by Beth Shepard, M.S., ACE-CPT, ACSM-RCEP, Wellcoaches Certified Wellness Coach
The fascinating — and sometimes frustrating — thing about science is that new evidence is constantly unfolding, changing and often disputing what we think we know about exercise. It’s easy to get stuck, holding on tight to what we’ve always done or believed, even when research clearly shows otherwise. Freshen up your fitness knowledge by taking a new look at some old myths:
Myth 1: Stretch first.
Many of us were taught to perform static stretching before a cardiovascular or strength-training workout — it was part of the warm-up and believed to help prevent injuries. Yet, there’s no scientific evidence linking reduced risk of injury or post-workout soreness with a regular stretching routine. Recent studies indicate that pre-event stretching can actually impair performance in sports requiring explosive power, like jumping or sprinting. While flexibility training helps maintain a full range of motion around joints — for optimal results, stretch after your workout.
Myth 2: Don’t let your knees go past your toes while doing a squat or lunge.
Avoiding excessive forward movement of the knee during a squat or lunge is important. However, in everyday activities such as climbing stairs, the knee and torso naturally move forward slightly in parallel with each other for balance — and to propel the body forward and upward. Restricting this movement when performing squats and lunges increases hip stress and could increase the load on your lower back. For more details, read Knee Movement & Proper Form During Lunge Exercises by ACE exercise physiologists Fabio Comana and Pete McCall.
Myth 3: To burn fat, exercise at a lower intensity.
Forget the “fat-burning zone” — just get out there and move. Your body burns both fat and carbohydrate calories to meet the demands of exercise. The proportion of fat or carbohydrate burned in a given workout depends on exercise intensity and duration, but when it comes to weight control, the type of calories burned with exercise doesn’t really matter. If you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight. If you don’t, you won’t.
Low-to-moderate intensity exercise can be sustained for longer periods than higher-intensity exercise, which burns more calories per minute. Base your exercise intensity on your goals, your fitness level, health status and how it makes you feel. Don’t worry about whether you’re burning fat or carbohydrates. For weight control, the key is to choose an intensity level that makes your exercise program sustainable.
Myth 4: Strength training will make you gain weight.
If you’re concerned about preventing weight gain, strength training is actually something you should be doing. On average, adults who don’t engage in any strength training exercises lose about 4-6 lbs. of muscle tissue per decade, silently chipping away at their resting metabolic rates. Unless caloric intake is also reduced, fat weight tends to increase.
Alternately, regular strength training on the major muscle groups at least twice a week helps prevent loss of muscle tissue, and can even help to restore it. Adults who strength-train at levels recommended for fitness gain about 3 lbs. of muscle weight on average in the first 10-12 weeks, with men gaining slightly more and women gaining slightly less. Greater muscle weight gain is not typical, even with continued training. If you spend hours bodybuilding in the gym each day, then you may put on some additional weight within your genetic limits. But if you’re strength training for fitness, your weight gain should be very modest and could be offset by fat loss.
- ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 4th Edition, American Council on Exercise, 2010, pp. 380-386
- Beckett J,et.al., Effects of Static Stretching on Repeated Sprint and Change of Direction Performance, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 41(2):444-450, February 2009
- Nieman D, You Asked For It, ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal: July/August 2008 – Vol. 12/No. 4
- Westcott W, ACSM Strength Training Guidelines – Role in Body Composition and Health Enhancement, ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, July/August 2009 - Vol. 13/No.4,