Fitness Articles

The Top 6 Fitness Myths and Truths

Don't Believe These Tall Tales!


Would your friends lie to you? They just might be...

This time of year is all about starting fresh—new goals, solid plans, better habits. You probably have a new exercise routine to help you reach your weight loss and fitness goals. Along the way, whether in the gym, reading the latest books, or talking with your friends, you’ll hear a lot of advice about exercise—not all of which is true.

There are several common misconceptions about exercise and weight loss, but don’t let yourself be fooled! Here are the Top 6 Fitness Myths and the Truths that debunk them:

Myth #1: You can take weight off of specific body parts by doing exercises that target those areas.

This concept is called "spot training" and unfortunately, it doesn’t burn fat. When you lose weight, you are unable to choose the area in which the reduction will occur. Your body predetermines which fat stores it will use. For example, doing sit-ups will strengthen you abs but will not take the fat off of your stomach. Similarly, an activity like running burns fat all over your body, not just your legs. You can, however, compliment a balanced exercise program with a selection of weight training exercises to gradually lose weight and tone the body.

Myth #2: Women who lift weights will bulk up.

While on a weight lifting program, the right hormones (testosterone) are necessary in order to bulk up. Women’s testosterone levels are much lower than men’s, so in most cases, they are 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 strength), strength training will help you slim down too!

Myth #3: If you can’t exercise hard and often, there’s really no point.

Even moderate activity is shown to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. If you don’t have 30 minutes in your day to exercise, try splitting it up into 10-minute segments instead. Everyone can find 10 minutes to spare sometime during the day! There are simple things you can do to increase your activity without having to go to the gym: take the stairs instead of the elevator, jump rope or do body weight exercises (push ups, crunches) at commercial breaks, take a short walk after lunch. Remember that any exercise is better than none!

Myth #4: Performing abdominal exercises will give you a flat stomach.

This is similar to Myth #1 above. The fact is, the only way to get a flat stomach is to strip away the fat around the midsection. This is accomplished by doing cardio/aerobic exercise (to burn calories), strength training (to increase metabolism) and following a proper diet. Abdominal exercises will help to build muscle in your midsection, but you will never see the muscle definition unless the fat in this area is stripped away.

Myth #5: Since you burn more fat if you exercise at a lower intensity, you want to keep your wokout in this "zone".

The most important factor in exercise and weight control is not the percentage of fat calories burned, but the total calories burned during the activity. The faster you walk, bike or swim, for example, the more calories you use per minute. Although you will be burning fewer "fat calories", you will be burning more total calories, and in turn, will lose more weight.

Myth #6: No pain, no gain!

Exercise should not be painful! At the height of your workout, you should be sweating and breathing hard. You should not be so out of breath that you cannot answer a question, but should not be so comfortable that you can carry on a full conversation. That’s how you know you are working at a good level. It’s 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 it’s painful, stop!

There’s a lot of fitness information out there- some reliable, some not. The important thing is to ask questions. If you don’t understand something or question the source, ask a qualified fitness professional for their advice. Sticking to the truths of these myths will keep you healthy, injury-free, and on track to meeting your fitness goals.

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Member Comments

  • This is a great article. I believed all these myths at one point, but now know better.

    Thanks Coach Jen!

    AHH! I'm happy to see this answer.

    I'm so tired of seeing/reading that abs are entirely the product of your diet. There are SO MANY variables when it comes to attaining 'a flat stomach', and I hate to break it to you but it's not any 'one thing', but rather the perfect storm of your body type and lifestyle paired with frequency and type of workouts.
    For example if you do higher intensity intervals, or you train at an elite athletes level, your diet has a LOT more wiggle room.
    If you want to figure out the right combo of workouts and nutrition ratio and get kickstarted to seriously flat abs- it IS possible no matter how impossible you think it is.

    Think of achieving a flat stomach like mastering an intricate dish/recipe. For example, take lasagna. You can have all the right 'ingredients', but if you don't have the right timing, temperature, and follow directions in a certain way, that lasagne is going to turn out entirely differently.
    There is so much noise and conflicting advice, which is why it's my mission to cut out all that stuff and simply tell you/give you what the real deal is. like it or not,
    Want more no BS, and 'real results recipes'. Come on over to FitStrongandSexy.
    com - I welcome your comments too!

