As a trainer and health coach, I’m always surprised at the prevalence of certain fitness myths. While some erroneous beliefs are rooted in old science that has simply been improved upon, others have been dead wrong from the start.
Take the belly fat myth, for example – the belief that the best (or only) way to lose belly fat is by doing sit-ups or other abdominal exercises. In fact, there could be nothing further from the truth. Abdominal exercises, like all strength training, can build or tone muscle, but they will do nothing at all to shed the fat necessary to glimpse those toned muscles. For that, you’re much better off focusing on exercises that burn a lot of calories, like running, kettle bell training, or Tabata classes. Even more effective is cutting calories through diet. Saying no to that second glass of wine, or skipping dessert is the calorie equivalent of all the crunches or planks you might do in a whole week.
Still, the belly fat myth and others persist, and they do so to our detriment. Believing certain “false positive” myths can cause you to waste your time doing things that don’t yield results. That leads to frustration and the false belief that exercise is pointless. There are other types of myths – the “false negatives” – that warn you away from activities that are actually beneficial. These myths are just as harmful as the false positives.
Fitness myths are a little bit like stereotypes – they exist because people apply broad assumptions to something based on limited occurrences. You’ve tried losing belly fat by doing hours of ab exercises, which haven’t worked, and so you assume that exercise won’t help. Or, you know a friend who started running in her late 40s and a few months later, she developed serious knee pain. Or, your sister wanted to get in shape, so she joined a local CrossFit gym, and promptly hurt her shoulder. These kinds of experiences help perpetuate our most popular fitness myths, but if we drill down and look at the real causes, we see a common theme: It’s not that exercise is ineffective or dangerous, it’s that we’re doing it wrong. You didn’t realize that you should have been focusing on diet and cardio to lose your belly fat; your neighbor didn’t know that she was running too many miles too soon in her training program; your sister failed to tell her CrossFit coach about that shoulder injury she sustained in college that still gives her trouble from time to time today.
Your best defense against wasted hours in the gym, frustration and injury is good, solid information. And when it comes to exercise, your best source of information is an experienced fitness professional. Read my NextAvenue article for tips on how to find the right trainer for you. Then head to the gym, and check your fitness misconceptions at the door.