Just because you have heard something a million times doesn't make it correct. Sure, your family, friends, colleagues and fellow gym members might look like they know what they're talking about, but that doesn't mean you should blindly trust their advice.
I can't tell you how many times I overhear conversations about fitness – at brunch, at parties and especially at the gym – that are so misguided I almost cringe. If you are buying into any of these five fitness myths, you might be unknowingly sabotaging your progress and putting yourself at risk of injury.
1. No pain, no gain.
Being sore (also known as DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness) is not the yardstick for all accomplishments; what you are trying to "gain" is relative to your goals. If you judge the validity of your workout by how sore you are, you risk ignoring all the other benefits of exercise.
For example, if you are exercising to improve your mood or decrease anxiety, walking will help you achieve your goals but will most likely not make you sore.
Or, if your body is already sore, you should do an active recovery workout (think dynamic stretching or relaxed cardio workouts), the goal of which would be to promote blood flow, ensure quality sleep, improve mood and allow the body to do a more intense workout another day, not to create more aches and pains.
Now, I am not arguing that being sore is a bad thing. What I am saying is, understand your goals and therefore when it is appropriate to strive for soreness – and never sacrifice form out of a perverse desire to "feel" your workout the next day.
2. Intervals are for fit people. I need to get fit before I can do intervals.
Intervals are for everyone: They improve cardiovascular fitness, insulin sensitivity and HDL (good) cholesterol and they help to reduce both visceral and subcutaneous fat. You can do intervals without running up stairs or sprinting until you puke. Intervals simply mean that you alternate between bouts of higher- and lower-intensity activity. The intensity of your interval is dependent on your individual fitness level.
For some, the "high" interval will be walking quickly. For others, it might be jogging. Working out at a higher intensity teaches your body to understand your normal as slow and thus helps to increase your fitness.
3. Using "fat-burning" zone workouts on cardio machines will help you lose fat.
Steady-state, low-intensity endurance cardio (or fat-burning-zone cardio) may be an okay first foray into working out (to get you into the habit of training), but if you are trying to lose fat, don't be fooled by the name.
Fat-burning programs are based on the fact that working out at a lower intensity will burn a higher percentage of calories from fat. Yes, maintaining a lower heart rate will cause you to burn a higher percentage of calories from fat, but – this is important – because you are working at a lower intensity you will burn fewer calories overall. Opt for a program that challenges you to work at a higher intensity. Try interval training. You will burn a higher percentage of calories from carbohydrates, but since you burn more calories overall, you will create more of a metabolic demand on your body.
Both a high metabolic demand and a calorie deficit are needed for weight loss.
4. More is better. Recovery is for lazy people.
Exercise (especially high-impact activities like running) stresses the body. Exercise is only a positive stress if you give your body the ingredients it needs to recover. Training too intensely for too long can result in overuse injuries. By "recovery," I mean stretching, sleeping, eating well, getting regular massages or learning self-massage techniques, and doing active recovery motions such as walking or swimming.
5. Women shouldn't strength train; it will make them bulky.
It is almost impossible for women to get big, bulky muscles unless they really try – it is just not in our genetics. Unless an individual is predisposed to gaining muscle, bulking up takes dedication and a concentrated effort to consume enough calories. Do you know how hard most men have to work to get the muscle bulk they desire? Even many men who do prioritize strength training still find that it takes dedication to elicit a hypertrophic (muscle growth) response.
Plus, in general, to create a hypertrophic response, you need to do four-plus sets of an exercise with an appropriately heavy weight for six to 12 repetitions. Most women don't lift within that range, and when they do, they don't use an adequately heavy weight to result in hypertrophy.
Your 30 minutes of squats and lunges is not going to make you the Hulk. Plus, it is 2016. Being strong is not a bad thing: It will help you do everyday activities with ease, prevent injuries, promote proper posture and strengthen your bones.