November 06, 2009

Unicorns, Fairies....and Fitness? Top 10 Fitness Myths

I love lists. Call me anal (you're anal) but there's something about the order and brevity that appeals to me. I especially love the kind where an expert is called upon to put everything I need to know about a certain topic into a nice, easy-to-follow format instead of having to go out and research it all by myself. And if it happens to relate to a subject that has haunted interested me for years, all the better. So when I saw this list of the Top 10 Fitness Myths, I put aside my macaroni and cheese omelet and began to read.

1) Crunches will burn fat off your abs. First things first: addressing the fat that's covering those abs through diet and exercise has to come before the crunches. In essence, make sure your underwear isn't on over your clothes.

2) There is an easy way to lose weight. There are some "truisms" in life that you know right away are a load of b.s. - "It's not about the money", "This will only hurt a little", and "On time and under budget" - and this is just another one of them. There is a multi-billion dollar industry that's been built upon making it look easier than it really is. Hard work and perseverance are still the answer. If it was easy, I would've found and exploited it by now and Bill Gates and Oprah would be working for me.

3) If you don't have time to get in the government's recommended 30-90 minutes a day, you shouldn't bother. Smaller sessions totaling up to your overall daily quota are still beneficial. (My guess is they're referring to exercise here and not the wait time for your swine flu shot that hasn't even been shipped to your part of the country yet.)

4) Weightlifting makes women bulky. Not unless you're using steroids and/or are in the New York Yankees line-up - which I realize is redundant. (And why, yes, I am a sore loser Red Sox fan - no redundancy intended.)

5) You aren't working hard enough if you aren't dripping in sweat. I assume that they're referring to my own sweat here and not the second-hand sweat spraying off that uber-runner guy on the treadmill next to me. Workout intensity, temperature and a variety of other factors determine how much you sweat.

6) Workouts should hurt. Dentists, dating, mammograms and parenting - yes. Workouts - no. A little soreness a day or two later is common but anything beyond that really isn't and is a sign of something gone wrong.

7) If you stop exercising, your muscles will turn to fat. Your muscles will probably get smaller and/or atrophy but your fat will get fatter all on its own if you stop working out. Fat and muscle tissue are different and seem inversely related; like they take turns being the dominant one - a little bit like the Clintons.

8) As you age, you will lose muscle and gain fat. Part of this might be true, actually, because of your declining metabolism, in which case resistance training can help retain lean muscle - which is not to be confused with resisting change; another more insidious sign of aging (Also see: "Oldsmobile cravings" and "Dinner for two" oops - sorry, that should be "Dinner AT two").

9) Workouts must be intense to burn fat. Surgery is intense. So are IRS audits and air traffic controllers. That philosophy major your dated in college was too. Workouts don't have to be. They can be just as effective at burning fat at lower intensities but you have to do them longer. Plus, you lower the burn-out factor by making them easier to withstand.

10) Stretching isn't important because it won't make you thinner. Stretching is like adding oil to your car's engine - just try driving without it and then you'll appreciate its importance. Missing workouts because of injuries caused from not stretching properly will add to your bottom's line.

So what about it - have you fallen for any of these myths or can you think of any others that could have made the list?


  1. I am pleased to see that exercise does not have to be painful in order for it to be working. My secret is a little exercise every day.

  2. GOOD LORD you nailed em.

    and all the ones which people seem NOT to wanna let go of (and by people I do, indeed, mean my parents :))

  3. I'll never understand the muscle-turns-to-fat one. That's just insane.

    The only way crunches will burn fat off your abs is if you're able to do them while running on a treadmill or using the elliptical. Either way, I wouldn't recommend the motion as you just might end up with your face planted to the floor.

    And as far as "And why, yes, I am a sore loser Red Sox fan - no redundancy intended." goes, I'll do you one better: I'm a Cubs fan.


  4. So underwear doesn't go on the outside?
    Good to know.

    Terrific list.
    I especially love the small bits of exercise one. It really, really, really does add up & doesn't have to be done in one big ol' chunk of time.
    That one kept me down for the longest time. I could never carve out 60-90 minutes each day to exercise. pffft, I have 2 kids - finding that much time for myself must mean it is the middle of the night & everyone is asleep...including me! :)

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Great job at myth busting! (And hilarious too). It's amazing how commmon these misconceptions are.

    Even fitness magazines encourage the idea that you can "spot reduce" fat by exercising a particular area, and they know better, but they sell more copies that way.

    The myth I (unconsciously) fall for is the idea that exercise has to be intense to burn fat. There are lots of benefits to intense exercise, but that doesn't mean that long walks and gardening etc aren't great for weight loss too.

  6. Great points! And how many of them do people so often use as an excuse to not even bother to move just a little bit....

