Seven Exercise Myths That MUST Die!

Check out the video version of this article below!

ab exercise using a roman chair
This is me doing my favorite abdominal exercise — the roman chair situp. Notice how much of my body is involved. It’s much harder than it looks.

No. 1: Doing lots of crunches will turn a chubby stomach into a ripped one. 

This may be the one fitness myth that drives me the most crazy. Almost without fail, when I train a person with an extra layer of fat around the waist, they believe that doing a lot of crunches will make the stomach fat go away. WRONG! All it does is strengthen your stomach muscles (and probably give you back pain). The fat on top of your abs will remain. If you want to lose ab fat, you should focus on eating healthy, strength training, and cardio (or, even better, combine HIIT with weight training.) The best abdominal exercises are the ones that involve lots of your body, not just your abs, as they will strengthen your core muscle while also building muscle and burning fat all over your body. Like jack knives or woodchops.

No. 2: Lifting weights will make women bulk up.

It’s extremely rare for a woman to build extraordinary amounts of muscle without chemical assistance. The few very muscular women you saw somewhere either took steroids to get that way or are freaks of nature with unusually high amounts of testosterone. It often turns out, though, that these bulky women have lots of body fat, not merely muscle. It is true that, if you strength train using heavy weights often and eat a high-calorie diet, you might end up looking “bulky.” In other words, if you build muscle and maintain the same body fat level as before, you will look and feel bigger. If you watch your diet and decrease your body fat percentage, you’ll be fine. The good news is, you won’t have to starve yourself when strength training the way you must if you only do cardio to lose weight.

Heavy dumbbells and low reps are your friends!               (By Oktaeder)

No. 3: You must stretch before working out to avoid injury.

I’m sure you’ve heard somewhere that you should do static stretching before you embark on a strenuous workout. Well, don’t do it:) Not only will static stretching weaken your muscles and make your joints unstable, but it will also do nothing to raise your body temperature to prepare you for your activity. It’s honestly a complete waste of time. Instead, to prepare for your workout, focus on doing light, full-body exercises such as walking, jogging in place, jumping jacks, light weight training and/or dynamic stretches.  Save the static stretches for the end of your workout to cool down and elongate your muscles. Hold each stretch for 30 sec or more.

This woman is doing a static stretch.  (By Sergio Savarese)

No. 4: You can lose body fat in one area only and tone others.

New clients often tell me they want skinnier legs and firmer arms. Or they want to lose the spare tire around their waist. If only this was the way the body worked! Unfortunately, you CANNOT decide where on your body you’ll lose fat unless you do liposuction in that area. The body will lose it wherever it wants to lose it. Sad, but true. When it comes to “toning” an area, say your upper arms or your thighs, you must lose the body fat on top of the muscles there before you’ll look toned. Merely weight training that area won’t make enough of a difference. The best approach is a mix of weight training, cardio, and a healthy diet to achieve a toned body. Generally speaking, the main reason people don’t look “toned” is because they have too much body fat and not enough muscle in the area in question.

No. 5: I’m too old to start lifting weights.

It’s NEVER too late to start working out, in particular lifting weights. In fact, if you’re in your fifties or sixties and never weight trained (same as strength trained) before, you’re likely to see and feel a drastic difference in your body if you start now. The main reason old people seem so fragile and well, old, is because they lose muscle mass. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): “A gradual loss in muscle cross-sectional area is consistently found with advancing age; by age 50, about ten percent of muscle area is gone. After 50 years of age, the rate of loss accelerates significantly.” When you’ve gotten the hang of how to work out properly with weights, you’ll get more results if you push yourself. A recent article in the New York Times features a study that shows the intensity with which you work out makes a difference, improving the health of your muscles significantly especially in older people.

Ernestine Shepherd
Ernestine Shepherd is pushing 80 and started weight training at 56.

No. 6: Doing lots of cardio is the best way to lose weight.

This is only true if you’re twenty years old and at least fairly muscular already. I suppose that, if your goal is to merely see results on the scale, it is also true. If you’re forty or fifty and do only the elliptical or light jogging on the treadmill, you’ll probably lose a few pounds on the scale. However, you probably lost muscle as well as fat, which means you won’t look or be any smaller. Doing steady state cardio day in and day out is a great way to break down your muscles. Instead, focus on doing weight training USING YOUR WHOLE BODY. Not only will that build/preserve muscle, but it will also raise your heart rate at the same time, meaning you’re doing cardio at the same time. Throw in some steady state cardio to give your body a rest a few times a week and you’re set. Of course, always ensure you eat a healthy diet:)

No. 7: Doing Pilates results in a dancer’s long, lean body.

Whoever came up with the declaration that Pilates makes your muscles long and lean is a marketing genius. You do feel like a dancer when you practice pilates, doing high reps and fluids movements. But the truth is, you CANNOT change the shape of your muscles. You either have long, lean muscles to begin with or you have shorter, rounder muscles. If you use lots of resistance while doing pilates, your muscles will still get bigger. Conversely, if you do compound exercises and higher reps when weight training, your natural muscle size will stay as small/long as it can for its genetic size.

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