Few things upset me more than seeing otherwise enthusiastic gym-goers wasting their time on ineffective exercises and workouts. After all, burning fat, building muscle, and getting in shape requires a big investment of time, energy, and effort. Spending those valuable resources while earning less than maximal returns is a crime against fitness! Most people don’t waste their time and energy on purpose and are generally unaware that their workouts aren’t as effective as they should be. Instead, they blame their program, diet, genetics, or supplement choices. However, in many cases, the problem isn’t the workout or the wrong pills and potions. Instead, it’s the long-held belief in the many myths like “no pain, no gain” that are blocking those gains.
The fitness industry is full of diet and exercise myths, many of which are so widely believed that they are woven into the very fabric of working out. In this article, we debunk some of the most popular fitness myths so you can take the brakes off your training and start seeing the results you deserve.
13 Popular Fitness Myths Debunked
Myths are widely held but false beliefs or ideas that are perpetuated through tradition, culture, or social acceptance. For example, one commonly-held myth is that lightning never strikes the same place twice. However, in reality, lightning can and does strike the same location multiple times. For instance, the Empire State Building in New York City is struck by lightning about 20 to 25 times a year. Myths can exist in various domains, including history, science, and everyday life, and are especially prevalent in fitness training.
Here are 13 of the most popular fitness myths, explored and debunked just for you!
1. No Pain, No Gain
No pain, no gain is probably the most widely believed myth in fitness. There is a strongly held belief that the more you suffer, the better your results will be. This is evident from the vast number of extreme workouts and super-strict diets out there. These programs and plans seem designed to make you miserable by making you uncomfortable. Images of grimacing bodybuilders and fitness influencers training themselves into rhabdomyolysis do nothing to counter this myth.
Pain is compulsory if you want to build muscle and get fit, right? The reality is that there is a huge difference between pain and exercise and diet-related discomfort. In fact, pain is usually an indicator that something is wrong and is your body’s way of telling you to stop. Training through pain doesn’t mean you are tough, and nor does it mean you’ll get better results. Pain could be an indicator that what you are doing is dangerous or is the start of an injury. In addition, post-training muscle soreness, which is another common source of fitness-related pain, is not a reliable indicator of an effective workout. It’s just a sign that you have pushed your body harder than it’s used to.
None of this means that you don’t have to train hard to build muscle, get fit, etc., and that will cause some discomfort. However, there is a gulf of difference between training discomfort and genuine pain.
Summary: It’s time to stop associating pain with gains as, in most cases, pain is actually a warning sign and best avoided. Although, it’s fair to say that “no moderate discomfort, no gains” is much less catchy! So, train hard, and don’t be afraid to push yourself, but don’t seek out or ignore pain. Pain is a warning and not a reward.
2. Abs Exercises Will Give You a Flat Stomach
It’s a commonly held belief that doing lots of abs exercises, usually for high reps, will flatten your stomach and melt away abdominal fat. There are entire workouts and group exercise programs designed around this notion. Sadly, you’ll need more than hundreds of crunches to flatten your stomach, as the idea of spot reduction is a myth.
The idea of spot reduction makes sense, which is why it’s such a pervasive myth. The belief is that doing lots of abs exercises and the intense burning sensation they cause dissolves fat from the area you are working. It’s unclear where this myth originated, but early ’80s fitness guru Jane Fonda probably didn’t help matters with her “feel the burn” mantra.
Your body stores fat according to its needs and your genetics. It burns fat in much the same way. Your choice of exercise does not determine from where fat is used; fat loss occurs uniformly across the body. If you want a slimmer stomach, direct abs training can help, but your general diet and exercise program are much more important. So, train your abs, but only as part of a well-rounded workout routine and diet plan.
Summary: Doing endless sets of crunches, sit-ups, planks, etc., won’t melt fat from your abdomen and give you a flatter stomach. Your overall workout plan and diet are what will help you shed that unwanted belly fat.
3. Cardio is the Best Way to Lose Weight
Go to any gym, and you’ll invariably see people trying to run, cycle, row, or step themselves slimmer. They spend hour after hour sweating over cardio machines in an effort to burn fat and lose weight. Come back in a year, and those people will probably still be there and won’t have lost much, if any, weight. But cardio burns fat, so more cardio means more fat loss, right?
While cardio does indeed predominantly burn fat, it does so in relatively small amounts. A pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories, which is enough to fuel roughly 35 miles of running. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to wipe out this caloric expenditure with a few unplanned snacks or cheat meals. And as for the so-called fat-burning zone? This is also a sort-of myth.
The idea of the fat-burning zone is that doing cardio at about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate predominately uses fat for fuel. However, while this is true, the actual amount of fat used at this intensity is not significantly higher than at higher intensities. The key to weight loss is creating a calorie deficit, which can be achieved through a combination of diet and exercise. Strength training, for example, can help build muscle, which in turn increases your metabolic rate and helps you burn more calories throughout the day.
Summary: Cardio is not the be-all and end-all for weight loss. While it does burn fat, it’s not the most efficient way to create a calorie deficit. A combination of diet and exercise, including strength training, is key for sustainable weight loss.
These are just three of the many fitness myths that plague the industry. By debunking these and other popular myths, you can ensure that your time and effort in the gym are well-spent. Remember, fitness is a science, and it’s important to base your training on evidence and facts rather than outdated beliefs and misconceptions.