By Rebecca Rogers, MS, C-HFS
Starting a fitness journey can be intimidating, especially if you are beginning without any previous knowledge. If you ask a friend or go to the Internet for information, you might find yourself surrounded by confusing and conflicting advice that’s also inaccurate. It can be difficult to sort out the fact from the fiction, especially when the fiction sounds so good! Unfortunately, some of these myths might be preventing you from getting the safest and most effective workout. Check out these three fitness myths so you can get started or continue moving down the right path to achieve your fitness goals.
Myth #1: Lifting Weights will Make You Bulky
Many people, especially women, avoid weights because they think that building muscle means they will bulk up like a bodybuilder. Women say they want to look "toned" because they are afraid of “getting big,” but toning and building are just different words to describe the same end: hypertrophy. Most of the time, what they mean is that they want to see their muscles. So, what most women actually want is to be leaner with more muscle mass and, in reality, most men have the same goal.
When you lift weights that are challenging, micro-tears are created in the muscle fibers. When these tears are repaired by the body, the muscle becomes stronger and a little bigger. However, because muscle tissue is more dense than fat tissue, adding more muscle to your body and decreasing your fat actually makes you look leaner, not bigger. If you were to look at one pound of fat and one pound of muscle side by side, you would notice that the muscle is significantly smaller even though they are the same weight, meaning the more muscle you have on your body, the less space it will take up.
Additionally, women are not physiologically built to put on muscle in the same way as men. Men have 20 to 30 times more testosterone than women, which is why they can increase muscle size so noticeably. Regardless of your gender, to truly bulk up you would have to work really hard with that goal in mind. Bodybuilders spend hours in the gym lifting extremely heavy weights paired with a very strict diet to promote muscle gain. The average person’s workout and diet will not result in the same effects. The recommended repetition range for muscle growth is eight to 12 reps with limited rest time. The point is to exert your body and continuously add more weight during those sets. The longer your muscles are under tension, the better they will respond to training. Embracing weight training and adding strength exercises to your program can actually help you reach your ultimate goal.
Myth #2: You Should Stretch Before Exercising
It has been generally accepted that stretching before exercising or athletic events decreases the risk of injury. Accordingly, it is common practice for static stretching exercises to be included in a warm-up session. Static stretching entails slowly stretching a muscle/tendon group and holding that position for 10 to 30 seconds. The myth that pre-workout static stretching reduces the risk of injury is based on the idea that it elongates the muscle and decreases stiffness in the muscle. However, static stretching performed pre-workout can actually inhibit performance and power. It weakens the muscle by 30 percent, and the reduced tension may actually increase the risk of injury (Woods, Bishop, & Jones, 2012).
This is not to say stretching should be eliminated from your workout routine. Instead, perform a warm-up involving dynamic stretches and full body movements that are specific to the activity. Dynamic stretching involves a steady movement from one body position to another while progressively increasing the reach and range of motion as the movement is repeated. One of the goals of the warm up is to increase blood flow to the working muscles, increase core temperature and increase enzyme activity. Static stretches should be saved for after the workout or in the evening.
Myth #3: Crunches will Give You a Six-Pack
Crunches might help strengthen the muscles around your midsection and improve your posture, but being able to “see” your abdominal muscles actually has to do with your overall body fat percentage. If you do not lose the belly fat, you will not be able to see the ab muscles. No matter how many crunches they do, someone with 30 percent body fat will never have abs like someone with 10 percent body fat. Performing crunches and other abdominal exercises will not necessarily cause you to lose that belly fat, either.
The truth is, you cannot spot train. There is no direct metabolic connection between the abdominal muscles and the fat cells around them. When you exercise, your body will pull fat from all over. The fat then travels to the liver to be converted into fatty acids which are sent back to the working muscles for energy. This means that the fat your body recruits for fuel when you are doing repeated crunches could come from any location. Moves such as planks, bridges and push-ups target your entire core rather than crunches, which only focus on the abdominal muscles. Including these exercises in a strength training program, in combination with cardiovascular activities and a healthy diet, will help you decrease your overall body fat content, including the area around your midsection.
Wood, K., Bishop, P., & Jones E. (2012). Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Medicine, 37, 1089-1099.