Whether you’re new to exercise or you squeeze in a workout every day, you’ve probably heard plenty of advice on how to get into shape and stay fit. Not all the advice is worth following, though. Before stepping out for a walk, heading to a yoga class, or doing some strength training exercises, read up on six common fitness myths.
Myth #1: The best way to get rid of belly fat is to do crunches and ab workouts.
Fact: Don’t let anyone tell you that doing 100 crunches a day will give you a six-pack. While it would be great to spot-train and miraculously have a flat tummy by doing ab workouts, you also have to stay on your meal plan and lose weight. That’s because the only way to get rid of belly fat, which is also known as visceral fat, is to lose weight, and the only way to do this is to burn more calories than you take in from food. If you reduce your calories and exercise more, you’ll lose weight everywhere — and that includes your belly. That said, you can tone your abs as you are losing your overall body fat by doing crunches and other exercises targeted specifically at these muscles.
Myth #2: Stretching before a workout will prevent injury.
Fact: The jury is still out on whether pre-workout stretching really is beneficial. While some experts say that it can increase your range of motion and prevent injury, others feel it may even destabilize muscles and make them less prepared for vigorous exercise. It appears that stretching, when it loosens muscles and tendons, may also temporarily weaken them. A better option may be to do a pre-workout warm-up by using the muscles that you’ll be working during a particular exercise. If you’ll be doing interval walking, for example, walk for about 5 minutes at an easy pace before progressing to a moderate and then a fast pace depending on your level of conditioning.
Myth #3: Lifting weights could make you too bulky.
Fact: Testosterone is needed to increase muscle size, and men have 20 to 30 times as much as women do, so they can bulk up efficiently. If you are a woman, you don’t need to worry about developing brawny muscles by working out. What you can look forward to when you lift weights is trimmed, toned muscles. Strength training also can help you lose weight faster and keep it off over the long run. Not sure whether to devote yourself to cardio or strength training? The best exercise program combines the two, so plan for your workouts to include some of each, ideally on alternate days.
Myth #4: Sweating means you are getting a great cardio workout.
Fact: It might seem logical that you’re getting a fabulous cardio workout if you’re drenched in perspiration at the end of it, but that’s not necessarily true. If you really want to know whether you are getting a great workout, you’re better off using the “talk test.” If you are mildly breathless as you walk, for example, you are working out at a moderately intense pace. If you’re a bit short of breath, and it’s difficult but not impossible to carry on a conversation, you’re revved up and really moving — and that’s good. As you get fitter and can walk at your top level, you’ll find that you can’t sustain the pace for too long and that it’s practically impossible to carry on a conversation. At this pace, you really are getting a great cardio workout, whether you sweat much or not.
Myth #5: Holding weights while doing cardio increases calorie burn.
Fact: It does, but just slightly and not enough to make it worthwhile. When you carry extra weights and they’re heavy, you could actually increase the chances of a joint or muscle injury. For a better calorie burn, do your cardio on a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine (cross trainer) and experiment with speed and resistance. On all of these machines, bumping up the speed first is better than increasing resistance. Only increase resistance when you’ve achieved all you can at maximal speed. On a bike, don’t apply so much resistance that you can’t turn the pedals at least 60 times per minute.
Myth #6: A hot bath will prevent muscle soreness
Fact: Actually, cold water is better for sore muscles than hot water, since it’s like an ice pack for your entire body. Colder temperatures will constrict the blood vessels, which is actually beneficial for muscle soreness. While you probably don’t want to hop into a bathtub full of cold water, you can take other steps to prevent muscle soreness, such as staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water, cooling down post-workout with a walk or very easy bike ride, and alternating every 30 to 60 seconds between hot and cold running water in the shower. And after the first 48 hours after strenuous exercise, a nice, hot bath can be both relaxing and therapeutic.