We want to separate fact from fiction by putting to bed these common fitness tips, so you can train smarter.
Lifting weights will make you bulky.1 of 15
Of all the fitness myths circling around, the notion that weights will make you bulky reigns supreme—especially among women. Thankfully the popularity of sports like CrossFit has lessened the spread of this rumor, but it's worth restating: Ladies, lifting won't make you unnaturally big.
What it will do is help you build lean mass, boost your metabolism and decrease your risk of osteoporosis. Lifting might even improve your nighttime Z's. According to a study published in the "International Sports Medical Journal," people who did resistance training or HIIT in the morning experienced a better quality of sleep at night.
Stay in the fat-burning zone to make your workout count.2 of 15
The fat-burning zone is a concept that the body burns a greater amount of fat during lower-intensity aerobic exercise than it does at a higher intensity. Consider this one of the biggest misconceptions of the weight-loss world. Don't believe us? Check out the study.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia found that women who alternated 8 seconds of high-intensity cardio with 12 seconds of low-intensity activity for 20 minutes, 3 times a week, lost weight faster than those who went at a steady pace but worked out twice as long. With the popularity of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which has been shown to rev up calories both during and after exercise thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), this myth is on its way out.
You should favor machines over free weights.3 of 15
When you're new to lifting, it's understandable to find comfort in stationary weight machines; there's already a basic set-up, which takes the guesswork out of the movement. Stationary machines might give you the edge to move more weight initially, but it's important to realize that they work on a fixed axis that only allows you to move in one or two planes. Sure, you'll still gain strength, but the functional fitness gains will be minimal.
Free weights, on the other hand, allow you to move forward, backwards, horizontally and vertically—strengthening patterns of movement you use in everyday life. Instead of opting for one or the other, try using a mix of both. Try kicking off your workout with free-weight compound movements like the squat, bench press or deadlift. From there, use a few machines to hone in on developing specific muscles.
The scale is the best measure of progress.4 of 15
When it comes measuring your weight loss progress, don't solely rely on the fickle scale. Basing your definition of progress on slight fluctuations in numbers isn't necessarily accurate. Why? Your weight doesn't tell the whole story.
Changes in body composition—your fat to muscle ratio—aren't accounted for by the scale. You might weigh more, but you might have a lower body fat percentage and be sporting more muscle, and the scale won't reflect that. Other, more effective, ways to measure your progress include progress photos (which can better show how small, daily changes add up), tape measurements, testing the fit of old clothing and aiming to out-do your old gym PRs.
You need to leave every training session sore.5 of 15
Ditch the myth that you have to push yourself to the max to see a payoff. Mild soreness during a workout can be a good thing, but you should never be in serious pain. Stabbing, sharp or severe aches, shouldn't be a part of your post-training experience.
The biggest mistake you can make when exercising is not listening to your body. Whether you're working to strengthen your core, legs, arms or chest, know that rest is just as important as reps.
Doing cardio before lifting will zap your strength.6 of 15
Most programs call for lifting and cardio, but don't put as much stock in which you do first—just work to get them both in. Before you plan your programming, decide on your goal.
If strength is your primary focus, it makes sense to lift first so that you're fresh and your muscles aren't yet fatigued. If you primary goal is to train for a 10K, have running take precedence and use your lifting sessions to support stronger legs, work your stabilizer muscles and help even out any muscular imbalances.
Yoga will give you long, lean muscles.7 of 15
We're not sure where this myth originated, but it's safe to say that no amount of stretching will make you taller. While you can't control the length of your muscles, you can control the way your muscles develop.
If you notice you're able to sink deeper into a yoga pose after weeks of practice, for example, you shouldn't attribute that to the actual lengthening of muscles but, instead, to your changes in your perception and an increased "stretch tolerance."
You should always workout in the mornings.8 of 15
This one's easy. The best time to workout would be any time where you actually make it happen—whether it's at the crack of dawn, during your lunch break or at three in the morning.
Calories burned are calories burned, and though knocking out your workout first thing each morning may sound great, if you're not a morning person, there's no need to force yourself.
Cardio is the best way to lose weight.9 of 15
Incessant bouts of cardio have long been touted as the primary way to burn fat and lose weight, but new research is suggesting that strength training can be especially beneficial for weight loss efforts.
Though cardio-based aerobic activity burns fat while you're exercising, anaerobic activity like lifting weights burns fat long after you've left the gym. Thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), you'll burn calories hours later. Plus, you'll also increase your muscle mass, and a body with more muscle has a higher metabolism.
You need to workout every day to achieve peak fitness.10 of 15
If you want to prevent heart disease, the number one killer of Americans, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, a guideline echoed by many other organizations.
How you divide it up is up to you, but for most people, this typically translates into 30 minutes, five days a week. While there's some debate (and variability) over how many rest days you need each week, there's a consensus that taking time off from training is necessary to allow muscle tissues to repair and rebuild.
It's better to workout on an empty stomach.11 of 15
Though there is some research to suggest that working out on an empty stomach causes your body to dig into its fat reserves for energy, you will likely also notice a decrease in energy and motivation while you're actually working out that could negate those benefits.
In other words, if you can barely slog through that morning run because you decided not to fuel up beforehand, you may have been better off having a light snack that gives you the energy for an especially high-intensity workout.
No pain, no gain.12 of 15
We hear variations of this motto. For example, some trainers will say if you can hold a conversation or focus on an audio book while you're exercising, you're not working hard enough. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to burnout and injury or unwillingness to attempt exercise in the first place.
Many inactive people would greatly benefit from taking on lower-intensity fitness activities like brisk walking or yoga, yet refrain from doing so because they worry it wouldn't "count." Any physical exercise counts. Simply being active day-to-day counts. Fitness doesn't have to be painful for it to be beneficial.
There's one best way to exercise.13 of 15
When it comes to fitness, there's no "one size fits all" prescription for anything. Test the water, see what works for you, find what you enjoy and go with it.