We all hear certain things when we are in the gym from our local bro scientists. Some of the free information they give us contains little pearls and nuggets. Most of it though are merely fitness myths. It truly is amazing how quickly information, in particular bad information, spreads. Fitness myths are of no exception. In fact, fitness myths spread like wildfire around the gym. Fitness becomes very difficult to understand because of all these fitness myths. Therefore, in this post, we are going to cover some of the most popular fitness myths and we are going to debunk them one by one.
Why Do Fitness Myths Persist?
Knowledge is power, the ability to prove to others that you are in the “know” about certain things literally gives you power over them. This is because the person willingly gives you their attention. We have all seen this before, whether it is the office blabbermouth, or some company that claims they have “secrets” to getting fit or losing weight. Unfortunately, for the majority of people these tactics still work. Now why is that?
In his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell explains that a myth is a fabled story that exists to captivate audiences and to give them vital information about valuable life lessons. Ask anybody who is a teacher and they will tell you that trying to preach to people doesn’t work. You need a way to captivate your audience, otherwise people will not listen to you. Marketing guru Seth Godin addresses this in his book, All Marketers Tell Stories. So myths can be used for good if you have good intentions in mind for your audience. However, myths do have a darker side.
When a false myth is propagated for advancing a personal agenda, or is propagated just out of blind ignorance, then we have a problem. Remember people love stories and they love to tell other people stories to keep conversations going. So if they hear a good story and they run out of things to say to somebody, they will blindly propagate that myth. Nobody likes awkward silence, but just blindly stating facts that you personally didn’t validate can cause trouble. We see this in all arenas of life. The fitness world is no exception. So let’s jump in and see what annoying myths are floating around.
Now before we get started with the fitness myths, I just wanted to mention that this is not a complete list of fitness myths. In fact, there are a lot more fitness myths out there. However, I list these because I find them the most annoying. If you feel anything else can be added to this list fell free to mention it in the comments section below.
Fitness Myth 1: Carbs Are Bad For You?
Nothing annoys me more than conversations about nutrition. There is so much information out there about nutrition that people have analysis paralysis. One of the many bad pieces of nutritional advice I hear is carbs are bad for you. Is this true? Of course it’s not. Carbs are not bad for you at all, in fact quite the opposite is true, carbs are essential for you health and performance.
The bodies central nervous system is the main operating system for the body. This system consists of the brain and spinal column. Carbs are the only fuel that this system can run on. This is why low carb diets can make people feel lethargic at times. The other major concern with this myth is that carbs make you gain weight. Is this true? Well, too many carbs can make you gain weight, but guess what, so can too much fat and too much protein. Carbs in and of themselves are not the problem with losing weight, calories are.
The reason why low carb diets are so popular is that they provide a “quick fix” to weight loss where you don’t have to count calories. This is the key to their success. Let’s face it, counting calories sucks! It is boring as hell! I put it up there on my list with balancing my budget, cleaning my bathroom or mowing the lawn. It is one of those things you have to do, but are really difficult getting motivated to do. When people don’t keep track of counting their calories, they start to fall off the bandwagon pretty damn quick. It is vital to know how many calories you are taking in daily in order to lose weight. Leave carbs out of it!
Fitness Myth 2: Fitness Is Complicated, Thats Why It’s So Hard
When you see such a huge drop off rate a few weeks after new years resolutions you know that getting fit is not easy. That is not the question here. The myth is that fitness is complicated. Again this is simply not true. Fitness is not at all complicated, in fact it is pretty simple. You just exercise and watch your diet. That’s it! So why then do so many people mess up along the way? There are plenty of reasons for this, ranging from impatience to laziness. But if you really look deep at it you will see that the issue is really subtle. Simple isn’t sexy!
We all have a choice when we embark on a fitness journey. Most people choose to be sexy. What do I mean by sexy? Well most people like to struggle and put themselves through hell merely because it is a good story to tell, a sexy story. Take a look at kids in college that claim they want to be rich. Well anybody can become rich, getting rich is a lot like getting fit, it’s simple but it’s not sexy. But of course upon graduation, those kids end up slaving away at full time jobs they hate for no other reason than for sex appeal.
Think about it, if you are at a bar and you want to hit on the hottest girl in the bar, what would impress her the most? Would she be more impressed if you told her you work minimum wage or if you told her you were a doctor? Obviously the doctor. Just because you are a doctor doesn’t mean that you are rich and just because you work minimum wage doesn’t mean that you are poor. There are plenty of “millionaires next door” who work part time. But their job status doesn’t have the same sex appeal as dressing up to go to work. Just remember that sexy doesn’t necessarily mean successful.
