Fitness isn’t rocket science but it can get confusing with so many different opinions and facts around.
With so many fitness myths around, it can be difficult to understand the facts versus the made-up. Fitness fanatics can get so caught up in fitness myths that might not even be true.
Anyone can pick up a pair of dumbbells and do a random workout that will bring great results, for a while – thanks to newbie gains (yeah, they are not a myth).
Failure is not immediately obvious (not the case with surgery), and any solid research is very hard to do. This is the environment in which myths sprout.
How can you separate reality from fiction and bro-science from proven concepts?
That’s where we come in, debunking the most common and enduring fitness myths out there and providing you with the truth about fitness, exercise and muscle growth.
A Calorie is Just a Calorie
To determine caloric value of foods, Atwater system is used, which was developed back in the early 1900’s, and is only around because a better option is yet to be proposed. Atwater system is great at predicting the caloric value of processed stuff such as sweets, but when whole foods enter the picture, it’s not so great.
For instance, whole almonds are now known to have 20% fewer calories than calculated via Atwater. So even if two foods contain an equal caloric value according to the label, the actual number of calories absorbed will vary.
500 calories from sugar are not the same as 500 calories from protein, and when stuff like insoluble fiber, fats or alcohol enter the equation, it all becomes so much more confusing.
Bottom line: whole foods are better for your figure than junk food (big surprise) even if the caloric value between the two is equal.
The Only Way to Lose Fat is via Steady-State Cardio/HIIT
The myth is that only one of them works, and the other one is awful, will destroy your muscles, cause injury and ruin your life forever.
The reality is both are great if you do them correctly, and mixing them up is the best option. HIIT is great for fat loss at first, but it’s hard to recover from, and the fat-loss benefits tend to decrease the more you do it.
Steady-state cardio takes long and is tedious, but is safer, especially for people who only started exercising, and won’t eat into your recovery reserves as much. Do whichever you like, or better yet, do both.
Cardio Kills Muscle Gains
According to this myth, any attempt to do steady-state cardio will cause all strength and muscle to disappear.
The only basis behind it is that weight loss may cause strength loss, and that all types of physical activity eat from essentially the same pool of recovery, so adding cardio and a caloric deficit can indeed make a person weaker.
Until the caloric deficit disappears, and the body adapts.
In reality, cardio by itself can even increase strength and muscle gain. If one of the strongest people in the world, powerlifter Andrey Malanichev, regularly does 5-8km runs and still sets world records, then an average gym rat’s gains are definitely safe.
Frequent Small Meals Speed up Metabolism & Fat Loss
Eating six small meals a day was actually proven to not influence metabolism in any way. There’s no advantage, at least for weight-loss purposes, to eating several small meals a day instead of three bigger ones, metabolic wise.
It might help from a purely psychological point of view by stopping cravings or letting you come to terms with smaller portions, but that depends on a person.
Fasting is Bad
Let’s get this out of the way: prolonged fasts (over 24 hours without food) are doubtlessly bad. Fasting if you are underweight or have an eating disorder is a big no-no.
Shorter, intermittent fasts, starting from 14 hours, are, however, good, both for weight loss and general health.
When you don’t eat for 14 or more hours, your body ups its growth hormone production. More growth hormone causes your body to burn more fat, and preserve muscle tissue.
However, it only works for a short time. Growth hormone production decreases the longer the fast goes, and there’s no point to fast for more than 24 hours.
For more information about intermittent fasting, give this article from Food for Fitness a read.
Weight Training Makes You Slow & Destroys Flexibility
You don’t need to read this article to know it’s a myth – just watch Olympic games.
Why people still think that weights magically make everyone slow and rigid when weightlifting movements are impossible to do slowly, is a mystery. Not to mention a lot of flexibility is needed to perform most barbell movements correctly.
Squatting is Bad for You
Surprisingly, this myth is still around. Horrible form on any exercise is a ticket to snap city, and squats are no exception.
Performed correctly, however, they are harmless and may actually help you deal with any back pain you had.
Unsure if you are squatting properly? Find out here.
