Cheapism’s independent editorial team finds the best for less. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission to support our work.
The pursuit of physical perfection (or simply good health) is fraught with half-truths, myths, and urban legends. We asked personal trainers from around the country to weigh in on some of the biggest fitness myths out there. Find out which fitness fads and myths to ignore, and which beneficial workout habits you should be focusing on instead.
MYTH: WEIGHT WORKOUTS MAKE YOU BULKY
Lifting weights, even heavy ones, won’t turn anyone into the Incredible Hulk. Celebrity fitness trainer Tadeo, who has trained Kerry Washington and Jesse Metcalfe, says bulking up would take monumental effort. "To gain that much mass naturally, you would you need to lift extremely heavy weights, combined with an excessive increase in calories," Tadeo says. "Lifting weights will actually have you looking more fit and compact than working out without weights."
MYTH: MUSCLE WILL TURN TO FAT IF YOU DON’T USE IT
We’ve all heard that not exercising results in muscle turning to fat. There’s no truth to this idea, says Robert S. Herbst, a personal trainer and 19-time world champion powerlifter. "Muscle can’t turn to fat," Herbst says. "Muscle is made of protein. And fat is made of lipids. Chemically, one can’t turn into the other." The reality is that if one doesn’t use muscle, it simply atrophies.
MYTH: WORK OUT 60 MINUTES OR IT DOESN’T COUNT
When it comes to workouts, efficiency trumps the length of the workout, says NASM-certified personal trainer and health coach Robyn Lanci. "You can get a great workout in less than an hour," she says. "The best, most efficient workouts work multiple muscle groups at once. Those are called compound movements. Some examples of compound movements are squats, lunges, rowing exercises, and pushing exercises."
MYTH: WORK ABS FOR A SCULPTED STOMACH
Doing endless abs work in pursuit of a six-pack will not lead to success. "Unfortunately, the abs class at the gym is not the secret to a great summer six-pack," Tadeo says. "In reality, that time would be better spent on some resistance training or cardio. Add some quality weightlifting and running, and you will get your desired results."
MYTH: WORK OUT LONGER TO GET FITTER
A longer workout doesn’t necessarily benefit you, Wu says. "You can work out for a longer period of time, but not end up accomplishing as much as you would have during a shorter period," she says. "Why? Because you might be resting too long in between sets or not increasing your intensity as much." The bottom line — short workouts are often more effective if you ramp up the intensity and push your system.
MYTH: RUNNING BAREFOOT IS BETTER
Remember those barefoot-like shoes that came out a few years ago? Their popularity was based on the idea that running barefoot running was more natural and could reduce injuries, says Ruggero Loda, a running shoe expert. "This idea has been debunked by science, and in 2014 Vibram, the company that used those claims to market their FiveFingers line of running shoes, lost a class action lawsuit," Loda says.
MYTH: DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU EAT
Nutrition is actually more important than your fitness regimen. "When you’re seeking to make positive changes, nutrition is 80 percent of it and exercise is 20 percent," health coach Robyn Lanci says. Still, that should not discourage you from working out. Those workouts help build stamina, endurance, mobility, and overall strength, in addition to weight loss.
MYTH: GET A PERFECT BOOTY WITH SQUATS
For those aspiring to have a booty like Kim Kardashian, squats are not the answer. Instead, Tadeo says, do a variety of exercises. "The butt is a very complex muscle group, and the simple motion of a squat isn’t the reason people have that sought-after peach shape," he explains. "The secret is actually a combination of squats, leg press, dumbbells, and movement patterns."
MYTH: DON’T LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS AFTER 40
Few people realize we lose a pound of muscle every year after age 30, Wu says. This cellular breakdown of muscle tissue is a natural part of aging, called sarcopenia. Often people stop lifting heavier weights as they age because they think their bodies are not strong enough. But resistance training promotes bone growth and circulation in the body. "Don’t be afraid to pump some iron when you’re older. Just make sure you are conditioned appropriately to do so," Wu says.
MYTH: EXERCISE THE SAME MUSCLES EVERY DAY
Every time you work out, you create micro-tears in the muscles. After a workout, the soft tissues accumulate lactic acid, which can create soreness. With a day off between exercising, the body can repair. "This time period is when you actually build strength in the tissues," Wu says. "If you keep working out the same muscles every day, the body never gets a chance to fully heal and get stronger, and this can potentially cause injury."
