The last two decades have produced more research in the fields of health and fitness than ever before. This wave of new information has been driven by the rise of obesity in America and scientists’ desire to understand the causes behind it.
Despite this wealth of information – and the ease of accessing it on the internet – the world of fitness is still full of old myths and misconceptions. Some misguided ideas are repeated constantly, no matter how solidly they have been debunked by scientific research. Many of these are aimed at women in particular. The weight loss industry brings in about $20 billion dollars annually, and 85 percent of the people consuming weight loss products and services are women.
Here are the 3 worst offenders, the stubborn myths that have managed to stick around even though they’re just plain wrong. To see maximal benefits from your fitness routine, put these misconceptions behind you.
1. “This product/exercise will burn stubborn belly fat!”
This is one of the most common marketing pitches you’ll hear in the fitness and weight loss industries. Advertisers choose a body part they know many people see as a “problem area” – stomach, upper arms, inner thighs, and so on. Then, they present a product or workout technique that they promise will target and reduce fat in that area. Just like magic.
It turns out magic is exactly what it would take to achieve this type of weight loss, known as spot reduction, because it’s simply impossible. That’s right: any supplement, gadget, or regimen that promises to reduce fat in one specific area really is too good to be true. Several studies have examined the possibility of fat spot reduction in different parts of the body, including the legs, abdomen, and arms. These studies have concluded that fat spot reduction does not occur, no matter how many crunches you do. Instead, diet and exercise lead to general fat reduction throughout the entire body.
This is likely because muscles can’t directly use fat stores as fuel – they have to be broken down first. That means no matter which muscles are working, the fat that fuels them can come from anywhere in the body.
But don’t be too disappointed. Your crunches and planks haven’t exactly gone to waste. Working muscles does build muscle tone, which contributes to the lean, firm look most people are going for when they try to achieve targeted fat loss. And general fat reduction is a good thing, even if it takes longer than you’d like to get that six pack. A combination of balanced diet, challenging cardio, and resistance training will deliver real results.
2. “The fat-burning zone.”
A long-standing gym myth claims that low-intensity cardio places you in a special “fat-burning zone.” If you’re a frequent user of cardio equipment like treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationery bikes, you may have seen this supposed zone highlighted on heart rate reference charts printed on those machines. It seems great: all you have to do is walk briskly on the treadmill and you’re burning more fat than you would be at a full run?
Once again, this is too good to be true. But it’s easy to understand how this misconception came to be.
Fat burning is a slow process. Carbohydrates provide a much quicker fuel for your muscles. So, when you perform a very intense burst of exercise (like a sprint), your body relies heavily on carbohydrates. But when you perform a lower-intensity exercise, a larger percentage of the calories burned by your body come from fat. Hence, the myth of the fat-burning zone.
So what’s the problem? While you burn a larger percentage of calories from fat during low-intensity exercise, more calories from fat are burned overall during higher-intensity exercise. High-intensity cardio demands fast fuel, so your body burns lots of carbohydrates to keep up. But it continues to utilize fat as well, in higher amounts than you would see in lower intensity exercise.
Moral of the story? The more intense the exercise, the more fat you really burn.
3. “Lifting weights will make me bulky!”
This myth is particularly strong among women. They want a toned look, but are afraid that lifting weights larger than 5 or 10 pounds will make them look like a bodybuilder. Luckily, those fears are misplaced.
First of all, it takes intense training to build big muscles. A few weightlifting sessions per week aren’t enough to leave anybody looking like Arnold. In addition, testosterone is a major factor in stimulating muscle growth. While women’s bodies do produce testosterone, men produce up to ten times more. This means that muscle building is a slower and less dramatic process for most women. (That’s not to say women can’t build big muscles if that’s what they’re looking for. It’s just not something that happens by accident.)
And the benefits of resistance training go beyond the creation of a toned look. The more muscle you build, the more calories you’ll burn at all times. This is because lean body mass, like muscle and bone, requires more energy to maintain than fat. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also showed that women who lifted heavy weights burned an average of 100 more calories in the 24 hours after their training session ended. This “after-burn” effect happens only after intense workouts, and it is real.
[Lead image via Maridav/Shutterstock]