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Fitness Myths

Avoid these for a healthier workout


Fitness Myths

Many fitness class participants are informed consumers. They read about fitness trends and research. Nevertheless, untrue ideas persist amongst participants.

Many fitness class participants are informed consumers. They keep their feet moving when they tire, they don’t wear wool legwarmers, and they don’t buy expensive gym equipment from late-night infomercials destined to end up as a laundry rack in their living rooms.

More importantly, they read about fitness trends and ongoing research. Nevertheless, some ideas persist amongst participants that are untrue (and sometimes even unhealthy). For example, exercisers may believe that they can reduce fat off certain areas of their bodies by exercising that area—unfortunately, not true. Here we explain why, and list a few other fitness fallacies to take note of.
MYTH 1: Spot reduction

Many people focus on their abs, and may seek fitness solutions to work out their “lower abs,” for instance. In reality, there really is no muscle group called the lower abs. In this case, someone is likely referring to the lower part of the rectus abdominus. To strengthen abdominals, all four major groups of the abdominus must be strengthened: the rectus abdominus, the transverse abdominus, and the internal and external obliques.

It should also be noted that abdominal exercises are for strengthening the abdominals. To increase definition, or get a “six-pack,” the layer of fat that overlies the muscle must be reduced. This is done by burning calories through cardio and cutting down the intake of fat. In other words, there is no such thing as spot reduction.

MYTH 2: No pain, no gain

Many people feel that if they aren’t aching all over for days after workouts, they have wasted their time, energy, and money. Sore muscles occur as a result of changing a workout routine or working at a higher intensity. If the soreness continues after each workout, you aren’t giving yourself enough recovery time—which is when muscle growth happens.

Soreness can be prevented by warming up properly before a workout and stretching after. If soreness occurs, take a break from the exercise that caused the soreness and work around the discomfort.

Change your mantra. Instead of: “No pain, no gain,” say: “Train, don’t strain.”

MYTH 3: Strength training = bulky muscles

Women often avoid weight training because they are afraid of bulking up. Weightlifting has many health benefits, and can help to develop and maintain healthy bone mass. However, there is a method whereby gains can be measured in terms of strength gain rather than increased muscle mass.

Try “lifting heavy” to get results you can measure (you may want to enlist the help of your trainer in this at first). Lifting heavy means taking a weight that you cannot lift for more than one set of five repetitions—and the last rep should be nearly impossible. Then take 60 to 80 percent of that initial weight and train with that amount for four months.

After four months, evaluate your progress by attempting more than one set with the original heavy weight. If you are successful, select a new upper limit and work with 60 percent of the new heavy weight for another four months, or 80 percent of the original heavy weight for another four months.

Unless you are power lifting or getting into serious weight training, you will build healthy muscle without bulking up. Adding stretching, Pilates, or yoga to your routine will also help to keep your body looking and feeling balanced.

MYTH 4: Once a week workouts are pointless

Many people are too busy to work out three to five times per week, and so do not work out at all. But one workout is better than no workout. Here are just a few of the health benefits of working it. It can help

  • aid weight loss and prevent obesity
  • protect against heart disease
  • lower high blood pressure
  • improve sex life
  • prevent or manage diabetes
  • increase oxygen to the brain
  • increase energy
  • lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol
  • lessen the symptoms of depression
  • reduce stress and anxiety

With all these benefits, exercising one hour per week has to be better than none. Committing to once a week may be easier for people at a busy time in their lives, or those who are just beginning to adopt a healthy exercise regimen. Moving your body can be motivating—once you get moving and experience the feel-good post-workout endorphin surge, you just might be more inclined to add another workout—or two—to your week.

MYTH 5: Working the zone is best

Most gyms have a chart that plots age against heart rate. These charts recommend what rate your heart, spurred on by the intensity of your workout, should be at to efficiently burn calories while using fat for fuel. The “zone” is the area of the chart when fat burning takes place. It is usually recommended that the efficient exerciser work out in the lower portion of the zone for burning fat.

The real issue, however, is the burning of calories. It doesn’t matter what percentage of energy is derived from fat or carbohydrate sources. What matters is how many calories are burned per minute.

A recent study suggests that calorie burning may be even more efficient at the higher end of the zone, if only temporarily. This points to the importance of interval training in efficient calorie burning. Interval training involves varying the intensity of a workout. During the high-intensity phase the heart rate rises to (or above) the upper limit of the target zone, then during the recovery phase slows to the lower part of the zone. Incorporate interval training into your workout the next time you are on the treadmill or stationary bike by programming it to the “hill” or “random” function to mix things up.

MYTH 6: Protein loading builds healthy muscle mass

Building muscle mass involves using enough weight to make the muscles work beyond their normal resistance, and consuming more calories than you burn. Because muscle has protein, it is easy to assume that if you eat protein, it goes to the muscles. It doesn’t work that way. Muscles work on calories, and calories are derived from carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

Too much protein can create a nutrient imbalance, kidney strain, and dehydration. Also, excess protein results in excess calories, which are either burned or stored as fat. To build muscle mass, have a healthy eating plan, develop an exercise regimen that incorporates cardio and weight training, and get enough sleep.

There is no quick-fix solution to better health or increased fitness, despite the many myths that abound. If you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly, incorporating a variety of strength training and cardio movements, you have your best shot at looking—and feeling—your best.

Fitness in a bottle: sports-enhancing supplements


  • Claim: improves athletic endurance 
  • Research:  
    • enhances performance of trained athletes when low to moderate doses (3 to 6 mg/kg) are taken in supplement form
    • enhances performance when taken 15 to 30 minutes before exercis
    • Benefits high-intensity exercise such as soccer and rugby
  • Risks:
    • can cause insomnia, nervousness, irritated stomach, nausea, vomitting, increased heart rate and respiration; large doses may cause irregular heartbeats and even death

DON’T take caffeine with ephedrine.


  • Claim: improves exercise performance and builds muscle mass
  • Research:  
    • builds lean body mass
    • improves athletic performance during brief, high intensity activities such as sprinting
    • works best for young, healthy athletes
    • does not improve strength or body composition in people over 60
  • Risks:
    • safe at recommended doses
    • can cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, weight gain, and muscle cramps
    • draws water to muscles from other parts of the body; drink extra water to stay hydrated

DON’T take creatine with caffeine and/or ephedrine; this may cause serious side effects such as stroke.
DON’T take creatine with nephrotoxic drugs that can cause kidney damage.


  • Claim: supports muscle growth, mass, and strength
  • Research:   
    • dairy and whey sources of protein appear to be most effective
    • enhances muscle size (hypertrophy) when ingested shortly after exercise
  • Risks:
    • safe for most adults when taken appropriately
    • high doses may cause thirst, bloating, cramps, nausea, and increased bowel movements

DON’T take if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have milk allergies.

Ephedrine (ephedra)

  • Health Canada has issued several notices warning consumers not to use products containing ephedrine (ephedra), either alone or in combination with caffeine and other stimulants, for purposes of weight loss, body building, or increased energy.
  • Ephedrine (ephedra) may be listed on products by names such as “Ma Huang, Chinese Ephedra, Ma Huang extract, Ephedra, Ephedra Sinica, Ephedra extract, Ephedra herb powder, Sida Cordifolia or epitonin, all of which indicate a source of ephedrine.”
  • Use of products containing Ephedra or ephedrine in combination with caffeine and other stimulants may have serious, possibly fatal, adverse effects. Health Canada advises consumers that these products are not authorized for use.

Before taking any fitness supplements, consult your health care practitioner.



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