Updated: Apr 25
For those of us on a health journey, the internet can be a fantastic resource for recipes, workouts, and healthy tips or tricks! However, the internet can also be full of misinformation, especially regarding fitness and healthy living.
According to the Global Wellness Institute, in 2019, the global wellness economy was valued at $4.9 trillion. We'd like to think that health and wellness companies are acting in our best interest, but misinformation can be a powerful tool for profit.
That is why we've laid out some of the most notable, and least evidence-based, fitness myths in this blog. This way, you can make informed decisions that will keep you working towards your goals, rather than on a hamster wheel of misinformation.
Myth #1: You should stretch before a workout
"Woah, what!? But I thought stretching was a good thing??"
You're right! Stretching is great, but warming up is what we want to do before we begin a workout. Although stretching is great, it's the type of stretching that matters before a workout.
Let's talk about types of stretching:
Static: Involves holding a position for around 30 seconds (think touching your toes)
Dynamic: Involves movement (think lunges)
The key here is movement. If we begin with static stretching, our muscles are still cold. Overstretching the muscle can be painful and can even minimize our performance! These movements don't really prepare us for the movements in our main workout either. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, allows our blood to get flowing and our muscles to get warm. Dynamic stretching warm-ups are often designed to mimic movement patterns in the workout that you are about to do so that you're all ready to go!
So save those toe reaches and butterfly stretches to relax at the end of your workout, and get to moving!
Myth #2: No pain, no gain
Whether during a workout or after, pain or discomfort is often conflated with effectiveness.
During a workout, you should feel your muscles working, and this can sometimes be slightly uncomfortable, but it should never be painful. "Feeling the burn," does not always mean that the movement is working and could actually be a product of poor form.
Tip: If you aren't sure if you're experiencing muscle fatigue or actual pain, ask your instructor or trainer, "What should this feel like?" or "Where should I feel this?". Also, always let them know if something hurts in a way that feels like it could lead to injury.
The effectiveness of your workout is determined by your effort and attention to proper form and technique. So generally, if something feels wrong, chances are it is!
On the other hand, not feeling sore after a workout can have us feeling dissatisfied. After all, if it was working, I should be sore, right? Well not quite...
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, also known as DOMS, is our body's inflammatory response to temporary muscle damage. It is characterized by symptoms such as soreness, aches, and minor acute pains lasting up to 48 hours after a workout. While DOMS is not inherently a bad thing, it also is not a reflection of an effective workout.
If you are experiencing DOMS, give your body a rest! Perhaps do something lighter like Yoga or walking. It is important to allow your muscle tissue to heal before putting them under stress again. If you aren't sore after a workout, no worries, you've still done a great job!
Myth #3: You can tone muscle
If you've perused fitness services, you've likely seen workouts geared towards 'toning' your muscles. Well, toning isn't really a thing. Let's talk about muscle physiology:
Muscles can change in size, but they do not change in softness. They can grow, they can shrink but they cannot become harder or softer.
'Toning' is one of those pesky buzzwords, that allows companies to advertise fitness to those who fear that working out will make them bulky. A 'toned' body is simply one that has a muscle to body fat ratio that allows the muscle to be visible.
Our muscles looking more firm or 'toned' are actually them growing and us losing body fat! So we can't tone our arms, we have to build the muscles in our arms and reduce overall body fat to make the muscles visible.
So instead of trying to tone, focus on building muscle. And no, you won't get bulky!
Myth #4: Cardio is the best way to lose weight
Goal setting is an important part of a fitness journey. If your goal is to build muscle, hit the weights and if your goal is weight loss, get to the treadmill, right?
Well, no actually. We commonly associate cardio with loss and resistance or weight training with gains but fitness just isn't that black and white. There is no single right way to achieve your goals.
Cardio-based exercise is great. It helps us improve our cardiovascular and respiratory health, and burn calories which in turn helps us lose weight. With that being said though, cardio is most effective when paired with resistance or weight training exercises.
We sometimes shy away from resistance training because of its potential to add weight, rather than lose it. But let's think through this. Do we really care about the number on the scale or do we care about how we feel, how we look, how our jeans fit, how we move, etc?
Weight training adds muscle mass which can contribute to a higher number on the scale but less body fat. You are keeping and building the good stuff AND shedding the extra fat all at the same time!
1. Weight training increases our short-term caloric expenditure
Studies have shown that our metabolism is boosted for up to 38 hours after a weight-training session. So yes, while you are driving home from the gym or relaxing on the couch, your body is burning more calories in its resting state than normal. Cool, right?
2. Weight training also increases our long-term caloric expenditure
When we lift weights, we increase our muscle mass. This means that our Basal Metabolic Rate (or the calories we burn without doing anything at all) increases to account for the increased tissue mass and metabolic needs at the cellular level. In simple terms, more muscle mass = more calories burned in all areas of life (sitting, working, walking. etc.) Sounds too good to be true!
Cardio is a great way to burn some quick calories, but weight training leads to long-term metabolic changes that help you burn calories all the time. All in all, if you love cardio, stick with that but don't feel tied down. It's good to try it all out!
Check out our Strength with Weights class to get a taste.
Myth #5: Using machines in the gym is cheating
Myths regarding the use, misuse, or total avoidance of machines in the gym are not hard to come by.
Proponents of free weights sometimes refer to machine weights as cheating, entry-level, or simply ineffective. While we are all entitled to our own opinions it's a disservice to write off that entire section of the gym!
Machine weights are fantastic for a number of reasons including
1. Support and stability
Machine weights are designed to be supportive and many of them allow you to remain seated throughout the exercise. These are great for those of us who struggle with balance, especially when lifting heavier weights.
2. Form improvement
The great thing about machines is that they are designed to help you with form. The machines only run along one track and thus you cannot break form as easily as you can with free weights.
3. Muscular isolation
Machines are great for muscle isolation. They often put you into a position where the work is predominantly on your working muscle rather than throughout the body for stabilization. This can help you really focus on the contraction.
We all start somewhere. Beginner-friendly is certainly not a put-down. Machines are often labeled with instructions and diagrams on how to perform an exercise and where it should be felt the most in the body. And, machines are equipped with all the weight you will need, so you don't have to worry about grabbing different weights to find what works for you.
These are only some of the great things about machine weights. They are great tools that don't deserve the hate they get. The movements learned on machines can be easily and effectively translated to free weights too! Like with all things fitness, it's not black and white. So try out some machines and make a decision for yourself!
If you know of any other myths or have any questions about the information that you are unsure of, let us know! We are always ready to help you debunk some fitness myths and keep you informed on your journey. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Now that you're all informed, let's put your knowledge to the test. Join us for a class sometime soon!
Author: Brierley Lloyd