The fitness world is FULL of information. It’s close to bursting, and it seems more often than not, there’s another ‘must have’ piece of equipment or superfood you just have to eat! Well, I’m here to tell you that amongst the noise, which can be really confusing, there is some truth. Yes, if you eat poorly, no amount of exercise will help you shift that stubborn belly fat. Yes, you do need at least five portions of fruit and veg per day (ideally seven to nine) and yes, HIIT workouts burn fat. There’s no doubt there is truth, but amid the facts, there are complete myths. In my time in the fitness industry, I’ve seen plenty of trends come and go, from fad diets to wacky workout techniques, and everything in between. I know what works long term, and what doesn’t. That’s why I’ve decided to unearth and dispel the top fitness myths that could be hindering your progress.
Myth #1 Long and slow burns more calories
- I’ll start with a very common myth. The best way to burn fat is through extended periods of cardio. This isn’t entirely true. Running, cycling, swimming or any other forms of cardio will create the calorie deficit which will help you burn fat, but they may not be the best way to do this. High intensity interval training, or HIIT as it’s commonly known, is a superb way of burning calories for longer after the workout. Running for 45 minutes will burn a lot of calories during the workout, but this stops very soon after you stop exercising. HIIT workouts have the benefit of keeping the metabolism fired up for an hour or two after exercise. This equates to more calories burned post exercise as well as during (anyone who has performed HIIT will know what I mean!). Secondly, HIIT is less catabolic than cardio (catabolic being where muscle is broken down for energy) and can result in additional muscle mass. Muscle is what’s known as a metabolically-active tissue. This means it burns calories, even while at rest. Simply put, more muscle means more calories burned all the time, not just while exercising.
Myth #2 You should work out every day
- This myth was partly covered in my previous blog post where I discussed recovery. I have no idea where this myth originated, but not only is it false, it’s potentially hazardous to your health. A common misconception is that it is the training you do that helps you improve. In fact, that’s not the whole story. You progress when you rest. That’s right, when you’re watching TV following your training session, your body is making the physiological adaptations to improve performance. To briefly touch upon how training works, when you lift weights, perform cardio or undertake any other form of exercise, you place the body under stress. As a response, the body adapts by laying down new muscle fibres, increasing capillarization around muscles, increasing the size of your heart and much more. This sequence of overload and recovery is what leads to improved performance, and recovery is essential to enable this process. Without it, you will see diminished returns and a greater risk of injury. Working out every day is dangerous.
Myth #3 Pregnant women can’t exercise
- The subject of another blog posting, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this subject and needs a lot of detail to cover the situation in full. Because of this, I’ll discuss the highlights, but if you would like to know more, the you can read the full article here. As I found when writing the previous article, it’s too ‘black-and-white’ to say that women can’t exercise during pregnancy. Yes, if you’re about to go into labour, it’s probably best not to go for a run, however, Serena Williams won the Australian Open while in the early stages of pregnancy. As a man, I’ll never experience the stress placed on the body during pregnancy, but I do know that the strain is immense and even everyday human functioning can be tough, let alone winning at an elite level. This shows that you can exercise while pregnant, but it depends on how far along you are. For example, new studies have suggested that if you were a runner before pregnancy you can continue with running, but doctors advise that you listen to your body. If you feel uncomfortable then stop and rest. There is no point putting yourself under undue stress. It’s also worth noting that there is no evidence that strenuous exercise will lead to a miscarriage, so despite many women being fearful of this, there is nothing to worry about. As a caution, don’t overexert yourself, be aware that you will be prone to sports-related injuries, it’s not advisable to not exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time, and if you feel light-headed or dizzy then stop immediately, drink some water and take a rest.
Myth #4 Muscle weighs more than fat
- Okay, this one isn’t a complete myth but it isn’t as simple as muscle weighing more than fat. The truth is that muscle is denser than fat so will weigh more for the same volume. If you were to weigh 1lb of fat and 1lb of muscle, they would both weigh 1lb! What would be different, however, is the amount of each substance 1lb consists of. As muscle is denser than fat, there would be less. This is an important point to remember. When your clothes feel a little loose, or you’re getting the definition you want, but the scales tell you a number higher than you expected, don’t lose hope, it’s just the developed muscle adding a little weight. You’re still doing a great job!
Myth #5 Lifting weights makes you bulk up
- Again, this isn’t a complete myth, but it isn’t clear-cut. If you WANT to lift weights to bulk up, you can. Simple. However, if you want to lift weights without bulking up, then you can do that too. You will develop some muscle regardless of what you do, and this can’t be avoided, but unless you’re consuming massive amounts of protein or taking additional supplements, you won’t become the size of a bodybuilder by lifting weights. What you can do by lifting weights is put on lean muscle, which contributes to a greater calorie burn to help give you that toned look sought after by many. Doing more repetitions with lighter weights is still good—but for muscle endurance. Doing fewer repetitions with heavier weights is how you achieve muscle strength, which helps you not only do more but also contributes to a lean, toned appearance. In other words, lifting heavy will just make you stronger—not bigger.
Myth #6 You need a low-carb diet to lose weight
- To keep this blog short, I’ll steer clear of going on a rant. This is one of the most common myths in the fitness world and one that worries me the most. Despite what people think, carbs are not the enemy when trying to lose weight or eat healthily. There are complex carbs, like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and wholegrains, and these are generally considered healthy because they don’t cause sugar spikes like simple refined sugars. Staying clear of the refined sugars is what I would suggest. In addition, carbohydrates provide the energy which you need to train effectively. Without them, you might be doing yourself an injustice.
Myth #7 You need to feel sore to have a good workout
- “Being sore doesn’t necessarily mean it was a great workout—it just means that a significant amount of stress was applied to the tissue,” says exercise physiologist and trainer Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness “You can have a great workout and not be sore the next day,” he says. Proper recovery will help prevent achy muscles. “Refuel within the first 30 to 45 minutes post-exercise, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep—all of these things can help boost recovery and minimise soreness.”
Myth #8 The more you sweat, the more you burn
- Especially drenched after your regular afternoon run? That doesn’t mean you necessarily torched any more calories than usual (sorry!). Sweat is a biological response that cools your skin and regulates internal body temperature. It’s just as apt to be the result of an overheated studio, the weather or your personal physiology as it is a gruelling gym session.
Myth #9 You can focus on losing fat from parts of your body
- There is a common belief that you can choose where you burn off fat. The one I hear all the time is that performing crunches will burn fat off the stomach. Both myths are just that, myths. You cannot choose where you burn fat. Your body will store fat around the hips, stomach and waist as protection for vital organs. This means these are the last places to lose weight and the only way to do so is to create a calorie deficit for long enough that your body starts to use these stores for energy. There is no short cut unfortunately. You have go through the same process and burn fat from all over the body before you get to the stubborn places.
Myth #10 Stop eating carbs after 6pm
- This is linked to Myth #6 and really doesn’t have much validity. The theory is that if you consume carbohydrates after 6pm, your body will store more energy as fat because presumably, you will have eaten at a time when you’re burning less energy. Sound reasoning, I suppose. However, there are numerous studies which state that it doesn’t matter when you eat, losing weight comes down to one simple and ageless rule: burn off more than you consume. Eat at 1pm, 10pm, 8am, it doesn’t matter. Eating late will not cause you to store more fat.