The 5 Biggest Exercise Myths

In my work as a fitness coach, I find that many people have some deeply ingrained beliefs about the “right way” to exercise for best results. No doubt these come from the seemingly endless messages we’re bombarded with every day in the media, the latest fad workout or diet, or maybe from what we were taught back in elementary and high school PE class. In this article, I’ll debunk the five most common mistaken beliefs, or myths, about exercise and fitness that I encounter with my clients.

Myth #1:  Stretching before exercise prevents injuries

“Static” stretching, where the stretch is held for a short time, in fact has no proven injury-prevention benefits. In fact, it can even cause injury if performed too aggressively. It’s so common to see racers lined up at the start of a running event, stretching their quadriceps and calves. While this may make you look like a pro, in fact you’re reducing your muscles’ power for the upcoming effort.

What to do instead: Warm up effectively. The single most important elements of any workout are the warmup and cooldown. To warm up, perform some “active stretches” – exercises that get your muscles moving and blood flowing to the tissues. Try leg swings, toe touches, wall pushups, walking or stationary lunges and the like. Read: Three Key Reasons to Always Warm Up

The best time to stretch is after your workout. That’s when your muscles and connective tissues are warm, flexible, and primed for stretching. And one more thing about stretching:  hold a static stretch, without bouncing, for at least 20 seconds, preferably 30 seconds. When you begin a stretch, your muscles kick off a “stretch reflex” that resists the actual stretch (this is the body’s protective mechanism). But after 20 seconds or so, the stretch reflex relaxes, and the muscle can then be gently lengthened.  Holding a stretch for only 10 to 12 seconds serves literally no purpose, yet it’s quite common in group exercise settings.

Myth #2:  More cardio = more weight loss

No matter what all the fad diets espouse, the basic equation for weight loss is to expend more calories than you take in. While cardiovascular exercise does burn calories, it also puts the body into stress (basically, fight-or-flight mode). The more stress you subject your body to, the more it will respond with self-protection by producing more insulin and cortisol. What it can’t process, it stores as body fat.

What to do instead: Less cardio, more strength training. Strength training is one of the most effective exercises for weight loss, because it builds more lean muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning it burns calories even at rest. Plus it takes up less space than fat tissue (unless you’re a body builder). Strength training three times per week, working all the major muscle groups, plus shorter, interval-based cardio workouts two to three times per week, is a proven strategy for weight loss. Read: The Great Debate: Cardio or Weights?

Myth #3: Sit-ups are the best way to work your abs

Plain old sit-ups are probably the worst way to work the abdominals. Why? Because your abdominals aren’t actually working! It’s your low back and your hip flexor muscles doing most of the effort.

What to do instead:  Work your entire core. Your “core” is essentially everything from your hips up to your breastbone, front and back. This includes your glutes, low and mid back, and all three sets of abdominal muscles: the rectus abdominus (6-pack), the obliques (on the sides) and the transverse (across the navel). Exercises such as planks, squats, pushups, twists with resistance (medicine ball, stretch cord) and crunches performed on a stability ball or BOSU® balance trainer are all excellent at strengthening the core muscles.

Myth #4: There’s a “best time” to work out

Some studies have shown that exercise first thing in the morning, in a fasted state, may help prevent weight gain (but not increase weight loss). However, everyone’s biorhythms are different. For example, if I tried to work out in the early morning in a fasted state, I’d either throw up or pass out – because my blood pressure is very low and it takes hours in an upright position for it to level out. My peak exercise time is from 4pm to 6pm.

What to do instead:  The most important element for success is consistency. So whatever time of day you can successfully and regularly incorporate exercise is the best time for you.

Myth #5: You should work out every single day

There’s a widespread belief that more exercise is better – especially when it comes to cardio (see Myth #2). In fact, exercise breaks down muscle tissue – and it gets stronger during rest/recovery.

What to do instead:  Take one or two recovery days every week, where you engage in some activity that keeps you moving but doesn’t place huge demands on your muscles. Light gardening, yoga, playing with your children, walking the dog (or just walking) are all great recovery activities. Also – SLEEP! Get at least seven hours a night, and turn off or dim all screens at least an hour before bed.

Want a fitness program designed specifically for you? Take the guesswork out of working out by partnering with me! I offer many different options to meet your schedule and budget. We can start with just a friendly conversation about where you want to be. Check out my services at dragonfly-fitness.com, or click here to pick a time for us to talk over Zoom or on the phone.

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