Make Your Workout Work For You: 15 Fitness Myths Revealed
Get the Most From Your Workout by Understanding 15 Common Fitness Myths
Whether you are searching the internet or chatting with a friend at the gym, chances are you’ll run into one or several pieces of advice that aren’t true or are outdated. Let’s get you updated and put to rest the top 15 fitness myths that are still out there.
MYTH: Stretching Prevents Injuries
FACT: Studies show that stretching before a workout does not decrease your risk of injury; in fact, for some fitness populations, stretching may increase your risk for a strain-based injury due to lengthening a cold muscle or a muscle that has not been adequately warmed up. What’s more, static stretching before a workout may decrease intra-workout strength. (1)
TIP: Dynamic warm-ups (like jumping jacks) are the way to prevent injuries before a workout. It improves blood circulation and activates your central nervous system so you can exercise with proper form and avoid injury. Warm-ups and cool-downs are not just something you should do if you have time. They are a necessity for all great workouts.
Stretching can play a part in the cool-down process when you hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
MYTH: Fasted Exercise Burns More Fat
FACT: Despite popular belief, fasted exercise, or exercising on an empty stomach, does not result in more fat burned. One study compared the fat burning ability of subjects who consumed calories pre-workout against those who did not. The results? Neck and neck. Both groups burned fat, but one didn’t burn more than the other. (2)
TIP: Eat a small meal an hour before exercising. Otherwise, you may become lightheaded and dizzy. Learn more about exercise nutrition.
MYTH: Heart Rate Machines are a Reliable Indicator
FACT: There is no one-size-fits-all chart for measuring your heart rate. Studies show that modern-day heart rate machines that you find at commercial gyms don’t take into account several variables that are key to determining your heart rate. (3)
TIP: Want an easy way to tell if you’re working hard enough during your workouts? Try the Talk Test. If you can easily talk to a friend while exercising, the intensity is low. If you can talk but find yourself pausing once in a while for a breath, the intensity is moderate. If you’re not able to say much except one-word phrases, then the intensity is high.
TIP: To find your target heart rate, you would need to know your maximum heart rate. You can easily calculate it by subtracting your age from 220. For instance, an 18-year-old would have a maximum of 202 beats per minute. You should train at 70%, which for an 18-year-old would be 141 beats. If you were to work out at a higher intensity, you would tire faster. To be able to get there, would require interval training.
MYTH: You Need to Hold Weights When You Walk
FACT: Holding weights while you walk isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if your goals are to engage more of the body, you’re using the wrong fitness tool.
TIP: Studies have demonstrated that walking poles are superior to dumbbells for engaging the chest, back, and core while you walk, which may burn more calories. (4)
Walking with dumbbells is beneficial but only if you use heavy weights for short periods of time. The Farmer’s Walk, for example, is a great way to build up your forearms but terrible for going on a leisurely stroll.
MYTH: Buy Foot Type-Based Running Shoes
FACT: The foot of the modern person has come a long way since the days of our ancestors who were walking around barefoot. Experts agree that we may have lost a vital ability of our ancestors: the ability to use our feet as we do our hands. The fitness industry claims that well-padded shoes based on your foot type are a necessity when in reality this may not be entirely accurate.
TIP: We recommend quality neutral shoes with no special accommodations as the best bet for any athletic person looking to avoid injury while exercising.
If you have been recommended to purchase a shoe type that corrects for your foot biomechanics (such as overpronation), then you probably need custom foot orthotics as these will truly fix the source of the problem. Learn more about selecting athletic shoes
MYTH: You Must Eat After a Workout
FACT: Yes and no. This all depends on your workout.
If you just wrapped up a high intensity, resistance-based workout involving weights, bodyweight, or machines, then yes, you’ll want to consume a source of healthy nutrients post-workout. This is especially true if you have a secondary training session later in the day.
TIP: Focus on getting protein from sources such as chicken, and eggs. Throw in some vegetables as well for post-workout carbohydrates.
If you’re only going for a walk or light jog, then you don’t have to worry about getting into immediate nutrition.
In both cases, however, you need to stay hydrated. Check out our Hydration Guide for all our tips on hydration and our homemade sports drink recipe.
MYTH: No Pain, No Gain
FACT: Sure, a bit of post-workout soreness is a good sign that your muscles experienced enough resistance to cause the microtears needed for strength and muscle gains. If you are physically hurting and feeling pain, this is not a good sign.
Pain from exercise is a tell-tale sign of injury. Yes, you want to push yourself in the gym but going too far can have consequences.
TIP: Shoot for soreness and never push yourself to the point of physical pain.
MYTH: Post-Workout Soreness is Caused by Lactic Acid Build-Up
FACT: This is a well-meaning myth that is still commonly quoted by fitness experts. Yes, lactic acid is produced as a response to physical exercise, but it is cleared shortly after a workout. To connect this with the point above – The clearing of lactic acid from the body is one reason why cool-downs are so important.
So why are you sore after a workout? When you perform resistance exercise, you are creating microtears in the muscle tissue. Don’t worry as this is completely normal. However, as a result of these microtears, there is inflammation and soreness. (5)
TIP: Starting a new workout program? No need to rush. Use light weight and go at a comfortable pace.
MYTH: Any Type of Exercise Will Help Me Lose Weight
FACT: While exercise is an important part of weight loss, there are two other major factors at play.
TIP: It’s not about thoughtlessly moving through a workout. It’s about increasing the perceived intensity of a workout. Remember the Talk Test from above? If you’re in a high-intensity range then you’re burning more calories. Low intensity is okay but won’t burn much in the way of calories and fat. (6)
Second is nutrition. A well-balanced diet and nutrition plan makes up 70% of the results you see in the mirror.
