50 Fitness Myths That Really Need to Die: Part 1 of 5

There are a number of myths prevalent in the industry that just won’t seem to go away, they hang around like a bad smell, leading people astray and stopping them from seeing the results they want.

In this 5 part series we’ll take a look at 50 of the worst ones.

Myth 1 — You can spot reduce fat

Sorry to break it to you but you can’t singly target one place on your body to lose fat. It’s just not the way it works, instead you will lose fat from across the body with the hips and thighs typically being stubborn areas for women and lower back and abs for the guys.

In a 2007 study led by the University of Connecticut they took over 100 participants and studied them for a 12-week period. During this time, they performed a supervised resistance training programme in which their non-dominant arm was trained selectively. The results measured by MRI showed no discernible subcutaneous fat loss difference between arms, and in fact showed that any fat loss trends to be from across the whole body.

Myth 2 — Protein intake needs to be sky high

Proteins are essential to the human body. They are the building blocks of the body’s tissue and can also serve as a fuel source. Protein provides 4 calories per gram, which is the same as carbohydrate and significantly less than fat which provide 9 calories per gram.

Protein is made up of chains of amino acids which can be categorised as essential, meaning the body cannot produce them and you must get them through food sources and non-essential which means the body can produce them itself.

Protein is a major structural component of your body’s muscle and is used to build and repair muscle tissue. It is vital to body composition but how much do you need to eat to get the maximum benefit?

Between the influence of pro bodybuilders, the often-false idea that more is better and the power and sway of supplement companies you’d be forgiven for thinking your diet has to be predominantly protein based to see any progress. In reality this isn’t the case and it has been shown (1, 2) that optimal daily protein intake for both muscle building and preservation is around 0.6–1g per lb of bodyweight.

Myth 3 — Light weights and high reps are best for building muscle

Use light weights they said.

Use high reps they said.

They lied.

Research shows that moderate rep intensity and high load are superior for building muscle. One research study took a group of 33 physically active men and put them through an 8-week training programme to measure the differences in muscle mass and strength.

  • One group performed a high-volume workout consisting of 4 sets of 10–12 reps with 70% of their 1RM and 1 minute rest intervals.
  • The other group performed a high intensity workout consisting of 4 sets of 3–5 reps with 90% of their 1RM and 3 minute rest intervals.

The researchers found that high intensity resistance training (moderate reps, heavy load) is superior for building both muscle and strength than moderate intensity resistance training (high reps, moderate load).

Researchers identified two reasons for this:

  1. Higher mechanical stress placed on muscles
  2. Greater activation of muscle fibres

Another study also shows that progressive overload and the increase in muscle tension is the main driver for quality muscle growth. Not only this but using moderate rep intensity (4–11 reps) and high load whilst specifically applying progressive overload is even better.

Research shows that if you couple this with prolonged rest times of 3 mins or more between sets and you’re golden.

Myth 4 — You need to cut carbs to lose fat

This myth is everywhere and appears to stem from the role of insulin in the body. The simplest way to explain it is; insulin helps to store nutrients in your body from the food you eat.

  • High insulin levels = high levels of storage
  • Low insulin levels = low levels of storage

When you eat food it’s broken down into basic nutrients (fat becomes fatty acids, carbs become glucose and proteins become amino acids) and your insulin levels rise as your releases it into your blood stream to shuttle the nutrients to different cells in your body.

Eating simple sugars (high GI carbs) can cause insulin to rise rapidly which leads people to declare that eating lots of carbs will keep your insulin levels elevated for prolonged periods of time and therefore keep you in a fat storing mode, instead of alternating between the natural fat storing and fat burning modes as insulin levels rise and fall.

You can see why this sounds like a good myth but the truth is, insulin doesn’t make you fat, overeating does.

You already know that fat loss is a matter of being in a negative calorie deficit regardless of macronutrient ratios, which brings us back to the rules of energy balance in the body;

  • Eating less calories than you burn as energy will cause you to use some of your fat stores for energy and lose weight over time.
  • Eating more calories than you burn as energy will cause you to store some of the excess calories as fat and gain weight over time.
  • Eating the same calories as your burn as energy will cause you to maintain your current weight neither gaining or losing weight over time.

To think that removing carbohydrates somehow makes this process better is foolish. Carbohydrates are a vital energy source to the brain and body and are important for optimal performance in the weights room.

