How many times have I heard someone play directly into the most common misconceptions about exercise and its effects? Pretty much on a daily basis. So I feel, as a fitness professional, that it is my responsibility to educate as many people as possible so that we can become a happier, healthier society. But before I get started, think of something you have always believed to be true about exercise and then check to see if it’s on this list.
Myth: Doing cardio will make me “skinny”.
Truth: Cardio (or cardiorespiratory) exercise is responsible for strengthening our hearts and lungs, and it contributes to the burning of calories during our workouts. When you do cardio—fast-walking, running, biking, swimming, elliptical, treadmill, stair climbing, etc.—you are elevating your heart rate, causing your heart to pump blood at a faster rate. During this time, because your lungs and your muscles are receiving increased oxygen flow and nutrients (by way of our blood), your body can more quickly burn calories as fuel to keep going. But cardiorespiratory exercise is not solely responsible for burning fat calories. During the time that your heart rate is elevated, your body will burn calories from any source that it can immediately access, including energy stores in your muscles. However, it will not contribute to the growth or maintenance of any existing muscle strength you have.
Main takeaway: You can lose weight from doing cardio, but it does not mean you will be “skinny”. When you lose weight from solely doing cardio and not incorporating any weight-training or stretching, you will more than likely lose some of your muscle tone, resulting in you being physically lighter on the scale but not having the smooth, lean look that people think of when they think “skinny”.
Myth: Lifting “heavy” weights will cause my muscles to look bulky and thick.
Truth: Weightlifting is a direct contributor to overall strength of the body and individual muscles. It cannot simply cause your body to “bulk up” without multiple other factors being present. In order to get big, thick muscles, a person must have a calorie surplus (eating more calories than they are burning on a daily basis), have a higher testosterone supply, be eating very high amounts of protein, and be lifting extremely heavy weights for a low number of repetitions. This specific set of circumstances means that it would be difficult for the average person to gain bulky muscle without having a set plan to do so. The numerous benefits that come from weightlifting include having lean muscles that look smooth and toned, having increased muscle endurance—meaning your muscles won’t get as tired from simple, daily activities—and having a decreased overall body fat percentage, which is what people really want when they say they want to lose weight.
Main takeaway: If you want to lose “weight” (aka body fat), perform a well rounded cardiovascular and weightlifting routine that is designed for your needs. If you want to gain muscle, you should still perform both cardio and weightlifting, but your routine will look different from someone who wants to decrease their size.
Myth: People should workout every day.
Truth: This is largely untrue. When you do resistance workouts and high-intensity cardio, you are breaking down the muscle fibers. In order for the muscles to properly recover and rebuild stronger than they were before, they need rest days. It takes muscle fibers approximately 48 hours in order to recover from a workout, and the body also generally needs time each week to rest so that over-training does not happen—I will explain over-training further in a future post.
Main takeaway: People should have 1 or 2 “active rest” days each week, involving no more than gentle stretching or casual walking, in order to allow their bodies to rest and recover properly.
Myth: You can lose fat by doing resistance exercises for the body part/area where the fat is.
Truth: Targeted fat loss is not possible. Because our fat cells are dispersed throughout the body, we must lower our overall body fat percentage in order to drop fat from our problem areas. We live in a world of immediate gratification, and so people often want to lose fat from specific areas only (i.e. stomach, thighs, arms, etc.). But the purpose of the resistance exercises that we do is to strengthen and lengthen our muscles that reside beneath our fat stores. That is why a total body strength regimen is important for general health.
Main takeaway: To achieve an overall trim figure, we must have a proper diet, strength-training regimen, and cardio routine in order to drop fat throughout the body and have lean, toned muscles once the fat has burned off.
These are just a few common misunderstandings about health and fitness. But now that you know the truth behind these concepts, you can better prepare yourself to make healthy choices that will benefit you in pursuit of your fitness goals! Stay tuned for more fitness myth explanations in the future!