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Eight Fitness Myths Debunked by John Mora

July 1, 2013

There’s plenty of fitness fodder out there… untruths and half-truths… here’s the real skinny

Getting and staying fit has its own inherent challenges without having to navigate the choppy waters of the many fitness myths out there. From “no pain, no gain” to the life-threatening perils of swimming within an hour of eating, some myths become social mantras that resonate the doorways of gyms and health clubs everywhere, causing confusion and, worse, injury.

To help set the record straight, here are eight popular fitness myths debunked. They are, by no means, a complete list of the fitness fodder out there, but may help you separate fact from fiction in structuring your own workout program.

“You have to workout hard and frequently to get fit.”

You don’t need to have the workout regimen of a marine boot camp drill sergeant to get in good shape. Moderate exercise frequency can be effective in increasing and maintaining your fitness level. Running, cycling, walking, swimming or performing any sustained aerobic activity three or four times a week at a moderate intensity for 30-45 will do the trick. Or, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) you can shoot for three 20-minute sessions at vigorous intensity.

“If it’s fun, it can’t be that good for me.”

No matter what sport or exercise floats your boat, there are plenty of benefits to be found in any physical activity. In fact, doing something that you find fun will likely translate into consistent workouts because you’ll have the motivation to do it. The trick is to find the sport or activity that you enjoy and stick with it. There’s something for every body out there. That said, it’s always a good ideal to add a little variety to your fitness routine so that you target seldom-used muscle groups.

“Eating protein supplements will make me muscular.”

This falls under the overarching fitness mythology category of a “magic bullet” that pervades our culture on the sports nutrition front and through infomercials products that promise everything from instant washboard abs to unlimited energy. This is obviously a myth driven by product marketing. Simply put, complex carbohydrates are the best, most instantly accessible source for exercise energy and moderate protein helps rebuild and repair muscle tissue. While moderate protein is beneficial for recovery, it is a progressive strength training program that builds muscle, not protein shakes.

“No pain, no gain.”

There’s nothing wrong with a moderate amount of muscular soreness within 48 hours of a good workout, as long as it isn’t centered on joints. That just means that you have a bit of inflammation and microscopic tears in the elastic tissues that surround muscle fibers—a completely normal and desirable effect of exercise that ultimately results in stronger muscles. But sharp pain or high discomfort during exercise is usually a sign that you’re overdoing it and need to back off. Just as there are no “magic bullets,” there are also no shortcuts, so back off and listen to your body.

“I can eat anything I want because I exercise.”

Nice try. That’s like saying I can put beer in my car’s gas tank as long as the motor is working fine. According to the American Dietetic Association, good nutrition in the form of carbohydrate and protein intake helps maintain body weight, replenishes glycogen stores, and builds and repairs tissue. Plenty of natural foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains—and moderate meats, fish and dairy, as well as a ban on junk, processed and fast foods is the diet your body needs to really leverage the benefits of exercise.

“You can never exercise too much.”

While moderate exercise can boost your immune system, overtraining has the opposite effect of lowering your immunity. That’s the body’s way of telling you that you can have too much of a good thing. While marathoners, Ironman triathletes and ultra-distance athletes exercise often, even these hardy warriors respect that fine line that they may be crossing with every workout and temper their workouts to avoid injury and illness.

“You should exercise at a low intensity to lose weight.”

The low-intensity “fat burning zone” is a myth no doubt orchestrated by heart rate monitor companies, but the truth is that it’s calories burned (and ingested) on a daily basis that determines whether you lose weight or not. Nevertheless, the myth was likely perpetuated by the scientific fact that, at lower intensity, a greater amount of fat is burned than carbohydrate. But the fat/carbohydrate mixture you burn comes from the same calorie pool. So, if your goal is weight loss, better to focus on how many calories you burn, not on how you burn them. If anything, a recent study from the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine concluded that short, higher intensity aerobic exercise can help you lose weight quicker than longer, low-intensity workout.

“Strength training bulks you up; aerobic exercise is for weight loss.”

This is a case of half-truths, particularly for women. While many women deprive themselves of the benefits of strength training because of fear of looking like Governor Arnold, the female body has 10-30 times less of the hormone that causes muscular bulk than men. And, while aerobic exercise is certainly a good choice for burning calories, strength training increases your metabolism when you’re not exercising. Consistent strength training will result in some muscle gain, but it will also result in up to 50 calories burned for each pound of muscle gained. The net-net is that for every two pounds of muscle you might gain, you’ll lose about 3.5 pounds of fat. Not a bad deal. (That’s what you call getting toned.)


John M. Mora is a writer and freelance copywriter living in Plainfield, Illinois. He is author of Triathlon 101 and co-author of Paula Newby-Fraser’s Peak Fitness for Women. His new book, Triathlon Workout Planner, has just been released and is available at and bookstores everywhere.



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