Fitness Articles

6 Fitness Rules Meant to be Broken

New Takes on Outdated Advice

We've already debunked some outdated diet rules, but what about fitness? Just as there is plenty of questionable diet and weight-loss advice going around, some exercise "rules" that people live by are downright misleading, misguided or just plain out wrong. Why does it matter? Because you want to make the most of your time in the gym—and stay safe while you do it.

Read on as we debunk six old fitness myths and replace them with new workout rules that will support your body to be its fittest and healthiest!

Old rule: Tone up a specific area of your body by exercising it more.
You know the infomercials and workout DVDs that promise to get rid of those flabby underarms, tighten your hips or turn your stomach into an instant six-pack? Well, they fib. There is absolutely no way for you to selectively reduce fat on a specific area of the body. While you can build muscle in a particular area, you cannot get rid of the fat that way.
New rule: Burn fat for six-pack abs and jiggle-free arms.
Truth be told, you do have a six-pack under that stomach—you just can't see it yet if you have some pounds to lose! So instead of wasting your energy by spot training (think thousands of crunches), focus on using your entire body to burn calories through a mix of weight-training and cardio (and see new rule #3 for a powerful fat-blasting combo!). Also, be sure to eat a healthy, lower calorie diet. It's only through exercise and a proper diet that those strong muscles can be shown off!
Old rule: Do crunches for a strong midsection.
Crunches are by far the most popular exercise for working the abs, but why? Turns out, crunches only target the top part of your abdominals and actually don't improve your core strength that much. And, really, what good is fitness if it can't help you easily do what you need to do in everyday life?
New rule: Get a strong core with functional full-body exercises.
Did you know that abs only make up one part of your core? Yep, the full core is made up your abdominals, obliques, transverse abdominis and erector spinae (low back). Some experts even consider your hips to be part of your core. So when it comes to getting a strong midsection, don't just crunch. Do a variety of planks, side planks, twists, rotations, balance work and more to build functional strength and support your body—no matter what activity you're doing. A strong core keeps your back healthy and resistant to pain and injury, improves posture, allows you to move your body with greater control and helps with balance.
Old rule: Always rest between strength-training sets.
You've probably heard that you should rest for 60-90 seconds between sets when lifting weights, right? But the fitness industry has gotten a lot more creative, focused and time-efficient when it comes to weight-lifting, making this rule old news.
New rule: Circuit train to make the most of your workout.
While there's nothing wrong with resting between sets, who has time? Make the most of your workout time with circuit training! Circuit training is a method of training borrowed from athletes and modified for us regular folks. Although circuit training is a broad term and can be done in many different and creative ways, traditionally circuit training is done in stations that alternate between different muscle groups. In this type of training you go from one station or exercise to the next with little to no rest, as you're working a different muscle group. Because you keep your heart rate up throughout the workout, you not only build muscle—you also get the benefits of cardiovascular training. Perfect for those with limited time to work out!
Old rule: Do lots of reps with light weights to get toned and lean, not big and bulky.
I hear this outdated rule a lot, especially from women. For some reason it has been pounded into our heads that lifting light weights makes you tiny and toned while lifting heavy weights will make you big and bulky like the Hulk. And it just isn't true.
New rule: Choose weights that challenge you.
If you can lift a weight 20 times, it's time to go heavier. Lifting heavier weights will not bulk anyone up unless they spend hours and hours in the gym, so don't be afraid to pick up the larger weights in the strength area of your health club. Depending on your weight and how many reps you're doing (SparkPeople recommends 8-15 reps with 1-3 sets for each exercise), you always need to select a weight that is heavy enough to get you to muscle exhaustion during your last couple of reps in a set. Exhaustion means your muscle has worked hard enough and is tired enough that you cannot do another rep with proper form. It's so important to reach exhaustion because it's at this point that your body starts to build more muscle. (We know how important muscle is for weight-loss!) So, if you're regularly doing bicep curls with 5-pound weights and could easily squeeze a few more reps or sets into your workout without really even feeling the burn, it's time to up those dumbbells!
Old rule: Do yoga and Pilates to make your muscles longer and leaner.
This is another old rule I hear from women a lot. Truth is, yoga and Pilates don't burn that many calories per hour (less than 200 calories in an hour for a 140-pound person) and while both workouts have some muscle-strengthening benefits, they're not nearly as effective for weight-loss as other more traditional cardio and strength-training activities. Probably more important, no form of exercise has the ability to "lengthen" your muscles. Your muscles are a certain length, and training doesn't make them longer—period.
New rule: Round out your workout routine with yoga and Pilates.
I practice yoga and Pilates workouts, but not to burn calories. I do these two mind-body practices because they reduce stress, improve focus, strengthen the core and greatly improve flexibility—all of which are very important! Yoga and Pilates are fantastic activities that add value to any workout program, but they shouldn't be a replacement for cardio or strength training, nor do they offer the same benefits of these heart and muscle-strengthening activities. Read more: Does yoga count as cardio?
Old rule: No pain, no gain.
I'm sure you've heard this old phrase. But nothing could be further from the truth. While "feeling the burn" is a good thing and signals that the body and its muscles are working hard, there is absolutely no gain to real pain.
New rule: If you feel bad or have pain, stop, rest and modify your workout.
If you have pain, do not take it lightly or push through it. Pain is a sign that something is wrong with your body and it needs rest or a modification of an exercise (for example walking instead of running or doing a front lunge instead of a backwards lunge). Also important, if you feel terrible, black out or have chest pains (more warning signs are here), you must take this very seriously and slow down (for cardio) or stop (for immediate severe pain). Additionally, if you've been working out very hard and feel like you might be overtraining, it's important to give your body the rest it needs. Remember, exercise is supposed to make you feel better—not worse!