Fitness Myth 3: Squats Are Bad For Your Knees
Every time you try to teach someone to squat deep, the first thing you always hear is “Aren’t squats bad for your knees?” My answer, no. Squats are not at all bad for your knees provided your form is good. If people try to squat with bad form, then something is going to be hurting on you whether it is your back or knees. Squatting is a vital movement pattern in the human motor cortex. In fact our bodies were designed for deep squats. Don’t believe me, just look at a picture of someone from a third world country poop. Nuff said.
The idea of squats being bad for your knees comes from a bad study that was published to Sports Illustrated in 1961 by a physician who performed studies on football players who performed deep squats. Once this bad research was published fear and paranoia was spread around the nation about squats being bad for your knees. The myth had been propagated.
So ever since then this faulty fitness myth has just been blindly accepted by the fitness community at large as “truth”. My major concern with this is that this myth has been used as an excuse to squat with bad form. The squat is a very technical exercise, much more than people give it credit for. By telling people that squatting deep is bad for your knees, you are essentially giving people an excuse to squat with bad form. Excuses are easy to come up with but difficult to become disillusioned by.
Fitness Myth 4: Cardio Will Shrink Your Muscles
Here is one of my favorite myths, cardio will cause muscular atrophy. Well, no your muscles will not shrink. Cardio is like a tool that you use in your toolkit. Like any tool it has its place and it has different components to it. The ability to use those components effectively and efficiently will dictate muscle loss.
Generally when people think of cardio they think of steady state aerobic exercise, such as long distance running. Now too much running will cause your muscles, tendons and ligaments to atrophy. This is not from the cardiovascular affect of training. It is from the repeated impact of your feet hitting the ground. So if you take running out of our cardio toolkit and use something like low impact exercises, or interval training, then your muscles will not shrink.
Just remember, too much of any good thing eventually stops being good. If you start doing cardio and you start losing weight, your instant reaction will be to do more cardio. This will lead to a decrease in strength because the body will start to adapt to the cardio more than strength. So again, no muscle loss, just a loss of adaptation.
Fitness Myth 5: Calisthenics Don’t Build Strength Like Weights Do
Out of all the fitness myths, I’ve been patiently waiting to bust this one. Calisthenics absolutely build muscle and strength. The human body does not know what weight is, it only recognizes tension. Heavy weight forces a muscle to generate more tension than lighter weight does. It is this tension that a muscle adapts to from strength training. With that said, calisthenics absolutely builds strength. I firmly believe that bodyweight training should be mastered by any athlete.
Don’t get me wrong, I love weight training too, but I really love calisthenics a hell of a lot more. I really learned the value of calisthenics training when I first participated in a spartan race 2 years ago. At the beginning of the race you would see plenty of bodybuilder looking dudes that would be all cocky. Later on during the race they would be dragging ass because they had so much gym strength, but they had zero real world strength.
Calisthenics builds this real world strength, and then some. You also get an increase in balance, proprioception and stability. Also they are cheap to perform and require virtually no equipment. If you don’t believe me try it for yourself. Try doing handstand pushups, muscle-ups or levers. You will soon find out that there is more to strength than just size.
Fitness Myth 6: Conditioning And Cardio Are The Same Thing
When I explain to people that we are going to do conditioning, they think that I mean cardio. I don’t. Conditioning is not the same thing as cardio. Conditioning is sport specific endurance training. Would a powerlifter be running on the treadmill for hours to enhance their endurance? Of course they wouldn’t. All that repetitive impact stress would slow down their recovery and it would also lower the amount of weight they could lift. That is not smart training.
Instead a smarter decision would be to get aerobic/anaerobic work into the training program to properly condition the athlete. This conditioning would not interfere with the athletes training and/or goals. This is of vital importance, if anything interferes with your goals it should be eliminated from your regimen immediately. There is already enough pressure to perform at your best why make more resistance for yourself. One of the best strategies for success is to remove obstacles form your way not to add more.
The proper term for conditioning is G.P.P. I have already written a post about this, but let me just say that conditioning can become pretty creative. You can find all kinds of ways to increase your training potential. My personal favorite tool to use, especially for beginners, is the sandbag. The sandbag is like a fiery furnace to purge out all of your fitness sins. If you have been lifting wrong your whole life and you pick up a sandbag, you will know very quickly.
Fitness Myth 7: If You Want Abs, Just Work Them More
Everybody wants abs and a I mean everybody. With summer only a few weeks away, everybody wants to get their beach body ready for the summer. So most people will just start doing as many ab exercises as possible and hope that their abs will magically appear one day. Well, I hate to break it to you but this strategy does not work. The truth is we all have abs whether we train them or not. If we didn’t we would not be able to stand up.
