts is not only necessary to do your best at your next workout, but also a key component in injury prevention!
8. THE MYTH: Cardio drives weight loss and weights drive muscle growth.
THE TRUTH: You will get the best – and fastest – results by performing a combination of cardiovascular activities and resistance training.
THE WHY: Weight loss occurs when you are burning more calories a day than you eat in a day. That’s it – it’s that simple! Cardio workouts are great for your cardiovascular (heart and lung) health and are a very important factor in losing excess fat.
Equally important, resistance training revs up your metabolism – meaning that you burn a ton of calories not only while you’re performing the exercise, but also at an increased rate for the rest of the day after your exercise – even just with sitting!
This increased rate of burning calories means it will be easier to achieve a negative caloric balance and thus, weight loss!
9. THE MYTH: Weight machines are better than free weights.
THE TRUTH: Both weight machines and free weights hold value as resistance training equipment and neither is objectively “better” than the other.
THE WHY: Studies comparing the use of weight-stack machines against the use of free weights like dumbbells, barbells, and kettle-bells have repeatedly shown similar results. Both forms of resistance training allow for progressive overload of the muscles by increasing the weight and focus on fatiguing the prime mover muscle(s) for that specific workout.
Using free weights requires greater activation of the core and stabilizing muscles; which can be a beneficial aspect for experienced exercisers looking to work many muscles at once, but also pose a risk for new exercisers who may not have sufficient core strength or proper form to safely and effectvely perform the exercise. Machine training can provide better isolation of specific muscles or muscle groups used in the workout.
Working out with weightstack machines can lower total exercise duration and decrease risk of injury since the weights are typically shielded in some way and the resistance can be quickly changed using a dial or pin, rather than having to select new equipment. However, free-weight training is far more cost-effective and space-efficient than using weightstack machines.
There are clear benefits and drawbacks to the use of either; and the choice can ultimately be made based on personal preference and level of comfort.
How many of these myths have you heard before? Let us know – and tell us other fitness myths – in the comments!
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One reply on “9 Exercise Myths Debunked by a Certified Personal Trainer”
[…] between workouts – and to take active recovery days. Check out Myth #7 from our prior post, 9 Exercise Myths Debunked by a Certified Personal Trainer, for more on active recovery […]