The fitness industry is full of more lies, myths, and total B.S. than nearly any industry on the planet. Some of these myths are slowly going away, thanks to bastions of reason like Breaking Muscle. But, in most magazines, on the daily talk shows, and even on a lot of the most popular fitness TV shows the information you are hearing is wrong.
I’m not going to go so far as to say people are lying to you. It’s just often times the received wisdom, the stuff we’ve been taught and have picked up along the way, was wrong to begin with. And, since we never thought to question it and no one ever told us different, this misinformation has become part of the collective.
I feel it’s my duty to help you sort these out. So, let’s get started:
1. Weight training will make women bulky.
True, if the woman is on steroids. Female bodybuilders almost singlehandedly ruined the act of lifting heavy weights for most women in this country by providing a false example.
The average man produces ten times the amount of testosterone as the average woman. To be truly bulky and “manly” you need a lot of testosterone. Without it, you can’t be bulky. So, unless you plan to inject yourself with steroids, you have very little to worry about.
If you’re concerned about your arms being too big, lose more fat. Don’t be afraid of gaining more muscle.
2. Squats are bad for you knees.
I don’t know when this myth will die, but not only is it false that squats are bad for your knees, full squats are actually good for your knees. Unfortunately, no matter how much writing and promoting coaches like me do, the general media – and far too many personal trainers – still spout off this nonsense as fact.
Squat deep on every repetition. By deep I mean the top of your thighs should be at least parallel with the ground – preferably lower, if you have any human dignity. Do this, stay on your heels as much as you can while you’re at it, and your knees will stay healthy long into old age.
3. Running will make you fit.
To paraphrase Charles Poliquin, “Humans are meant to either sprint or walk long distances.” I might get shot for saying this, but unless you happen to be built like a runner – light weight, slight bone structure – then running (by that I mean “jogging” as exercise, not sprinting) will likely cause you more harm than good. That is even truer if you’re a woman with wide hips (most women) where the angle of the thigh comes in from the hip bone to the knee bone.
Running is a sport. It is not a general fitness activity. Every foot strike is a plyometric exercise and if you aren’t properly prepared – via a good fitness program that includes strength training – you WILL suffer an injury. It’s just a matter of time. Great runners learn how to be great runners and they do what is necessary to mitigate the downsides. In the words of Diane Lee, “You don’t run to get fit, you need to be fit to run.”
4. If you want to lose fat, workout more.
This one is only kind of true. Working out more certainly increases the amount of calories you burned that day. It can give you spikes in metabolism that can last up to 72 hours. And if you do it right, you’ll build muscle that itself will raise your metabolism just by existing. But, all of those things miss the point.
Fat loss is all about calories in, calories out. I have plenty of male weightlifters who gain upwards of twenty pounds after they’ve been lifting at our club for a little while. After joining us, their workouts increased, and the intensity of those workouts increased. How did they gain weight? Because they also increased how much they ate! It’s great to workout more. But if your goal is to lose fat, you must control your calories.
5. Cardio is more important for fat loss than weight lifting.
This myth is a derivative of the one above. Cardio is great for health reasons and you will burn calories while doing it. However your biggest concern when you are trying to lose weight is muscle loss. If you lose fat and lose muscle along with it, you have made your future ability to keep the weight off harder.
Less Muscle = Lower Metabolism.
Fat loss programs should be first about controlling the ratio of calories in/calories out, and second about doing everything in your power to prevent losing muscle. In my book, that means a good diet combined with a good weight training routine. If you have time for cardio, be my guest, but that comes third!
6. What you eat is as important as how much you eat when trying to lose weight.
Your overall health has a lot to do with the quality of the foods that you ingest. But, your overall level of fat does not. As I mentioned above, fat loss is about how many calories are going into and out of your body each day.
There is no getting around the basics of Thermodynamics. If you want to lose fat, you must eat fewer calories than you burn. Period. There is no other way unless the laws of physics don’t apply to you for some reason, in which case, you can eat whatever you want!
If the calories you eat are also healthy, then you may increase your progress some. You’ll certainly increase your health and sense of well-being. But, you can easily get fat eating too much healthy food.
Don’t believe me? Just ask a sumo Wwrestler. They eat very healthy food every day, avoid junk food like the plague, and yet are the poster children of obesity. Calories in, calories out. Period.
7. If you don’t feel like crap after a workout, you didn’t work hard enough.
This is one for my CrossFit friends. Workouts are workouts. Competitions are competitions. They are not the same. Workouts exist to prepare you to be good in a competition.
Sadly, too many trainees, especially those in the early stages of the beginners phase (not just CrossFit, but everything), think that killing yourself is the goal. They treat every workout like a major national competition where their reputation and thousands of dollars are at stake.
“If I don’t work my hardest,” they say, “then how will I ever make the progress I want?”
It seems reasonable on the surface – until they injure themselves. If you injure yourself today, what do you think tomorrow’s workout will look like? Working hard is important, but working smart is way more important.
And there you have it. Seven fitness myths I encounter all the time. You no longer have any excuses.