About 80-90% of getting abs is all diet. The other 10% is doing ab exercises. This is why getting abs is so difficult for many people. It is not getting the abs themselves, it is the diet. If you are one of those naturally lean people (ectomorphs), then consider yourself lucky. Getting abs will be easier for these types of individuals. For the rest of us, get ready to start counting calories.
You also would be wise to perform some heavy strength training while you diet. When your body is deprived of calories, it’s first reaction is to start stripping muscle. This happens because muscle has a higher metabolism than fat does. If the body burns muscle, your metabolism will slow down and it will prolong your life longer in emergency scenarios. Unfortunately, this mechanism doesn’t work to well in the modern world. But hey maybe one day we can change our genetics to get leaner quicker.
Fitness Myth 8: Losing Weight Is Good In All Scenarios
I probably sound like a real hypocrite considering that I just promoted dieting and weight loss when bashing our last fitness myth and now I’m claiming the opposite. Well, not necessarily. Dieting and weight loss are essential. I’m just saying that the term weight is objective. Not all weight loss is good and not all weight gain is bad. It is one of those counter intuitive fitness myths.
When you step onto a scale and weigh yourself, you are weighing the total sum of you body. This includes water, bones, muscle, glycogen and fat. Not all of that weight is bad. In fact, everything except fat is considered lean body mass (LBM). This is the weight we don’t want to lose. So when you see people obsess over their weight on the scale, just walk up to them and calm them down and tell them to chill.
To find out your lean body mass, you will need a special kind of scale that will measure your body fat. The best one out there is called a Tanita body composition scale. Unfortunately, for most of us this is a little out of our price range. So a normal body fat analyzer will do. After you measure yourself you will need to calculate and subtract your body fat percentage form your total weight to find out just how much weight to loose. Generally for men, getting to around 8-12% body fat is awesome and for women, around 12-15% is great.
Fitness Myth 9: Mobility Work Will Speed Up Your Recovery
Mobility work exists for one sole reason, to MOBILIZE and prepare your muscles and joints for the rigors of exercise. Prior to a workout it is wise to spend at least 10 minutes doing some kind of mobility work that will prepare your body for the brutal beatdown you are about to give it. As for speeding up your recovery, absolutely not. There is little research that shows any correlation between mobility work and recovery rate. Thus, the idea that mobility will speed up recovery is another one of our fitness myths.
As far as the research goes, there are only three things that speed up the recovery for training. Sleep, hydration and nutrition are the only things that help to speed up recovery. Sleep is obvious, if you are not getting enough sleep and are walking around like a zombie all day, then it should be obvious to you that you are not going to recover quick enough from your training. Hydration is something that is overlooked by most of us. Your body is 70% water and critical metabolic processes depend on adequate hydration. If you short change the body on its water supply then these process will not run at optimal capacity.
Likewise, if your body is not getting the right amount of nutrients, you will not recover as quickly. Too many “fitness gurus” claim that to perform better, you just need to eat more. Honorable mention for our fitness myths. This gives the trainee an excuse to eat boatloads of empty calories, which they will gladly do. The body doesn’t need empty calories, it needs nutrients. If those nutrients are not taken in, then the body will not recover properly. Also as a side note, there is some evidence that compression pants will help to speed up recovery. Not all compression, but graded compression.
Fitness Myth 10: If I Just Show Up Then I’ll Get Results
I saved the best of the fitness myths for last. If you just show up to the gym and sleepwalk your way around, then no matter what you will get results. I’m sorry but this is just not true. Woody Allen once said that “eighty percent of success is just showing up”, although I agree with him I am fearful that people are going to take this out of context. For most people, the hardest part is just showing up and in that sense this is true. However, if you want to be the best you can be and achieve extraordinary results, then just showing up is not enough.
You need to be able to push yourself outside your comfort zone and do things that are going to make you feel uncomfortable. If you want to be in the one percent, then you are going to have to do the things the other 99% are not willing to do. Most people will not do this. They will let fear rule their lives and they will just show up and be average for the rest of their lives. If that sounds all fine and dandy with you then hats off to you. If not, then you are not alone. Being average sounds good when you are first getting out of college, but trust me it gets old very fast.
When things become old, you start to get bored and thats when all of the problems start. If you continue to push yourself, on the other hand, then you will not remain average. You will continue to develop and grow. Just knowing that you are making progress will make you feel happier. So don’t just show up, make sure you are giving it your all. Don’t fall for any of these fitness myths. Just keep pushing forward.