Top 5 Fitness Myths

By Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN

There are a handful of fitness myths that have been around forever and just won’t seem to go away, regardless of how much scientific research there is to refute them. I believe that human nature is partly to blame: People tend to believe that which supports their own personal biases. The unfortunate downside to subscribing to these myths is that they can prevent you from being the getting the most from your fitness routine. Here are five of the top offenders:

Myth 1: People Who Exercise Frequently Can Eat Whatever They Want.

Oh, if this were only true. One need to simply take a look around the gym to realize this is not the case. Fitness clubs are filled with people who exercise almost every day, yet they just can’t seem to lose weight. It comes down to simple math: It can be easier to keep 500 calories out of your mouth than it is to burn it off. Sure, exercise is a big part of the equation, but it is by no means a license to eat whatever you want.

Myth 2: If I Stop Working Out, My Muscle Will Turn to Fat

This myth, often the result of people witnessing professional athletes lose their physiques and gain weight after retiring from their respective sports, is easily refuted by basic physiology. A fat cell is a fat cell and a muscle cell is a muscle cell. One cannot turn into the other. The reason these athletes gain weight is the same as for everyone else: decreased activity and increased caloric intake

Myth 3: To See Results You Must Exercise Continuously For an Hour

Out of these six myths, this one is probably the most detrimental to the masses. The number one reason people cite for failing to exercise is lack of time. Many believe that, if you don’t allocate thirty to sixty minutes to work out, then it’s not worth doing at all.  Research suggests that three ten-minute bouts of exercise has the same benefits as one thirty-minute session.16Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Dec;44(12):2270-6. Effects of fractionized and continuous exercise on 24-h ambulatory blood pressure. Bhammar DM1, Angadi SS, Gaesser GA. There is even some new research into the value of “micro-workouts,” bouts of exercise as short as sixty seconds, may help to support cardiovascular health.17PLOS One Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment Jenna B. Gillen, Brian J. Martin, Martin J. MacInnis, Lauren E. Skelly, Mark A. Tarnopolsky, Martin J. Gibala. April 26, 2016

Myth 4: Lifting Weights Will Make You Too Bulky

Many athletes avoided strength training for decades, believing that increased muscle size would inhibit movement and lead to decreased performance. The conventional wisdom was that lifting weights would be detrimental and building muscle was to be avoided. Many people still believe this to be the case. Today professional athletes in many different sports engage in some form of strength training to both support  performance as well as help decrease the chance of injury.18Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen, LB. (2013). The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med Beattie K, Kenny IC, Lyons M, Carson BP. (2014). The Effect of Strength Training on Performance in Endurance Athletes. Sports Medicine. 44 (6). 845-865. Many also add stretching into their routines to help maintain flexibility.

Myth 5: Women Should Lift Light Weights to Avoid Getting “Bulky”

It has been my experience that the fear of building “bulk” is one of the primary reasons far too many women either avoid lifting weights completely, or, if they do strength train, choose weights that are too light. Both need to change. The “overload principle” of strength training posits that to “change” a muscle you must adequately challenge it.19Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition. Human Kinetics pp 81, 140 Thus, choosing weights that are too light will not elicit meaningful adaptations. Lifting appropriately challenging weights, however, may confer a number of benefits including increased bone density, increased functional strength and an increase in muscle.20Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jan;31(1):25-30. The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Layne JE1, Nelson ME.

How do you avoid falling prey to these myths? Be sure to seek out information from reputable sources, ones who support their positions with peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Note: Consult your healthcare practitioner before beginning any new exercise routine.