The second part of the exercise and fitness myths blog brings you another 20 old wives tales to help you reassess your approach to fitness and nutrition in 2016. See if these will make an impact on your training moving forward and good luck clinging hold to those new year resolutions – if you can make it to February then you are in with a good chance of making it stick for good!
21. In order to see maximum results, you must use the latest equipmentThe latest equipment is usually just a revamp of old equipment. Kettlebells had been around for years but, instead of the smooth painted contemporary version you see now, they were rectangular lumps of metal with a small thin handle. Generally what tends to happen is the equipment you use gets slicker and sexier. Dumbbells and barbells become more colourful, they feature more foam and ridges so they store neatly after use and do not roll around on the floor.
These days you can use steps, body bars, dumbbells, barbells, ab rollers, muscle-specific machinery, kettlebells, ViPRs, Bulgarian Bags, tubes/resistance bands, balance boards, fitballs… the list goes on. Exercise is far more about the moves that you perform than what you are lifting when you do.
You could use a couple of packs of flour, rocks, or tins of beans to start your training off. You can push tyres, lift heavy objects, throw heavy objects, and use your own body weight. The equipment comes with time and it is only needed to add variety to your training, so you do not get bored. The following exercises need no equipment at all and can be done from home:
- Step ups at the bottom step of your stairs
- A brisk walk or a jog
- Press ups
- Tricep dips off that bottom step of your stairs or the edge of a sofa/stable chair
- Bent over rows – lift the yellow pages and phone book together
- Squats – jump squats
- Lunges – jump lunges
- Abdominal crunches
- Leg raises
That is just a small snippet of what you can do. Do not get distracted by shiny new equipment because good training – solid, serious training – is all about the basics and always will be. A pair of speciality trainers can cushion the feet properly, an iPod and wrist band can give you motivation tunes, and a thin, breathable and washable long-sleeved top can moderate body temperature. Ultimately, you still have to dig deep and run faster, longer or more challenging distances. Equipment cannot help you train – it comes down to your self-belief and hunger for it.
22. If cardio is part of your training, you won’t gain any muscle
If you are actively seeking muscle mass gain, then you need a balance between cardio and strength training. That does not mean that you cannot do cardio. The opposite is in fact true. If you are building muscle, you are putting more demands on your heart because you are creating denser tissue for your arteries and capillaries to pump blood through.
This is far more beneficial and complimentary to strength training than endurance. Cardio should always be part of your training but, if muscle mass is your chief goal, then avoid long distance running and endurance training.
23. You should always work a muscle to failure
This is completely counterproductive because your muscles need to rest and repair. On top of that, if you train frequently you will simply be reducing the effect of the training. The muscles will be weaker and fatigued, so you will not even get close to their best out of them.
You need to create a proper, moderated workout, where hard days are interspersed with easier days and of course recuperation days. Use the easier workout sessions to increase muscle endurance by upping the number of reps you do and using lighter weights. The same goes for cardio; instead of demanding sprints, go for a run or a jog to increase stamina.
This style of workout reduces the risks of injury, and is far more beneficial for your body. You only need to work out to failure once or twice a week.
24. Muscle turns into fat
This is a statement dreaded by many, and is completely false. In reality, just as fat cannot be transformed into muscle, muscle will not transform into fat. The acts of building muscle and losing body fat are completely different processes. They can be done simultaneously but it is extremely rare that this occurs.
Of course, in order to gain muscle, you must consume more calories than you burn – so to lose body weight you monitor your calories in order to do the reverse. That does not mean that you cannot strengthen muscles and prepare them for future weight training goals.
The main thing is that if you stop training for a few weeks, your muscle mass may reduce but it will certainly not turn into fat.
25. If someone looks fit, they know what they’re talking about
You see a lot of people in the gym and some of them are in excellent shape. They will sometimes come over and give you advice. There are a few who know what they are doing and can offer some excellent tips, but there are just as many who will dish out bad advice and lead you in the wrong direction.
You should also keep in mind that some people are just blessed with great genes or a highly active metabolism and look great no matter what they do. Everyone is unique so what works for one person will not work for everyone. You have to find what suits you and this is not an easy task. There is such variety available and yet people stick to the same routines every week. Make sure you mix it up and keep it fresh and interesting, while keeping the exercises and styles of training that work for you in the mix.
