Unsolicited fitness advice and all of the things you “need” in order to be fit seem completely inescapable this time of year. As an avid exerciser and fitness professional with more than 700 hours of Pilates and other exercise science training, I want to preface this article by saying this: There is a lot of noise out there. And there are a lot of people and companies who profit from propelling certain falsehoods and exploiting human insecurities. The truth is, the best workout is quite literally any workout that you enjoy that pushes your body — super far or ever-so-slightly — out of its comfort zone.
Are you ready for my absolute favorite statistic about the power of exercise?
It’s that 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week can reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 50% (SOURCE). So now that we have established that exercise = good, let’s look at some common misconceptions floating around gyms, friend circles, social media, and advertising.
5 Common Fitness Myths — BUSTED!
Myth #1: Working out on an empty stomach will burn more fat.
Not quite! Many think that if you exercise on an empty stomach, you will burn the fat that’s in your body rather than the food you just ate. “It actually does the opposite of what you think it will,” Katelyn Caughron, SB team member and NCSF-certified trainer weighs in. “When you’re exercising with nothing in your system, you burn up valuable energy sources and decrease stamina. Which means it will not be the best workout. Your low blood sugar levels could also leave you feeling weak and shaky. Plus, if you do this daily, your body will adapt and use those fat reserves for energy, and then you will store more fat than usual!”
TAKEAWAY: Try to eat carbohydrates (your muscles’ fave energy source) and protein one to three hours before you exercise. Oatmeal, whole wheat crackers, or a fruit smoothie are three ideas. If it’s an early morning class, even a quick snack like a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts 30 minutes before your session is better than nothing.
Myth #2: You have to sweat for the workout to matter.
Lots of people think high-intensity cardiovascular work (jumping, cycling, running) is the king of all exercise. High-intensity workouts make us feel like we are working harder because we see the sweat and hear our panting breath. But you do not have to take yourself to a point of complete exhaustion and misery for a workout to “count.” The workout you enjoy is the one you’re most likely to stick with. If that’s power walking with your friend, do it. To make it progressively harder, you could add some two-pound Bala weights or progressively add an extra half mile each week.
The benefits of cardio are numerous: better heart health, lower blood pressure, a fortified immune system, and decreased risk of many diseases just to name a few. Moderate-intensity cardio exercises like hiking, tennis, yoga, Pilates, biking, and swimming are powerfully good for your health, even if you’re not drenched in sweat and showing 600-800 calories burned on your Apple Watch. In fact, if weight loss is your goal, one study found that there was no significant difference in body fat decrease between high-intensity and moderate-intensity exercises (SOURCE). Now read that last line again.
TAKEAWAY: If you hate super-hard cardio — like sprinting on a treadmill or doing burpees — don’t do it. You are still challenging your lungs and heart when you’re not in a full-out sweat. Do the things that will make you stay consistent and that you look forward to. Consistency is what gets results, not sporadic sweat sessions.
Myth #3: Stretching before a workout prevents injury.
All the stretchers out there are rolling their eyes, but hear me out. Many still believe that static stretching (for example, sitting and reaching for your toes) before a workout will help prevent injury. There is no evidence to back this up (SOURCE). A better use of your time would be dynamic stretching, which means actively moving around to loosen muscles, limber out joints, and familiarize yourself with your body’s range of motion (for example, alternating straight leg kicks up to your hand). Static stretching has been scientifically shown to increase flexibility over time, so stretch if that is your goal (SOURCE).
TAKEAWAY: Static stretching before exercise won’t prevent injury, but if you like it, go for it. Try doing dynamic stretching or moving while you stretch to loosen up muscles, increase range of motion, and improve body awareness. Consistent static stretching will improve flexibility.
Myth #4: If I’m not sore, I didn’t really work my muscles.
Honestly, I love feeling muscle soreness. It feels like evidence of a worthwhile workout. But soreness does not indicate fitness gains, and the lack of soreness does not mean you slacked off! Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can pop up six to eight hours after a workout and last up to 72 hours. It’s caused by micro-traumas or micro-breaks in your muscles from working them. Your muscles are literally breaking apart from the trauma, and it’s during the post-workout recovery when the magic happens. When you introduce your body to a new stimulus — a new move, increased intensity, or increased number of reps — you will feel those micro-tears just a liiiittle more than usual as they heal and make you stronger. This can also happen when you are new to exercise or come back after a hiatus.
TAKEAWAY: Instead of focusing on soreness after a workout, think about what you are feeling during the workout. Are you bringing your muscles to the point of fatigue (feeling the “burn” so much that you really want to stop) and moving past that point for a few more reps? Then you are working your muscles hard enough to change them, sore or not.
RELATED: Top Health Myths, Busted!
Myth #5: Lifting heavy weights or using heavy resistance makes you bulky.
Women in particular are often resistant to using heavy weights or heavy resistance because they don’t want to get bulky. In reality, weight training with increasing load is highly effective at burning fat and building lean muscle. It takes a long time to build muscle mass. Even three days a week working with weights will not make you “bulk up” in the negative way many people imagine. It will, however, burn a lot of fat while also revealing growing “toned” muscle mass.
While your fitness tracker might tell you that your 30-minute jog burned more calories than your 30-minute weight session, building muscle has incredible long-term effects on our health, from better bone density to increased metabolism. “Weights actually lean the body out,” Katelyn adds. “There’s a belief that doing ONLY cardio is the way to get results, but that’s far from the truth.” Weight training can also increase your resting metabolism over time, therefore helping you burn more calories for hours and even days after a workout (SOURCE).
TAKEAWAY: Lifting weights or working with heavy resistance makes muscles more prominent AND reduces the body fat covering those muscles. Don’t be afraid to go heavier and try for yourself! Ditch the notion of “bulky” and see why there is an ever-increasing appreciation for heavy lifting among women!
In 2022, let’s find movement we love, stick to a routine, eat our greens, hydrate, and spread joy!
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