Why can’t exercise be simple? All the different types and benefits of exercise makes starting a physically active lifestyle complicated. With the plethora of information available on exercise, it’s difficult to differentiate between the ineffective garbage and what actually works. Here are a few of the most popular exercise myths. If an established exercise source gives you these pieces of advice, it’s time to reevaluate who to trust.

1. No Pain No Gain. Yes, you do need to work hard to see results but not to the point of injury. Exercisers must differentiate between good and bad pain. Good “pain” is fatigue, burning and even some mild soreness. In order to reach new goals, you have to push the body beyond what it’s accustomed to doing. If you are comfortable running two miles, try running three or four. If you lift 135 pounds on a certain exercise, increase the load to 155-165 pounds. The increased workload causes the body to get stronger and is associated with good pain. The fatigue you feel from running long distances, the burning you feel when lifting heavier weights or the voice deep inside telling you to stop is good pain. Bad pain means something is injured. Bad pain limits range of motion even during non-exercise periods. Some examples of bad pain include (not limited to): muscle strains, broken bones, shin splints or aggravating an old injury. A health care professional should look at bad pain while good pain typically goes away on its own with enough rest.

2. More Exercise = More Results. More exercise is only beneficial up to a certain point. Exercise causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. When the body repairs this exercise-induced damage, the result is a stronger muscle fiber. This is what makes you bigger, faster and stronger. Too much exercise causes more damage to the muscle than the body can handle, leading to injuries. Too much exercise results in bad pain. If you don’t give the body sufficient rest and nutrients, recovery from exercise slows down. When starting a routine after lengthy periods of inactivity, start off slow. Exercise 2-3 times per week with a long term goal of increasing physical activity to 4-5 times per week.

3. Weight & Repetitions Typical gym advice goes something like this: if you want to get big, lift heavy weights and if you want to tone up, lift light weights. The truth is diet has much more to do with gaining muscle or burning fat than how many repetitions you complete and how much weight you lift. If you focus on a high weight/low rep routine, muscle strength increases. If you focus on a low weight/high rep routine, muscular endurance increases. Muscle strength gives you the ability to pick up heavy objects a few times while muscular endurance gives you the ability to pick up lighter objects many times. Muscle strength vs. endurance shouldn’t be confused with size vs. tone. Muscle growth (getting bigger) has much more to do with how much you eat relative to how much you burn. Growing muscle requires strength training and a calorie surplus – eating more calories than you burn. Strength training (either high weight/low reps or low weight/high reps) provides the necessary stimulus while a calorie surplus provides nutrients the body needs to build more muscle. Muscle grows as long as you are pushing yourself beyond what you’re accustomed to, either through more reps, more weight or a combination of both. You can gain muscle with a low weight/high rep routine just as you can get toned with a high weight/low rep routine (as long as calorie intake is appropriate).

4. Sit Ups = Perfect Six Pack. A perfect six pack has more to do with diet than exercise. Everyone has a six pack, but for most people, a layer of fat obscures their abdominal definition. The solution is burning body fat through a calorie restricted diet. Burning more calories than you eat (creating a calorie deficit) is the the only way to force the body to burn fat. A calorie deficit means eating less, exercising more or a combination of both. Unfortunately, sit-ups don’t burn a significant amount of energy. Sit-ups increase abdominal strength but do little to reduce body fat. Doing hundreds of sit-ups does nothing if body fat is too high. Engaging in an intense, energy-demanding exercise routine while decreasing calorie intake is the only way to increase muscle tone in the midsection (or elsewhere).

5. Women Shouldn’t Lift Weights. Women stay away from weights because they are afraid of getting “man-muscles.” No one should ignore weight lifting; it has too many benefits (decreasing body fat, increasing bone density, improving physical appearance). A woman’s body lacks the natural capacity to grow like a man’s. Women: engaging in a strength training routine will never make you look like a man.

The Bottom Line

It’s unfortunately difficult to always differentiate between good and bad information. Exercise is meant to be simple. Complexity doesn’t always translate into effectiveness. Building exercise around simple concepts (eat less, move more) keeps your routine easier to manage and more effective.

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