26. If your parents are overweight, chances are you will be too
There is evidence that suggests obesity could be wired into some people’s genetics. However, there is not enough to use this as an excuse. Genetics can have an impact on our lives, but the effects of our make-up can also be counteracted and reduced.
- Fast food – convenience
- The rise of automated technology and decrease in outdoor activities/manual tasks carried out – particularly in childhood
- Decreased rate of exercise
One of the best times of day to put in a workout is straight after work. At this time of day you are most likely to be a little stressed and worn out after working all day. You are often mentally fatigued but your body will relish a workout. It will relieve tension and stress, and fill your body full of endorphins. Then you get to go home, eat, and chill for the evening. If you go home first, statistics suggest you are far less likely to make the trip to the gym once you have relaxed into a sofa – and who can blame you!
27. Soreness after exercise is caused by lactic acid building up in your muscles
This has been a popular myth for decades – often enforced by fitness instructors that learnt this information as part of their original courses. Information changes constantly in this industry as scientific research continues to make discoveries. It is always a good idea to stay current and to be open to new developments.
The soreness is caused by tears in the muscle that occur during strenuous exercise – especially at the start of a new exercise regime that your body has not experienced before. The microscopic tears lead to inflammation and aching. This is a natural step in development. Your muscles get bigger and stronger by tearing and then repairing. As they repair, they become stronger as new healthy muscle tissue is created. This process repeats as you up your weights and continue to grow stronger.
The best way to avoid unwanted soreness is to start slow and build gradually. Do not go too heavy too soon. Or choose aerobic activities like running, cycling and aerobics. You do get used to soreness but you do not have to suffer it if you do not want to.
28. Exercise takes long hours – if you cannot exercise regularly there is no point training at all
This myth is being tackled head on more and more in gyms these days. There is far more interval training, 30-minute indoor cycling, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and circuit classes. People are learning that exercise can be short and intense, and that it can fit around your work regime and active lifestyle very nicely. Do not listen to anyone who says that you need to train six times a week for one hour, because this simply is not the case.
As with any workout, start this slow. You could begin by doing 40 minutes aerobic exercise and interspersing it with high-intensity one-minute bursts. The aerobics can then reduce and the high-intensity sections increase. Eventually you could trim it down to 30 minutes, or whatever you require to attain balance between your everyday activities and your exercise schedule.
If you don’t feel like a high-intensity workout then you could always go for a walk. Any exercise is better than none at all. As with all exercise – do what you enjoy and what feels good for you. Just don’t think that you have to spend most of your day training to get results, because a high-intensity half hour can yield exactly the same results.
29. Sports drinks are a necessity when training to replenish your body’s electrolytes, minerals, and fluids
This is a case of mistaken significance. Sports drinks seem to have become a necessity for every gym-goer. In fact, their effect is not limited to individuals engaging in exercise. People are constantly consuming them as alternatives to more hydrating drinks such as water, tea, coffee, squash, etc. They become dependent on the sugar fix they provide, and do not realise the calories they are consuming before even taking into account the food they eat.
Sports drinks have their place: for long intensity workouts, water is not enough on its own. Your muscles will need an energy boost and for that your body needs fuel and, since you cannot sit down and have a small meal, your only option is a liquid form. You could also have a handful of jelly beans as long distance runners often have, but the goal is small amounts of sugar that will not make you nauseous or give you more calories than you need.
If you partake in moderate exercise then you should absolutely take a bottle of water in with you, but you can leave the sports drink on the supermarket shelf. Save yourself some money and spare yourself the excess calories. For high-intensity workouts you could always add some squash to water and make your own sports drink!
30. Working out builds muscle, it doesn’t help me lose weight
I get this a lot from people who have been training their butts off only to find that they weigh the same or have even put on a few pounds. I tell them time and time again that muscle weighs more than fat, and that they should be ignoring the scales and measuring their bodies to see how exercise is changing their shape.
There are studies that argue against the theory that muscle weighs more than fat, and in most cases they are correct. If you are dieting and exercising, then you will not increase your muscle mass. Clearly, if you are eating less calories than your body needs to build muscle, then it will stop at repairing it. There are some people that do not manage the diet-exercise balance. In these cases they are likely to gain muscle without losing fat.
