12 myths about health, fitness, and getting in shape

The internet (and the world) are full of weird, fun, troubling, and downright incorrect myths about fitness and health. Here are twelve we’re going to lay to rest today (hopefully).

Myth #1: The only way to lose fat is lots of cardio.

A good mixture of cardio like running or biking and strength work like bodyweight calisthenics or weight lifting, split into training days that allow for ample rest, is the best type of training for fat loss. Strength training lets you maintain or improve muscle mass (which also burns more calories to maintain), while regular cardio lets you burn more calories in exercise. Add in a reasonable diet and you’re golden!

Myth #2. All gyms are created equal.

From big box gyms like LA Fitness to small box CrossFit gyms to mobile trainers who cart their equipment around in a van, there are a lot of options for people to consider when they want to workout. The key factors to look for are whether or not the option you choose meets your scheduling requirements, if they provide coaching services when needed (or by default), if they’re in your budget, and if you’re getting reasonable results. If things don’t line up right, then try another option.

Myth #3. You are a unique fitness snowflake.

Too many people spend time not exercising because they think they need a super special program tailored only at them. Is this a nice to have? Sure! But it’s not necessary, especially when you’re still at the stage of building good habits. A general strength and conditioning program that uses weights/movements that are difficult but within your capability are a perfect way to start getting serious about your health. The human body tends to respond in pretty standard ways when we train, so generic programs can get the vast majority of people started on the right path, and keep them making progress for several months.

Myth #4. The same thing works for everyone.

Okay, so you’re not super unique from a physiological perspective, but at some point you’ll need to adjust your training so it fits with your progress and goals. Once you’re past the 12-16 week “general on-ramp” period, it’s time to look at how you want to continue and how well you’ve done so far. Small changes to simple workouts can mean better development of different attributes of your athleticism. Maybe you want/need a stronger lower body, so you add heavier weight lifting to your squat plans. Maybe you need to be faster, so you add in more sprinting and agility work. Eventually, customization will be very helpful to keep you moving forward.

Myth #5. The best way to get in shape is to follow celebrity fitness plans.

How many people started Googling “300 workout” after that movie came out? Don’t be embarrassed because I totally did! We see celebrities onscreen looking awesome and the almost universal reaction is, “maybe I should be working out like them?” This is a bad idea for two reasons.

First, that celeb is getting paid (literally) to engage in often extreme training regimens that include very specific diet and exercise protocols. Most of us wouldn’t have the time or money to train like they do, and what works for their unique situation just isn’t applicable to most of the rest of the world (including you, sorry).

Second, they’re being coached by some of the most highly paid, high profile trainers in the world. Do you really think the workout you found in Men’s Health is the true secret sauce that trainer used to get those celebs looking that way? No. Not even a little bit. Maybe it’s one workout from one day, but it’s not their whole routine. If you were paying me $2,000,000 per year to train those people, and I knew that my programming is a significant selling point, there’s no way you’d find it published online.

Myth #6. It doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as your calories are right.

Is 2,000 calories of Twinkies equal to 2,000 calories from a mix of whole proteins, veggies, and fruits? The answer should seem pretty obvious when you use the Twinkie scale, but in case you missed it, the answer is no. You need a healthy mix of whole foods that provide the nutrients you need to live a healthy lifestyle, as well as maintaining a caloric intake that supports healthy body composition.

Myth #7. You get abs by doing sit-ups/abdominal work.

Ugh. NO! How much longer do we have to have this one? You get stronger abs by doing core work, sure, but you can’t magically cut a six-pack into a wall of flabby belly tissue by doing 100 sit-ups a day. The only thing that will make your abs visible are smart diet and regular exercise that lead to reducing body fat. For women we’re talking 19% or lower and for men we’re looking at 14% or lower.

Myth #8. Older adults shouldn’t … [lift weights, run, whatever].

Physical exercise is good for every average individual from birth to death, regardless of age. The middle age or older population benefits just as much from general strength and conditioning as younger people. In fact, participation in regular exercise is one of the key indicators of how well someone will age, how long they remain independent, and how they eventually die. (Because not even Wendler’s 5/3/1 can make you immortal. Probably…)

Myth #9. Low-carb/fat/protein is the way to go!

Another common nutrition myth is that going incredibly low on any one macronutrient is the key to the best/most effective diet. Generally you don’t see drastically low-protein diets, but low-carb and low-fat are very common. I’ll be the first to admit that diets like Atkins do work in a certain sense and people do see some remarkable weight loss…

…for a little while.

These diets aren’t sustainable for 95% of normal people over time, so when you inevitably stop following the diet plan, the weight piles back on very quickly. The real secret to these diets is old fashioned calorie restriction: when you cut out most of an entire macro group, I guarantee you’ll also be cutting out a significant number of calories.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s publication “What We Eat in America”, the average American eats about 260 grams of carbs per day (men higher, women lower), and about 13 grams are from Fiber (which don’t provide calories), meaning we get about 988 calories per day from carbs. If you did nothing else except cut that in half, you’d be eating at a 494 calorie deficit every day, which is 3,458 calories per week. Conveniently, a pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, so if you go even partially low-carb (based on the average diet) then you stand to lose one pound every week. The results aren’t from the carbs; they’re from the calories.

Myth #10. You should be sore all the time.

Soreness is your body’s way of telling you that you had a hard workout that you are struggling to recover from. At the beginning of a new program this is common, since you’re usually working new muscle groups and new movements. Over a relatively short period of time (usually about 3-4 weeks) you begin to acclimate to the new workout and soreness should decrease. If it doesn’t, you’re working at an intensity level that is inappropriate for your fitness level. More than likely you’ll end up giving up, stalling progress, or hurting yourself (sometimes all three in some order).

The goal should be to feel the workout, experience a minor bit of delayed onset muscle soreness the next day or so, and be able to recover in 36-48 hours. If you have persistent soreness past that point, take a good look at how hard you’re pushing yourself. You probably need to back off a little bit.

Myth #11. Lifting weights make women bulky.

No, it doesn’t. Good? Now that we’ve covered that…What? You need more? Okay, more detail comin’ at ya!

Lifting weights doesn’t make you bulky, and ladies I’m not just talking to you on this. The act of lifting weights does not ensure that you will gain excessively huge muscles and become super huge. There are Very Rare People who can lift weights and gain muscle mass very easily, but there is a 99.9% chance that you are not one of them. The majority of people will gain leaner, less bulky muscle tissue when they engage in weight lifting with one exception…

You will bulk up if you specifically do things trying to bulk up.

This means lifting incredibly heavy weights (relative to your strength) while also eating a very large caloric excess over a long period of time where you actively make changes to your routine and diet that directly support getting big, bulky muscles.

So unless you’re doing all of that, chill out and pick up the barbell. It’s your friend.

Myth #12. The time of day you eat specific things is super important.

Not really. If something makes you feel sick before bed, don’t eat it before bed. If you notice that having something specific for breakfast makes you feel terrible later in the morning, don’t have it for breakfast. If you find that eating something at all makes you sick, don’t eat it at all.

You see the pattern? As long as you’re getting your calories, macros, and nutrients in any given 24 hours period, your body isn’t going to care about when that happens in a general sense. You eat, your body processes it, repeat. What does matter is if you find yourself feeling poorly when you eat specific things at specific times. I don’t care what the latest Fitness Guru says: if you get massive diarrhea every time you eat something specific for breakfast, but it never bothers you later in the day, then stop having it for breakfast!