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Separating Fitness Fact from Fitness Fiction

Jon Gestl -- When it comes to achieving fitness goals, many suffer, not from a lack of information, but from an abundance of mis-information. Ignore the fiction; use the facts.

More so now than ever before, fitness information is available wherever we turn. Whether it is found on TV, in books, in online resources, or even from your best friend, information about fitness and health is constantly being thrown at us.

As a personal fitness trainer, I've discovered that most of my clients suffer, not from a lack of information, but from an abundance of mis-information. Research-based info gets confused with popular belief, facts get confused with outdated beliefs. Pretty soon, we are left not knowing whom to believe, and sometimes it's far easier to just give up.

The first step in achieving our fitness goals is to look at some popular misconceptions and separate fitness fiction from fitness fact:

1. Genetics have everything to do with how I look.

Go ahead and blame your parents all you want for your genetics. Spend some time feeling sorry for the body you were given. Feel better? Good. Now it's time to do something about what you can control.

When people talk of bad genetics, they are usually talking about metabolism. While the two are related, they are not the same. Metabolism is the way the body utilizes food. The higher the metabolism, the more calories the body burns. The lower the metabolism, the less fuel the body burns and the more it is stored as body fat.

Genetics certainly influence metabolism, but you ARE in control of many other factors, including activity level, food intake, and body composition. We didn't choose the body we have, but we can choose what we do with it.

2. The best way to lose weight is by doing a lot of aerobic exercise.

Aerobic exercise is wonderful and it strengthens the heart and lungs, burns calories, and feels great. But in and of itself, it is not the most effective long-term method for successful weight loss.

Take a look at the people you know who do nothing but aerobic exercise. Then take a look at those who are spending their exercise time lifting weights. Individuals who correctly incorporate strength training in addition to cardiovascular exercise not only have better looking bodies, but are stronger and have a lower percentage of body fat.

Strength training helps to increase muscle mass that will then burn calories throughout the day and night even when you are NOT exercising. This is one way metabolism is raised. Cardiovascular exercise is very important, but strength training in addition to aerobic exercise provides optimal results.

3. But if I work out with weights, I'll get bulky and I just want to tone.

This statement is commonly heard from women. Usually those who have seen women's bodybuilding competitions on TV and thought "Wow, why is that guy wearing a bikini?"

Women's hormones will not allow them to build huge, ripped muscles like men because they lack the amount of testosterone necessary to do this. The only way a woman will look like a man is to alter her hormonal levels, usually with the use of steroids. Unfortunately, many bodybuilders choose to do this.

If a woman works out with weights on a regular basis, and eats supportively, then positive changes WILL occur. Toning is the same thing as building attractive, strong, and shapely muscles. A woman can build muscles and not look like a man. If building huge muscles were that easy, we'd all be walking around looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

4. All I need to do is starve myself and I'll lose the weight.

Starvation WILL result in weight loss. So will chopping off a body part and it makes about as much sense. When you severely reduce caloric intake, your body will hold onto stored fat as a defense mechanism against starvation. The body then begins to use other stored nutrients to fuel activity, namely protein. Once this occurs, muscle mass decreases and so does metabolism.

In fact, in order to burn fat and build muscle you need to eat. Preferably five to six smaller meals per day. Care should be taken in controlling portion sizes rather than skipping meals.

5. In order to lose the weight, I need to eliminate all the fat (or carbohydrates, or protein) in my diet.

Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are called macronutrients. You need all of them for survival, along with vitamins, minerals, and water. Giving up a nutrient in the diet is like saying, I need to lose weight and maybe I'll give up all the zinc in my diet. It won't work and will definitely cause problems.

Reducing or eliminating certain nutrients has gained popularity over the years with various fad diets. These diets have been successful in short-term weight loss; however, much of the weight loss is in lean body mass and water. This invariably lowers the metabolism, resulting in increased fat storage and eventually weight gain.

In order to support lean body mass, fuel workouts and encourage fat loss, many nutrition experts suggest a 40-20-40 breakdown of these nutrients for each meal. That is, 40 percent of calories from protein, 20 percent from fat, and 40 percent from carbohydrates.

6. I don't have the time necessary to devote to exercise.

It's funny and we never hear anyone say, "I don't have the time to brush my teeth,2 or "Sorry, I don't have the time to bathe." Let's face it -- we all lead very busy lives. Family, career, friends, projects, trips, you name it and our plates are pretty full.

But the real problem here is the belief that you NEED a huge amount of time for exercise. You can spend 30 minutes a day and grab an effective workout. You don't need to spend all day and night in a gym.

Look at your schedule and you'll see what options you have: Get up 1/2 hour early. Workout during lunch. Once the kids are in bed, pop in that workout tape. There are 168 hours in a week. Spending about 3 or 4 of those hours in pursuit of health is not really that much to ask of yourself, is it? In order to take care of ourselves, we need to MAKE the time.

7. I don't have the money it takes to look good. I can't afford to join a gym, buy a bunch of equipment, or hire a trainer.

The fitness industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It IS expensive to join the latest posh health club, hire the most costly personal trainer in the city, or to purchase huge home gyms. Even if you can afford all of these things, it is no guarantee that you will reach your fitness goals.

You can effectively exercise in your own home without any equipment, and what about push-ups, squats, lunges, and crunches? You think you don't have weights? Try a backpack loaded with books. Or that suitcase in the closet. Look around your home and you'll find a dozen options for no-cost equipment.

You can always purchase exercise tools for a minimum investment, which will afford you even more variety. A couple of exercise bands, one or two sets of hand weights, and an inflatable exercise ball should run no more than about $50. These are items you can find in any sporting goods store. Effective exercise does not require lifting chrome-plated weights designed in funky shapes.

If you can't afford a trainer on a regular basis, hire one to teach you proper exercise technique and design a program you can do on your own. Meet once every two weeks to evaluate your progress.

8. The answer to fitness lies in that new (choose one) ab machine,thigh cream, fat-loss pill.

You've been watching late-night infomercials, again, haven't you? The achievement of your fitness goals is not dependent on you giving your credit card number to an operator for four easy payments of $39.99. Most of these products are scams or, at the very least, not necessary for you to get in shape. If something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Next time you see an infomercial for the newest, revolutionary solution, turn off the TV and do a set of crunches.

9. I'm too tired to exercise.

If you are not working out, you probably ARE tired. And will continue to be. The body was made to be active and move. Regular exercise and good nutrition will actually increase energy. If you get up and move, chances are you'll want to continue to do so.

10. I don't have the willpower.

This is the saddest belief of all. I hear people claim how they are lazy, unmotivated, and depressed. How they lack the willpower to exercise and eat right. Surprisingly, these are the same people who have successful careers, are wonderful parents, and take an active role in their communities. These people do not lack willpower; they lack correct information.

Usually, they hold many of the incorrect ideas about health and fitness previously discussed. After numerous unsuccessful attempts using these ideas, they blame themselves and give up. It is important to remember that they didn't fail, but the information they had failed them.

Leading a healthy lifestyle and achieving fitness goals starts with obtaining the facts about exercise, nutrition, and how to incorporate both into one's life. If the information we have does not work, then it is time to use new information that does. Ignore the fiction; use the facts.

Jon Gestl, CSCS, is a Chicago personal trainer and fitness instructor who specializes in in home and in office fitness training. He is a United States National Aerobic Champion silver and bronze medalist, world-ranked sportaerobic competitor and editor of the fitness ezine "Inspired Informed and Inshape." He can be contacted through his Web site at

© 2005 Jon Gestl

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