It only takes one trip to the gym to realise that people who work out love to give advice! It’s very important to figure out what’s true and what to ignore, so you can get the most out of your workouts.
Here’s busting some of the most popular workout myths with the help of some evidence-based facts!
1] “Crunches are the key to flat abs”
While crunches definitely do tone a small portion of your abs, it’s actually not the best way to slim your midsection.
A study showed that abdominal muscles are activated to a higher degree when you do exercises that simultaneously work out the shoulder and glutes.1
These are called “compound exercises” – where you focus on multiple parts of the body, rather than just one.
These exercises give our body more balance while working out, because the strain on muscles is well distributed. They improve our endurance, reduce the chance of injuries, and even work out more sets of muscles at a time (which is probably why we get a better abdomen workout).
In short: you’ll shape your waist far more dramatically by doing planks and bridges instead of crunches!
2] “The more you sweat, the more fat you burn”
Sweat is how your body cools your skin and regulates your internal body temperature. You are more likely to sweat while running under the sun in the afternoon than in the evening – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you torched any more calories in the afternoon!
3] “You shouldn’t eat carbs before a workout”
Even though you may be tempted to skip the calories before a heavy workout, this is a bad idea – it can result in low blood sugar, which leads to light-headedness and fatigue.2
‘Intense’ exercise can be thought of as exercise that goes past the capacity of our heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the muscles. With oxygen in short supply, the body can use only glucose as fuel.2-4
At the start of an intense exercise session, we get our energy from a form of glucose (called glycogen) that’s stored in the muscles we’re using. Once this runs out, our body uses the glucose that’s in the blood. At this point, if our blood glucose is low, then weakness, hunger, and dizziness follow.2, 3
For those who’d now think that proteins should be a good replacement for carbs, here’s why it isn’t: proteins are generally used to maintain and repair body tissues, not to power muscles. That’s why we have low-carb protein shakes after a workout or on workout days.4
That said, if you’re likely to be doing low-intensity exercise over a long period of time, fats can be excellent for fuelling your workout!
4] “I don’t want to do weights or have protein shakes because I’ll bulk up”
Even if you’re lifting heavy weights, you’re not going to become as muscular as a bodybuilder!
The amount of muscle mass you can gain is limited by the size of your frame and the amount of muscle mass you already have. It takes a lot more than three to four workouts a week, along with even a very stringent diet plan, to get anywhere close to that limit.
This is especially true for women, since they typically have less muscle tissue than men and produce lower levels of the hormone ‘testosterone’, which enhances muscle growth and potential.
In truth, weight and strength training will help burn more calories than cardiovascular exercise (cardio) can! This is because our muscles are very active, and burn more calories than our fat tissue does. So the more lean muscle tissue you have, the more calories you burn. A mix of both cardio and doing weights is ideal for weight loss and overall health.5
And here’s why protein shakes are also important: in order to grow, our muscles need amino acids from the proteins in our diet. When the body doesn’t receive enough protein from the diet, it uses whatever little it gets towards building proteins that are essential for survival. So when you aren’t getting enough protein while working out, your muscles will heal, but won’t grow (and, consequently, won’t help burn those extra calories!)
Someone with a sedentary lifestyle would need about 0.8 grams of protein for every kg of their body weight, for normal body function. Those who exercise, however, would need around 1.2g/kg body weight, depending on the individual.
Those who can’t get that much protein from their diet can supplement using protein shakes, without worrying about bulking up – the body only uses the amount of protein it needs.
5] “Stretching helps your body recover faster from soreness”
Stretching after exercise does not reduce muscle soreness.6
After an intense workout, our muscles feel sore for 1-2 days because of the way our muscles get energy and build, neither of which has anything to do with stretching.
Our body is designed, in a very systematic fashion, to allow muscle growth while also protecting us from damage caused by intense exercise.
Here’s how it works:
As we covered in #3, during an intense workout, we surpass the capability of our body to provide oxygen to muscles.
When oxygen is lacking, something called ‘lactic acid’ is produced, which tends to accumulate within muscles and causes that burning sensation.
This helps protect our body from overexerting itself and causing severe muscle damage.
On the flip side, the lactic acid and (possibly) other substances involved in the process contribute to some amount of tiny muscle damage.
This leads to a sudden rush of nutrients and fluids towards the muscles (in order to repair them), creating a normal amount of inflammation. Our body now uses amino acids to build on the muscles.
It’s something in this process, or all of it, that makes us sore.
While stretching wouldn’t be able to change much about this process, there’s still something to be said about limbering up post exercise. Here’s how it does help:
– When muscles contract during exercise, their “tightness” increases, limiting their range of motion. Stretching increases the flexibility of your muscles.
– Stretching improves the ability of our joints to stretch, which is especially beneficial for those with orthopaedic conditions or injury.7
5] “I need to work out every day”
Exercise can produce great energy bursts, but if your workouts are making you drag through your day, then you’re probably doing too much.8
Rest is important for our fitness, because that’s when our body heals and builds new muscle. An intensive exercise routine without rest days is even associated with some risks; for example, in women, it can disrupt the menstrual cycle and lead to hormone-related bone problems.9, 10
Intense exercise is recommended at least two times a week for strength training. 75-150 minutes of intense cardio per week is good for a healthy heart. Other than that, we should engage in everyday physical activities of moderate intensity for 30 minutes. These include brisk walking, gardening, housework etc. They not only keep us physically healthy, but also improve our mood and relieve anxiety.11
These are general guidelines that don’t necessarily apply to all of us, so it’s important to see how your body reacts to exercise, and adjust the intensity and workout time gradually. It could also be worthwhile to discuss your regimen with a fitness expert.
6] “I work out so I can eat whatever I want”
This is true to a certain extent, because you burn calories by working out… But the calories burned during exercise are usually insignificant; they can easily be negated at the next meal.
It’s the muscle you build, and the metabolic rate that increases over time due to exercise, that burns more calories. For this, you need a sufficient amount of protein.
Even when you work out, weight gain can still occur if there is a caloric excess, i.e. when you consume more calories than you burn. Also, nutrition is not something you can get by working out, so eating right is still essential. Your nutrition status is likely to affect your metabolic rate, which affects how quickly you use up calories.
So don’t believe everything you hear at the gym! Purge these common mistakes from your routine to get leaner, stronger, and fitter.
1. Gottschall JS, et al. J Strength Cond Res 2013, 27(3): 590-596.
2. Whitney E, Rolfes SR. Understanding Nutrition. Cengage Learning, 2015.
3. McArdle WD, et al. Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
4. Abdel-Hamid TK. 2003.
5. Stiegler P, Cunliffe A. Sports Medicine 2006, 36(3): 239-262.
6.H erbert RD, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011(7): Cd004577.
7. Page P. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 2012, 7(1): 109-119.
8. Green HJ. Journal of Sports Sciences 1997, 15(3): 247-256.
9. Warren MP, Perlroth NE. J Endocrinol 2001, 170(1): 3-11.
10. Maimoun L, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2014, 99(11): 4037-4050.
11. Ströhle A. Journal of Neural Transmission 2009, 116(6): 777-784.