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Fitness Myths Debunked

Brad Nelson -- Trainer dismantles "myth bombs" of the fitness industry.

You may have heard or read most of these myths somewhere. More than likely you've heard them when watching TV or an infommercial. This is quite the extensive collection of fitness misconceptions and, who knows, you might be following one of them without even knowing it.

Myth #1 -- Ab workouts will reduce my pot belly.
Truth: You cannot "spot" reduce.

No amount of ab work by itself will change the shape of your stomach. Just like the "Thigh Master" will NOT shape your thighs. Your stomach will start looking trim and toned as soon as you alter your eating habits and reduce overall body fat.

Myth #2 -- Strength training will bulk me up.
Truth: Strength training promotes efficient use of your metabolism without adding bulky muscle.

Strength training is only one piece of the fitness puzzle. Females do not have the ability to gain muscle like the fitness magazines would have you to believe. The hormone differences between women and men are radically different and, therefore, women cannot gain muscle like men.

You must add strength training two days per week if you want to maximize the efficiency of your workouts and your overall results. Strength training also increases bone density, which is especially important in females.

Myth #3 -- Weighing in every day is the best way to measure progress.
Truth: Shift your focus from "weight" loss to "FAT" loss.

Taking measurements and a body composition test at the beginning of a weight loss program is more measurable and less discouraging than frequent weigh-ins. Actually weighing in is one of the worst things you can do mentally for yourself on a regular basis.

Also, by adding one pound of lean muscle you will burn five pounds of fat over the course of six months. That may not sound like much, but what if you added five pounds of muscle and burned 25 lbs of fat? That is a net loss of 20 lbs. Moreover, you will look like an entirely different person.

Myth #4 -- I have to be sore the next day so I know I had a great workout.
Truth: Soreness is a result of tiny tears within your muscle and too much soreness means you are doing more harm than good.

When you start any exercise program you will naturally experience some level of soreness, especially if you haven't worked out at all in a long time. However after a month or so, you should not get to the point where you are sore after every workout. Some muscle soreness should be expected if you switch to different exercises.

Myth #5 -- I have to workout at least five days per week in order to achieve results.
Truth: Your commitment will directly affect the results you seek, but you do not have to put in five days per week.

What you need to decide is the time you can realistically put into your workout. A word of caution: you must put in a three hour/week commitment in order to achieve three hour a week results!

This is where most people fall short. They start out with gusto the first week or two and then, because they haven't seen any noticeable results, they quit. It takes 90 days of consistent habit changes in order to start to see significant results.

Myth #6 -- No pain, no gain.
Truth: Actually it's the opposite.

If you are experiencing pain, you will not see any fitness results. There is a fine line though between pain (soreness) and pain (injury). You will be sore, but you should not workout so hard in the beginning that you injure yourself due to stupidity. Seek professional guidance (a personal trainer or some other fitness professional) if you do not know what you are doing when it comes to an exercise program.

Myth #7 -- Aerobic exercise alone will help you lose fat by speeding up your metabolism.
Truth: You need a COMPLETE program without missing components.

You need a combination of strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility training for an overall complementary exercise program. One without the other two will lead to minimal results. Your metabolism will only begin to efficiently burn fat when you find the right combination of all three components.

Myth #8 -- Exercise has to be strenuous to be beneficial.
Truth: You should alternate easy, medium, and hard days.

Every individual has a different pain tolerance. Use a scale of 1-10. One is lying in bed attempting to sleep. Ten is you are two seconds away from passing out. You should stay in between 5 and 8, every once in a while venturing outside of that range.

Myth #9 -- Exercise will keep me up all night.
Truth: Exercise will help you sleep better.

As long as you finish your workout 3-4 hours prior to bed, you will benefit from exercising at night. Exercise contributes to stress reduction and, therefore, will help you relax and get a restful night's sleep.

Myth #10 -- Going to a gym is the only way to get in shape.
Truth: There are numerous ways to get in shape without going to a gym.

You could walk, ride a bike, jog, follow an aerobics tape, or running after the dog are just a few possibilities of ways for you to begin an exercise program. However, most people find it easier to get results if they are motivated by people around them and find an ACCOUNTABILITY partner to work with.

Myth #11 -- Exercise makes you hungry.
Truth: Most of the time you will feel less hungry.

