The fitness industry is full of some really, really great people. People who provide you with up to date, science-backed info that really can help you change your body.
However, the flip side to that is…there are people who say things like;
“You’ll never reach your goals unless you buy my supplement for insert ridiculous price here.”
“Bro you need to train everyday otherwise you’ll lose your muscle.”
“Dude you need to change your workout to confuse your muscles, that’s how you make gains.”
Today I’m going to bust these myths and more to help you reach your goals without having to wade through the bullshit first.
Let’s get started.
Your Protein Intake Needs to Be Sky High
Protein is essential to the human body and plays a huge role in building and preserving muscle mass.
It provides 4 calories per gram, which is the same as carbohydrate, but significantly less than fat which provides 9 calories per gram.
But how much do you actually need?
Between the influence of pro bodybuilders, the false idea that more is better and the power and sway of supplement companies you’d be forgiven for thinking your diet has to be predominantly protein based to see any progress.
You Have to Eat Breakfast
Listen to some people and you’ll easily believe that if you don’t eat breakfast you’ll soon perish and die.
However, a look at the research shows that a lot of the usually touted evidence that says you need to have breakfast “lacks probative value” and involves “biased research reporting.”
In actual fact the belief in the idea we need breakfast outweighs any scientific evidence pointing to the same conclusion.
A review paper (3) shows that existing evidence in favour of eating breakfast is weak and that research shows no cause and effect link between skipping breakfast and energy balance.
You see, some people get hungry in the morning and function better with breakfast whereas others can forego breakfast to eat later in the day and function just as well.
For weight loss or gain, your total calorie intake across the day will be the determining factor, not whether you ate breakfast.
Fasting Is Bad for You
I’m not sure where this myth comes from, maybe it’s the false idea that skipping breakfast is bad for you or the idea that if you fast for any period of time then you’ll enter starvation mode.
Whatever the case is, there are in fact numerous studies that show there are numerous benefits to intermittent fasting;
Fasting was shown to increase fat oxidation after both 12 and 36-hour fasts. (4)
Research (5, 6) has shown to increase both total and pulsatile (7) growth hormone concentration in the body after fasting. Growth hormone is responsible for facilitating fat burning, muscle gain and more. (8)
Research (11) also shows the intermittent fasting may be superior to standard calorie restriction when it comes to the retention of muscle mass when eating in a calorie deficit.
None of this is to say you have to use intermittent fasting, but at least now you won’t dismiss it out of hand based on a myth.
You Need to Eat 5-6 Small Meals a Day to Boost Metabolism
Research (12) shows that increased meal frequency does not lead to an increase in calories burned.
The study compared 2 groups;
One high meal frequency with 6 meals a day
The other low meal frequency with 3 meals a day
The study concluded; “increasing MF [(meal frequency)] does not promote greater body weight loss.”
In addition, a review of multiple studies of human feeding concluded there is no difference in total calories burned between frequent and infrequent meals when an equal number of calories are consumed (13).
What does this mean for you?
Eat as often as you want, whether that’s 2 times a day or 8 it’s up to you.
At the end of the day, it’s the total number of calories that you consume that will determine the change you see in your weight, not the number of times you eat.
The Body Can Only Process 30g of Protein Per Meal
This myth has been around for as long as I can remember and although it has been disproven by numerous people it still circulates in all the fitness and bodybuilding forums.
Where did the myth come from?
I’m not sure anyone knows for sure but the consensus seems to be that it was sparked by a research paper looking at the absorption rate of protein, which found that 30 g so protein was absorbed within 3 – 4 hours (14).
From this study, the myth was born.
However the truth is, tt doesn’t matter if you eat 10 g or 50 g your body will be able to process it and put it to use.
A study (15) looked at the effect of protein feeding patterns on protein retention in young women and found no significant difference in whole-body protein turnover or whole-body protein synthesis and breakdown when their protein was given either mainly in one meal or split across 4 meals.
Another study (16) looking at the effects of intermittent fasting on whole-body glucose, lipid and protein metabolism found that fasting had no effect on protein metabolism even when daily protein intake when it was consumed within a 4-hour eating window.
