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Exercise Myths

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for Exercise.com. He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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  • The best way to stifle exercise myths is to tackle them head-on.
  • The following ten myths are common in fitness culture.
  • Fast food and alcohol advertising campaigns never highlight the health implications that come with consuming their products.

Check out the top ten exercise myths below to see if any of your long-held beliefs are actually factual.

Exploding exercise myths might step on some toes sometimes but let’s face it – there are fitness myths, diet myths, weight loss myths, and general health myths everywhere we turn. The best way to stifle these myths is to tackle them head-on.

After reviewing these myths, you may feel like you need someone to provide you with a science-backed workout that will help you reach your goals. Sign up for an Exercise.com PRO plan today for access to workout plans, certified personal trainers, and more.


The Top 10 Most Common Exercise Myths Debunked

What is exercise fact versus myth? The craze surrounding exercise, weight, health, and fitness in America is a curious thing. Huge government subsidies make grains (like sugary cereals and nutritionally-void white bread) inexpensive. Fast food like McDonalds is some of the cheapest commercially available food in the world.

Advertising for processed or fast food and alcohol is everywhere. However, who is always hocking this terrible food and booze? Some of the fittest, most attractive people around. People used in advertisements, if not outright fit and athletic, are at least trim and not overweight or obese.

Given the obesity epidemic in this country, there’s a huge disconnect between the general public and the people given the most space in advertisements. We are simultaneously told that being fit and athletic is what we should strive for, even as these people push products at us that do just the opposite.

Well, for better or worse, the outcome of this two-faced advertising is the rise of gyms, group fitness classes, and an increase in the number of people who exercise regularly. Now, that’s the good thing. There is a myriad of benefits to exercise, besides looking better: lower blood pressure, better metabolism, etc.

However, the rise of all of this exercising (like when any pastime or product becomes more popular with the general public) has led to a bounty of exercise misconceptions, myths, and outright lies. Most of these are a result of people genuinely trying to do what’s best for their bodies and not getting good information; others are misunderstandings of your body’s sometimes confusing biochemistry; some are outright lies. Let’s sift through some of the most popular myths about exercise and shed the light of truth on them.

#1 – Cardio Calorie Counting

Modern technology is awesome. It allows us humans to do things we’ve never been able to do before in all of our years of development. It has also come with its share of drawbacks and weaknesses. One weakness is our current over-reliance on technology for information and our tendency to trust whatever a machine tells us blindly.

Case in point: you jump on the treadmill, stair master, elliptical, or exercise bike, and the little LCD screen starts displaying information like speed, challenge level, etc. It also purports to tell you how many calories you are burning as you exercise. This is not an accurate number. There are a million different factors that play into how quickly you burn calories while exercising, including your age, fitness level, muscle mass, sex, and much more. Many machines don’t measure all of these different factors. So how could their results be even remotely correct? Short answer: they’re not.

#2 – Heart Rate Monitors

This next myth is somewhat related to the first one. Heart rate monitors are all the rage these days. Improvements in technology make them cheaper, smaller, easy to afford, and a breeze to use. They are built into many stationary cardio machines. The logic seems to be that they give you an accurate depiction of how hard you are working while exercising. In fact, they are unreliable depending on which kind of exercise you are doing.

A better (not to mention cheaper) way to figure out how hard you are working is by trying to talk. Full sentences mean that you’re not working at full capacity. Short phrases indicate a higher level of intensity, while barely being able to get out a few words at a time means that you are probably at or around max workload and should think about backing off for a moment or two (before ramping back up, or ratcheting down, depending on your workout plan).

#3 – Weight Is the Be All, End All

Most people hopefully have left this myth behind, but it’s a number, and people love numbers. It’s easy to get stuck on numbers. They go up, they go down, they show clearly visible, measurable results. However, your weight is far from the most important part of measuring your fitness journey.

For starters, it has little to do with how “fit” you are. Body fat percentage and other metrics, based on performance (sprint speed, mile run, lung capacity, etc.), are much more accurate when it comes to establishing your level of fitness. Also, muscle weighs more than fat. If serious weightlifting is a part of your training program, then you could be developing pounds of heavy muscle as you shed fat.

A better way of determining if your program is working for you is if your clothes are fitting better and how you feel overall. For added information-gathering, consider adding tape measurements to your progress tracking. Waist, hips, leg, and arm, measurements all provide valuable data about how your program is going.

