Clients often come to me and say they have read about this latest study in a fitness magazine, or another trainer has told them that they are not going to get the results they are seeking if they keep training the same way.
The article tells them they are making huge mistakes and they are unlikely to see much progress if they see any progress at all. This creates fear, confusion and anxiety for clients. Worrying that they are doing the wrong thing, that they are wasting their valuable time investing in the wrong training methodology. They get mad at themselves or mad at the trainer for clearly steering them in the wrong direction when there is certainly a better way.
These fitness myths lead to clients programming hopping, quitting something if they don’t see results fast enough and lots of confusion around exercise. This, in turn, makes it feel like exercise is hard work and needs a lot of energy and concentration and they are likely to quit as it feels too hard. As a trainer that is certainly frustrating and saddening to see clients quitting before they are able to start to see the rewards and benefits of exercise.
The gyms want to see you in there, paying money, chasing an elusive feeling of not good enough, working harder and harder until it becomes overwhelming and you quit.
Here are a couple of myths floating around that you may have heard one twice or too many times to count.
1. That more time in the gym equates better results.
I’m sure you have seen the hashtags and messages implying that if you’re not smashing yourself 7 days a week at the gym your efforts are pitiful. People bragging about 3-hour sessions or double sessions on social media. More is certainly not better, double the time does not mean double the results.
There is a sweet spot in your training which is about enough exertion, effort and enough rest. The real magic of your training in the gym happens when you are resting and sleeping, that is the time when your muscles grow and recover stronger for the next day. Additional hours in the gym above that sweet spot are going to have very limited results.
Doing this consistently will lead to injuries, burn out, and completely screw up your relationship with fitness and yourself. Unless you are an athlete we don’t need to be doing 7 days a week, double sessions or 4 hours in the gym. A realistic aim is to work towards 2 -3 sessions of resistance exercise a week and increase activity outside of the gym.
2. Your results are solely coming from your workouts
Say you spend 1 hour a day at the gym, 4 days a week that is only 6.7% of the hours in your week. The time you spend in the gym may contribute to your results in the following ways.
- Increased metabolism after working out
- Boosted mood and endorphins
- Muscle repair and recovery requiring more fuel throughout the day
- Increased focus, motivation and alertness
- More likely to make healthier food choices later in the day
Time spent in the gym can also have a negative effect if we don’t plan properly or tell ourselves the hard work is all done
- Increased your appetite cravings more likely to binge eat after a big cardio workout
- Move less during the day as they are more tired or sore
- More likely to overeat if they have told themselves they have done their workout for the day
Most of the physical results come from NEAT and nutrition. NEAT is Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, basically, any effort that comes from outside of the gym, running for the bus, moving boxes at work, or every time you go from sitting to standing. Increasing your daily activity by walking from the train, moving more at the office, investing in a standing desk, spending time outdoors on the weekends are easy ways to increase NEAT and get more movement outside of the gym, and will have a bigger impact on your health and fitness than the 4 hours in the gym.
3. You must be smashed at the end of a workout for it to be beneficial
A workout does not need to leave you sweating, gasping and half dead to be beneficial. Unfortunately with the latest focus on HR monitors and calories burnt a workout is now a competition of who pushed themselves the hardest and with the most intensity. This also creates an intensity mindset which says working out is all or nothing.
Even if you know your body needs to rest and stretch you go to the gym and smash yourself because you don’t “burn or sweat” from a solid stretch session. This kind of thinking also takes the focus away from the numerous other benefits of exercise, including improved mood and reduced stress.
It also leads to more likelihood of injury, overtraining, and an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Anxiety can be created when a workout feels like it wasn’t hard enough and going back for a second session isn’t going to give you the best results, as mentioned above. An ideal training week looks like a mix of intensity’s, some cardio and some resistance training as well as planned rest and recovery session.
4. If you’re sweatier you’re burning more calories
The more you sweat, the harder you worked, the more calories you burn. You see this with the hot studios now, trying to trick you into thinking you burned a bucket load. It gives you the perception of working harder but has no overall effect on the energy used in your workout.
Instead, sweat is just your body trying to cool your skin and regulate your internal body temperature, and it depends on you, different people will sweat different amounts. So if you are using sweatiness as a guide to how much fat you burned, try to tune in to your internal cues instead.
5. Fasted cardio is the cure for stubborn fat
The idea behind fasted cardio is that by burning energy first thing in the morning you can target specific body fat stores. Research does show this to may be true during your workout, however, it is the overall daily energy intake and usage which makes the most impact.
- Are you are doing fasted cardio are you then going home and eating everything in the cupboard because you are starving?
- Are your workouts sluggish and tired because you don’t have the energy?
- Are you finding a massive afternoon crash when you run out of fuel?
- And is this going to be something you can commit to long term?
For most of us, it is really going to make so little difference to your overall health that it is not worth worrying about. What is more helpful is to think about moving more in your daily life and focusing on eating nutritious whole foods.
6. You can spot target fat
I feel like this myth has come from the late night infomercials where the product promises to lose centimetres from your waist merely by hooking up some fancy electrodes that guarantee to lose 5cms in 5 mins per day. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
There is no such thing as targeting a certain area to whittle away the fat. If you are losing fat your body will take fat deposits from certain areas based on your genetics. 20 minutes on the elliptical bike will not slim my thighs, neither will a full day of tricep work tone your arms.
Working with resistance exercise may change the shape of your muscle which may, in turn, lead to more shape in your arms or legs.
7. The only way to improve your fitness is to go to the gym
I understand that a lot of people hate and dread exercise, the mention they feel sore the next day, it feels uncomfortable when you first start and its just something they don’t enjoy. This makes it twice as hard to get motivated, to stick with it when life gets tough, and to maintain it as a priority for your own health and wellbeing.
If you hate going to the gym, just go there because you feel you have to, or feel it’s the only way to maintain your weight, you don’t have to. Instead, find something you do enjoy and do as much of it as you can.
Pick up an old hobby you practised as a child
Learn a new skill such as dancing or horse riding
Join a team sport and find a fun community
Spend more time outside and walking before and after work or join a walking group.
Start yoga, all the benefits of flexibility and body awareness plus will help to reduce your cortisol- (stress levels) which have a huge impact on your sleep, digestion and overall health.
Let go of the idea that exercise has to be in the gym and has to be a punish.