When it comes down to it, the new rules for fitness are common sense and easier to stick with. Incorporate these new "rules" into your repertoire and you'll be amazed at what a difference such small changes can make!

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness expert and certified personal trainer, Nicole Nichols.

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Member Comments

  • great some of it
  • As with any article, you need to pull from it things that work for YOU. Thanks for the information!
  • I often see this assurance that women won't bulk up unless they take drugs or spend their lives at the gym. What this does not take into account is genetics. With a few workouts a week with a few hand weight exercises and I have developed the arms and shoulders of a man and I hate it. Unfortunately "there there, Dont worry about it" platitudes are not helpful.
  • "Turns out, crunches only target the top part of your abdominals and actually don't improve your core strength that much."

    --- This is an inaccurate statement regarding crunches. There are a variety of crunches that work the various muscles.

    --- I would have thought more of this article if it did not deliberately slant data to serve its message.
  • Why is anyone still advocating crunches? They're horrible for your lower back.
  • Oh it drives me crazy to see a good article like, "Get the information about out with the old and in with the new", learn that the idea of "tone up specific area...." is old and needs to be replaced with new and then see a side bar article under "related content" that reinforces the old and contradicts the new. The article titled "5 body sculpting short cuts." Come on. Body sculpting is toning up specific areas."
    I'm bored with anything touting a "six pak", that has nothing to do with health, but everything to do with vanity, won't make a person "better" or more worthwhile though. Big whoops, when I see someone that has one, it looks as those they have been in a concentration camp! And yes, I have seen people who have been in a concentration camp, relatives........
    ......not a good look.
  • Some great reminders, reinforcements and info! I have just started Pilates and feel the benefits of it, but in conjunction with cardio. Makes sense.
  • Seems like some folks misread the article about yoga. It's not that it yoga has no weight loss benefits. In fact, the author recommends it! It's simply stated that doing yoga doesn't replace the counterparts of cardio and strength. Yoga is a great part of any exercise program... but you still need to do regular cardio and strength training to ensure complete fitness.

    Try and run a marathon by preparing only with yoga. ;) Doesn't work.

    I am a regular yoga practitioner... and love it. But I still hit the weights and walk/run.
  • HILLSLUG98239
    The thing with "no pain, no gain" is that many of us are so out of touch with our bodies that we have lost the ability to differentiate between pain and discomfort. We live in a fairly narrow temperature band. Few of do true physical labor at our jobs. And many of us only get exercise indoors.

    I sometimes get sharp pains when I first start exercising. They're always transitory. I don't ignore them: I monitor what the pain feels like, if it's a recurring issue, and if it's just a nerve complaining or if it feels like a muscle or connective tissue injury. (At my age, sometime things just randomly hurt for no reason.) If it's an injury, I will re-evalute my plans because I know how long it can take to heal.
  • Some good stuff here, but you're off base about yoga and pilates.. These types of exercises not only help prevent injury so that you can have the active lifestyle that is healthy (and burns more calories), but I "grew" about 1 1/2 " the first year I was taking pilates. The muscles themselves might not grow longer, but you do lengthen their range of motion, and all limbs stand straighter when they are supported by the kind of exercise that yoga and pilates provide.

    Though I don't know many yoga practitioners who are in it for the burn, there are strenuous and demanding programs that that burn hundreds calories/hour.
    The warning at the end is not nearly strong enough. Blacking out or chestpain are warning signs of potentially very serious problems such as a heart attack. With those symptoms people should not only "slow down" but STOP, sit or lie down, and get immediate medical attention.

  • Yoga can indeed lead to weight loss and a 'leaner look' if you do it daily and mix it up with Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga, both of which are pretty intense forms of exercise. So is interval training.

    Combine these two with cutting out wheat and reducing sugar and carbs from grains if you want to see real change for the long run - providing of course it is a life style change and not a form of dieting.
    You should really research yoga a bit more before saying it does not benefit weight loss. The practice does not need to be advanced to burn calories significant for deficit as longas you're doing a sound program. Not to mention in many cases the benefit yoga gives that no traditional fitness program can is balancing hormones which for many is a huge struggle in the weight loss battle. Disappointed in your statements.

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

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