Usually after intense exercise you will find your body not wanting food as much. However, if you feel like eating, you should. Just be aware of what you are consuming so you don't sabotage the results you are seeking.

Myth #12 -- If I exercise enough, I can eat whatever I want.
Truth: You are what you eat.

This is more than a cliché. If you eat McDonalds on a regular basis, you will begin to take the shape of someone who eats fast food. Rocket science? No. Just plain common sense. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Myth #13 -- My metabolism slowed down around age 30.
Truth: Your metabolism didn't slow down. You got lazy and aren't as active.

Actually you started gaining weight around age 30 because you became less active. This is one of the monumental fitness myths. Daily exercise sends a message to your body to avoid storing unwanted and unneeded calories.

Myth #14 -- I can add hand weights to my jogging program and reap the benefits of strength training and cardiovascular training at the same time.
Truth: Doing this will more than likely cause injury.

We, as Americans, tend to do too much, too fast. We want results NOW. This will lead to more stress on the joints, tendons, and ligaments and greatly increase the chances of injury right now and possibilities of chronic injuries, as well.

Myth #15 -- Muscle weighs more than fat.
Truth: Muscle is more dense than fat, therefore taking up LESS room.

One pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat. Just as one pound of feathers weighs the same as one pound of bricks. The difference is in the VOLUME. Fat will take up A LOT more space than muscle.

Myth #16 -- Exercising at a lower intensity for a longer time burns more fat.
Truth: You burn more calories, including fat calories, when you exercise at a higher intensity.

The optimal way to burn fat is to do interval training. Interval training works like this: increase your heart rate to a high level for a minute, then back off the intensity for a minute; then back to the increase and so on until you've done 30 minutes of QUALITY cardiovascular conditioning. Quality training always wins over quantity training.

Myth #17 -- Running is the best way to get fit.
Truth: There is no best way to get fit.

The best way to get fit is to do something that YOU enjoy. It will become the best way for you to get fit because you are the one who will stick to the activity that YOU CHOOSE.

Myth #18 -- The best time to exercise is early in the morning.
Truth: There is no best time to exercise.

The best time to exercise for you is the best time for you to exercise. The majority of people who workout in the morning report that it is easier to stay on track with a program because during the day and after work, unexpected events come up which can dramatically alter your exercise schedule.

Myth #19 -- You should always do your strength training before cardio training.
Truth: Do what you prefer.

Either way is great (or engage in KETTLEBELL training so you get them at the same time ). Just make sure that you do both to ensure a well-rounded exercise program.

Myth #20 -- You burn more fat if you exercise on an empty stomach.
Truth: Exercising on an empty stomach does not affect how you lose weight.

Actually, it may hinder it if you don't have the energy to exercise. Even if you exercise immediately after you wake up in the morning, you should have something small to eat.

Myth #21 -- Stretching before working out improves workouts.
Truth: Stretching prior to workout actually decreases performance.

By stretching before a workout, you allow certain tissues to relax, which is counterproductive to working out. This also increases your chances of injury.

Myth #22 -- If you're not sweating, you're not exerting yourself enough.
Truth: We all sweat differently. So don't sweat it!

Rate yourself on the 1-10 scale used in Myth #8. This is a much better way to determine the level you are working at.

Myth #23 --Muscle turns to fat when you stop working out.
Truth: Muscle cannot scientifically turn into fat.

If you stop working out, most likely you will see your body change because muscle cell size will decrease while fat cell size will increase.

Myth #24 -- Sitting in a sauna helps you burn fat.
Truth: A sauna will cause you to lose water weight from sweat.

Saunas do not burn fat. Saunas cause you to sweat more. Will you lose weight? Yes. Will it be fat? No. Will it be water? Yes. Will you gain it back within 24 hours? Yes. Better off burning calories exercising.


Hard work and changing your lifestyle habits is the only way to see fitness results that will be permanent.

Brad Nelson is a Minneapolis/St. Paul based certified Level II kettlebell instructor and strength and conditioning coach (CSCS). Brad is unwavering about getting you results through private or team training and workshops. For additional information, or to witness a demonstration on how and why kettlebells are the single most effective tool for increasing strength, burning fat, general conditioning, and teaching movement, visit or contact him at

© 2005 Brad Nelson

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