As with most things it comes down to eating in a way that works for you, whether that’s lots of protein in one go or spread out across the day, both is ok.
You Can Get Lasting Results Quickly
I know in the world we live in where most things can be obtained instantaneously, so, it’s only normal to want to apply this to fitness but it just doesn’t work this way.
Anything or anyone promising you instant and rapid fat loss, muscle gain or six-pack abs is lying. It’s just not going to happen.
I get it, some people think these fad diets work because they see masses of fat loss or weight gain in the space of a week or two but think about it…if you’re on an extreme diet with a huge calorie deficit and being told to exercise regularly, there’s no doubt you’ll lose a lot of weight very quickly.
The reality is though, that most of it will be short-lived and it’ll come back just as fast, as soon as you stop doing it.
The truth is you can effect incredible change in your body, but it will take time and consistent effort, not short-term effort and unrealistic expectations.
You have to truly invest in yourself and embrace the journey to see the changes you want to see.
The More You Sweat the More Fat You Burn
Whilst sweat can be a good indicator of an intense workout it has no correlation to the amount of fat you’re burning.
Sweating is simply your body’s way or regulating your internal temperature by excreting water.
This is why it’s so important to stay hydrated when exercising, to ensure you’re replacing the water lost through sweat and avoid becoming dehydrated.
Fat is ‘burnt’ when it gets released from your fat cells to provide your body with energy and works completely independently from the function that causes your body to sweat.
Food Can Be “Good” Or “Bad” / “Clean” Or “Dirty”
I have a bone to pick with the idea of “good” and “bad” foods.
It's not that I'm dismissing the efforts being made to eat better and generally have a more varied diet by people worldwide. It's just that the idea that some foods are “good” or “clean” whilst other foods are “bad” or “dirty” is a dangerous mindset to have.
It promotes unhealthy eating habits whereby you will restrict or eliminate the so-called bad foods in the name of good health. This, over time, contributes to developing a negative relationship with food which can result in a pattern of restrictive and binge eating.
I firmly believe that no food is "bad" or "good" and nor should any food item or group be characterised as such.
Instead, all food should be viewed in relation to its nutritional content and the role it plays in helping you meet your macro and calorie goal whilst getting the vitamins and minerals you need.
True nutritional freedom is understanding the role different foods can play in your diet and how to include them to meet your goals.
You Have to Be Motivated All the Time To Reach Your Goals
Motivation comes and goes.
You can be pumped and ready to go one minute, then deflated and lazy the next. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t reach your goals.
What it means is that you need to put systems in place to keep you going even when you don’t feel like it. For example;
Become accountable - it’s funny how when you’ve got someone waiting for you at the gym you always turn up, even when you don’t want to. Get a coach, find a gym buddy or book a workout class.
Put your money where your mouth is - if you’re struggling to get into the gym on a regular basis and train enough to see the changes you want to see, it’s time you put some money on the line. Hire a trainer, buy a plan or make a bet with friends or family.
Make it enjoyable - seems pretty obvious but I find it’s far too common that someone does an exercise because they’ve been told it’s good for them…even if they hate it. Instead, do the things you enjoy, and you’ll find it easier to stick to.
Being in Shape Requires Excessive Time, Sacrifice & Commitment
There is this idea in the fitness industry that to get in great shape you have to sacrifice your lifestyle, eat boring food and be miserable.
Like there is some unspoken rule which says that to get the body you want you must give up everything and adhere to some ridiculous extreme. Now don’t get me wrong, building the body of your dreams is not a quick process so don’t go into it expecting overnight results.
However, it’s also not an all or nothing process, there is a middle ground where us average guys can succeed in building the bodies we want whilst also having a life outside of the gym.
Remember if you're not a bodybuilder, athlete or physique competitor then you don’t need to train like one.
You Can Out Train A Bad Diet
The idea you can eat whatever you want because you’ve just done a workout is a slippery slope to fat gain or at the very least, no change.
This is the crux of the issue and probably one of the biggest reasons people struggle to lose weight.