MYTH: Treadmills are Easier on Your Knees than Pavement
FACT: That’s a nice thought, but unfortunately, treadmills are no better for your knees than pavement. If you’re running on a hard surface, there is going to be a high rate of impact on your joints. The only way to get around it is to run on grass or on a dirt trail.
TIP: If you want to build up strength in your knees and joints, then perform a total body resistance program three times per week in addition to your jogging schedule. This will help to build up strength and also correct any over compensations caused by a running-only workout program. Learn more about knee pain.
MYTH: Crunches and Ab Machines Get Rid of Belly Fat
FACT: Crunches are great, and ab machines may be an excellent alternative if you’re just starting out, but these exercises will not directly target belly fat. Sorry to break the news to you but it’s not possible to spot treat one area.
These are resistance exercises, which means they are working the abdominal muscles, which may increase caloric expenditure but they are not directly burning away belly fat.
TIP: These exercises will help your abs pop, but you have to combine total body strength training with cardiovascular training and, most importantly, a great diet. (7)
MYTH: Yoga Can Help with ALL Back Pain
FACT: Yes, yoga is amazing, but it’s not a cure-all. Yoga has been shown to be effective at alleviating some types of back pain, but chronic back pain needs to be looked at by a medical professional. A herniated disc, for example, needs a chiropractors care.
TIP: Yoga is perfect for alleviating back pain that is caused by your lifestyle. For example, if you sit and work at a desk all day, yoga can help to stretch out those tight muscles while strengthening. (8)
Remember that if you are experiencing back pain that is moderate to severe or lasting more than a week, this is NOT normal. Make an appointment with a chiropractor immediately.
MYTH: No Sweat Means No Results
FACT: Contrary to popular belief, sweating is not a sign of progress or results. Sweating is the body’s cooling mechanism. If you’re sweating, that means your body temperature is increasing, and you need to be cooled off. It doesn’t mean you are burning a specific number of calories.
In fact, the more experience that you have working out, the less you’re likely to sweat. This is due to your body adjusting to the intensity levels of your workouts. However, those who are more fit tend to sweat sooner, and this is because a fit person’s cooling system is more advanced through all the months or years of training.
TIP: In short, you don’t need to be covered in sweat to get in a good workout.
MYTH: Low-Intensity Exercise Burns More Fat
FACT: This myth has been put to rest many times over. Several studies have demonstrated the superiority of high intensity, short duration exercise against low intensity, long duration exercise.
TIP: The only real benefit to low-intensity exercise is that it puts less stress on your joints, but this may be canceled out if your workout lasts for an hour compared to only 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise. (9)
MYTH: I Put in My 45 Minutes of Exercise a Day and That’s All I Need.
FACT: Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, if you want to see results in weight loss, muscle building, and overall health, your fit lifestyle doesn’t stop once you step outside the gym.
It’s important to stay active throughout the entire day. Sitting is a leading cause of muscle weakness and over compensation along with weight gain and increased risk of mortality.
TIP: If you’re sitting, try to stand up, stretch, and take a brief walk for 5 to 10 minutes every hour. Be consistent with your fitness program and meal plan.
1. Witvrouw E, Mahieu N, Danneels L, McNair P. Stretching and injury prevention: an obscure relationship. Sports Med. 2004;34(7):443-9.
2. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Wilborn CD, Krieger JW, Sonmez GT. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014;11:54. doi:10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7.
3. Kroll RR, Boyd JG, Maslove DM. Accuracy of a Wrist-Worn Wearable Device for Monitoring Heart Rates in Hospital Inpatients: A Prospective Observational Study. Eysenbach G, ed. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2016;18(9):e253. doi:10.2196/jmir.6025.
4. Shim J, Kwon H, Kim H, Kim B, Jung J. Comparison of the Effects of Walking with and without Nordic Pole on Upper Extremity and Lower Extremity Muscle Activation. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2013;25(12):1553-1556. doi:10.1589/jpts.25.1553.
5. Miles MP, Clarkson PM. Exercise-induced muscle pain, soreness, and cramps. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1994 Sep;34(3):203-16.
6. Bryner RW, Toffle RC, Ullrich IH, Yeater RA. The effects of exercise intensity on body composition, weight loss, and dietary composition in women. J Am Coll Nutr. 1997 Feb;16(1):68-73.
7. Kostek MA, Pescatello LS, Seip RL, Angelopoulos TJ, Clarkson PM, Gordon PM, Moyna NM, Visich PS, Zoeller RF, Thompson PD, Hoffman EP, Price TB. Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance training program. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Jul;39(7):1177-85.
8. R.B. Saper, C. Lemaster, A. Delitto, K.J. Sherman, P.M. Herman, E. Sadikova, J. Stevans, J.E. Keosaian, C.J. Cerrada, A.L. Femia, E.J. Roseen, P. Gardiner, K. Gergen Barnett, C. Faulkner, and J. Weinberg. Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain. Ann Intern Med. 2017;167:I–20. doi: 10.7326/P17-9039.
9. Boutcher SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011:868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305.
Dr. DeFabio is a highly regarded chiropractor in Chicago who focuses on helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness. He takes a holistic approach to care, treating symptoms and addressing underlying issues to promote long-term healing. Dr. DeFabio is passionate about empowering his patients to take control of their health and live their best lives. You can find him surfing, skateboarding, and volunteering at the Lakeview Food Pantry when he’s not in the office.