This time of year is all about starting fresh—new goals, solid plans, better habits. You probably have a new exercise routine to help you reach your weight loss and fitness goals. Along the way, whether in the gym, reading the latest books, or talking with your friends, you’ll hear a lot of advice about exercise—not all of which is true.
There are several common misconceptions about exercise and weight loss, but don’t let yourself be fooled! Here are the Top 6 Fitness Myths and the Truths that debunk them:
Myth #1: You can take weight off of specific body parts by doing exercises that target those areas.
Truth: This concept is called “spot training” and unfortunately, it doesn’t burn fat. When you lose weight, you are unable to choose the area in which the reduction will occur. Your body predetermines which fat stores it will use. For example, doing sit-ups will strengthen you abs but will not take the fat off of your stomach. Similarly, an activity like running burns fat all over your body, not just your legs. You can, however, compliment a balanced exercise program with a selection of weight training exercises to gradually lose weight and tone the body.
Myth #2: Women who lift weights will bulk up.
Truth: While on a weight lifting program, the right hormones (testosterone) are necessary in order to bulk up. Women’s testosterone levels are much lower than men’s, so in most cases, they are not capable of building large muscles. In fact, since muscle takes up less room than fat, women tend to lose inches when they strength train. So in addition to the physical benefits (increased metabolism, decreased risk of osteoporosis, increased strength), strength training will help you slim down too!
Myth #3: If you can’t exercise hard and often, there’s really no point.
Truth: Even moderate activity is shown to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. If you don’t have 30 minutes in your day to exercise, try splitting it up into 10-minute segments instead. Everyone can find 10 minutes to spare sometime during the day! There are simple things you can do to increase your activity without having to go to the gym: take the stairs instead of the elevator, jump rope or do body weight exercises (push ups, crunches) at commercial breaks, take a short walk after lunch. Remember that any exercise is better than none!
Myth #4: Performing abdominal exercises will give you a flat stomach.
Truth: This is similar to Myth #1 above. The fact is, the only way to get a flat stomach is to strip away the fat around the midsection. This is accomplished by doing cardio/aerobic exercise (to burn calories), strength training (to increase metabolism) and following a proper diet. Abdominal exercises will help to build muscle in your midsection, but you will never see the muscle definition unless the fat in this area is stripped away.
Myth #5: Since you burn more fat if you exercise at a lower intensity, you want to keep your workout in this “zone”.
Truth: The most important factor in exercise and weight control is not the percentage of fat calories burned, but the total calories burned during the activity. The faster you walk, bike or swim, for example, the more calories you use per minute. Although you will be burning fewer “fat calories”, you will be burning more total calories, and in turn, will lose more weight.
Myth #6: No pain, no gain!
Truth: Exercise should not be painful! At the height of your workout, you should be sweating and breathing hard. You should not be so out of breath that you cannot answer a question, but should not be so comfortable that you can carry on a full conversation. That’s how you know you are working at a good level. It’s important to distinguish between muscle fatigue (feeling “the burn”) and muscle/joint pain (sharp and uncomfortable pain during movement). Pain is your body’s way of telling you that you’re doing something wrong. Listen to your body. If it’s painful, stop!