To illustrate this let me show you how many calories* you would approximately burn in an hour of exercise in comparison to some of your favourite snacks:
*all values are approximate, and calories burnt are based on a 160 lb male exercising for an hour
Walking = 300 kcal
Football = 550 kcal
Swimming = 400 kcal
Yoga / Pilates = 250 kcal
Weightlifting = 300 kcal
Medium Latte = 190 kcal
Fruit Smoothie = 260 kcal
Krispy Kremes Donut = 190 kcal (plain glazed)
Chocolate Croissant = 400 kcal
Large Pizza Slice = 330 kcal
It’s important to remember that it is a lot easier, not to mention quicker to eat large amounts of calories than it is to burn them.
Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t include foods you like in your nutrition plan, of course you should but they need to be accounted for as part of your daily calorie intake, not added at will because you did a workout.
Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) Training is Best for Fat Loss
This myth is probably quite an old school one now.
In fact, it might be better written as HIT (high-intensity training) is best for fat loss.
However, as with most things in fitness, the truth is somewhere in the middle and ultimately which one you choose depends on a variety of factors.
You have to evaluate both methods and decide what’s going work best with your lifestyle and therefore be sustainable. Even if you think LISS is better but only have time to do HIT, guess what…HIT is better. At least it is for you, for now.
Considerations for LISS:
Less stress and strain on the body
Can be boring
Takes a long time
Considerations for HIT:
Can be tough on your body
Workouts are quicker
Can burn the same calories as LISS in a shorter amount of time
At the end of the day, one is not necessarily better than the other. Instead, it’s all about what works for you.
You Can Spot Reduce Fat
Sorry to break it to you but you can’t singularly target one place on your body to lose fat.
It’s just not the way it works, instead, you will lose fat from across the body with the hips and thighs typically being stubborn areas for women and lower back and abs for the guys.
In a 2007 study (17) led by the University of Connecticut, they took over 100 participants and studied them for a 12-week period. During this time, they performed a supervised resistance training programme in which their non-dominant arm was trained selectively.
The results measured by MRI showed no discernible subcutaneous fat loss difference between arms, and in fact, showed that any fat loss tends to be from across the whole body.
You Need to Cut Carbs to Lose Fat
Cutting carbs is often seen (wrongly) as the holy grail of fat loss and is touted by some people as the best and 'only' way to lose fat. The reason they say this is because carbs raise levels of insulin in your bloodstream which in turn blocks the release of fat for energy and drives additional nutrient storage (18, 19).
This is true. One of the functions of insulin is to promote the storage of nutrients and prevent the release of energy until levels have returned to normal.
It's because of this function of insulin that there is a school of thought that advocates low carb diets, stating that low carb diets won’t elevate your insulin levels and therefore will result in a greater amount of fat loss compared to a high carb diet.
Now whilst research does show that low carb diets can result in weight loss. (20, 21, 22, 23) This likely because low carb diets cause you to eat fewer calories (24, 25) — i.e. you’re in a calorie deficit — which is likely a result of an increased protein intake (26) and the fact you cut a whole food group out.
Not because of its effect on insulin.
In my opinion, this point is summed up perfectly in the following quote from James Krieger at Weightology.net;
“One misconception regarding a high carbohydrate intake is that it will lead to chronically high insulin levels, meaning you will gain fat because lipogenesis will constantly exceed lipolysis (remember that fat gain can only occur if the rate of lipogenesis exceeds the rate of lipolysis). However, in healthy people, insulin only goes up in response to meals. This means that lipogenesis will only exceed lipolysis during the hours after a meal (known as the postprandial period). During times when you are fasting (such as extended times between meals, or when you are asleep), lipolysis will exceed lipogenesis (meaning you are burning fat). Over a 24-hour period, it will all balance out (assuming you are not consuming more calories than you are expending), meaning you do not gain weight.”
The bottom line: carbs don’t make you fat, a calorie surplus makes you fat.
You Need to Do Cardio to Lose Weight
The truth is you could lose weight without doing any cardio at all as weight loss is a result of the manipulation of your daily calories to put yourself into a caloric deficit.