In fact, squats are used as a litmus test to determine postural and muscular imbalances. Committing to learning to squat with good form requires getting rid of sad imbalances. So even if you don’t plan to do weighted exercise, grab a broom and pretend you’re squatting.
Odds are you will discover issues like tight hamstrings or improper pelvic tilt that you never knew existed.
And the “going-below-parallel-bad-for-knees” myth? Just a myth, as long as you don’t allow your knees to collapse inward or travel in front of the foot.
The Human Body Can Only Absorb 30g of Protein Per Meal
This myth has a grain of truth to it – human bodies can’t store protein for later consumption. If there’s any excess protein, it’s getting converted to carbs.
However, “excess” is a really vague term and only refers to the stuff that actually managed to get digested and enter the bloodstream.
30g might be a limit for highly processed stuff like hydrolyzed whey that is specifically made to be digested quickly, but protein from real food such as meat, eggs, fish, dairy or plant protein takes a lot longer to get absorbed.
Consequently, the body has a lot of time to properly use protein it’s receiving from whole foods.
Protein Supplements are Necessary to Build Muscle
There’s nothing special to protein from supplements. It might digest quicker in certain cases, but overall doesn’t offer any benefits except for convenience.
If you can, stick to whole foods, as they come with a whole lot of goodies like fibre and micronutrients – something protein supplements often lack.
If You Want Results, You Must Push for Them
On one hand, there will inevitably come a moment where you have to force yourself to finish the workout.
On the other hand, pushing yourself for the sake of, well, pushing yourself is one of the best ways to halt any progress.
Do what you planned to do, stick to your routine (provided it’s working), and finish the workout once you’re done. If you want to do a couple of extra reps or add a mile, you better have a very good reason to do so.
High-Intensity Training Causes Injuries
Fatigue, lack of focus and bad form are the actual causes of injuries.
There’s nothing bad about high-intensity training.
In fact, high-intensity exercise might be even safer for you. An all-out effort can’t be sustained for long, and it’s easier to keep laser-like focus during a short burst of intense activity, plus every muscle in your body has to be tense and working to generate and transmit force during, say, a maximum-effort squat or sprint.
A high-rep set with lower weight, on the other hand, causes more mental and physical fatigue, and as you grind out that last one rep, you are much more likely to lose tightness, compromise on form (“It’s just 60% of my max! One more rep! No pain, no gain!”) and end up injured.
Vitamin & Mineral Supplements are Useless & Aren’t Absorbed
There is a grain of truth to this one, but it’s still just a myth. One that’s based on many supplement companies cutting costs when it comes to bioavailability.
Take zinc, for example. A vital mineral, it has to be attached to something to be useful to our bodies. Taking 10mg of zinc orotate means that a lot more zinc will end up being absorbed compared to taking 20mg of zinc oxide.
As long as you’ve done your homework and know in what form your micronutrients should come, supplements are a great way to ensure optimal fitness.
A Multivitamin is Enough
If you think your diet is lacking, or if you are very physically active, chances are you will benefit from micronutrient supplements. However, buying the first multivitamin you see won’t help much, even if it says “ULTRA HIGH ANIMAL XTREME POWER” on the pack.
Most of the time, multivitamins don’t really have high enough vitamin and mineral content to provide a noticeable effect.
What’s more, putting it all in one pill is a really bad idea, as some micronutrients compete with each other for absorption. A better solution is to figure out which particular micronutrients are lacking in your diet and go for supplements containing them specifically.
Muscles Should be Confused
The idea that muscles should be confused, anxious or maybe slightly upset is just a myth.
Muscles don’t really care if you’re squatting on a bosu ball or on a solid floor, if your workouts look like something Rocky would do or if you’re training more like Ivan Drago.
The only thing muscles care about is progressive overload, and that goes for everything, including speed and endurance.
In the end, the only real way to progress is to slowly and consistently increase the weights used, or the number of sets, reps, miles, laps, etc.
So now we know, we can focus more on our goals and exercise regime rather than worrying about these fitness myths.
Concentrate on what is more important like diet and exercise.
Drink plenty of water a day and eat around a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and you’ll reach your goals.