I have come to discover that there are quite a few exercise myths out there that simply do not stand up to scrutiny. A little research and critical thinking goes a long way, and here are a few exercise “rules” to throw out into the trash bin:
1. You can eat what you want as long as you exercise
I used to think that this was true, but it really is not. I used to exercise a lot so that I can eat what I want and not gain weight, but I certainly did not lose any weight until I stopped the terrible habit of cleaning the plate! Just as it is not possible to eat your way into fitness without exercise, it is not possible to exercise away a bad diet. I was lucky that I ate decent food and had some portion control but when you think about this one it just does not hold up to scrutiny.
For example, you can have just one milkshake and it would take you over an hour of jogging to burn it off.
If you are not eating nutritious foods, then your body will simply not get the nutrients it needs to function well and exercise will not change that.
2. You can spot reduce and lose fat in a specific region
This is also something people want to believe because of wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be great to just reduce our fat in our belly? Well, unless you have liposuction, that is probably not going to happen. We lose our fat gradually and it tends to be an overall reduction. Furthermore, each individual has a genetically programmed sequence for putting on fat, so where you put on weight first is the last place it will come off. For some people, that may be the hips and thighs. For me, it is the arms and belly. It will take a lot more hard work before I will have an acceptable waistline, and focusing my efforts on abs and doing more crunches isn’t going to help me get there.
3. You can trust the “calories burned” information on the cardio machine or as it is listed on a website
Unfortunately, for the same activity, two people are going to burn different amount of calories based on many different factors. Calories burned in an activity will depend on your height, weight, lean body mass, body fat, and general fitness level. For the same activity, the same person doing it over and over again will not yield the same amount of calories burned, either. As you get more fit, you will burn less calories doing the same exercise. The body will adapt and get more efficient at doing a routine so it becomes easier and therefore will expend less calories. For this reason, I don’t even really track my exercise calories very much any more. I simply use the Fitbit’s step count and go by that so that I underestimate the calories burned through activity (just a little). I try not to eat back my exercise calories where possible. I use the BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and the activity multiplier to estimate how much to eat. I generally try to stay within the 2000 calories per day limit now that I am moderately active.
4. You can build long and lean muscles
Muscles can’t get long and lean through particular exercises any more than your bones can be lengthened by exercise. Your build is determined by genetics. It is also not possible to “tone” your muscles; muscles either gets larger and stronger or smallers and weaker. If you want to see your muscles, you will also have to lose fat. It ultimately boils down to body composition. Fat also won’t turn into muscles, because fat cells and muscle cells are completely different cells. You can shrink your fat cells or grow them, just like you can shrink or grow your muscles.
5. Women will get big and bulky from lifting weights and should stay away from strength training
While men and women are not different species and building muscles work the same way in both men and women, there are hormonal differences (e.g. levels of testosterone) between men and women that makes it really hard for women to build the big muscles that are possible in men. When men build muscles, it is considered bulking up, but when women build muscles, it is called “toning.” What about those pictures that you see of female body builders with crazy bulky muscles? That is done with lots of dedication, hormone injections, and anabolic steroids.
Women do themselves a serious disservice when they avoid strength training. When you avoid strength training, you avoid becoming stronger, having less pain, and building better bones! Muscle helps to burn fat even when you are resting so having muscles will help keep that body looking toned. There are more reasons to lift weights than reasons to not lift weights.