Debunking Common Fitness Myths

Debunking Common Fitness Myths

At WithU, we aim to make fitness accessible for everyone, anytime, anywhere. This includes helping you out by debunking some fitness myths that you’re more than likely to have come across at least once. There is a lot of contradicting information out there it can be easy to get confused or lost with it all! We have pulled together 5 common fitness myths that we are going to discuss and debunk with you.

1. You can spot-reduce fat

As much as we’d all love to pick and choose exactly where we’d like to lose fat, unfortunately, it’s not possible. In a study where a training programme to focus solely on one part of the body was followed, it was found that a focused training programme was ineffective at reducing fat on that specific body area. 

Resistance training, and any training, will be more effective if it focuses on the full body. If you do focus on resistance training in one specific area of your body, you can certainly build muscle in that area, but it will not reduce the fat. The best way to reduce overall fat in the body is through diet and a calorie deficit. An overall focus on health and full-body training, as well as nutrition, will most likely help you see the biggest improvements in your physique and health.

2. Lifting weights as a woman will make you “bulky”

One common misconception and fear is that if women lift weights, they will become bulky and look like a bodybuilder. What is important to understand is that it’s challenging for everyone, even men, to get as big as bodybuilders do naturally. Often what we see is the result of steroid use or a very targeted training and diet programme. Women rarely eat enough or train in the right way to bulk up like a bodybuilder, whose life is often devoted to looking as big as they do. Bulking is very much controlled through nutrition and caloric intake. To gain weight, whether that is from fat or muscle, you must be in a caloric surplus, so eating more than you are burning off. 

On top of this, the majority of women do not have nearly enough testosterone, like men do, making it harder for the average man, in comparison to the average man, to build muscle. Essentially, it is hard to bulk up intentionally, let alone unintentionally. If your goal or main focus is not to bulk, then it is not likely to happen.

Weightlifting is likely to make you look smaller. Not only can it support weight loss but 1lb of muscle will take up less space than 1lb of fat, so increasing muscle mass, whilst reducing fat mass, is going to make you smaller, if anything! 

Lifting heavy weights will increase heart rate, and can raise your heart rate just as high as when doing cardio. Increased heart rate leads to more calories being burned and thus supporting fat loss.

However, the magic happens after you finish exercising. By increasing muscle mass through weightlifting, you are increasing your metabolic rate. This is because muscles are metabolically active tissue and will burn fat and carbohydrates to use as energy. The more muscle you have, the more this happens. And this occurs when working out, but even after, when you’re doing nothing, even sleeping. 

Weightlifting is beneficial for everyone. Not only can it have a hugely positive impact on mental health and injury prevention, but it can also support performance in other areas of fitness. Stronger muscles mean other movements, such as running and cycling, are easier to perform well. 

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3. You can do exercise to lose weight/you can out-exercise a bad diet.

One of the biggest frustrations in the fitness industry is a huge number of workouts that are labelled for weight loss or to get a ‘6 pack’. The truth is that you cannot out-exercise a bad diet, or without being in a caloric deficit, you will not lose weight. Of course, being active can help increase your energy expenditure, which will support weight loss (as explained in this blog post). For the best weight loss results, it is essential to both exercise and be in a calorie deficit. But physical activity alone does not necessarily promote weight loss. 

With all muscles, abs included, for them to be visible, it is more about your body fat percentage. The less fat you have, the more visible and defined your muscles will look. Again, this fat loss is most likely to be successful through both exercise and a calorie deficit. 

4. Fats/Carbohydrates are bad for you.

Conflicting discussions and diet advice over the years have suggested that whole food groups (fats and carbohydrates) are bad and should be cut out of our diets, especially to lose weight. Of course, anything in excess is bad for you, but is cutting them out completely necessary?

Certain types of fats have been labelled as bad fats. These are saturated fats found in foods that are highly processed as well as many animal products. These fats are worth reducing slightly as they can increase your bad cholesterol levels. 

