Exercise Myths

John Voelz, Doctor of Physical Therapy


There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about exercise, and often one or more of these keeps people from beginning a program. So I’ve compiled a list of 10 common myths, in order of importance and also in order of those that seem most persistent:

Myth #10: “Muscle turns to fat when you stop exercising.” This is totally impossible. Muscle and fat are two completely different tissues. When you stop exercising, muscle tissue shrinks. This is called “muscle atrophy.” When there is less muscle tissue to burn up fat calories, your metabolism slows and you may gain more fat weight. On the other hand, the more muscle you gain with resistance exercise, the more fat calories you’ll burn up.


Myth #9: “Your cardio machine is accurately measuring the calories you’re using” — Nope. There is much more that goes into calculating how many calories you’re using while exercising. In order for the machine to accurately measure calorie consumption, it would have to know your weight, height, age, gender, and exercise intensity. And remember, exercising in a weight bearing position (walking, elliptical, anything where you’re on your feet as opposed to sitting) is a better way to use more calories.


Myth #8: “Stretching reduces muscle soreness and injuries.” Not exactly. If you read my previous article, you might recall that stretching definitely will not reduce next day muscle soreness, and only has a minimal effect on injury prevention. Still, stretching feels good. Plus, if you have range of motion limitations, it is good to increase the flexibility of those joints. Check with a physical therapist or trainer for good range of motion activities.

Myth #7: “Losing weight is the only goal.” Weight loss isn’t the “be all, end all.” Actually, heavy people can be very fit. Recent studies have shown that overweight people who exercise are healthier in many ways than thin people who do not exercise. While losing weight is a good goal, the benefits of regular exercise are far more extensive.

Myth #6: “Muscle soreness after exercise is due to lactic acid:” this is confusing; Lactic acid is a byproduct of sugar/glucose metabolism that working muscle uses for energy. Lactic acid causes fatigue and the “muscle burn” you feel when exercising more intensely. The soreness you feel the next day is simply inflammation that results from breakdown of muscle protein. When you exercise more intensely or perform an activity you’re not used to, muscle fibers are slightly damaged…….the good news is that when they heal (after about 48 hours), the muscle tissue is stronger and able to do more next time. This is how your strength increases!


Myth #5: “Women shouldn’t lift weights because it will make them bulky.” Unless they’re using anabolic steroids, women will not get big and bulky from weight training. Muscle tissue will increase with resistance exercise, and you want this because muscle uses more fat as energy. Women can often become more defined with resistance and cardio exercise, but they don’t have enough testosterone in their bodies to produce large muscles.


Myth #4: “Low intensity exercise, like slow walking, burns more fat than running.”
This can be a very deceiving statement. Lower intensity exercise utilizes a greater percentage of calories from fat. That is true. But higher intensity exercise uses up more calories, from both fat and carbohydrate. In the end, your goal should be to use up the greater number of calories, so the higher intensity exercise is definitely better for weight loss.

Myth #3: “You can spot reduce.” Sorry, but no. Whether it is found around the waist or hanging from the arm, reduction of fat from specific parts of your body is not entirely possible. When you exercise, fat is taken from all parts of the body for fuel. Working one particular area will not draw more fat from that area. So lots of sit-ups won’t use more fat from the belly; lots of arm exercises won’t reduce “bat wings.” Overall calorie consumption will eventually reduce the targeted areas………along with everywhere else.


Myth #2: “I’m too old to start a program.” This is definitely WRONG. Age makes no difference in beginning an exercise program. Exercising seniors in their 90’s have been studied, and over a 6 month period showed significant improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, and balance. Their overall fitness level improved in a proportionally similar way to someone half their age! The key is to begin a safe program that takes into consideration the initial fitness level as well as any medical or physical limitations. Here at the Healthy Habits Medical Fitness Center, that’s exactly what we do!


Myth #1: “No pain, no gain.” This is just wrong………enough said. 🙂


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