    FitStrongandSex Editor,
    Amanda Russell
  • I still hear the one about you have to exercise long and intense. When I said on one team that I couldn't walk as fast as a lot of people do, I was told that I wasn't doing anything to get exercise then. I also have friends who say you have to exercise at least an hour at a time (no breaks) for it to be effective. Doesn't matter that they have said short periods and can add them up work.
    There really is no such think as a "FAT BURNING ZONE". Unbeknownist to most people, fat as a percentage of calories burned are highest while at rest. We are burning around 50/50, fat/sugars regularly. As we move and intensity increases we gradually shift away from the fat to utilize the more readily available energy source - glycogen. When you go all out, we are relying on mostly glycogen, AT THAT MOMENT. But these energy pathways are EXTREMELY complicated and after the exercise stops there is a process by which the body will pull from ALL resources to replenish this much needed quick surplus. That's why we do all that heavy breathing. Much oxygen is needed to replenish and convert fat to usable energy. Even though little fat is used during the High Intensity, all energy pathways get involved as the body prepares to "go again". So, by maximizing energy burning DURING the activity, the more the body will then convert the storage to a ready resource, after.
  • Yea I'm in the "confused about #5" camp.
  • @BEVT @NRADUNSKY I think the "myth" part would be that you can get rid of the thick layer of fat over your abs by spot training them. No one will argue that toning makes a difference in your appearance, but until you get rid of the layer of fat through cardio you're never going to have a "six-pack." Same is true for any other body part. Spot training *will* give you beautiful, well defined muscles; you just won't be able to see them until you burn off the padding.
    BEVT, I agree. People always talk like training one area is a waste of time because you can't have spot reduction, like the only reason to strength train is some abstract metabolic or bone strengthening health benefit. However, you for sure SEE a difference when you spot train (at least if your weight isn't quite high), and that is what most people care about when they spot train. I have a flat stomach for a few days after doing ab workouts-- not defined by any means, but everything has some structure rather than falling out over the front of my jeans. If I am lazy about ab exercises the next week it comes right back.
  • I think people confuse the spot reduction and fat burning because if you really don't have weight to lose but are flabby and poochy in certain areas just working on those areas makes a big difference. I know that if I don't work my abs they pooch more. If I slack of my triceps and biseps I see a difference. Maybe it's confusing flab with fat. But I notice when I lay off my weights I do get an overall look of "fat" in those areas I use weights for. And no one ever explains that. It looks like fat, do some toning regularly and it goes away. So there's something to it.
    Your advertisements cover the article you are presenting. This means, of course, I cannot read the article. I'm trying not to use a lot of cuss words in saying this. Does no one check to see how the articles are presented? Please, have someone with 1. brains 2. responsibility and 3.common sense, read this.
    Pilates had given me back my waistline. OK, I am at goal weight but I am 63 and amazed at the toning effect.
  • Interesting that the #1 myth is spot reduction, yet I continue to see just those type of headlines here, makes me wonder
    Great article. I've heard that if you run, after 20 minutes you start to burn up muscle and not fat. True? I didn't think it was a true statement, but wondered.
  • TDL5685
    I've never understood the "fat burning zone". From my understanding the way to lose weight is to cosume less calories then your body needs in a day and so our bodies will resort to using the calories stored in the form of fat. The higher intensitiy of the workout, the more calories our body is burning. How does a lower intensity workout burn a higher percentage of fat? Just wondering.
    I'm a exercise specialist and I tell my clients about the fat burning zone in this way:
    We burn a higher percentage of fat when exercising at lower intensities but the total fat burned is often less. Think of it as money. Would you rather have 75% of 100 dollars or 50% of 300 dollars? Translate that to fat and you burn 75% of your calories from fat or 75 calories vs. 50% of your calories or 150! Burning at a higher percentage will net you a lot less fat in the long run, assuming you exercise for the same amount of time. I will take 50% of 300 any day!
  • For all of you confused about #5, please google 'fat burning zone myth'. It's not explained very well in the article so I can understand why you are still confused.

    Someone made the statement that 'if you are not burning fat then you are burning muscle, and nobody wants that'. That is an incorrect assumption. You are still getting a proportion of your calories (energy) from fat when you are not in the fat burning zone, other energy sources include carbs and stored glycogen. If you are burning more calories overall, you will burn more fat (even though the PROPORTION of calories from fat is lower). Burning more calories, no matter where they come from, will lead to better weight loss (as long as you don't eat them all back).

    Here is a good explanation that should clear up some of the confusion: http://scienceblo

About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

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