But not all fats are bad! Unsaturated fats are found in oily fish, nuts, avocado and plant oils. These unsaturated fats work to increase your good cholesterol, which reduces the bad cholesterol. Not only should you be consuming unsaturated fats (and eating less saturated fats) to help reduce the bad cholesterol, but also as it is great for our brains. Research shows that increasing “good” fats and decreasing “bad” fats in our diets reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Healthy fats lead to healthy brains!

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Similarly to fats, some carbohydrates are considered better than others. For example, wholegrain carbohydrates contain good amounts of fibre which evidence suggests is very good for your health. 

The different types of carbohydrates include sugars, starch and fibre. Sugars are likely to be the worst carbohydrates for you, but the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, for example, shouldn’t be wholly avoided. Starch is found in foods that come from plants. Starchy carbohydrates include potato, pasta and rice. They provide slow-releasing energy throughout the day that we need to function. Starchy carbohydrates are essential to ensure you have the energy to function properly - but also to fuel your workouts (see blog post here)! 

Fibre is found in the cell walls of foods that come from plants. Foods high in fibre include fruits and vegetables, and wholegrain versions of starchy carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread and brown rice. Fibre is important for a healthy bowel and digestive system and will help you feel fuller for longer. 

Studies have shown that weight loss or gain is determined by calories consumed rather than by the proportions of carbohydrates or fats in your diet. “A calorie is still a calorie” (Howell & Kones, 2017). 

Whilst some research has suggested that cutting out food groups is a successful way to lose weight. The success is due to the creation of a calorie deficit purely by cutting out a food group. However, most of these studies highlight that long term adherence to the diet and maintenance of weight loss is usually unsuccessful. It is recommended that the ideal diet for maintenance is balanced and includes both high-quality fats and carbohydrates. 

5. To lose weight or fat, you have to cut your calories very low

Eating too little is not only unhealthy, but it’s also incredibly hard to stick to. Studies suggest that cutting calories too low can cause fatigue and nutrient deficiencies. Diets that severely restrict calories may not provide you with sufficient amounts of iron and b12 which can lead to anaemia and fatigue.

Also, if you are struggling with energy, you are unlikely to be able to perform during your workouts and be even less likely to want to be active during the day. This will impact your NEAT.

It is also suggested that a diet too low in calories can lower your metabolism. This will likely lead to regaining any weight lost in the first place. One of the reasons why low-calorie diets impact metabolism is due to muscle loss that occurs when we eat little. 

 

Successful diets are slow and steady, therefore slashing calories incredibly low to lose weight quickly is unlikely to be successful, mainly because it is incredibly hard to adhere to. The best diet is one that you can stick to for the long term, and maintain the weight loss later down the line, a very low-calorie diet will likely be challenging to stick to. 

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Sources:

Clark J. E. (2015). Diet, exercise or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options for weight-loss and changes in fitness for adults (18-65 years old) who are overfat, or obese; systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of diabetes and metabolic disorders, 14, 31. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40200-015-0154-1 Rosenbaum, M., & Leibel, R. L. (2010). Adaptive thermogenesis in humans. International journal of obesity (2005), 34 Suppl 1(0 1), S47–S55. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2010.184

 

Harvard Health. (2021, April 19). Know the facts about fats. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/know-the-facts-about-fats

 

Howell, S., & Kones, R. (2017). “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 313(5), E608–E612. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00156.2017

Koliaki, C. et al. (2018). Defining the Optimal Dietary Approach for Safe, Effective and Sustainable Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 73. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare6030073

Leibel, R. L., Rosenbaum, M., & Hirsch, J. (1995). Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. The New England journal of medicine, 332(10), 621–628. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199503093321001

 

Malhotra A, Noakes T, Phinney S (2015) It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet. British Journal of Sports Medicine; 49:967-968.

NHS. (2020). The truth about carbs. NHS.UK. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/why-we-need-to-eat-carbs/

Ramírez-Campillo, R. et al. Regional Fat Change Induced by Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2013, 27(8), p 2219-2224 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827e8681