Dropping a dumbbell can be dangerous. But it could be argued that the distraction and misdirection of popular workout myths is even more threatening. The promise of quicker results or more benefits—at best, it's wishful thinking and at worst, it could really be setting you back from achieving your fitness goals. And America's sound-bite culture isn't helping, with clickbait, social media and influencers all promising “a beach body by the weekend.” So, we consulted some experts to clear up some of the most common fitness myths.
Myth: You Need to Stretch Before a Workout
Reality: The importance of a pre-workout stretch is, perhaps, the number one most-believed myth when it comes to fitness. However, Harvard Medical School says that expert opinion has moved away from static stretching before activity and toward a gradual and active warm-up period before exercise. Stretching a healthy muscle before exercise does not prevent injury or even soreness. Muscles are made of bundles of tiny fibers. In a typical exercise-related muscle strain, these fibers develop microscopic tears. So in theory, stretching before exercise should make the muscles more pliable and less likely to tear. But when studies have compared rates of injury or muscle soreness in people who stretch before exercise and those who don't, they have found little benefit to stretching. In fact, stretching a cold, tight muscle could actually lead to injury.
Myth: Muscle Can Turn Into Fat
Reality: You might've heard that when you stop weight training, that unused muscle turns to fat. But that's impossible. When you take a break from lifting weights, you lose some muscle mass, which in turn slows your metabolism. A slower metabolism can cause weight gain, but one type of tissue cannot turn into the other. Furthermore, a study published in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, found that for athletes, “strength performance in general is maintained for up to four weeks of inactivity.” So a week off isn't derailing any progress.
Myth: Crunches = Six Pack
Reality: No doubt that crunches engage and strengthen your abdominal muscles, but you'll never see them if there's a layer of fat over them. If you want toned abs, experts agree that you need to limit your carbohydrate intake, get plenty of sleep and minimize stress. With that foundation in place, you can use interval training to burn stored fat and let your inner washboard shine though.
Myth: Cardio Is the Only Way to Lose Weight
Reality: If you focus solely on cardio exercises and ignore strength training, your body will actually get rid of muscle mass and it will be hard to lose fat at all. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a combination of cardio and strength training. More muscle helps your metabolism stay high. And while weight training doesn't burn a ton of calories, the more lean mass you carry, the higher your all-day energy expenditure will be. Muscles require fuel all the time, so you'll be burning calories more efficiently even when you're not working out.
Myth: Morning Workouts are Best
Reality: You hear a lot about working out in the morning. And while it's a great way to ensure you get your time in before the day gets away from you, it won't kickstart your metabolism the way some say. Several studies have found that you burn more fat and build more muscle in the evening. Researchers at the University of South Carolina found that we are at our fastest and strongest between 7 pm and 11 pm, thanks to our circadian rhythms. Our weakest time? 7 am.
Myth: You Can Get Fit Fast (in Four to Seven Minutes a Day)
Reality: If you're looking to maintain your strength and health, then a high-intensity interval training program like this one published in the ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal might do the trick. But losing weight is still a numbers game. Shorter high-intensity workouts can spark your metabolism, but that's merely a drop in the bucket in terms of overall calorie burn. The more calories you melt, the more weight you lose.
Myth: Fat Can Be Spot Reduced
Reality: “This is just wishful thinking,” says Shirley Archer, a fitness and wellness educator with the American Council on Exercise. Fat reduction—in the midsection and elsewhere—will happen with a combination of healthy eating, cardio and strength work, she says. Unfortunately, you don't get to pick one body part or another.
Myth: You Need More (or a Lot of) Electrolytes
Reality: Sports drink commercials do a good job to sell this idea, but the truth is that plain old water will easily get you through a workout. Electrolyte-pumped sports drinks are really only necessary for gym sessions or intense cardio workouts that last an hour or more. And keep in mind, the extra sugar in sports drinks can set back the fat-burning process.