Everyone and their mom have fitness tips for you. Often they aren’t just wrong. They’re completely backward.
I can see why. Exercise science is confusing. Year after year, the science seemingly contradicts itself. To make matters more complicated, the literature is often confounded by vested financial interests.
Over the last decade, I’ve trained alongside and worked with some top athletes. I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t, and everything in between. I’ve gone deep through the research to separate the good stuff from the rest. I’ve learned a lot in my fitness journey. Today I am sharing common fitness myths that I believed at one point over the years.
Myth #1: Warming Up Isn’t Necessary
Warming up and cooling down seem like colossal time waste.
After all, they’re easy and decently long.
Light movement at the beginning and end of a workout helps you transition from sedentary, to active, and back to sedentary again. I do them for three main reasons:
- Prevents injury. Warm muscles can handle greater loads.
- Increases mobility. Greater blood flow loosens you up.
- Improves movement patterns. Gets your stabilizers firing right, so you move more effectively.
Easing into your workout reduces the fight-or-flight stress response. Your workout becomes more effective. Lower stress hormones lead to greater fitness gains.
Take a clue from competitive athletes everywhere and spend a few minutes warming up and cooling down.
Myth #2: Out-Exercising a Bad Diet
Running so that you can “afford” that cookie?
Most of my athletic career I downed any and every calorie I could get my hands on.
At one point I justified it as “bulking”. After that, as part of my “recovery” strategy. There’s a grain of truth to recovery depending more on calorie quantity over quality. Muscle runs on glycogen (basically sugar). Long, demanding workouts burn glycogen, so that your next meal goes towards replenishing it before spilling over into the bloodstream and causing metabolic damage (according to Lumen, post-workout I can stay in ketosis even after consuming 100 grams of carbohydrates).
Unless you’re engaging in specific types of long and strenuous workouts, you probably burn fewer calories than you realize. Many runners average a measly 300-600 calories burned per hour. Sure, it’s the equivalent of several cookies. Spiking stress hormones, however, leads to more fat storage (look at long-distance runners to see the “skinny-fat” phenomenon).
Hard training taxes your recovery systems and adds stress. In small to moderate doses, this stress makes you a resilient human. Eating poorly increases inflammation and hampers your recovery.
Myth #3: Mandatory Post-Workout Protein Shake
I wouldn’t be caught dead without a blender bottle full of whey protein.
Like clockwork, within 20 minutes of finishing a workout I had downed my entire post-workout protein shake.
I lived tethered to pre-and post-workout supplements. After all, I wanted results. I panicked in the rare case of life getting between me, my workout, and a protein shake.
Had I wasted the entire session?
No. There are many factors that go into workout nutrition, but overall protein consumption throughout the day matters more than the timing of any shakes.
I now follow a rule of thumb when contemplating supplementary protein:
- Eight or more hours since my last protein-rich meal —> consume protein quickly
- Less than eight hours since my last protein-rich meal —> wait until my next meal
Myth #4: Spot Targeting Trouble Areas
Spot targeting is the idea of torching fat in one specific part of the body with specifically targeted exercises.
The concept makes logical sense.
Sounds great in theory, but targeting “trouble areas” doesn’t work. It’s been debunked time and time again.
Usually, the exercises isolate small muscles that burn few calories and thus fat. ACE Fitness addresses the myth of targeting trouble areas:"You can try to cook a turkey with a candle, or you could use the oven. Prioritizing the smaller muscles without addressing the bigger ones is a pennywise and pound-foolish way to train." Click To Tweet
Instead of spot targeting, hit the large muscles through compound exercises that involve multiple joints. The hormonal changes create the optimal internal environment needed to build the right areas, and breakdown others (like trouble spots).
Myth #5: Soreness Indicates a High-Quality Workout
Soreness signals one thing.
That you were under greater demand than usual. You did something out of your ordinary routine, and the body is adapting as a result. Soreness comes from the (beneficial) inflammatory process that your body uses to scaffold greater resilience in the future.
At the same time, you can have a great workout, challenge yourself and grow, without any perceived soreness. Don’t despair if you wake up the day after a tough training session and feel okay.
If every workout leaves you intensely sore day in and day out, you may be approaching overtraining (you can track performance biometrics like HRV with popular biohacking wearables for early warnings of declining recovery status). Add some more rest and recovery into your program before symptoms progress.
Myth #6: Sweat More to Lose Weight
Sweat is a proxy of your environment, and workout intensity.
You may barely break a sweat during the most intense workouts in Antarctica, while drenched in sweat from sitting in the desert.
All else equal, the harder your body works, the more you sweat. Working hard burns more calories and causes greater adaptations.
Since you’re mostly water, your scale can deceive you. Water loss (dehydration) is not real weight loss. Chronic dehydration can absolutely stall your weight loss progress and even set you back.
Chugging water all day is a nuisance which is why I’m a fan of hydrating without drinking tons of water.
