6 Fitness Myths That Are Doing More Harm Than Good

"Don't lift too much or you'll get bulky."

If personal trainers had a dollar for every time a woman came into the gym saying she doesn’t want to lift weights because she’s afraid of getting bodybuilder muscles, none of them would have to get up at 4 a.m. to support themselves anymore.

The theory that working with dumbbells causes women to make incredible gains in muscle mass, giving them a “powerlifter look,” is a myth and does a disservice to women.

Weight training can do great things for the body. It strengthens bones, increases metabolism, and, yes, builds muscle.

But without the assistance of supplements, women are incapable of getting as big as male bodybuilders, because they don’t have the same testosterone coursing through their veins.

If this comes as a surprise to you, it’s in your best interest to consider these fitness myths to spare yourself from wasting any time—or worse, hurting your body.

Myth #1: The best time to work out is first thing in the morning.

We think a morning person originated this myth! In truth, there aren’t any studies to corroborate the idea that one time of the day is better than another for pursuing physical health and success.

Since consistency is key to exercise adherence, the best time of the day to work out is whatever time of day you’re actually going to do it.

Everyone has habits and patterns, and by trial and error, you’ll be able to figure out when you most enjoy working out and are best able to fit it in.

As a side note, studies have shown that people who work out in the morning tend to feel more energized and alert throughout the day.

Myth #2: Exercise is the best way to lose weight.

Although exercise can burn calories, increase your metabolism, and make your body look more toned and healthy, exercising alone isn’t the best way to lose weight. When you’re looking to make a significant change on the scale, you can’t assume that you can eat whatever you want and just “work it off” later.

Studies have shown that it’s not lack of exercise that causes people to be overweight; it’s unhealthy dietary habits. The first step toward reaching your weight loss goals is adhering to positive dietary change. Only after you’ve established a healthy diet can you expect exercise to boost your weight loss potential.

Some research does show that when exercise and diet are combined, people lose weight much faster than by dieting alone, and they keep it off more consistently. Still, research widely points to diet playing a much bigger role in weight loss than exercise does.

Myth #3: Sit-ups are the best exercise for your abs.

Ah, the dreaded sit-up—hated by every grade-schooler who was made to do as many as possible in a minute for the Presidential Fitness Test. Unfortunately, as hard as sit-ups may be, they don’t actually do a whole lot for your core other than leave it in pain.

Sit-ups are hard on your back and hip flexors, can pull on your lower back, and only target a few muscle groups in an isolated manner. We know your high school gym teacher (and the president) thought sit-ups were the bomb, but there are other safer and more effective exercises that target your abs.

One in particular is the plank. This core winner engages a balanced set of muscles located around the front, back, and sides of your body and gives you a chance to stretch your back (or, more technically speaking, your posterior muscles).

Myth #4: Sports drinks are the best way to rehydrate after a workout.

We know you want this one to be true (because that blue electrolyte powder is just so tasty), but unfortunately, most sports drinks are filled with sugar and preservatives that don’t do much to refuel you—unless you’ve engaged in a seriously intense workout or been exercising for more than an hour, that is.

In short, refueling after a quick jog around the neighborhood or a pickup game of basketball requires nothing more than a nice tall glass of water.

Now, if you’ve committed yourself to the town’s 10K and are sweating like a wrestler in a rubber suit, experts say you’ve got to replace your electrolytes and refuel properly.

New studies show that the best way to do this is not just with carbs and electrolytes, but with a little protein in the mix as well.

A study conducted in Spain with 24 elite cyclists showed that after 60 minutes of physical activity, beverages that contained protein and carbohydrates were absorbed better and refueled the athletes more efficiently than carb-electrolyte combos alone.

So if you’re on your way to do a half marathon, pick up a sports drink that’s got some protein in it for after the race.

Myth #5: It takes two weeks to get out of shape.

If it takes forever to get into shape, it should take just as long to get out of shape, right?

Unfortunately, no.

The two-week rule that floats around some gyms and keeps not-so-motivated exercisers feeling confident their gains won’t go to waste if they ditch out for 14 days is, for the most part, wishful thinking.

On the whole, the old “use it or lose it” adage is accurate when it comes to exercise and the body.

A study of runners, rowers, and power athletes found that overall muscular strength can be maintained for as long as a month after an athlete stops their training activities but that their sport-specific skills went into decline around the two-week mark.

More specifically, slow-twitch muscle fibers in runners and fast-twitch fibers in powerlifters declined after 14 days.

And what about cardio? Well, those gains don’t fare as well when discipline goes by the wayside. Another study found that after just 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use) dropped by 7 percent, and endurance-associated enzymes in the blood decreased by 50 percent.

The moral of the story? Even though periodic rest is good for the body (and the soul), you may not want go more than a week without doing some sort of cardio, and you’ll want to get back to your strength training within a two-week timeframe.

Myth #6: Weightlifting turns fat into muscle.

“Transform your fat into muscle!” promises another fad fitness infomercial. As real (and exciting) as the actors make it sound, the reality is that you can’t turn fat into muscle.

Fat-to-muscle magic is impossible, because fat and muscle are two different types of tissues.

Fatty tissue is found between muscles and around internal organs like the heart and liver, whereas muscle tissue is found throughout the body.

Strength training builds the muscle that surrounds fat, but it doesn’t replace it. Muscle does, however, in an indirect way, use burned fat as energy to grow. This is where the myth may have come from in the first place.

Diet and exercise create opportunities for fat to be broken down into fatty acids and glycerol, which are absorbed into your bloodstream then used by your muscles for energy.

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