With all the fitness advice out there, it's hard to know what's actually legit and what's completely false. While some of the most common training myths can keep you from maximizing your workouts, others can be harmful and lead to injury.
To help you get the most out of your training and reduce the risk of injury, here are five of the most common fitness myths with explanations of what's really the truth:
1. You Can Target Fat Loss
Losing fat is the result of creating a caloric deficit by burning more calories than you consume over a period of time. That means you've got to increase the number of calories you burn with exercise and reduce the number of calories you take in by making healthy nutritional decisions. However, you can't dictate where on your body the fat will be taken from. Crunches, though beneficial for strengthening and toning your abdominals, don't make any impact on the fat at your stomach area. Triceps extensions, beneficial for toning and strengthening your triceps, won't do anything about the extra flab at the back of your arms. If there are particular areas on your body you'd like to see trimmed down, the best way is to focus on creating a caloric deficit through calorie-burning exercises and healthy eating. As you lose overall fat, you'll notice improvements in your problem areas.
2. You Should Stretch Before a Workout
While beneficial for improving flexibility, stretching before a workout is actually counterproductive. Static stretching, where you elongate a muscle and hold that stretch for time, actually tires your muscles and essentially "puts them to sleep." As a result, stretching before a workout can actually weaken your performance. It can reduce your sprint speed and the amount of weight you can lift. The best way to warm up before a workout is to walk or jog for five minutes and then perform a collection of dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are "stretches while you are moving" and include movements like bodyweight squats and leg swings. These types of activities wake up your muscles and neuromuscular systems. Hold off on your static stretches until after your workout.
3. No Pain, No Gain
Yes, pushing yourself can be beneficial, but working out shouldn't be painful. There's a big difference between soreness and pain. If you feel discomfort while you're working out, that means you're probably doing something wrong or that you already have an injury. A burning sensation in your muscles while you're lifting and at the end of a set is normal. Sharp pain, however, is an indication that something is really wrong. If you feel pain during a workout, it's best to stop and rest a few minutes to see if the discomfort subsides. Lighten your load and double check your technique and try the exercise again. If it doesn't subside, you should visit a doctor.
4. You Should be Sore After Every Workout
Soreness isn't necessarily a good indicator of the quality of a workout. When you're sore, it's because you've placed your muscles in a position where they're overloaded. The load creates small tears in your muscle fibers and this damage causes pain. It's not uncommon to be sore following a particularly strenuous workout or when you begin a brand new training regimen. However, you don't want to be sore after every single workout. Consistently leaving your body sore will eventually lead to overtraining. For best results, you want to stick with a similar load and regimen for a few weeks so that your muscles have an opportunity to adapt to the stress. After a few weeks, then you can increase the difficulty of your workout by adding more weight, manipulating your sets and reps, or changing out exercises, and experience the subsequent soreness.
5. Sweating Means You're Burning More Calories
It's a common belief that sweating contributes to fat loss. However, sweating isn't indicative of how many calories you're burning and isn't necessarily a good measure of how intense a workout is. The sweating mechanism is one of the techniques that the body uses to cool itself. How much you sweat depends on several factors, including temperature, humidity, and the number of sweat glands that you have. Therefore, trying to make yourself sweat more, by wearing a plastic suit for an example, isn't going to help you burn more calories. Instead, it's going to increase your risk of overheating, which could lead to dangerous situations like heat stroke.