It seems there are more half-truths in the fitness industry than there are clear, definitive facts.
Why are there so many myths and misconceptions about diet and exercise?
Probably for the same reason we have misconceptions about a lot of things. Somebody says something, somebody repeats it, then we repeat it. Suddenly it’s established as “fact” before anyone took the time to actually think about what they were saying.
To help you separate fact from fiction, I’ve taken a closer look at some fitness myths that are still widely believed, even though there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Myth 1: You Can Turn Fat into Muscle
There’s a good chance you’ve heard that once a fit person stops training, all his muscle will turn into fat.
I’ve even heard some people use this excuse to explain why they do no exercise.
“There’s no point working out,” they complain. “As soon as I stop, all that muscle will turn into fat.”
Muscle cannot turn into fat. Fat cannot turn into muscle. They are two completely different substances.
Muscle can be lost or gained. So can fat. But you can no more turn fat into muscle than the alchemists of the past could turn base metals into gold.
However, if you follow the advice in How to Lose Fat without Losing Muscle, you will be able to lose fat and replace some of it with muscle. This will create the illusion that you have turned fat into muscle and everyone will think you’re a miracle worker.
Myth 2: Stretching Before Exercise Prevents Injury
Over the years, stretching before exercise has come to be viewed by many trainers as “essential” when it comes to reducing the risk of injury. But the research tells a very different story.
There have been several systematic reviews on the subject of stretching and injury prevention, which I talk more about here. All have come to pretty much the same conclusion: there is no evidence to show that static stretching prior to exercise prevents injury.
If you’re involved in a sport that requires a great deal of static flexibility, then some kind of pre-exercise stretching may be a good idea. But for most people most of the time, there’s very little benefit in static stretching before a workout.
Myth 3: Crunches and Sit-Ups Burn Stomach Fat
I’m still amazed (and, to be honest, ever so slightly depressed) by the number of people who e-mail me to say that they’ve been doing crunches and sit-ups every day, yet they’re still struggling to get rid of belly fat.
If you want to burn off the fat from your stomach, exercises like crunches and sit-ups are going to make almost NO DIFFERENCE at all. It’s true that these exercises will work the muscles that sit UNDERNEATH your belly fat. But that isn’t going to get rid of the fat that’s covering them up.
You may be surprised to learn, as was I, that somebody has gone to the time and trouble of publishing a study on the subject .
A group of 24 participants (14 men and 10 women) was assigned to one of two groups. The first group did nothing, while group two performed 7 abdominal exercises, for 2 sets of 10 repetitions, five days a week for 6 weeks. Both groups consumed a similar number of calories for the duration of the study.
When it was measured at the end of the study, the abdominal exercises were shown to have had “no significant effect” on the amount of fat stored around the stomach.
Please don’t waste your time trying to burn off belly fat by twisting and crunching it away.
Myth 4: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Many popular diets are split into several phases, with the first week or two usually being the most restrictive. The idea is that you lose weight rapidly in the early stages of the diet, which motivates you to proceed to the later stages.
Although a lot of people caution against this approach, research shows both short- and long-term advantages to fast initial weight loss .
Initial weight loss is positively, not negatively, linked to long-term weight maintenance. And people who lose weight more quickly in the early stages of a diet are no more likely to gain the weight back again than those who lose it slowly .
In one study from the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, the researchers conclude :
Collectively, findings indicate both short- and long-term advantages to fast initial weight loss. Fast weight losers obtained greater weight reduction and long-term maintenance, and were not more susceptible to weight regain than gradual weight losers.
Taking a more aggressive approach to fat loss in the early stages of a diet (when you’re at your fattest) also makes sense from a physiological point of view.
As I’ve explained in Why Getting Ripped Will Take Longer Than You Think, your rate of fat loss scales up based on the amount of fat you have stored.
The more of it there is, the faster it comes off when you’re in a calorie deficit. That’s why people who are very overweight or obese (i.e. your typical Biggest Loser contestant) lose fat a lot more quickly than someone wanting to get rid of the last stubborn 5 or 10 pounds.
Myth 5: Men Should Never Eat Less Than 1800 Calories
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that all adult men eat at least 1800 calories per day.
There is, however, no compelling evidence to show that all men, irrespective of how much they weigh or how active they are, should be eating at least 1800 calories per day.
On the contrary, there is research out there to show that extremely overweight people can lose fat with very little muscle loss and a minimal reduction in metabolic rate (other than what you’d expect based on their reduction in weight) eating way less than 1800 calories per day, just as long as they’re getting enough protein and lifting weights .
In fact, one 12-week trial shows a 32 pound loss of fat, minimal muscle loss and no reduction in metabolic rate despite a diet providing just 800 calories per day .
Myth 6: The Janda Sit-up Reduces Hip Flexor Activity
Janda sit-ups are performed like a typical bent-knee sit-up. The only difference is that as you raise your upper body, you press your heels into the floor.
The idea is that pressing your heels into the floor during the sit-up reduces the activity of the psoas, one of the muscles responsible for flexing your hips. This in turn is supposed to “isolate” your abdominals and reduce the risk of injury to the spine.
But when the theory was tested, it turns out that the exact opposite occurs .
Researchers compared a number of different abdominal exercises using electrodes inserted into vertebral portions of the psoas and three layers of the abdominal wall.
The study shows clearly that muscle activity in the psoas is slightly higher during the Janda sit-up compared to the bent-knee sit-up.
In other words, pressing your heels into the floor during the bent knee sit-up appears to increase rather than decrease psoas activity.
The Janda sit-up did lead to greater muscle activation in transverse abdominis, as well as the external and internal obliques, compared to the bent-knee sit-up. But it didn’t work rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) any harder than regular bent-knee sit-ups.
Myth 7: Stretching After Exercise Gets Rid of Muscle Soreness
To prevent muscle soreness, you’ve probably been told to stretch immediately after exercise. But there’s very little evidence to show that it makes any difference whatsoever.
A team of Danish researchers, for example, found that stretching before and after exercise had no measurable effect on muscle soreness.
Publishing their findings in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, the researchers persuaded seven healthy women to take part in two experiments .
During the first experiment, the women exercised their right quadriceps (the group of muscles in the front of your thigh) to exhaustion. Ratings of muscle pain were taken for the next seven days.
In experiment two, the women performed the same type of exercise. This time, however, they spent 90 seconds stretching before and after exercise. Again, muscle pain was assessed for seven days.
Contrary to popular belief, the results showed that stretching had no effect on muscle soreness, which reached a peak two days after exercise.
This isn’t the only study to highlight the fact that stretching doesn’t seem to do much as far as muscle soreness is concerned.
When a group of New Zealand scientists reviewed several muscle soreness studies, they found that stretching after exercise led to an average reduction in post-exercise soreness of just 2% — an effect that’s likely to be of “no practical significance” for most people .
SEE ALSO: THE FLAT BELLY CHEAT SHEET
If you want less flab and more muscle when you look down at your abs (or where they should be), check out The Flat Belly Cheat Sheet.
It's a “cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF, written in plain English, that tells you exactly how to get rid of belly fat. To download a free copy please click or tap here.
ABOUT CHRISTIAN FINNChristian Finn holds a master's degree with distinction in exercise science, is a former personal trainer and has been featured on BBC TV and radio, as well as in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Fit Pro, Zest, and Perfect Body magazine.
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