MYTH: DRINK COCONUT WATER WHILE WORKING OUT
There has been a lot of hype surrounding coconut water, but dietician Amy Goodson says the buzz is unjustified. "The point of a sports drink is to provide carbohydrate, sodium, and potassium," Goodson says. "Coconut water is very low in potassium, and while it may be a fine hydrator for the everyday exerciser who is not training very hard, it is not the best choice for athletes or weekend warriors training hours a day in the heat and humidity."
MYTH: ASSUME STRONG ABS EQUALS A STRONG CORE
The idea that an impressive six-pack means you have a strong core isn’t necessarily true, Raffle says. There are 29 muscles that make up your core, and many of them are not abdominal muscles. "A strong core is really about the ability of these muscles to work together, a process of neuromuscular coordination," he explains. "Think of the muscles as a 29-piece orchestra. Your brain is the conductor, and your central nervous system is the conductor’s baton signaling each muscle."
MYTH: ONLY DO CRUNCHES AND SIT-UPS TO GET A FIT CORE
Crunches and sit-ups work only on the most external abdominal core muscles, primarily the rectus abdominis (otherwise known as the six-pack muscle) and the external obliques, Raffle says. That means you’re missing entirely important inner core muscles. "In cases of low back pain, core strengthening is very important, but crunches may be the wrong exercise and actually make the problem worse," he says.
MYTH: DO LOTS OF ABS WORK TO REDUCE BELLY FAT
"One cannot spot reduce," Herbst says. "The only way to lose belly fat is to reduce overall body fat." The best way to do that is with exercises such as weight lifting or high-intensity interval training, which raises metabolism. "Doing a zillion crunches will only work to the extent that they burn some calories, but an overall body weight routine is best."
MYTH: USE CALORIE TRACKERS ON EXERCISE MACHINES
Don’t base your workouts on burning a certain number of calories, says Sophia Borghese, consultant for New Orleans-based All Inclusive Health. "Those calorie trackers on the treadmill might not always be accurate, and focusing on a number takes away from the pleasures of exercise," she says. "Being in shape is not a measure of how quickly you can burn 1,000 calories. It’s a measure of how easily you can work hard."
EAT PROTEIN AFTER A WORKOUT TO BULK UP
While there are many benefits to having protein after a workout, bulking up isn’t necessarily one of them, says Amy Goodson, a Dallas registered dietician and nutrition consultant. While protein after a workout is critical to help your body recover, "Protein also plays a variety of other roles in the body," she says. Bulking up simply requires added calories in your diet, not a specific kind.
MYTH: HIT YOUR MAX HEART RATE OR IT DOESN’T COUNT
Most people can maintain exercising at their maximum heart rate for only a few minutes, says Cherie Miner, a sports medicine physician at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Alabama. "Performance will be greatly affected if people try to push longer than that at their max rate," she says. Maximum heart rate workouts should be done carefully, because prolonged, high-intensity workouts can cause serious injury and exhaustion.
MYTH: FAST BEFORE A CARDIO WORKOUT TO BURN BODY FAT
Fasting before cardio isn’t a good idea, Goodson says. "When you work out with no food in your system, your body typically looks to intramuscular triglyceride (fat stores in the muscle) and glycogen (stored carbohydrate) for fuel," she explains. "If the workout is long, it is likely to use some amino acids from lean muscle as well, in order to fuel the workout." In fact, having some food before a workout will give you more energy and help you move faster and get stronger, resulting in more calories burned over time.
MYTH: YOUR MAX HEART RATE CAN BE DETERMINED BY SUBTRACTING YOUR AGE FROM 220
Many people believe they can calculate their maximum heart rate for exercise by subtracting 220 minus their age. Miner says that may be a good starting point, but there are actually many factors that affect a person’s max heart rate. "Some factors include a person’s physical fitness level, stress and fatigue level, and other external factors such as weather and temperature," she says. To determine your max, talk to your doctor.
MYTH: NO PAIN, NO GAIN
Soreness, especially that lingering sensation you feel for days, is not necessarily the sign of a great workout, Raffles says. "It’s actually a sign that your body is adapting to new stimulus," he says. If you continue with a similar exercise program at similar intensity, the aching will likely not return. But the fact that you are no longer experiencing it is by no means a sign that the workouts are not beneficial.