There are the things you know are healthy—drinking water, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. But then, there are the “facts” people pass around. It’s your buddy at the gym who swears protein alone will get him ripped. It’s your coworker who claims you can crunch your way to flatter abs, and your mom’s warning about making sure you always stretch, no matter what activity you’re doing.
You don’t need to be an expert to know that when it comes to health and wellness, there is a lot of misinformation floating around. To help set you on the right track, we’re debunking seven persistent fitness myths you’ve undoubtedly heard—and maybe even believed.
You must always stretch
Stretching is linked to a long list of health benefits. It keeps you nimble, it’s good for your bones, great for your posture and can even help stimulate positive feelings. That being said, you don’t necessarily need to stretch before jumping into your workout.
According to the Journal of Sports Medicine, there’s conflicting evidence supporting the relationship between stretching and injury prevention. Instead of having a stretching-only mindset, focusing on doing a warm-up that increases your body temperature and circulation before the main event.
Strength training will transform you into a bodybuilder
This one is for the ladies. A lot of women worry about incorporating weight training into their fitness regimen for fear of bulking up. However, lifting weights comes with a whole host of benefits for women, from burning calories to strengthening bones.
Testosterone is a key factor in adding serious muscle mass to the body. Women don’t have much testosterone, so it’s incredibly difficult to cultivate that level of muscle building without consuming a ton of calories. Ladies, consider this your invitation to hit the weight room.
Cardio is best for weight loss
Many people think that logging a bunch of miles on the elliptical or going for long runs is all you need to do to lose weight. While it’s true that combining cardio workouts with a healthy diet will result in a calorie deficit, it’s not the only key to slimming down.
In the long run, building muscle through weight training or bodyweight exercises can help you burn more calories when you’re not exercising—amping up your metabolism both in and out of the gym. That said, cardio is an important part of staying healthy. Exercises like running and biking raise your heart rate and get your blood flowing, both of which support a healthy heart and lungs.
Fat makes you fat
We’re still learning our low-fat lesson from decades ago. Fats won’t make you fat unless you’re eating more calories than you burn. You need fats to help you maintain healthy hormone levels and process vitamins and minerals.
Without healthy fats in your diet, you’ll have trouble regulating your appetite or building muscle. High-quality fats from avocado, coconut oil, eggs, nuts and seeds could increase your metabolism and actually help you burn fat.
Sweat is everything
While there’s something undeniably satisfying about working up a full-body sweat during a workout, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you burned more calories than during workouts resulting in a few modest beads on your forehead.
Sweat is an essential biological response. It works to cool down our bodies and regulate internal temperatures, but it doesn’t directly equate to weight loss. Sure, excessive sweating may contribute to a few pounds of lost water weight, but in most cases it won’t have any long-term effects on your overall body fat.
And then there’s this: whether or not you sweat may have more to do with external conditions like the weather, the humidity in your yoga studio or the broken air conditioning system at the gym.
Spot reduction exists
Many of us fantasize that doing enough squats will slim down our thighs or that enough crunches will eliminate the fat stores on our stomachs. Unfortunately, just focusing on so-called problem areas is typically a fruitless effort.
Fat reduction has more to do with several factors than it does the actual exercise. Genetics, sex, metabolism and hormone levels all play a role in determining where fat gathers in your body and where you lose that fat when you start shedding pounds.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research ran a study on spot training in which eleven men and women were tasked with more than 1,000 leg press reps three times a week. The experiment lasted for 12 weeks, and participants made no changes to their diets during that time.
Results showed that the participants lost an average of 5.1% of their body fat, but most of that fat came from the upper extremities. The moral of the story? You can work out your legs or your abs for hours, but fat loss ultimately occurs on a holistic level.
You need to work out every single day
It might feel like you’re not making progress when you’re not at the gym, but off days don’t have to erase your gains. Your body needs time to heal from your weightlifting sessions or that 10-mile run. Some experts say that your body needs to recover to build muscle, and overtraining may cause problems like injury or lack of sleep.
Still, healthy adults should get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. The lesson here is to mix it up with cardio, weight training and lower-impact activities like yoga. Try swapping out an intense training session for a walk once a week.
There are endless fitness myths that continue to make their way through gyms, friend groups and internet forums. For example, there are plenty of blogs out there boasting they’ve found the secret to spot toning or that you can sweat fat out of your pores. (Spoiler alert: this isn’t true.)
The plethora of misinformation aimed at people desperate to lose weight is, unfortunately, a fact of life. What doesn’t have to be a fact of life is falling for myths that won’t help you achieve your health goals. So go ahead and skip the gym once in a while. And while you’re at it, remember that building muscle is crucial to losing weight—even for women.