However, this is where diet can begin to make changes over time, because muscle burns more calories, even when resting. So, high-intensity workouts lead to more calories being burnt and, by reducing the loss of muscle, exercise maintains the metabolic rate that prevents weight regain.
So the choice is yours. You can go for the long haul and stick to exercise and weight training, steadily building the intensity of the workout. This is for people who get the exercise bug and love their workouts. Or, you can make sure you diet and keep reducing muscle and fat so you weigh less on the scales.
31. Supplements are needed for building muscle
This is another one of those myths that is true for a few but not for the majority. If you are a bodybuilder or strength trainer, then supplements can help. The typical exerciser who does 2-3 sessions per week doesn’t need creatine or protein in order to build muscle. The extra protein that you need can come from food, as part of your diet, and does not have to be taken in supplement form.
If you are serious about bodybuilding and you are doing weight training for hours at a time, then supplementation of your diet may become a necessity.
32. Heart rate monitors tell you how hard you are working
We rely on technology completely these days when sometimes the best option is actually free. Not only that, but everyone has access to it. The best detector is yourself. You do not need something expensive beeping at you for more accuracy.
There is also the talk test, which fitness instructors use without you even realising. They will randomly ask you questions while you train, so they can measure how hard you are working. They may ask you if you have watched a certain TV programme, if you ate breakfast or perhaps what you had, what other classes you enjoy, if you can feel an exercise, or maybe how your training is going. You might use a single word to answer or a sentence. If you are only able to grunt or glare, then they instantly know that you are working to your utmost capacity. A lengthy response tells them that you are working at a comfortable level. The talk test does not suffer from faults.
There are plenty of ways to measure work rate, so reliance on a heart rate monitor is not a necessity. If you cannot afford one, you do not have to.
33. A wider grip works the outer part of muscles
There are multiple sides to some muscles and there are also multiple exercises that can be used to target them. However, the myth of a wider grip working the outer parts of muscles is incorrect. A wider grip will actually work the inner sides of muscles.
There are key muscles that should be worked from multiple angles because of their sheer size. These include the quads and the lats. You simply cannot train all of these muscles by using a singular exercise each week. Smaller muscles such as triceps and biceps should also be worked using different grips and exercises.
The tricep can be worked using narrow grip bench presses, narrow tricep presses, dumbbell kickbacks, and tricep dips off a bench. There are more exercises than the ones listed – so why settle for one? Just be sure of which part you are working when you vary your grip:
- Wide grip = inner muscle work
- Narrow grip = outer muscle work
34. Low repetitions are for bulking
This is the general rule applied to strength training that just about everyone is familiar with. Low repetitions are thought to be ideal for bulking up, while high repetitions are favourable for toning and conditioning without any muscle gain. There is some truth here but the myth is often misunderstood.
There is no fixed rule in terms of how many reps are appropriate for building mass. This seems to be variable depending on the individual. There are so many systems that champion different methods. Try different things and decide what is right for you:
- 3-6 reps of one exercise – 2-3 sets
- 5-8 reps of one exercise – follow with high rep pump work – 1-2 sets
- Pyramid sets – 3-6 reps for the first round, go down a weight and do as many reps as you can, then go down to a low weight and work to failure – 1 set
- Try high repetitions – halve your usual weight and do 50-100 reps. Train one to two muscles per day as a change to your usual workout
Find what works for you but make sure you vary it sometimes, or it will become stale and your goals will be harder to reach.
35. Weightlifting stunts growth and is not suitable for children
It was long believed that training with weights would prematurely close the epiphyseal growth plates in the long bones of the body, which would stunt natural growth. The sports that children do instead of weights can actually involve great stresses and strains on their muscles – just as much as any weight routine would involve.
A weight training programme could help prevent injury, and develop muscles properly to cope with the demands of their sporting activity. It could also reduce the chances of stumbles, trips and falls, and enable teens to grow up with stronger ligaments and muscles.
Children should be teenagers before they start any kind of weight training. They need to be able to grip the weights properly and use them responsibly.
36. Weight training makes you stiff and inflexible
It is easy to understand how this rumour came about. When you glance over at the free weights section, what you usually see is a large quantity of big, grunting men that cannot touch their toes or place their hands behind their head without serious effort.
The impact of weight training on your flexibility would be negligible if it is done with an appropriate warm up, cool down, and stretching period. You have forced muscles to contract and work to their utmost, so it makes sense that you then need to stretch out the muscle fibres to restore full range of movement.
