Woman in yellow hoodie flexing arm muscles outdoors

Debunking 12 Fitness Myths That Are Holding You Back

Discover the truth behind 12 common fitness myths, which can hinder your fitness journey. From stretching before a workout to your diet, we debunk the myths and offer evidence-based advice to help you achieve your fitness goals more effectively.

Fitness and exercise are integral components of a healthy lifestyle. Many of us take our health and fitness seriously, often striving to achieve our goals and overcome challenges along the way. Unfortunately, an array of myths, misconceptions, and half-truths have crept into the realm of exercise and diet. These fitness myths can be not only misleading but also counterproductive, making it crucial to separate fact from fiction.

In a recent survey conducted by FitRated, 1,000 Americans were quizzed about their gym activities and knowledge of common health and fitness myths. Astonishingly, it turns out that there's a substantial gap between what people believe to be true and the actual science-backed realities.

The inundation of information, especially through the internet and social media, has blurred the line between genuine fitness advice and misleading fallacies. Hearing these myths and misconceptions, many of us have unknowingly based our fitness routines on shaky ground.

Join us on a myth-busting journey to debunk 12 commonly believed fitness myths. By dispelling these misconceptions, we hope to provide you with a more accurate, evidence-based perspective on fitness, ultimately enhancing your workout routines and dietary choices. So, let's delve into the truth behind these myths and help you achieve your fitness goals more effectively.

Young woman stretching arms outdoors

Myth #1: You should stretch before your workout

One of the most prevalent fitness myths is the notion that you should engage in static stretching before your workout. This myth has misled countless fitness enthusiasts who believed that stretching their muscles rigorously before exercise would reduce the risk of injury and enhance performance. The reality, however, is more nuanced than it appears.

Stretching has been historically prescribed to relax tight muscles and increase range of motion. However, research suggests that static stretching a "cold" body may lead to a surge of stress hormones, rather than the relaxation we aim for. This can potentially hinder your workout instead of aiding it.

So, what's the alternative? Experts recommend a pre-workout warm-up routine that includes a cardiovascular component to raise your heart rate and dynamic exercises to prepare your muscles for movement. This approach not only helps prevent injury but also enhances your performance.


Myth #2: Running on a treadmill puts less stress on your knees

For many, running is a fundamental part of their fitness journey. It's a fantastic way to improve cardiovascular health and boost endurance. However, the debate between treadmill running and hitting the pavement often centers around knee health. The common myth is that running on a treadmill is gentler on the knees, but let's explore the science behind this myth.

While treadmills can offer more cushioning and shock absorption than hard pavement, the difference in knee impact may not be as significant as you'd think. Treadmills might be kinder to your knees, but they introduce their own set of challenges. The automated belt can put additional stress on the Achilles tendon and other lower leg muscles.

So, should you choose the treadmill or pavement? Both have their merits. You should vary your running surfaces to experience different benefits. Pavement running can condition your body for the impact of running, while softer surfaces enhance stabilizer muscles and engage your body in compensation for uneven terrain. 


Read more: Walking vs Running: Choose the Best Exercise


Woman lifting weights at the gym

Myth #3: Lifting weights will bulk you up

Now, let's address a myth that has discouraged many individuals, particularly women, from embracing weightlifting in their fitness regimen. The misconception that lifting weights will lead to unwanted muscle bulkiness is a prevalent one. However, this myth not only misinforms but also deprives people of one of the most beneficial activities they can engage in for their overall well-being.

The reality is quite the opposite. Lifting weights regularly, when done appropriately, offers an array of advantages. It enhances heart health, maintains the health of tendons, joints, and ligaments, boosts metabolism and caloric burn, improves posture, minimizes the risk of overall injuries in daily life, increases energy levels, and regulates hormones. In essence, weightlifting is a powerful tool that contributes to your overall strength and well-being.

Weightlifting offers these benefits because it engages all your body's energy and movement systems, challenging it in a way that triggers the improvements mentioned earlier. Crucially, lifting weights does not lead to unwanted bulkiness unless you have a specific training focus on achieving that result. This is especially true for women. The fear of accidentally gaining excessive muscle mass is unfounded.

Weightlifting is not about bulking up but about enhancing your health, strength, and overall fitness. It's time to embrace the weights, or even better resistance bands, and unlock countless benefits.


Read more: Do Resistance Bands Build Muscle?


Myth #4: Your muscle will turn into fat if you stop working out

The myth that your muscles can magically transform into fat if you stop working out is both persistent and scientifically incorrect.

Muscles and fat are entirely distinct tissue systems in the human body, each with its own functions and characteristics. Muscles, as you may know, provide your body with its physical form and are active metabolic tissues. They constantly burn calories, even when you're at rest. Fat, on the other hand, serves as a reservoir for excess energy in your body and is mainly responsible for storing and releasing energy when needed.

When you transition from an active lifestyle that involves building muscle to a less active one, your muscle size may decrease, and your body fat levels may rise, depending on your diet. However, this does not mean that your muscle tissue has transformed into fat tissue. In reality, they don't convert into one another. They are separate entities that shift independently and, often, simultaneously, based on your activity level and dietary choices.