#4 – Low-Intensity Exercise

Another myth (possibly propagated by the lazy) is that lower intensity exercise burns more fat than high-intensity exercise. In reality, intense exercise (usually done in short bursts, with brief rest periods, in a method called “High-Intensity Interval Training” or “HIIT”) quickly burns up any and all carbs in your bloodstream, then sends out chemical signals to release fat from your fat stores.

#5 – Chug a Protein Shake After a Workout

Chugging a protein shake after exercising is not a good idea. You are not giving your body its needs to replace nutrients, repair microscopic tears in your muscles, and replenish fluids. All protein shakes are not alike. Many are low-quality processed products with questionable ingredients. It is difficult to pronounce the words or know what they are.

The most important meal is the one after you exercise. For about an hour after your workout, your muscles are famished and need nutrients. Whey protein powder, eggs, meat, fish or chicken, will replenish your body’s supply of amino acids which your body uses for making neurotransmitters, bones, hormones, and muscles. Exercise depletes crucial amino acids; These are best replenished with protein in food, not from questionable protein shakes.

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#6 – You Can Spot Reduce for Tight Abs or Toned Arms

Due to muscle memory, in response to hard workouts, the proprioceptor cells in our bodies prevent damage to our muscles and joints by either contracting them, or doing the opposite, signaling a relaxation response. These proprioceptor cells signal the body to stop exercising or engaging in other stressful activity before it passes the safe apex and hurts itself.

When pushed too far, the body and muscles remember the event and the injury. Even after the injury has healed, the muscles will contract whenever they near the position in which the injury took place. Triggered by the response, the muscles try to avoid another injury of the same type.

Repetitious exercises that target only specific muscles may not only harm them but create an ineffective workout as well.

#7 – You Can Eat Whatever You Want as Long as You Work Out

You cannot pig out on any fat burning workout and lose weight. On the other hand, a deprivation diet does not work either. Exercising, or running on an improper diet without all the nutrients your body requires is running your body down. The body senses a depletion in calories and strives to prevent a collapse, or exhaustion, so it is more difficult to lose body fat.

Muscles need food — nutrients — to aid in the repair of wear and tear on them, to replenish vital fluids and to replace utilized nutrients. A good diet consists of a balance of fluids, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Check out some bodybuilding diets to see what it takes to properly provide your muscles with the correct amount of nutrients.

#8 – Cardio Is the Only Way to Lose Weight

It is a proven fact that more calories are burned in 30 minutes of weight training than in a 30-minute run at the same intensity. Increased cardio makes your heart, lungs, and endurance stronger, but does not trigger the body’s weight loss mechanisms.

The muscles that have greater energy stores will actually begin to feed off themselves after extended cardio exercises. Thus, the body does not burn its fat stores. In 10 to 25 minutes of cardio, your heart, lungs, and endurance obtain all they need. Why not add running to your cardio regimen and lose body fat, by allowing the muscles in the body, especially in the limbs, to burn body fat off the whole body?

#9 – You Have to Do Cardio in the Morning on an Empty Stomach in Order to Burn Fat

After not eating for eight hours or more, the body’s metabolism is at its lowest. Feeling weak, and perhaps even nauseous during a workout may quickly discourage you from exercise the next morning.

So, eat a good, balanced breakfast with a healthy serving of protein and exercise with great potential! Your metabolism will already be stoked up and ready for a good workout geared toward a stronger heart and lungs.

#10 – Drinking Ice Cold Water Burns Fat

There are no proven facts or studies which indicate that you can shock your body into losing weight by forcing it to keep warm. Your metabolism will not increase and burn fat.

On the other hand, you can throw your body into hypothermia by eating snow when lost out in the cold. Your body will use its energy to heat the snow. This is not a weight loss regimen; it is a survival decision of epic proportions!

Your body will burn only 70 calories by your drinking 64 ounces (eight glasses) of water per day. This is not anywhere near as effective as exercising or walking to lose weight. Only muscular exercise will increase your metabolism. However, if your body compensates for dehydration by retaining water you may believe you have actually gained weight.

Drinking too much water, warm or cold, causes too little sodium in the blood (hyponatremia) and is also a serious threat to the kidneys. Our bodies were not built to handle great quantities of water and by overwhelming the kidneys, we can die of water “intoxication.”

Be smart when you exercise and only accept workout advice from those who can back their claims with science. Go PRO today for workout plans that keep science and the body’s response to exercise in mind.

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