It is not weight training that makes individuals stiff – you can get just as stiff doing cardio exercises if you do not stretch after those either. Try and do a 1-4 mile job or ten sprint runs. If you do not stretch out your hamstrings and inner thighs, they will be stiff and heavy the next day. You cannot blame the equipment for your lack of flexibility.
37. You have to be in the ‘fat burning zone’ to get results
The ‘fat burning zone’ features a lot on fitness equipment, and fitness instructors like to tell you when you are at the peak of your aerobic curve and burning serious fat off. The science behind this is that your heart has to be beating at a certain rate for you to be in optimum fat burning territory.
So is lower intensity aerobic activity the real fat burner? It is true that this method of exercise does burn more fat, but the overall calorie count is also far lower than a higher intensity workout would yield. Your body never burns fat alone unless you are sleeping, so there is always a carbohydrate and fat split.
With a higher intensity interval training approach you burn far more overall calories, so therefore proportionately you also burn more fat. A lower or medium intensity workout is ideal after weight sessions and for those on a low carbohydrate diet. The ‘fat burning zone’ really isn’t that simple to define and it depends on individual effort, work rate, nutrition (what fuels you) and the level you are at as a fitness enthusiast.
Do not ditch the low/medium-intensity workouts; just be aware that the ‘fat burning zone’ is a myth, and that there are other activities you could be doing to burn a greater level of fat off for your hour of effort.
38. Warming up on the treadmill is the best starting point for any workout
The treadmill has to be the most used piece of equipment in the gym because so many people gravitate towards it for their warm up session. If you are a runner, then it is the ideal piece of machinery for you to perform your warm-up on. If you are warming up before a weights session, then there are more effective methods.
A great way to warm up before a weights session is to take small dumbbells (around a quarter to half of what you intend to lift) and then perform 10-20 reps of each exercise you will be doing. You can do them all as a warm-up routine at the start of your session or, even better, to prepare each muscle before you start each different exercise. Ideally, you should be doing 2-3 light-medium sets before performing at your desired weight.
A functional warm-up is great for an all over body test that also gets your core working from the first exercise onwards. You could do these with or without a light weight in your hands:
- Lunges with a side twist
- Squats with a front raise
- One-legged knee lifts with a shoulder press
- Side lunges, back lunges, and front lunges combo
- Press up with a single arm row
- Side plank on either side, and a curl crunch for the more advanced
- Walking burpee (so no jumps – just walk the feet down into a press up position and then back up to standing)
- Mountain climbers (you don’t have to run these, just keep them controlled with a nice strong core)
These should warm you up nicely for just about any activity. If you are going to be jumping, then start with small jumps before progressing.
39. I can survive on practically no sleep
Sleep is so underrated, which is why it had to feature on my 40 myths list. If you deprive yourself of sleep your recovery suffers, and it can also create hormone imbalances that greatly reduce progress in the gym. The ideal is eight hours of sleep and, if your training leads you to want a nap in the afternoon, then take one if you have the opportunity. Don’t take one if you are at work though!
Adequate rest allows protein synthesis to occur. This gives your muscles the chance to grow. If you do not get the chance to repair, then all of the damage (small fibre tears) that you do in the gym will not heal to allow new, stronger muscle to grow.
Try and get as much sleep as you possibly can – but avoid exceeding 12 hours in a day (yes, I know that would be a nice problem to have!). Give your body the time it needs to repair and rest, while avoiding the nasty side effects that sleep deprivation brings into your life!
40. Women need different exercises to men
There are more and more women getting into free weights these days as they begin to understand that strength training does not lead to body mass gain. The fact is that the female body has the same structure as the male body in terms of muscles, joints and ligaments. The differences lie in our hormonal make up.
A male muscle cell looks identical to a female muscle cell, so heavy weight lifting can sculpt a woman’s figure just as easily. That high level of intensity is needed (around 85% of your max) to activate muscle cells to change. Women are not as strong in single repetitions but they are able to perform for longer when in the top 90-100% capacity zone.
Whether male or female, you should approach training with exactly the same focus. There are no limitations, so structure your training programme by concentrating on your weaknesses and your exercise goals. Do not be put off by those who feel there should be two training camps – one for women and one for men. This is simply not the case.