Kansas State University Professor Mark Haub showed that when it comes to weight loss, a calorie really is a calorie and that regardless of its source, the energy balance equation rules supreme.
To illustrate this point for 2 months Mark ate a diet entirely of Twinkies, sugary cereals, cookies and protein shakes and during this time, he lost a staggering 27 lbs. (27)
Whilst I would never recommend eating this kind of diet, it does go to show that if you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight regardless of whether you do cardio or not.
You Can’t Get into Good Shape Without Supplements
This one is total BS.
Now, before people start getting riled up and offended, I’m not saying supplements can’t or don’t help, I’m just saying they aren’t necessary for success. Generally speaking, supplements are 1-2% of your progress and it’s more than possible to hit your goals without using them at all.
The truth is you can lose fat without fat burn supplements, you can build muscle without creatine and you can get enough protein without protein shakes. There is no magic pill or quick fix powder that will give you overnight results with minimal effort.
Real change and long-lasting results come from consistent effort toward your goal.
It’s as simple as that.
If You’re Not Sore the Day After, Then Your Workout Wasn’t Effective
Another myth that’s been around forever. Soreness if often seen as an indication that your workout was effective.
When in fact all soreness indicates is inflammation and the subsequent chemical response in the body to this inflammation. This can be a result of several factors;
You’ve just started working out again
You tried something new
You’re performing the exercises with bad form
You performed a particularly tough workout.
Whilst it’s true that training causes microscopic tears in the muscle which repair and regrow whilst you rest, the body should adjust to your workout programme and stop making your sore after the first 1-3 sessions.
Week to week you should not be sore from your workouts.
You Should Stretch Before You Lift Weights
We’ve been led to believe for a long time that we need to warm up, stretch and then start working out. However, evidence now shows that static stretching before you lift weights negatively impacts performance in the weights room.
One research study (28) shows that static stretching before weight lifting causes a significant reduction in strength, even in stretches lasting as little as 45 seconds or less.
Another study (29) also found that stretching the lower body before working out decreased strength and stability in the lower body during exercise.
Finally, another study (30) found that static stretching before working out decreased strength in lower and upper body exercises in both trained and untrained men.
You Have to Train Every Day to See Progress
Some people would have you believe that you need to train 6-7 days a week to stand any chance of seeing the results you want.
They’ll tell you that any less will not result in an increase in strength or muscle mass but is this true?
Simply put, no it’s not.
Research shows that training as little as once a week can still induce strength gains.
A study (31) conducted with 18 subjects aged between 69-75 found that “one set of exercises performed once weekly to muscle fatigue improved strength [just] as well as twice a week [did].”
I know, I know, this study was conducted with older adults what about the younger generation?
A study conducted (32) with 7 women and 12 men (average age 30 years) looked at the differences between;
High frequency training (HFT) group (training 3 times a week, 3 sets per muscle group per session)
Low training frequency (LFT) group (training 1 time a week, 9 sets per muscle group per session)
They studied them to see the effect of training frequency on lean mass and strength improvements and after 8 weeks of training, the study concluded that there were “no mean differences between groups that were significant.”
They went on to say that the results suggest that HFT and LFT of equal set totals result in similar improvements in lean mass and strength, following 8 weeks of strength training.”
These studies and others out there tend to show that strength and muscle mass can be gained and maintained with a reduce training frequency. However, the sweet spot will be different for different people, not to mention the fact that varying training goals and purposes for training will influence the frequency of sessions and the subsequent results.
The bottom line is you can see results without training 4, 5 or even 6 times a week, which should be great news for the average gym goer and those looking for a better gym/life balance.
You Need to Change Workouts Often to Confuse Your Muscles
You’ve probably come across this idea that after training for a while your body will adapt and what initially caused muscle growth will stop. At this point, you’re advised to change your training plan to ‘confuse’ your muscles and kick-start the growth again.
This is bullshit. You do not need to ‘confuse’ your muscles, in fact, you cannot ‘confuse’ your muscles...they do not have the ability to think.
Yes, it’s true that for a period of time an exercise will be effective and after some time it will cease to be as effective, but this doesn’t mean you need to change your whole workout.
