5 Myths We Often Believe About Exercise, Debunked

Understanding these false claims about working out will change the way you train.

October 20, 2017
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Remember how women were once banned from long-distance running because it was thought that our uteruses might fall out? Maybe not, considering we’ve come a long way from believing that exercise myth, but here are five more we need to ditch—and one that actually deserves some reconsideration.

1. Myth: It’s gotta hurt to work.

The widely popular “no pain, no gain” attitude toward workouts might not be doing your fitness any favors. Somewhere along the way we got the idea that exercise should be an all-out grunt-, sweat-, scream-fest in order for it to be effective. No thanks.

Fact: That delayed muscle soreness (DOMS) is “your body adapting to better prepare your muscles for further physiological stress,” which is “not a bad thing,” according to Angela Ioannou, a fitness expert interviewed by WebMD.

She goes on to warn exercisers not to be “fooled into thinking that DOMS is a strong indicator of how hard you have worked in the gym. The effects will vary from person to person, and the pain often lessens over time as your muscles become conditioned to a higher volume of resistance training.”

So, pick your workouts based on your unique goals and thorough research, not how groan inducing they are.

2. Myth: You should crunch your way to a six-pack.

We know that having a strong core is part of better overall physical performance, but it turns out that all that repetitive crunching you’ve been putting yourself through ever since middle school gym class might not be the best way get you there.

Fact: Abs only show when you have a pretty low body fat percentage, so it makes sense that Wayne Westcott, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Quincy College, told Health you’d be better off hitting other moves that tone more of your core, like planks and bridges.

3. Myth: You can melt fat by targeting trouble zones.

Focusing on specific “trouble areas,” as we often hear them called, with targeted workouts sounds great, but it’s really not that simple.

Fact: According to an article in Yale Scientific, “there are a few basic physiological reasons why targeted fat loss does not work.”

Those reasons have to do with the way our fat and muscles cells work. You can add shape and tone to your muscles with targeted exercises, but according to the article, “Fat loss comes down not to targeted exercises, but to the basic principle of how many calories you expend versus how many you take in.”

4. Myth: Cardio, cardio, cardio is the secret to weight loss.

Few of us are up for committing to the marathons stereotypically associated with lean runners’ bodies. But fear not, you don’t necessarily have to endurance train if you’re making smart choices when it comes to nutrition.

Fact: While a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology did pinpoint aerobic training as the most effective means of decreasing fat and body mass for sedentary and obese or overweight participants, Cris Slentz, PhD, one of the study’s authors, told CNN, “Exercise by itself will not lead to big weight loss. What and how much you eat has a far greater impact on how much weight you lose.”

5. Myth: If you’re not sweating, you’re not burning.

Sweat is so strongly associated with working hard—and working hard with burning calories and getting built—that a lot of us assume the more we sweat, the closer we are to our fitness goals.

Fact:Sweat is a biological response that cools your skin and regulates internal body temperature,” Jessica Matthews, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise told Health. So how much you sweat may be more of an indication of how hot you are.

Part of this has to do with how hard you’re working, but it also has to do with the temperature you’re working out in.

6. One “Myth” That Might Actually Be True:

Think rest days are integral to avoiding over-training? Well, you may not have that excuse to laze around in bed all day Sundays—or whatever your rest day is—anymore.

We don’t necessarily need full rest days in our exercise routines after all. According to an article by Jonathan Ross, American Council on Exercise senior consultant for personal training, “active rest” days or “active recovery” days may actually be more effective at aiding recovery and getting you back in the gym or on the road—unless you’re really injured, in which case passive recovery (aka “doing almost nothing”) is warranted.

If you’re just sore and tired from the previous days’ workouts, then active recovery, like walking or an easy bike ride, may be more helpful than complete rest. As Ross explained, “Muscles and joints love circulation. And they really love it when they need more of it. And they need more of it when they are recovering from a challenging workout.”

And if you’re not positive if something you’ve heard about fitness is fact or fiction, it’s always best to run it by a trusted health or wellness professional to make sure.