Even if you’re determined to get in shape, it can be quite difficult to sort through the long-standing fitness myths and misnomers. Whether you’re a believer in spot reduction or are afraid to lift heavy weights for fear of becoming bulky, it’s time to separate fact from fiction.
Myth: No pain, no gain.
Reality: Exercise should not be painful. Even at the height of your workout, you shouldn’t be so out of breath that you can’t carry on a conversation. It’s also important to distinguish between muscle fatigue (feeling "the burn") and muscle/joint pain (sharp and uncomfortable pain during movement). Pain is your body’s way of telling you that you’re doing something wrong. Listen to your body. If something hurts, stop.
Myth: Big weights mean big, bulky muscles.
Reality: Fitness experts agree that when it comes to strength training, everyone responds differently, depending on their body type, existing muscle, body fat, age, and gender. If you’re an endomorph, a body type characterized by a more rounded, voluptuous shape, you’ll probably need to lose body fat in order to see a change in shape from lifting weights, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). For mesomorphs, ectomorphs, or people who are a combination of these body types, a regular routine of strength training will produce different results. Women’s testosterone levels are also much lower than men’s, so in most cases, they’re not capable of building large muscles. In fact, since muscle takes up less room than fat, women tend to lose inches when they strength train. So in addition to the physical benefits (increased metabolism, decreased risk of osteoporosis, increased power), strength training will help you slim down, too.
Myth: If you can’t exercise hard and often, there’s no point in exercising at all.
Reality: Even moderate activity is shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you don’t have 30 minutes in your day to exercise, try splitting it up into 10-minute increments instead. There are also simple things you can do to increase your activity without having to go to the gym: take the stairs instead of the elevator, get off the bus a stop early, or take a short walk after lunch. Remember, any exercise is better than none.
Myth: Crunches will give you a six pack.
Reality: This is an example of the spot reduction myth, another common fitness misnomer. While it’s true that exercises such as these may be good for you, it’s probably not in the way you think. Crunches or leg lifts, for example, will build muscle—but they won’t burn fat, which is key to reshaping your body. To burn fat, you must elevate your heart rate through cardiovascular work. As you dance, bike, or run, the body draws upon fat for energy, say ACE experts.
Myth: Running on a treadmill puts less stress on your knees than running on asphalt or pavement.
Reality: Although running is an excellent workout, it can impact the knees. And since it’s the force of your body weight on your joints that causes the stress, it’s the same whether you’re on a treadmill or asphalt. The best way to reduce impact to your knees is to vary your workout, say experts. Trying mixing it up with other cardiovascular activities such as the elliptical machine or a stationary bike.