Here's what actually occurs:

  • When you reduce your physical activity and no longer challenge your muscles, they may lose mass, leading to a decreased demand for calories.
  • Consequently, your body may start storing unused energy as fat.
  • If you continue to consume more calories than your body requires for its reduced muscle mass, your fat cells expand, and you gain fat.
  • When you have an excess of unused energy from overeating, your body's natural response is to store this energy in fat cells, causing them to grow.
  • This can result in increased fat levels in your body, particularly when coupled with decreased muscle mass from inactivity.

The takeaway from this myth is that muscle does not transform into fat. Instead, your body's muscle mass decreases when you stop working out, while your fat stores may increase if you consume more calories than your body needs. So, the next time you decide to reduce your activity level, remember to adjust your diet to match your energy requirements to maintain a healthy balance between muscle and fat.


Myth #5: If you don't feel sore the day after you work out, you didn't train hard enough

Woman in atheltic clothes massaging sore leg

Let's address a common belief that often causes confusion among fitness beginners: the idea that soreness is a direct indicator of an effective workout.

Many people associate post-workout soreness with the sense that they pushed their bodies to the limit, but the reality is more nuanced than this perception.

Feeling sore after a workout is a sensation familiar to individuals at various levels of physical fitness. It's common for many to believe that if they don't experience soreness the day after their workout, they haven't trained hard enough. However, this belief may lead to misguided workout strategies and discourage people from pursuing fitness consistently.

The reason behind post-workout soreness primarily lies in the different types of muscles that your body calls upon during exercise. Two distinct muscle groups play a role in this sensation:

Global Muscles: These are the larger muscles in your body, such as the quadriceps and biceps. Global muscles are known for their ability to develop strength, especially when the adrenaline kicks in during a workout. They are the ones that experience the most damage during exercise, resulting in soreness.

Local Muscles: These are the supporting team - the core muscles responsible for mobility and providing a balanced and healthy foundation for overall strength. Local muscles help in supporting the mobility of the body's movements and are crucial for maintaining a balanced and healthy body.

When people feel sore after a workout, it's often due to overworking their global muscles, which leads to that familiar sensation of muscle soreness.

Next time you experience post-workout soreness, consider it a sign that your global muscles received significant attention during your workout. It doesn't necessarily reflect the overall effectiveness of your exercise routine. Your local muscles, responsible for stability and mobility, are essential too.

To improve your fitness and well-being, focus on a balanced workout routine that addresses both global and local muscles. By including core-strengthening exercises, you can attain a more balanced, healthier, and effective workout without constantly seeking the burn of sore muscles.


Myth #6: Stick solely to cardio for weight loss

One of the most persistent fitness myths is the belief that cardio exercises alone are the golden ticket to weight loss. While cardio is undoubtedly an essential component of any fitness regimen, relying solely on it for your weight loss goals may not yield the dramatic results you're hoping for.

The misconception that cardio is the ultimate solution for weight loss is partly due to the perceived effectiveness of these workouts. When you engage in cardio exercises, your heart rate increases, and you often break a sweat. These physical responses are typically associated with burning calories and shedding pounds. However, the reality is more complex.

To truly maximize your fitness journey, it's crucial to integrate both cardio and strength training into your routine. Cardio workouts help burn calories and improve your cardiovascular health, but the muscle-building benefits of strength training are equally important. When you engage in strength training, you're not just sculpting your physique, you're also boosting your metabolic rate.

Muscles require more energy to maintain than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn, even during cardio exercises. This dynamic relationship between muscle and calorie expenditure is key to weight loss. Therefore, if your goal is to transform your body and lose weight, don't neglect strength training. It's the perfect complement to your cardio routine, helping you achieve more significant and sustainable results.


Read more: The Secret for Weight Loss


Person holding up a large hamburger meal

Myth #7: I worked out today, so I can eat unhealthy

One widespread misconception that often derails fitness journeys is the belief that a single workout can counteract the effects of an unhealthy diet. Unfortunately, this myth couldn't be further from the truth. Exercise is a crucial part of the equation, but it doesn't have the magical power to erase the consequences of poor dietary choices.

It's essential to recognize that food is fuel for your body. Proper nutrition is the foundation upon which your fitness goals are built. No matter how hard you work out, you can't out-exercise a bad diet. If you consume high-calorie, low-nutrient foods regularly, it will undermine your efforts in the gym and hinder your progress.

Exercise and diet should go hand in hand. While working out enhances your physical fitness, a balanced and nutritious diet is the key to achieving your weight loss and fitness goals. To create a sustainable and effective fitness plan, focus on making healthy food choices alongside your workouts. This approach will not only maximize your results but also support your overall well-being.


Myth #8: If the number on the scale isn't going down, I'm not losing weight

Many people place unwavering faith in the bathroom scale as the ultimate indicator of their weight loss progress. However, the number you see on the scale is influenced by a multitude of factors, including your hydration levels, the time of day, and even what you've recently eaten. As a result, it doesn't always accurately represent your true body changes.