Myth 5 — The more you sweat the more fat you burn

Whilst sweat can be a good indicator of an intense workout it has no correlation to the amount of fat you’re burning; more sweat does not equal more calories burned. Instead sweating is simply your body’s way or regulating your internal temperature by excreting water. This is why it’s so important to stay hydrated when exercising, to ensure you’re replacing the water lost through sweat and avoid becoming dehydrated.

Please note: fat is ‘burnt’ when it gets released from your fat cells to provide your body with energy and works completely independently from the function that causes your body to sweat.

Myth 6 — You can do the same thing every session and see results

You’re working out so things must be changing right, right?!

Umm no, I’m afraid not. If you’re doing the same exercises, sets and reps every session with the same weights and rest times you WILL not see results. This is because as you train your body adapts to the stimulus you put it under and makes the changes it needs in order to handle the stress you place on it.

If you use the same setup each time, then you’re not asking your body to adapt. Whilst you CAN use the same setup you will need to manipulate at least one of the variables to encourage your body to continue adapting.

The most common way of doing this is to increase the weight lifted when you hit your set and rep goals on a given exercise. Alternatively, you could change the number of reps per exercise to increase your overall workload. Either way you must give your body a reason to change.

Myth 7 — You need to do hours of cardio to lose weight

The truth is you could lose weight without doing any cardio at all. Weight loss is a result of the manipulation of your daily calories to put yourself into a caloric deficit.

A study conducted by Kansas State University Professor Mark Haub showed that when it comes to weight loss, a calorie really is a calorie and that regardless of its source, the energy balance equation rules supreme.

For 2 months Mark ate a diet entirely of twinkies, sugary cereals, cookies and protein shakes, during this time he lost a staggering 27 lbs. Whilst I would never recommend eating this kind of diet, it does go to show that if you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight.

Myth 8 — The more you eat the more muscle you will build

Sometimes I feel like wherever you look someone is telling you how you can build 10 lbs of muscle in a month or promising you that ‘this one exercise’ is the secret to packing on muscle mass in minimal time.

If this were true, then everyone would be walking around with great muscle development. The reality is after a point you won’t gain any additional muscle mass from eating more but you will gain a lot more fat.

To minimise fat gain whilst still being able to build the optimal amount of muscle you should aim to eat in a small caloric surplus of 10% with the aim to gain 0.25–0.5 lb per week for a total of 1 -2 lbs of muscle gained per month. By doing this you can expect to gain weight at a ratio 1:1 for muscle and fat gain. When you adopt this approach to muscle gain you can work on building muscle for a lot longer without unnecessary fat accumulation.

Myth 9 — Food can be “good” or “bad”

I have a bone to pick with the idea of “good” and “bad” foods, it’s not that I’m dismissing the efforts being made to eat better and generally have a more varied diet by people worldwide. It’s just that the idea that some foods are inherently better for you and are “healthy” or “clean” whilst other foods are bad and will affect you negatively.

It’s is a dangerous mindset to have as it promotes unhealthy eating habits whereby you will restrict or eliminate the so called bad foods in the name of good health. This in turn sends your cravings through the roof and contributes to developing a negative relationship with food. 9 times out of 10 this will end up with you in downward spiral of restrictive and binge eating.

I firmly believe that no food is “bad” or “good” and nor should any food item or group be characterised as such. Instead all food should be viewed in relation to its nutritional content and the role it plays in helping you meet your macronutrient and calorie goal whilst getting the vitamins and minerals you need.

True nutritional freedom is understanding the role different foods can play in your diet and how to include them to meet your goals.

Myth 10 — Willpower and motivation alone is enough to keep you on track

It would be a wonderful world if your willpower was ironclad and motivation lasted forever. Sadly this is not the reality we deal with, motivation comes and goes in the blink of an eye and willpower stores deplete rapidly leaving you drained and uninspired.

Does this mean you should abandon your goals and chalk it up as a loss?

No, of course not. What it means is that you need to put systems in place to keep you on track when your stores of motivation and willpower do run low. Systems such as goal setting, accountability and having the right mindset can make the world of difference when it comes to hitting your goals.

Summing up

Here we are, 10 myths busted and some of the air cleared!

Keep an eye out for the other 4 parts coming soon.

**UPDATE**  Part 2 is now live, read it here.

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