With the deluge of information about working out, fitness, and weight loss, it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. Here are five of the most common myths about working out that you’ve probably heard, along with the true facts that debunk these ideas and make the most of the time you spend exercising.
1. Crunches are the best way to get the six-pack abs you’re after.
If you’ve been doing 100 crunches a night since middle school and don’t have sculpted abs to show for it, you might have already suspected that this is a myth. According to Men’s Fitness magazine, those who want to achieve a washboard stomach should focus on a combination of interval training, eating the right nutrients, getting enough sleep each night, and taking steps to minimize stress. And instead of crunches, core-strengthening exercises like planks and push-ups are the best way to get flat abs. Crunches just don’t burn enough calories to be effective at toning muscles–and if you do them incorrectly, you’re putting yourself at risk for spine injury.
2. The calorie counter you’re using is accurate.
Many people who are counting calories keep track of how many calories they’ve burned by going by the number on the elliptical at the gym or on their favorite wearable fitness tracker. The fact is, though, that there is no way for these machines to accurately measure your calorie burn. That’s because they don’t take into account body fat, which has a profound impact of how many calories you get rid of during a given fitness section according to CNN.com. Even devices with heart rate monitors aren’t necessarily getting a fully accurate picture of what’s happening in your body during a workout.
3. No pain, no gain.
According to Lifehacker, this oft-repeated mantra is one of the most pervasive and harmful fitness myths that won’t die. While some muscle soreness the day after a workout is natural if you’re new to working out or have pushed yourself harder than usual. If you’re experiencing anything beyond a mild ache, however, it’s usually the sign of an injury. While workouts should be challenging to be effective, pain is not part of the equation (and may actually make you less likely to pursue your fitness goals). Also false? The idea that muscle soreness that manifests a day or two after your workout is caused by lactic acid buildup. This phenomenon is actually caused by miniscule tears in the muscles. Any pain during the workout itself is cause for concern, and you should stop immediately rather than “pushing through the pain.” See your doctor right away if you think you’ve injured yourself during a workout.
4. Women shouldn’t do strength training because they’ll get bulky.
On the contrary, CNN notes that women just have too much estrogen to create the muscle mass associated with professional bodybuilders. In fact, many women notice that after they begin strength training, they actually appear slimmer and lose weight more quickly than with cardio workouts alone. Shape magazine notes that the more muscle you build, the tighter and sleeker your body will be. According to the federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should do strength training exercises at least twice a week. If you’re still concerned, opt for fewer repetitions with heavier weights instead of more repetitions with lighter weights.
5. Sports drinks are a great way to replenish your body’s electrolytes and minerals during and after a workout.
While this one may be true for marathon runners and other serious athletes, drinking sports drinks can do more harm than good casual fitness enthusiast. According to Lifehacker, the calories and sugar in these types of drinks often offset the calories you’ve burned by working out, and Men’s Fitness notes that the sugar can also slow the fat-burning process. Stick to water if you’re doing moderate exercise and/or if you’re working out with the goal of losing weight.
Next time you hit the gym, head off on your bike, or do an exercise video in the privacy of your own home, keep these five fitness myths in mind to avoid hijacking your workout goals and wasting your time with information that has been debunked by health scientists.