Myth #7: Effective Workouts Take Too Long
I see where the all-or-nothing approach to fitness comes from.
- Physique competitors spend the good part of the day in the gym. Sometimes double sessions.
- Runners often boast about multi-hour runs. Or body-damaging ultra-marathons.
Truth is, the healthiest people in the world rely on constant easy activities like walking and the time-friendly one-minute exercise routine to stay in great shape.
You can even complete an effective strength workout in 12 minutes.
Or low-impact blood flow restriction training in about 20.
Common high-intensity interval workouts (HIIT) range from four to 15 minutes.
You can even find a hobby that involves movement that doesn’t feel like exercise. Dance is a perfect brain and body booster. There’s something for everyone.
Myth #8: You Need Workout Supplements
I love supplements, and don’t plan on quitting.
- More effective
- Feel easier
And the benefits of the right homemade pre-workout ingredients spill over into longevity and overall performance.
At the same time, supplements are completely unnecessary for all but elite athletes. You can get great results from sweating and attention to the other pillars of peak performance.No matter what supplement labels say, they definitely don't replace hard work. They're meant to "supplement" the training itself. Click To Tweet
Myth #9: Treadmills & Cardio Machines Are Substitutes for Real Outdoor Exercise
I hate cardio machines.Treadmills, stationary bikes, stair-steppers, and ellipticals are synthetic forms of exercise that don't compare to running, jogging, biking, or even walking outdoors. Click To Tweet
Aside from missing out on the great outdoors, treadmill work is different from actual running. A normal stride includes three parts. When the ground moves for you (as in treadmill running), your stride lacks one of the three.
Benefits from cardio machine exercise don’t transfer over to outdoor, real-world exercise or even movement.
Dr. Doug McGuff’s clients have made significant progress from dropping cardio machines from their routine,
“It’s even possible to perform a type of activity that is of insufficient intensity to bring about the desired metabolic adaptations yet is of sufficient volume to bring about large amounts of tissue destruction.”
Add to that the neural adaptation to monotonous treadmill running, and the wear and tear on your body can exceed any nominal benefits.
Myth #10: Only Aerobic Training Strengthens the Heart
On the same note, “aerobics” is an activity-specific misnomer.
Instead, you’re probably more interested in building a strong cardiovascular system. And you can, without tedious aerobic sessions.
Science shows that you can’t isolate your aerobic system. This is great news, meaning…
Not only does resistance training build longevity-friendly lean muscle mass, but it strengthens the cardiovascular system and produces fewer inflammatory free-radicals in the process.
Myth #11: Plans and Programs Work Indefinitely
Consistently challenge yourself for long enough, and you’ll see progress.
Then one day you run into the dreaded plateau. All progress dries up. Nothing’s changed and you’re left standing there wondering what happened.
That’s exactly it. Nothing’s changed. Your body adapts to the loads placed on it. Like running on a treadmill, it becomes more efficient at whatever movement it constantly does. The brain forms neural shortcuts to the unvarying workouts:
- Fewer calories burned
- Slower (or no) progress
You have weapons at your disposal to combat plateaus, or prevent them in the first place:
- On occasion, switch to a different variation of the exercise. That can be a large change like switching from a barbell back squat, to sprinting. Or smaller such as changing the width of your feet.
- Change reps, sets, or exercise speed. Each of these put different add novelty to your program
- Workout fewer (or more) days per week
- Try new workout styles. If you focus on strength, add in more HIIT or power movements.
- Shorten or lengthen your rest between exercises.
- Test advanced strategies like super slow reps, blood flow restriction training, pyramid sets, rest-pause, or “negatives”.
Good things benefit from some variety. Apply this concept to your lifestyle outside the gym. Switch up your diet on occasion, take a caffeine tolerance reset break, or try a social media and news detox.
Myth #12: Justified Couch Time
“Even if you work out 7 hours a week—far more than the suggested 2-3 hours—you can’t reverse the effects of sitting 7 hours at a time.”
After a killer workout I’ve plopped down onto the couch and sworn off any and all movement. Many times.
I figured that I earned it. I did just beat myself up and drain all my energy.
To live a long time, that’s a mistake.
So what’s the smart approach?
Set a reminder timer to go off every 30 to 60 minutes. When it does, get up and move around. Or, if you’re feeling good, do a brief little micro-workout. Just enough to get the blood flowing and offset the stagnation. You’ll feel better too.
Ignore Common Fitness Myths for Greater Results
Bad training advice is a dime a dozen.
Hopefully you’re leaving here feeling a little freer. You can thrive without doing forms of exercise you hate, or a pantry full of more supplement canisters than food.
My main takeaways are:
- You’ll survive without immediate pre and post-workout nutrition or supplementation
- The more natural the movement, the more effective
- Sprinkle in little movements throughout the day
What are your top exercise, training, and fitness myths?