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Dispelling Common Fitness Myths



We have been told by the experts that exercise is good for our health. However, some novice and seasoned exercisers have either avoided specific exercises or performed them incorrectly due to various myths. Some of these myths have been around for ages and can be found on the internet or heard in the gym. Let’s address some of these myths so that you can safely engage in exercise.


Myth #1 - Women Will Get Bulky From Weightlifting


This is a very common myth that has been recycled for years. Without dating myself, I remember hearing this when I was a teenager and purposefully avoided strength training to prevent the “bulk”. Although weightlifting, also known as strength training, is an anabolic (building) exercise, women lack the amount of testosterone required to generate “bulky” muscles without the assistance of supplements and excess calories. This is highly unlikely to occur with the recommended strength training regimen suggested by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which states that weightlifting should be performed, by everyone, 2-3 non-consecutive days a week for health benefits, completing 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.


For women, these benefits include increased bone density, which is essential in preventing osteoporosis, especially in post-menopausal women, since the loss of estrogen accelerates after menopause and increases risk of osteoporosis. Therefore, women, absolutely should incorporate strength training into their exercise regimen.



Myth #2 - Distance Runners Should Not Lift Weights


Some distance runners, believe that weightlifting will increase muscle mass and bulk resulting in decreased speed times. However, distance running is a catabolic process resulting in decreased muscle mass, so distance runners especially will not see the increased muscle mass due to its catabolic nature.


Strength training for runners assists in preserving lean muscle mass, which increases endurance, by reducing muscular fatigue. It also aids in injury prevention by strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint, resulting in increased joint stability and strength. All of which provides more power in each stride, increasing running speed and running economy.



Myth #3 - No Pain No Gain


This myth has existed for years and is still being spoken in gymnasiums. There is discomfort from a challenging workout, due to the microscopic tears in the muscle, and there is the soreness that ensues 24-48 hours after a workout known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Then there is pain. Strength training should not be painful. When done correctly, the last few repetitions of a set should challenge your muscles, but should certainly not be considered painful.


Pain that occurs during any exercise is a red flag and requires evaluation. If it is due to incorrect form, a certified personal trainer or fitness instructor can assist. If the form and weight are correct and the exercise is causing pain, then the exercise should cease and a medical provider should evaluate, especially if there is pain in the chest, or the onset is sudden, and/or severe, and/or accompanied by swelling.




Myth #4 - The Elderly Cannot Build Muscle and Improve Metabolism


Unfortunately, many myths like this exist surrounding the aging process, which negatively impacts our geriatric population. The ACSM states that strength training in the elderly population is an excellent bone building exercise for bone density and improves strength and power leading to decreased falls and fractures, better posture, and improved ability to participate in activities of daily living (ADLs).


As we age, we do lose muscle mass (sarcopenia) but this can be mitigated by performing strength training exercises 2-3 non-consecutive days weekly with 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions targeting major muscle groups. The lean muscle mass generated from strength training helps to increase metabolism, thus countering the effects of age-related weight gain. In addition, the ACSM states that the geriatric population can see the same strength gains achieved by younger adults.



Myth #5 - Rest Day Means No Activity


You have worked hard exercising all week and rest day approaches. Now you are on the couch binge watching your favorite Netflix series. Rest days are essential and should be incorporated into any fitness regimen. They are an opportunity to allow your body to recover from the stress imposed on it from previous workouts. It is also during this time period that growth, muscle repair, happens. However, is passive recovery better?


Studies have shown that partaking in some form of exercise in a lower intensity results in better recovery, than being sedentary. These lower intensity exercises, get nutrient rich blood flowing to muscles aiding in repair and decreased soreness. So on your next recovery day try light physical activity such as a gentle walk, stretching, low impact gentle cycling, or yoga. The key here is keeping the intensity and impact low. The goal is to increase circulation to the muscles without stressing the body.



Myth #6 - Running Causes Arthritis in Your Knees


This last myth is the reason many people have told me is their rationale for not running. However, running is a bone building exercise and with correct form and footwear can assist in strengthening the knees.


Performing exercises that strengthen the muscles around the joints, particularly the knees, can assist with joint stability and injury prevention, especially in runners. Studies show that those who participate in running have some protection against developing osteoarthritis in subsequent years. When comparing the knees of runners to their non-running counterparts, research has found increased strength and joint support in the knees of runners.


Summary


Since the inception of exercise, myths have existed regarding fitness. These are just a few, and I’m sure you have heard many others. When claims are made about exercise, check the credibility of the speaker and their agenda. Make sure that you are reading credible sources such as those from healthcare organizations and educational institutions. Reach out to certified personal trainers and healthcare providers if you have questions surrounding an appropriate exercise for you.




References:


Casey, E. & Ribaudo, A. (2023, May 30). Benefits of Strength Training for Women Throughout Life. https://www.hss.edu/article_benefits-strength-training-for-women.asp


How Often Should You Take a Rest Day? (2023, October 30). Ulcahealth.org. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/how-often-should-you-take-rest-day







Training Tips for Runners: How Strength Training Helps Distance Runners. (2019, November 1). Uwhealth.org. https://www.uwhealth.org/news/distance-training-runners-running-weights

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