Weight loss is not the only measure of your fitness success. Often, when people embark on a fitness journey, they experience initial fluctuations in weight. This is because as you work out, you may be building muscle, which is denser than fat. Muscle also burns more calories at rest, contributing to long-term weight loss. Therefore, it's entirely possible to be getting leaner and healthier even if the scale isn't showing a dramatic decrease.

For a more accurate assessment of your fitness progress, consider measuring other metrics. Record measurements of your arms, waist, and thighs to track changes in body composition. Additionally, if you choose to use the scale, weigh yourself at the same time each day for consistency. This way, you'll gain a more comprehensive understanding of your journey rather than fixating solely on the number on the scale.

Phone with a calorie tracking app open next to a salad bowl

Myth #9: You need to track your calories with 100% accuracy

The idea of meticulously tracking every calorie you consume and burn during your fitness journey might seem like the gold standard for success. However, calorie counting doesn't need to be an exact science to achieve your fitness goals.

While tracking calories can provide valuable insights into your dietary habits, aiming for 100% accuracy can be overly stressful and often unnecessary. Many factors influence how your body burns calories, including your age, weight, and metabolic rate. This means that even with precise tracking, there will always be some degree of estimation involved.

Instead of getting bogged down in the details, consider taking a balanced approach to estimating your calorie intake and expenditure. Use tracking as a tool for general guidance and awareness, rather than an inflexible rule. Focus on making nutritious food choices and maintaining a consistent exercise routine, as these habits play a more significant role in your overall success than pinpoint accuracy in calorie tracking.


Myth #10: Sticking to ab workouts will give me a six-pack

The desire for sculpted six-pack abs is a common fitness goal. However, the myth that doing endless ab workouts in isolation will lead to a chiseled midsection is far from accurate. Your abdominal muscles, also known as the core, are just one piece of the puzzle.

Visible six-pack abs are primarily determined by your body fat percentage. Even if you have well-developed ab muscles, they won't be visible if they're hidden beneath layers of body fat. To reveal your six-pack, you must focus on reducing overall body fat through a combination of diet and exercise.

While ab workouts are essential for core strength, they should be complemented by full-body workouts and cardiovascular exercises to help burn calories and reduce body fat. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training are effective methods to achieve this. Additionally, maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for shedding excess body fat and revealing the abdominal muscles you've worked so hard to strengthen.


Read more: Is High-Intensity Interval Training Right For You?


Muscular man making a protein shake

Myth #11: Supplements and protein shakes after workouts are necessary

It's not uncommon to see gym-goers sipping on protein shakes or popping supplements immediately after a workout, believing that these products are essential for recovery and muscle growth.

The truth is that, for most individuals, supplements and protein shakes are not a requirement. Your body can obtain the necessary nutrients for recovery and muscle repair from natural food sources. For example, chocolate milk, a turkey sandwich, or a simple scoop of peanut butter can provide the protein and nutrients needed post-workout.

Nutrition companies often promote their products as the ultimate solution for workout recovery, emphasizing their convenience and supposed superiority. While some individuals may benefit from targeted supplementation, it's essential to remember that these products are not a substitute for a balanced diet. Whole foods offer a wide range of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which supplements can't fully replace.

If you choose to consume protein-rich shakes or supplements after a workout, do so mindfully and as a complement to your diet. Always remember that natural food sources can provide the same benefits without the added expense of specialized products.


Myth #12: No pain, no gain

"No pain, no gain" is a saying that many athletes and fitness enthusiasts are familiar with. While pushing your body to the limit and experiencing discomfort during a workout is entirely normal, it's essential to distinguish between discomfort and actual pain.

Discomfort is a natural part of challenging your body and making progress. It can signify that you're pushing your boundaries and working toward your fitness goals. However, feeling pain during a workout is not a sign of progress but rather an indicator that something might be wrong.

Pain is your body's way of signaling an issue, whether it's related to improper form, overtraining, or an injury. Ignoring pain and pushing through it can lead to severe injuries and setbacks. Therefore, it's crucial to listen to your body and adjust your workouts when necessary.

If you experience persistent pain during or after exercise, seek guidance from a healthcare professional or a certified trainer. They can help you determine the cause of the pain and provide appropriate solutions to prevent further injury.

In a world brimming with fitness advice, it's crucial to navigate through the noise and embrace evidence-based practices. By shedding light on these 12 fitness myths, we hope to empower you with the knowledge needed to make informed choices on your fitness journey.

Remember, dispelling these myths isn't just about debunking misconceptions - it's about improving your overall fitness experience. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced fitness enthusiast, adopting practices based on scientific evidence will help you achieve better results, prevent injuries, and stay motivated.

We encourage you to share this information with your friends, family, and fellow gym buddies. Spreading awareness of these fitness myths can promote healthier and more effective workouts for everyone. Together, we can work towards a fitness landscape where knowledge prevails over fiction, and each of us can reach our fitness goals more efficiently and safely.

Now armed with the truth, you have the power to unlock your full fitness potential. Embrace the facts, challenge the myths, and celebrate your journey towards a healthier, stronger, and happier you.