You only need to increase the stimulus and you can do this by;
Increasing the weight lifted
Reducing the rest time
Training on An Empty Stomach Is Bad for You
Contrary to popular opinion you can train on an empty stomach without fainting, losing your muscle mass or having your performance affected.
Studies have shown that training in a fasted state can provide the following benefits:
Important note: If you’re training on an empty stomach it’s advisable to take BCAA prior to working out to help prevent the breakdown of your muscle mass which can occur when training in a fasted state. (37)
All this is not to say that you must be in a fasted state to lose fat, but it does show that training on an empty stomach is not going to result in the loss of all their muscle mass and may even result in an increase in fat loss.
You Need to Have a Spotter to Lift Heavy
I’m sure this was true at some point but with the advances in self-spotting equipment such as;
Power racks with adjustable safety bars
Rubber bumper plates that can be dropped like those used in Olympic lifting.
You can now push yourself harder than before without needing a spotter. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when training heavy to ensure you avoid injury and get the most out your training;
Use a rack with pins and safety bars to catch the weight if you fail
Know your limits and don’t go to failure
Leave a rep or 2 in the tank on each set and work towards continual progression
Stop before your form breaks down to decrease the risk of injury
Whether you’re hunting for a new PB, trying to increase your strength or simply looking to test your 1 rep max you can now do this with less reliance on a spotter provided you have a safety system in place.
You Can’t Work Out If You’re Sick
If you’re like most people, then at the first sign of illness you swear of exercise until you’re feeling 100% better.
I understand it, it’s the common sense move but depending on the symptoms and severity you don’t have to pack it all in whilst you recover.
The general rule of thumb is to split the symptoms between above and below the neck.
If you wake up with a sore throat, cough, runny and/or congested nose feel free to do some low-intensity exercise like yoga or walking and see how you feel.
If your symptoms continue to improve day by day then slowly build the intensity of your exercise back up to normal as you recover.
However, if you wake up with muscle/joint pain, a fever, vomiting or diarrhoea then steer clear of exercise entirely.
Monitor your symptoms and don’t return to exercise until they are cleared up.
Keep in mind these are just guidelines and if you do not feel up to exercising regardless of the severity of your symptoms then don’t force it.
Weight Training Will Make Women ‘Bulky’
This is probably one of the worst offenders, it’s completely unfounded and has led many women astray.
I want to make it abundantly clear that lifting weights without consideration for effective programming and nutrition will not make anyone ‘bulky’ or muscular, man or women.
It takes consistent effort and dedication to build muscle, it’s nothing something that will happen by accident or after just a handful of workouts.
The truth is there are numerous benefits that women (and men) can get from lifting weights regularly.
Injury prevention (38)
Increase bone density (39)
Increases resting metabolic rate (40)
Builds muscle and strength
Stress reduction and mood improvement
Rest Is Not That Important
Too many people underestimate the importance of rest and recovery, mistakenly thinking that more time in the gym = more progress.
When the reality is that a lot of your progress happens when you rest and allow your body to complete several important processes;
Repair/rebuild muscle tissue damage from working out
Restore muscle glycogen stores to provide energy for your next workout
Psychological recovery after a tough training session
Recovery from general fatigue associated with exercise and working out
Allowing your body to do this means it will begin to adapt to the stresses of exercise which in turn means you will get bigger and stronger. The best way to help your body complete these actions is to stay hydrated, get adequate sleep and eat appropriately for your goal.
Neglecting to give your body the time it needs to adapt and repair itself after training will result in a noticeable deterioration in your energy levels, performance and results.
Hardgainers Can’t Gain Muscle
It’s kind of like saying overweight people can’t lose weight…it’s ridiculous.
Sure, some people find it more difficult to lose weight, whether its mental, physical or both they just seem to struggle more than most to effect a change.
The same goes for “hard gainers”, it’s not that they can’t build muscle it’s more that they have a harder time doing it.
It’s true genetics play a role, (41) which is why some people can look at a barbell, eat a mere 2000 calories and be ‘jacked’ in no time, “hard gainers” on the other hand may have to eat up to 4000 calories or more just to see a change on the scale.