  7. Yeah, another myth is that you need to do two or (egads) three sets of each weight lifting exercise to see results. The studies I read said their was as little as a 4% increase in strength after 3 months of one set vs 3 sets. That is what got me to go back to lifting weights. I can do my workout in 20 minutes instead of the 50 minutes I hated and then quit....

  8. That list is a keeper! So very true especially about sweating and workout intensity. I've dropped more pounds (sometimes) by doing moderate intensity exercise than by killing myself for 20 minutes with, say mountain climbers and crazy weight lunges, that totally tore me up.

    Now, tell me more of this mac 'n cheese omelet of which you speak.

  9. Good list! I tend to fall prey to the "intense exercise" feeling. I like the mental effects of a real intense cardio session, but as to if it's necessary for weight loss? I always feel like an hour of kickboxing burns more fat than 4 hours of hiking, but when I look at it logically, it's probably not true.

    It seems harsh to say, but I think a lot of these myths are perpetuated by people who are trying to assuage their guilt. "I don't have (or am not capable of) 30-90 minutes in a row of exercise, so the 10 minute walk to the store won't help-I'll just drive"

  10. I have friends who swear by never lifting more than five pounds or their own body weight. It's craziness how attached some people are to these myths.

    I think the myth I'm most likely to hang on to is the "Losing Weight is Easy" myth. Because when I have no motivation and working out just seems too hard, I always end up thinking to myself "but, it should be easier than this! It's easier for my skinny friends who eat what they want whenever they want (damn their fast metabolisms). Why can't it be easy for me?"

    Instead I have to make my brain refocus and reassure it that maintaining my weight (not just losing) will be hard sometimes. On those days, I try to find an activity that is actually fun to do: Play on a playground, take a walk with the bf to grab some tea, go sledding, or try and hit a drop-in dance class at the gym. It helps remind me that maybe its not quite as hard as I was making it out to be.

  11. I'll tell you my secret for rock hard abs - get the flu :)
    My abs are seriously defined and after a week or so of rediculous coughing. :)

  12. Love the list and love the way you wrote it.

    These myths are so common and when I try to explain to others they are not true they think I'm crazy....but hey what do I know I only have lost 100lbs and kept it off. ;)

  13. A couple of my favorites are:

    1. You can sweat away your fat. Uh, no. Walking loops at the track in summertime while wearing heavy clothing only gets you heatstroke. Once you rehydrate, any pounds you "lost" will come right back. Sweat is water, not fat.

    2. If you're skinny, you can eat whatever you want. Actually, most skinny folks are that way because they don't eat whatever they want, and/or they're very active.

    As for the muscles-to-fat myth, I think it's a garbled understanding of the fact that the first place you store fat is in your muscles. Think marbled steak. After your body runs out of those in-between spaces, you start storing fat subcutaneously. Fat tissue and muscle tissue are not interchangeable, though. One doesn't convert to another.

    Metabolically, muscle needs more fuel than fat. If you gain muscle, your metabolism speeds up and burns more fat (assuming you don't increase your calorie intake). If you gain fat and let your muscles atrophy, your metabolism slows, causing you to gain more fat unless you decrease your calorie intake.

  14. It amazes me that after all these years that we knew these were myths, people still believe them!

    The whole if I do abs, they will show.. NOT, burn the fat over them. I get this question all the time even though the true answer has been out there forever!

    And the whole muscle.fat thing.. they are 2 different things.

    All the rest too.... great to post here & hopefully people will pay attention!

  15. I'm finally getting over number 9, the intensity thing. Not that it isn't sometimes fun to be intense, but it doesn't have to be.

  16. Great the humor.

    I gotta say, like others, the intensity and length of exercise myths get me, too. Logically I know anything is better than nothing, especially if it's consistent, but I habitually think exercise has to be unpleasant to be beneficial...which is discouraging...then nothing gets done.

  17. Number 5 made me laugh out loud :) had to explain to Hubby why I was laughing at the computer screen...he laughed too!

  18. Not sure I would call this a myth, as I may be the oddball here... but I have never been able to lose weight through cardiovascular exercise, whether combined with diet or not. Actually, I've only lost weight through intense experiences of grief and loss (my father died, my LTR ended aka "the divorce diet.") And in those times I was definitely not getting to the gym. I used to joke that my New Year's resolutions were to STOP exercising so I could lose a few pounds.Still, I work out, because it makes me feel alive, but I sometimes wonder if there's a point of diminishing returns.

  19. I love # 7, it's one of those scare tactics. If I am correct you are born with the same amount of fat cells that you will die with, the cells just expand and contract(unless of surgery). SO in other words your muscle will not turn into fat cells, you might just start feeling fat.

  20. Love it! But just an FYI I wear my underwear over my clothing cause I'm a super hero! ;)


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