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The Top 10 Most Persistent Fitness Myths

One of the reasons I decided to become a personal trainer was that I realized how challenging it is for regular folks to find useful, accurate fitness information and advice online throughout my own fitness journey. While most clients mean well and want to do well for their health, the vast majority come to me with preconceived and incorrect notions about fitness.

This article is meant for that audience I might never get to interact with personally. These common myths have longevity, are often based on anecdotal evidence, and frustrate me as a trainer and health coach.

So, here are the top 10 most frustrating misconceptions about fitness and health without further ado. Use these tools to further your fitness journey and if you have more questions, book a free consultation with me or add them in the comments.

1. You Can Target Fat Loss In Specific Areas Of The Body

This one is super common. "I want to lose belly fat" sounds reasonable but is impractical. No form of diet or exercise will help you spot-target a specific part of the body.

With that being said, you can add muscle to any part of the body with consistent strength training and eating in a calorie surplus. But reducing fat in any single body area requires reducing total body fat, period. You cannot target belly fat, thigh fat, or any other local area of the body. You can condition the muscle for strength or hypertrophy while eating in a calorie deficit to reduce overall body fat.

2. Longer, Sweatier Workouts Are More Meaningful

Don't use this as a gauge for success during your workouts. Sweat and intensity will vary day to day, workout to workout, and that is appropriate and necessary.

Your body will use energy as efficiently as it can, and if that means you didn't sweat much today, it doesn't mean your workout was ineffective.

Similarly, you can get a highly effective workout that meets your exercise expenditure goals in less than 60 minutes with focus and intention. Weight loss and weight gain are not dependent upon the length of your workout (different from "time under tension") or how sweaty you get doing it. I actually burn more calories and sweat less on a 3-mile run (25-30 minutes) than I do during my average 60-90 minute strength training session.

3. I Should Be Stretching Before a Workout

We've always been told to stretch before working out, but that language is problematic.

Theoretically, yes, you should stretch before a workout. However, that stretching should only be part of dynamic movement, which looks a lot like the specific warm-up for an exercise. You should NOT be static stretching (non-moving holds) before a workout because it increases injury risk and can negatively affect performance.

Save static stretching for after your workout.

4. I Should Eat More Protein, Exclude Fat and Carbs

Diet culture has been built on the concept that you need to deprive yourself of some satisfying thing to make room for the "healthier" thing in your diet. Stop right there.

To reiterate concepts from my Nutrition 101 post, the human body needs 45 to 55 percent of its calories to come from carbohydrates, 10-35 percent from proteins, and 20-35 percent from fats. This is foundational, not negotiable.

Any diet that asks you to cut carbs, fats, or protein from your diet is dangerous. Any diet that asks you to eliminate any food type from your diet entirely is unsustainable. Though you might lose weight initially, you'll gain it back quickly after readjusting to a regular diet.

5. If I Want To Build Muscle, I Need Protein Supplements

The science surrounding supplements, including protein powders, bars, cookies, and other supplements, is new and sporadic at best.

Protein supplements and other supplements (including your daily vitamins) should ONLY be taken when you cannot get that specific nutrient in your diet. Food is ALWAYS the preferred method of nutrient intake. Whole food sources come complete with micronutrients, water, fiber, and the catalysts they need for easier digestion.

While protein supplements do provide protein, their bioavailability is challenging to measure. This means we're generally uncertain how much of a manufactured supplement the body will use and how much it will excrete.

For total transparency, I do use supplements. Because I am a vegetarian, I take a B12 supplement (a water-soluble vitamin that only comes from animal products) and regularly use whey protein powder, pea protein and eat protein bars. For me, getting enough protein is difficult, and getting enough through my diet is near-impossible. While they are not my primary protein sources, I do use protein supplements to SUPPLEMENT what I'm already eating.

6. Lifting Weights Makes You Bulky

This myth always makes me laugh because I genuinely see it as a thinly-veiled scare tactic that patriarchal societies have used to force women into a socially accepted range of aesthetics (this is called "catering to the male gaze"). In short, it's a gross misconception that keeps women out of male-dominated spaces, like the gym.

This is often the concern of female clients who have heard this anecdotally. The truth is unless you are strength training in a rep range that promotes hypertrophy while eating in a protein-dense calorie surplus for many months, it is improbable that this would happen. Hypertrophy (muscle growth) requires intentional, consistent dedication for all people and depends a lot on testosterone.

What this means is that it takes women a very, very long time to get "bulky" like a bodybuilder. For reference (anecdotally)I am now in year 10 of lifting weights and will probably spend another 3-5 years committed to my routine and diet to achieve that bodybuilder look. On top of that, it requires that I am dedicated to my strict sleep schedule, self-care, minimal alcohol intake, etc.

No one gets bulky overnight, and muscle tone never happens by accident. Day after day after day, it takes thousands of small decisions to reach this "bulky" aesthetic. Stop letting this myth keep you from meeting your fitness goals.

7. It's Risky For Seniors To Workout Or Lift Weights

Absurd. Seniors who have been active throughout their lives should remain active as long as it is painless and rewarding.

Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming are gentler on joints if that's a concern. Even if a senior adult is new to training, older adults in good general health can start new workout programs with clearance from their physicians. I have personally trained several retired clients who have seen great success with their overall health and exercise routine, reducing their risk for heart attack and even building lean muscle mass over time.

8. Pregnant Women Should Avoid Exercise

Like the elderly, pregnant women who have always been exercisers should continue physical activity as long as it is comfortable throughout the pregnancy. Ask your doctor if you are high-risk for complications or have an underlying condition (gestational diabetes, heart disease, upper-respiratory issues, etc.).

If you are new to exercise, start slow and stay consistent with supervision from your doctor. Weight lifting, running, Pilates and yoga are all great options for healthy people during pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily for most pregnant women.

9. Ab workouts will eventually give me a six-pack.

Oooff... this one might be the worst on the list.

It has been my experience that this concept is difficult for many to understand and accept. Abs-focused training is fantastic for the mind, body, and soul. But it's not going to give you a six-pack. What it might do is help you build strength, or muscle if you're eating in a calorie surplus.

The hard truth is that the only way you will see that six-pack is by reducing overall body fat. Your exercise program should consider your diet heavily if your goal is to achieve the coveted, aesthetically pleasing six-pack of your dreams. For most women, the six-pack makes its appearance around 16 (between ~14 and ~20) percent body fat. For men, it's between 6 and 13 percent. Remember every body is different, though.

Don't Get Discouraged!

If any of these myths were news to you, don't worry. A good trainer will help you understand each of these concepts and how to approach fitness in a more informed, consistent, and patient way. You can still get the results you want from your fitness program, and education is the key to success.

Let go of antiquated stereotypes, ageist assumptions, and ideas about exercise that are exclusionary or limiting. This is your adventure! Find what you love in your personal fitness journey.

Questions about this top ten list? Leave them in the comments or contact me today for free health and fitness information.

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