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Over the past year and a half, fitness has become a larger part of my life than ever. It’s something that I had to learn to love. If you would have told me three years ago that I would be one of those people who exercises on almost a daily basis, watches Youtube workouts for fun, and wakes up thinking of ways to make one-leg squats more challenging, I would have thought you were crazy. Me? A fitnessista? No way.
Once I found a few forms of exercise that I enjoyed doing, fitness began to grow on me. I realized that getting fit didn’t mean logging hours on a machine at the gym or spending gobs of money on a personal trainer. I could be my own trainer! As I started to see progress in my own fitness over the months, I became more and more excited to keep pushing new limits and challenging myself in new ways.
Nowadays I exercise 5-6 days a week, sometimes 7 if I feel like it! There’s definitely a place for rest days, but I just love how working out makes me feel, which is why I make it a daily habit.
Trial and error, a lot of research and observation, and talking with others has taught me tons about exercise in the past few years. So today, I want to talk about 5 common fitness beliefs and why they’re wrong. I’m by no means an expert, but learning from my own mistakes has given me insight in so many ways! I used to buy these myths hook, line, and sinker—this is until I tried them and they didn’t work.
So let’s get to it.
Myth #1: Running is the best way to get in shape.
This is probably the biggest hurdle to get your mind over when it comes to fitness: running is not the best way to get in shape! Pick up any running magazine and of course they’ll tell you it is, but if all you do is log miles day in and day out with minimal or no cross training, your body will not change shape nearly as quickly or as drastically as you may want it to. Running is an effective way to get your heart rate up (if you’re going fast enough) and your blood pumping, but it also comes with a laundry list of drawbacks, including greater risk of injury, tight muscles (especially the IT bands, hamstrings, calves, and feet), and heart damage over time.
Am I completely anti-running? No. I think it’s a great element to toss into your fitness routine here and there, especially if you’re doing interval runs where you’re really pushing yourself for a short amount of time and then recovering. And if you enjoy the mental release of running (hey, I do!), it can be a healthy activity to do when you’re stressed or looking for a change of pace.
But daily running and running alone is not going to increase muscle strength, core stability, or flexibility in the long haul. You might get faster with practice (if you can avoid injury), but if you truly want to get in shape and tone your body all over, you’ve got to do some resistance training. Which brings me to myth #2…
Myth #2: Resistance training (or lifting weights) will make me bulky.
Maybe it will if you’re a man and you’re eating TONS of protein and you’re super, super, super consistent with your training regimen. But if you’re a woman? No way. You just don’t turn into The Hulk from lifting some weights, girls. Adding an extra 10 or 20 pounds to your shoulders when you’re squatting won’t give you gorilla legs. Firm, lean muscle, yes. But gorilla legs, no. Doing push-ups, pull-ups, and a few isolated free weight exercises won’t give you bulging biceps. You’ll get toned, long, lean arms instead. (I’ve been doing anywhere from 10 to 100 push-ups in a variety of forms for the past year and a half and my upper body is still taking it’s sweet time to put on a little muscle.)
Resistance training—whether you’re doing push-ups, squat jumps, weighted walking lunges, tricep dips, or something else—is cardio in disguise. Lean muscle mass burns through more energy than fat. In other words, the more lean muscle you build the more energy (aka calories) your body will take to just exist. So more muscle equals more calories burned, which leads to more fat loss over time and a leaner physique in the long run.
Myth #3: Crunches will give you six-pack abs.
If there was ever an over-rated, over-used movement, it’s gotta be the crunch! I see so many people crunching themselves to oblivion in the gym, and yet they all still have a spare tire around the middle. Crunches work a very small part of the abs, but they don’t strengthen the core as a whole. Your core consists of your entire trunk: upper abs, lower abs, low back, obliques (side abs), chest, shoulders, and even your hips. Working your core as a whole is the very best way to get more defined ab muscles. Simply doing crunches won’t cut it.
I’ve built all of my core strength without doing a single crunch! I’ve still got a ways to go, but I love the improvement that I am seeing in my core strength and stability. My two all-time favorite ab exercises: planks and push-ups. There are literally dozens of ways to do planks and push-ups, so I never get bored. If I’m short on time or space, I can squeeze them in lickety split. If I have more time and really want to push hard, I can do nothing more than planks and push-ups in different forms and totally wipe myself out!
All that said, if you truly want defined abs, the age-old saying has still never been truer: Abs are made in the kitchen.
Myth #4: The more the merrier.
When it comes to exercise, I believe that less is more. It’s not the duration or the quantity that matters (more miles, more reps, more weight, etc.). It’s the intensity. I can go for a long run, finish, and barely be breaking a sweat. In contrast, I can do a set of 4 intense exercises over and over again for 12 minutes and be completely beat by the end. It’s all about pushing yourself to your limits (safely, of course).
You don’t have to spend 2 hours in the gym every day to see results. Put in twice the effort, give it your best 20 minutes, eat clean, and watch your body change shape.
Myth #5: I need sports drinks to refuel me after workouts.
Most sports drinks are absolutely jam packed with sugar and chemicals! I say avoid them at all costs.
In truth, most of us “everyday exercisers” don’t workout hard enough to need a specially formulated “recovery drink” afterwards. If you really feel spent, eat a meal made with real ingredients (protein, vegetables, clean carbs, and/or healthy fats) to refuel you. If you want to replace minerals lost through sweat, add a little sea salt to your water and drink up.
When I’m feeling particularly spent, fatigued, and maybe a little overheated after a workout, I love a little organic coconut water as a treat. This is my favorite brand.
BONUS Myth #6!
There’s just one more fitness myth that is so critical I couldn’t live it out. And it is…
I can exercise my way out of a bad diet.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons so many people have fallen in love with cardio is because they’ve bought into the lie that endurance training burns MEGA calories, so if you do it you can eat whatever you want. Fantastic, right?
While cardio does burn calories, it also revs up the metabolism and therefore increases the appetite. We’re hungrier, so we eat more. It ends up being a wash because even though we may be burning more, we’re also eating more!
What’s worse, most people end up doing some not-so-accurate mental math in their heads that goes something like this: calories out equals calories in. Six mile run equals two brownies after dinner. Long weekend bike ride equals extra wine. Killer spin class equals cheesecake and pizza!
While there’s nothing wrong with a treat, I think we start falling down a slippery slope when we exercise for the sole purpose of burning calories so that we can eat whatever we want. For one, most of the foods we want are nutritionally empty to begin with and are a far cry from good fitness fuel. And secondly—and perhaps more importantly—we start playing mind games with ourselves that set us up to have a bad relationship with both exercise and food. We end up exercising in a “work equals reward” fashion, which does not lead to optimal physical/mental health or fitness longevity in the long run.
Do you have any fitness myths to add to the list? What do you do to stay active?