“Train insane to remain the same.” It looks great on a T-shirt, but so does “Female Body Inspector.” That doesn’t mean you should believe it. When it comes to health and exercise, there are certain unassailable truths. We know we should be active and maintain our bodies with respect and care. But, there are some long-held beliefs in the world of fitness that we just can’t seem to shake. As with diet myths, some of them just require a little further explanation than a simple rhyming couplet. And, others, unfortunately, are simply untrue.
Here’s the truth behind the eight most prevalent fitness falsehoods and fitness motivation that women just can’t seem to let go of.
1. It’s Not A Real Workout Unless You’re Sweating and Sore Afterwards.
A “real” workout is the one that best serves your own interests and individual goals. Research indicates that it is progressively overloading the body in some way, whether it be in terms of pace, intensity, or volume, is what leads to tangible results. Whether or not that leaves you sore and sweaty is completely beside the point.
If you had an intense exercise session the day before, it’s better to do a lower-intensity activity with a stretch/foam-roll session to aid in muscular recovery and regeneration. This will help you see better strength and endurance gains than if you’re working to your maximal potential day after day.
2. High Intensity Exercise Is The Best.
What is “Best” for you? The best thing anyone can do is ask themselves exactly what they are training for. Strength gains? Fat loss? General health and just wanting to feel good? There is plenty of research in support of high-intensity exercise for becoming leaner and stronger, but as with anything, too much of it can make a good thing go bad quickly.
The bottom line is variety is best. So, while high-intensity exercise has been proven to increase calorie burn, fat loss, strength, and endurance, the best exercise programs combine high- and low-intensity training sessions. It’ll work you body the right amount so you don’t destroy it for the long-term.
3. You Should Stretch Before Exercising.
This is some true and has merits. And EVERYONE has an opinion on it. This is the gluten of fitness facts. What further confuses the issue is that many people don’t realize the difference between static and dynamic stretching.
Research does indicate that static stretching, like a hamstring stretch, where you stand still and hold the position does temporarily decrease power output slightly for a period of time immediately following a hold. But, this can be alleviated by following up with a dynamic warm-up.
Dynamic stretching — a moving stretch that keeps the body part in motion — helps activate muscles, improve range of motion and balance/coordination, and increase overall strength and performance.
Furthermore, not everyone needs to stretch everything willy-nilly. It’s more important to stretch what actually needs to be stretched. For most of us who sit long hours at a desk, that’s the chest, thoracic spine, and hips. Be sure to do a short mobility session to prep the body for whatever you have planned for your workout that day.
4. Always Workout During The Day Time, Never At Night.
Don’t listen to this. Your body will benefit from exercise no matter what time of day you do it. If you are exercising at night, you may want to give yourself extra time to unwind before hopping into bed post-workout, that is all.
A 2013 National Sleep Foundation study essentially busts the myth that vigorous exercise impacts sleep quality. However, if you are a problem sleeper, and your workout falls within an hour or two before bedtime, you can experiment with working out earlier in the day. If sleep improves, problem solved. If not, then you can probably conclude that exercise isn’t causing the issue.
The important thing to remember is that exercise generally improves a person’s overall sleep cycle. If night is your only option, it’s much better than nothing.
5. Walking is Enough Exercise vs. You need to do more than just Walk.
There are two school of thoughts for this one. First, consider that not everyone has the same fitness routine or goals. If you’ve never exercised before, then simply walking the dog for 45 minutes after dinner every night can make an impact. Walking is a highly underrated low-level form of cardio. It’s also a fantastic entry point to exercise.
If you have a daily running regime, walking is still great, but it’s not going to vastly overhaul your physical fitness. Though, it can be a great option for days of light, active recovery.
Second, it’s important to recognize that not all walking is created equal. As with most exercise, it depends on the intensity and duration of the activity. Even if you’re a walk-the-dogger, walking can be great exercise. But, think about kicking up the pace and adding an incline.
And, remember, variety is still key. Walking is great as part of your routine – it should not be the entirety of your routine.
6. All You Need To Do Is Cardio.
Not quite accurate. Cardio is important, absolutely. But, so is conditioning and strength training.
Most professional athletes do not just play their sport. They do cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, movement prep, and muscular regeneration. All of these components round out a program to improve performance.
Runners often find their times improve when they introduce strength training into their workout regimen. Repeating the same stimulus in the same movement patterns can lead to a plateauing of results, or — even worse — chronic or overuse injuries.
Cross training (i.e. mixing up types of activity) is key, because, you have to constantly challenge the body in new ways in order to continue getting stronger, leaner, and all-around fitter.
7. I Don’t Want To Lift Because It’ll Make Me Bulky.
Oh-so-false, and a myth that sends many women running from the weight room. But, here’s the real deal – for a woman to build what most would consider a bulky physique, she would need to consistently follow a high-intensity, high-volume, resistance-training routine — and support those efforts with calories in excess of what it takes to maintain her body weight.
Even for men, this can be a challenge, and most women just don’t have the hormonal profile needed to generate this effect very easily. What often trips us up is the fact that building muscle doesn’t always correlate with an equal and simultaneous body fat loss. Not everyone goes to the gym to lose weight, but not everyone wants to look bigger, either.
When you begin an exercise program, you may feel like you are bulking up — but, stick with it. Your body’s metabolic functions are not always as fast as we’d like them to be, so there tends to be a lag time.
What may look bulky at first is likely just a step toward leaner, stronger muscles in the long run – you have to believe in this one thing, if not anything else.
8. I Need To Do A Thousand Crunches For Toned Abs.
Sorry. Not that there’s anything wrong with crunches. They’re just not the be-all and end-all secret to ab strength. Remember, it’s not all about that one patch of your midsection. You want to pay attention to your whole trunk.
As far as core exercises go, crunches are great, as are rotational exercises, anti-rotation exercises, and stabilization drills.
It’s also easy to slack on proper form with crunches, and people often wind up straining hip flexors and neck muscles, doing more harm than good. It’s best to use planks for core strength – planking has been the most effective move for a lot of women in strengthening this area – And it’s also a lot less easy to cheat.
That said, your core can be immensely strong, but that doesn’t mean the musculature is going to be visible. Many trainers note that the belly area where body fat is really the crucial factor. So, if you want to flash a six-pack, you need to take this into account. The saying “Abs are made 30% in the gym and 70% in the kitchen” has truths to it – a proper diet coupled with core exercises will ensure your abs pop out in no time.
But, it’s vital to remember that just because you can’t see your ab muscles, that doesn’t mean you’re not working them. Either way, a stronger core will have a huge impact on your physical ability and presentation, overall.