8 fitness myths busted

We debunk the dodgy theories behind ‘no pain, no gain’ and other common fitness fables.

Common fitness myths


1. Sweating means you’re working hard


“Sweating is your body’s way of cooling itself to maintain its optimal temperature,” says exercise physiologist Neil Russell. “An increase in body temperature can result from factors including hot weather, exercise and infection. Some people sweat a lot, irrespective of their fitness levels, so it isn’t a good indicator of how hard you’re working.”

A better measure of effort is your target heart rate, which for most people is between 50 and 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate. To work out your estimated maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.


2. No pain means no gain


Fitness experts say this myth can be one of the most damaging. While a bit of muscle soreness is okay, pain is not a sign of a good workout. “A better motto would be ‘no effort, no gain’,” says Carly Ryan, an accredited exercise physiologist at Exercise & Sports Science Australia. “It’s okay to feel some discomfort because your body is working harder than it does at rest. But stop at any sharp pain or anything you haven’t experienced before, and see someone if it doesn’t improve.”


3. You need to work out for at least an hour to start burning fat


Actually, all you need is a few minutes. “Benefits can be accumulated in as little as 10-minute blocks,” says Ryan. The Australian Department of Health recommends ‘accumulating’ 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise (or an equivalent combination), each week.

You can get similar benefits doing a few minutes of exercise a week, says Dr Michael Mosely. In his book, Fast Exercise, he writes that doing short bursts (20 seconds to a minute) of moderate-to-high-intensity exercise two or three times a week improves aerobic fitness and reduces body fat.


4. Running is too hard on the knees after 40


With each running stride, the knee absorbs up to eight times your body weight, so it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be damaging over time. “However, as long as the knee is healthy, running can help prevent the joint from deteriorating,” says Ryan.

A study at Baylor College of Medicine in the US found regular running at any age may help to protect against osteoarthritis, thanks in large part to it helping people maintain a healthy weight.

As well as that, a 20-year study of elderly runners at Stanford University in the US revealed they had fewer disabilities, were active for longer and were half as likely as ageing non-runners to die early deaths. “If you’re new to running, it’s important to start slowly and focus on your technique,” Ryan adds.


5. Lifting weights will make you bulk up


This can be true for men but not for women. “Firstly, to put on muscle bulk you have to do some serious resistance training. That’s why body builders spend so much time lifting weights,” says Russell.

It’s all down to hormone levels. “Men have up to 20 times more testosterone, which is an important building block for muscles,” says Ryan. “Women have a very small amount and it makes it very difficult for them to bulk up.”

Lifting weights can help women reduce body fat because it increases muscle mass and boosts metabolic rate. That means your body will use more kilojoules, even when you’re not exercising.


6. You can target where you lose fat from


Unfortunately, it’s physiologically impossible to spot-treat a particular area of fat with exercise.

“Your body will lose fat in a set pattern no matter what exercises you do. This pattern is different for everyone,” says Russell. Your fat-losing pattern usually comes down to your genes and body type. “Rather than focusing on spot reduction you should focus on gradual full-body results,” says Russell.


7. Doing 100 sit-ups a day will give you a flat tummy


While sit-ups are great for strengthening your abs and lower back, Russell says nutrition is the key to reducing fat around your stomach. “High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training can maximise the results that your good nutritional plan provides,” says Russell. “It’s important to optimise both nutritional and exercise programs.

If you’re hitting your exercise goals but your food intake is excessive, you may not achieve your desired weight-loss or body-composition goals.” To manage your weight, the Dietitians Association of Australia recommends eating a variety of foods including breads, cereals, fruit and vegetables; moderate amounts of low-fat dairy and lean meat; and a small amount of healthy fats and oils. Limit takeaway and deep-fried foods.


8. You should never eat a meal after exercising


“Your metabolism can be slightly raised for an hour or so after exercise and will continue to burn kilojoules, so it can actually be an ideal time to eat and help your body refuel,” says Ryan.

The body is also most effective at repairing muscle in the 60 to 90 minutes after exercise, according to Sports Dietitians Australia, so this can be the best time for ‘recovery nutrition’ such as quality carbs to replenish the muscles’ fuel stores, lean protein to assist in muscle repair and fluids to rehydrate. Sports Dietitians Australia suggests a lean chicken and salad roll and small glass of skim milk for a recovery meal.