It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the conflicting health and fitness advice out there. One day low-fat diets are in; the next day we learn that healthy fats can help you lose weight. I’ve seen fitness equipment come in and out of “style” faster than you can say “shake weight!” (Remember those??) We’re constantly being told contradictory pieces of advice on what to eat, how to workout, and what to do each day to stay healthy. In my 25 years in the fitness industry, I’ve seen plenty of trends come and go, from fad diets to wacky workout techniques and everything in between. I know what works long-term, and what doesn’t. Here are 11 commonly-spread fitness myths that are totally false. Feel free to let these myths go the way of Snackwells and Fat-Jiggling machines and leave them behind!
1. Working out on an empty stomach helps you lose weight
If you prefer waking up and getting a quick workout in without eating anything, it won’t necessarily hurt you. But working out on an empty stomach doesn’t exactly help you burn more fat. Why? When you exercise, your body uses energy from two places: fat and glycogen stores. When you exercise in a fasted state, you go into your workout with depleted glycogen levels, which causes your body to not only burn fat but also start to break down muscle tissue and convert it to carbohydrate for energy. This means you’re losing muscle, which is not good. Your metabolism actually slows down to conserve energy in this state, telling your body to store more fat at your next meal. If you want your metabolism to work well all day long without losing muscle, eat a little something before workouts longer than 30 minutes. A banana or smoothie are great options.
2. Lifting heavy weights makes you bulk up
So many women tell me they’re afraid to use heavy weights because they don’t want to “bulk up.” Not to be cheeky, but you’re probably not going to achieve bodybuilder status unless you’re consuming massive amounts of protein; most women simply do not have the type of testosterone to create that huge, muscle-bound look. Heavy weights are GOOD! They help you put on lean muscle, which isn’t bulky, it’s actually what contributes to the “toned” appearance most of us are after. Plus, the more muscle you have, the more fat you’ll burn throughout the day because muscle is the key to a boosting your metabolism. Doing more repetitions with lighter weights is still good—but for muscle endurance. Doing fewer repetitions with heavier weights is how you achieve muscle strength, which helps you not only do more but also contributes to a lean, toned appearance. In other words, lifting heavy will just make you stronger—not bigger.
3. You need a low-carb diet to lose weight
Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not necessarily your enemy when trying to lose weight or eat healthy. There are complex carbs, like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains—these are generally considered healthy. And then there are “simple” or “refined” carbs, which include white pasta, white bread, pastries, sugar-sweetened beverages, and more. Simple carbs often have added sugars and can trigger blood sugar spikes. Complex carbs usually contain fiber and other nutrients that don’t cause the same spikes and dips. Complex carbs can absolutely be part of a healthy diet: just avoid those simple carbs whenever possible, like white pasta, white bread, etc. But quinoa, veggies, beans, brown rice, whole grain bread, and more can all be part of a balanced diet.
4. Muscle weighs more than fat
I hear this one a lot, but simply put: a pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same. The only difference is how they appear. A pound of muscle looks lean and dense; a pound of fat is airy like cotton candy and takes up more space. In fact, a pound of lean muscle takes up about 20% less space than a pound of fat. This is why if you’ve started working out and strength training, you might notice you look smaller and your clothes fit better, but the number on the scale isn’t decreasing that dramatically. Don’t panic! You’re still successful!
5. Crunches are the key to flat abs
If you hate doing crunches, don’t fret—they’re not the only step in getting a lean tummy. First, you need to lose any excess weight that’s covering up your abs. (Simply put: you can’t see your six pack if it’s buried beneath extra fat.) Since you can’t spot-reduce body fat, this means losing weight all over. Second, you need to tone that area using a variety of abdominal exercises that target different core muscles. You can target the abs with crunches or crunch variations (I like froggy crunches or bird dog crunches if traditional crunches bug you); target the obliques with oblique burners or side plank scoops; and focus on the transverse abdominus with moves like the Pilates 100. Getting “flat abs” is actually about losing extra body fat and strengthening and toning the entire core—not just mindlessly repeating one exercise.
6. Squats will make your butt big
Squats are one of the best bodyweight exercises around; they work your glutes and legs and can be done anytime, anywhere. But contrary to popular belief, they won’t make your butt look huge! Squats alone are not going to make your butt appear “bulky;” it’s likely your diet choices or a sedentary lifestyle that contributes to anything appearing larger than you want it to.
7. You need at least 30 minutes to get a solid workout
I see this myth prevent a lot of people from getting their workout in for the day. Many people think that if they don’t have 30-60 minutes to work out, they don’t have enough time to burn calories, build muscles, or see results—so they skip a workout altogether. Here’s what I have to say to that: a quick workout is always better than no workout! Living a healthy, active life is about incorporating movement into your day whenever possible. If you’re working at a moderate to high intensity you can burn roughly 100 calories every 10 minutes. 10 minutes is enough to burn fat, build muscle, and give your metabolism a boost that helps you throughout the rest of your day.
Related: How To Do A Proper Squat
8. You have to train in the morning
I am a proponent of morning workouts because I think it feels good to get them done first thing—BUT, that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit! A calorie burned at 6 am is the same as a calorie burned at 6pm. Find out what workout time is best for you and your busy schedule, and know that it doesn’t always have to be the same. Some days you may be able to wake up a little earlier and get your workout done, and other days you may want to do it after work to unwind. Do what’s best for you, your body, and your schedule.
9. Heated workouts help you burn more fat
I’ve heard people claim that “you have to sweat to burn fat.” NOT true! Yes, you’ll sweat more in a hot yoga class because it’s also humid, and the sweat isn’t evaporating off your body. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re burning more fat. If it was cold and dry, more of your sweat would be evaporating off your body. More importantly, some people just naturally sweat more than others. Measure your workout intensity in other ways; by your ability to carry on a conversation (if you’re working at a moderate to high intensity, most people can only say a few words at a time,) how heavy you’re breathing, and how hard your heart is working. People can sweat more or less depending on so many factors—it’s not the best way to gauge how hard you’re actually working.
10. Long and slow is the way to burn more calories
There’s a lot of confusion about the “fat burning zone.” People claim that slow, steady-state cardio gets you into the fat burning zone and helps you burn more fat. Here’s the thing: yes, your body does use more fat as fuel during lower intensity exercise, but you are also burning calories at a slower rate. You’d have to be doing that steady state cardio for a long time to burn as many calories as you would during a shorter, higher intensity workout. You need to pump up the intensity if you want to bur more calories and fat. Mix up your weekly routine with steady state cardio and high intensity interval training.
11. Pregnant women shouldn’t work out
Not only is it usually considered safe to exercise while pregnant, it’s beneficial to you and your baby. Complications and specific circumstances aside, doctors recommend that pregnant women get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise most days of the week. It’s been shown to help keep you and your baby healthier; you lower your risk of gestational diabetes, heart issues, and pre-natal depression, and your baby has a lower risk of high blood pressure and a healthier heart, even as an adult. It’s also been shown that women who exercise during pregnancy reported shorter, less complicated deliveries. Sold!