With so many people offering advice on weight loss, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. All too often you’ve overheard a hardworking gym-goer sharing a well-meaning but ill-informed tip with another exerciser or even yourself. And you’re not the only one who’s heard fitness folklore being swapped on the training room floor. In this article, trainers share the common fitness myths they hear from their clients. From the pseudo miracles of the “fat-burning” zone to the misguided magic of working out on an empty stomach. Here are the fitness falsehoods you should never follow:
MYTH #1: The best way to lose weight is to drastically cut calories.
Our bodies are smarter than we think. When we eat too little, our body believes that it’s starving so our metabolism slows down and holds onto fat as a potential energy source. A much better approach: Eat more often, but eat less food at one time. For the fastest weight loss, break up your total daily calorie allotment—don’t eat fewer than 1,200 calories if you’re a woman or fewer than 1,800 calories if you’re a man—into five to six small meals to keep your metabolism humming.
MYTH #2: Keep your heart rate in the fat-burning zone.
If you’ve been exercising at 60 to 70% of your maximum heart rate in order to shed fat faster, you could be slowing your slimdown. The fat-burning zone is a complete myth. While it’s true that you burn a higher percentage of fat calories when exercising at a moderate pace, you burn fewer calories overall. For instance, if you get on a treadmill and walk at a 3.5 MPH pace for 30 minutes, you might burn 250 calories. If you raise the speed to 7 miles per hour, you’d burn 500. Bottom line? It’s much better to go at the faster speed. Prefer the elliptical? Just make sure you’re not making one of these top 10 elliptical mistakes.
MYTH #3: Heavy weights will bulk you up.
This just isn’t possible for most women. Ladies have too much estrogen in their hormone makeup. Yes, heavier weights build muscle and strength, but most of us aren’t lifting anything so heavy that we’re at risk for building man muscles. Plus, muscle is the secret to a revved up metabolism, as it burns more calories than more fat, even when you’re sitting on the couch or at your desk.
MYTH #4: You can slim down by switching to diet soda.
There may be zero calories, but chugging those cans of chemicals could be plumping your paunch. A study at Purdue University found that rats given artificial sweeteners ate more calories and gained more weight than rats given sugar. A better option is to drink water that is naturally flavored with lemon or cucumber slices to keep calories low and hydration high.
MYTH #5: Ab exercises are the fastest way to a flat belly.
Doing abdominal exercises can strengthen the different ab muscles, but it won’t burn body fat and reveal the ‘6-pack look. Abs are made in the kitchen—not from doing crunches. A proper diet low in refined carbohydrates and full of lean proteins, healthy fats, and lots of low-glycemic fruits and vegetables will bring you closer to the flat belly you’re after. Still, you should work your tummy!
MYTH #6: Doing squats will make your butt big.
This one cracks me up. We all know what makes your butt big and it isn’t squats. All of us who sit in front of a computer, at a desk, or in a car seat all day are at risk for developing weak glutes unless we actively do something about it. One of the best fixes: Squats! Science shows that this move will help to lift, firm, and strengthen your buns. Just be sure to focus on good form. Keep your knees above your shoe laces and sit back into an imaginary chair; squeeze through your glutes as you return to standing.
MYTH #7: Boosting cardio is the best way to bypass a plateau.
The most effective way to lose weight is to include both cardio and weights in your routine. One study found that when individuals cycled for 30 minutes a day, they lost 3 pounds of fat and gained a half pound of muscle in 8 weeks. But individuals who cycled for 15 minutes and weight-trained for 15 minutes a day lost 10 pounds of fat and gained 2 pounds of calorie-burning muscle.
MYTH #8: It can take only a few weeks to reach a weight loss plateau.
Recently, a woman told me she had been training for one month and the scale had already stopped moving. She insisted she had been sticking to her diet and that she was in a plateau, but that likely wasn’t the case. Why not? A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that it takes 6 months for an individual to reach a weight loss plateau. If you are only a couple weeks into your program and weight loss has halted, you probably need to watch your diet.
MYTH #9: An empty stomach means more fat burn.
You’ve probably heard that working out sans food forces your body to tap into fat reserves to work, but this is far from true. Science has shown you need to have some glucose in your system in order to ignite your fat-burning furnaces. If you run out of stored glucose, your flame goes out and you start burning up muscle. Having a little pre-workout snack 30 to 60 minutes before your workout gives you the energy to go longer and harder, which boosts your burn.
MYTH #10: You can target trouble spots.
It would be nice to be able to choose where our bodies store fat (bigger cup size and thinner thigh, please!) but that just isn’t possible. The scientific truth is that your body decides where to burn fat based on genetics, regardless of the body part you’re exercising. Instead of focusing on one area, spend your time doing full-body workouts that blast calories, like running or body-weight circuits, for all-over slimming.