Fitness myths and mistakes

24 June 2020 Nutrition

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There are so many fitness myths floating around, it’s not even funny. Some myths and mistakes people make may have some grounding in reality but they don’t really apply to an average fitness junkie. Here I’ve tried to collect a few of the most popular myths and mistakes I’ve heard.

Spot Reduction

“Do more crunches to have a flat tummy” – how many times have you heard this? I mean, come on! It’s almost as if everyone knows spot reduction is a myth but don’t want to believe it. Or is it those silly infomercials showcasing a new miraculous piece of training equipment that can sculpt our abs that reinforce this myth? It’s easy enough to understand why this might be confusing. After all, if you wanted to build bigger biceps then you perform exercises that target your biceps. So, by extension if I wanted to lose fat in a particular area you would need to target that area, right? Wrong! Building muscle and losing fat are completely different processes. Your body decides where to burn fat from and ironically the places where you collect fat first are the places from which your body burns fat last. All you can do is train hard and hit your nutrition macros and eventually your body will burn fat from your “problem areas” as well.

Deadlifts are bad for your back

Deadlifts, vilified for ever and more. Many times you see people in the gym avoiding the deadlift because they don’t want to hurt their back. While there is a very real possibility that you can hurt your back doing the deadlift, it can happen only because you’re doing it wrong or trying to lift heavier than you can at that point in time. So, spend some time learning to do the deadlift right because contrary to popular belief it is one of the best exercises to strengthen your back.

Post workout protein and meal timing

This one I believed in too, till I discovered intermittent fasting and did some more research. I used to rush back from the gym to gulp down my post workout shake as well, because this is what everyone at the gym including the trainers tell you to do. There is enough scientific evidence that while a post workout “window” exists, it’s as long as 24-36 hours rather than the 1 hour people claim it is.

While talking about this “window” I might as well dispel the rumour that you have to have 5-6 meals throughout the day. It is infinitely more important to hit your calorie and macro targets and it doesn’t matter so much if you hit them having 5-6 meals or 1-2 larger meals, that is entirely up to you.

Lifting weights makes women bulky

One word, NO. It’s not easy to put on muscle and especially so for women because they don’t have much testosterone coursing through their bodies. What resistance training and lifting weights can do is help you lose fat and make you look toned and defined because you put on lean muscle. So don’t just spend time on the elliptical machine or the treadmill, lift weights.

Stretching before workout

Well, this isn’t exactly a myth or untrue. But how we go about it is what’s wrong. There are two kinds of stretching, static and dynamic, and both have their place. A lot of people static stretch i.e. holding a stretch for 10-30 seconds before their workout, and science has shown us that this is counter-productive. What you need to do is perform dynamic stretches and warm-up before your work out and static stretches after your work out. Stretching is important but so is the right kind of stretching.

Cardio is best for losing weight

Cardio is great for cardiovascular health and for burning some calories. But if you want to lose weight and more specifically lose fat, then you need to change your approach. If your goal is just cardiovascular health then cardio is great for you. If your goal is to just lose weight, this can be achieved with a good calorie restricted nutrition plan. If your goal is to lose fat and build lean muscle, you need to resistance train (lift weights), follow a good calorie restricted nutrition plan while hitting your target macros and optionally do some cardio for cardiovascular health.

Low fat products are better

It seems like almost every food product in the supermarket these days has a low fat alternate advertised very prominently. A lot of people end up buying the low fat option blindly because they assume (wrongly) that low fat products are better. While admittedly there are some great low fat options, not all low fat options are good. A lot of these low fat options contain extra carbs and sugars in order to make sure they don’t taste too much worse than their regular counterparts. A far better way of figuring out which is the right product for you is to look at the nutrition label.

Higher reps = tone, lower reps = bulk

Another classic misconception is that picking up light weights and doing many reps will tone your body while doing fewer reps with heavier weights will make you bulky. The only purpose of weight training is to put on muscle, not tone or bulk. Whether you look toned, shredded, ripped etc depends on your nutrition and how much fat you have on you. If you only lose fat and don’t have any muscle because you don’t weight train, you won’t look very good. If you weight train and consume way more calories than you need you will put on some muscle but a lot more fat. If you weight train and have proper nutrition then you will build muscle and lose fat and this will make you look “toned”.

One muscle a day, bro split

Familiar with chest Monday, arms Tuesday and so on? The one muscle a day split aka “bro split” has been made popular by bodybuilders and it works great for them. Why? Because most of them are loaded on performance enhancing substances. For average people like you and me, that go to the gym to look good and be fit, we need to train a little smarter. Science says that working out a muscle group twice a week gives better results than once a week (as in the bro split). This is the reason a lot of people follow a full body routine, an upper/lower split, strength/hypertrophy split, push/pull/legs (PPL) split etc. Train smart!

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you know of other popular myths, misconceptions. mistakes I haven’t covered here? Let me know.