However, if you combine an effective eating plan with a progressive and well-structured training plan there is no reason why a so-called “hardgainer” can’t gain muscle too.
If You Miss A Training Session, You’ll Lose All Your Gains
We’ve all been there, training 3+ times a week in the gym and things are going great. Then out of nowhere work gets unexpectedly busy and you find you can only get to the gym once or twice a week.
Panic sets in and you start thinking that you’ll regress on all your lifts and your hard-earned gains will diminish…but is this actually the truth or an unfounded fear?
Let’s look at what the science says.
A study conducted by Graves et al (42) found that reducing training frequency from 2 – 3 times a week down to either 2, 1 or 0 times a week resulted in 70% strength loss in those who train 0 times but no loss in strength for those training once or twice a week.
Another study (43) looked at the retention of strength at reduced training frequencies and also found that 1 session a week was sufficient in maintaining strength in trainees.
Finally, a study (44) comparing strength in 2 groups of untrained women who either performed one or two weekly sets of leg press found that results were “statistically similar”.
There you have it.
You can easily maintain your strength with a reduced training frequency, so if you need to drop down to training 1 or 2 days a week for a while don’t sweat it.
You Can Isolate the Upper Chest
This is a common one, often touted wrongly in the name of prioritising the incline bench press over the flat bench press. Now I’m not bashing the incline press, in fact, I love the incline press, it’s my go-to chest exercise but not because it can isolate the upper chest.
The truth is you can’t isolate the upper chest, both chest muscles (pec major and minor) work in tandem and it’s not physically possible for you to work one without working the other.
However, by using the incline press you can emphasise the upper chest much more than if you were doing flat presses only.
You Can’t Build Muscle If You’re Over 50
As we age we begin to lose skeletal muscle mass and strength, through a process called Sarcopenia (45). It’s because of this process that some people will have you believe you cannot gain muscle as you get older.
However, research (46) shows the positive effects of resistance training in men 50 and older.
Sure, it may be slower than when you’re in your 20s and your response and recovery will not be as good but if you adhere to the principle of progressive overload, follow a well-constructed workout programme and eat appropriately for your goal you can and will build muscle and strength.
Squatting Is Bad for The Knees
Squats. Some people consider them the king of the lower body, others swear that they’ll ruin you and then, of course, there are some people in the middle, but what’s the actual answer?
The truth is squats are a fantastic exercise for building muscle and strength in the lower body but if you perform them with bad form and a weight that’s too heavy for you they can cause knee problems.
However, if you work with the correct weight for your ability and focus on good form and control throughout the movement you can squat pain-free and without any risk to the knees.
This is backed by a research* study that concluded that “the squat does not compromise knee stability and can enhance stability if performed correctly” and another study (47) that found squatting had no negative effect on knee stability in high-level powerlifters and weightlifters.
However, if you simply cannot get on board with squats for whatever reason that’s ok, there are plenty of alternatives you can use to train your legs.
*Knee biomechanics of the dynamic squat, Rafael F. Escamilla, Michael W. Krzyzewski Human Performance Laboratory, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Duke University Medical Centre, Durham, NC 27710
The More You Eat the More Muscle You'll Build
Sometimes I feel like wherever you look, someone is telling you how you can build 10 lbs of muscle in a month or promising you that ‘this one exercise’ is the secret to packing on muscle mass in minimal time.
If this were true, then everyone would be walking around with great muscle development. The reality is after a point you won’t gain any additional muscle mass from eating more but you will gain a lot more fat.
To minimise fat gain whilst still being able to build the optimal amount of muscle you should aim to eat in a small caloric surplus of 10% with the aim to gain 0.25 – 0.5 lb per week for a total of 1 -2 lbs of muscle gained per month.
By doing this you can expect to gain weight at a ratio 1:1 for muscle and fat gain.
When you adopt this approach to muscle gain you can work on building muscle for a lot longer without unnecessary fat accumulation.
Whew, we made it.
31 of the biggest fitness myths busted and gone.
Hopefully, now you’ll have a clearer idea of what you need to avoid if you want to lose weight, build muscle and reach your goals.