Gyms can be a pretty intimidating place - especially now we’re all chanting “strong is the new skinny” and wandering around with hand weights, squatting under heavy dumbells and swinging around the medicine balls.
Can’t we just all go back to a light jog on the treadmill and call it a day?
Well no, actually we can’t. And here are 8 gym myths that you need to ditch immediately.
You Can Only Get “Fit” While You’re Young
The idea that gym memberships come with an age limit is far from the truth. If you hated the idea of exercising when you were younger, but would love to join the gym now, what’s stopping you? It’s never too late to get into shape.
According to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, “among the very old, not only continuing but also initiating physical activity is associated with better survival and function.”
So, don’t let your age stop you from hitting the gym. Just be cautious about how you approach your new gym regime. Consider lower impact activities to protect delicate joints. Swimming is one of the best ways to exercise after a certain age threshold as you can push yourself as hard as you like without having to worry about stressing your bones.
Running Regularly Will Make You Fit
Sadly, regular running - as popular as it is - might be having much less of an effect on your body than you think it is.
If you complete the same sort of run, for the same sort of length of time, regularly, you aren’t challenging your body. You may be maintaining your overall fitness level, but you’ll be unlikely to improve upon it.
Our bodies cleverly grow accustomed to the same, regular sort of exertion, using less and less fuel to complete the same exercise each time, to conserve energy and save strength. While this might have been great for the hunter gatherers or anyone on a wilderness trek, for those of us wanting to shape up, get fitter or lose weight, it’s not such a cool feature.
The only way to cheat it, is to change up your work out regularly, to shock your body into trying new things and using new muscle groups and to exert itself in different ways.
Sadly this also means you can’t be so smug about your morning cycle to work - if you’re doing the same distance by the same method day in, day out - the health benefits for your body will be limited.
Exercise Helps You Lose Weight, Fast
One of the main reasons why gym-goers fall at the first hurdle and give up a month after shelling out for membership, is that they expect their new exercise regime will be they key to rapid, obvious weight loss.
Firstly, it takes more than four weeks of the right kind of regular work outs to see any of the effects.
Secondly, you need to be doing the right sort of exercise for your fitness and health goals. For example, if you want to improve your overall endurance and stamina, then you need to be completing several session of long distance cardio a week and they need to be pushing you further or harder in regular stages.
Jen does ab crunches with her mum Jill, while holding weights and looking perfect. Naturally.
Jen does ab crunches with her mum Jill, while holding weights and looking perfect. Naturally. [Instagram]
If you’re looking for toning, definition, and lean muscle gain, you need to be doing dynamic free weights activities - lifting the right sort of weights and perhaps adding in some plyometric movements to keep your heart rate up and to help strip out the fat.
However, if weight loss is your goal, long stints of cardio aren’t likely to help you achieve the results you want particularly quickly. You’d be better off completing some shorter high intensity cardio sessions, such as HIIT (high intensity interval training), doing some circuits with a variety of different exercises and learning to use the free weights with the help of an instructor.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly: ever heard of the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen?”
It’s true. Exercise can make you fitter, stronger and generally healthier, but it won’t guarantee weight loss. If you compensate for all your new exercise with larger portions, you’re unlikely to notice the pounds falling away.
Only the right kind of diet can guarantee success for your weight loss goals.
You Need To Work Up A Sweat
There’s a common misconception that the more you sweat, the better the work out – this absolutely isn’t true.
According to director of Baylor Tom Landry Health & Wellness Center in Dallas Phil Tyne, “sweating is not necessarily an indicator of exertion… it’s your body’s way of cooling itself.” He agrees, it’s totally possible for you to shed the pounds without breaking a sweat. Cool down with a gentle jog on the treadmill, light weight training or a slow paced bike ride.
No Pain, No Gain
Whilst it’s important to push yourself at the gym and improve your endurance / stamina, there’s no need for it to hurt. To begin with, it’s normal to feel a little discomfort the following day and, in fact, you should definitely feel some tension in the muscle groups you’ve put pressure on, two days after you worked them out. This is called DOMS - delayed onset muscle tension.
You shouldn’t be hurting yourself.
But pain is out of the question. This likely means you’ve pulled or snapped something - possibly from over-exertion, but usually due to bad technique.
Do not go near the free weights area until you’ve had a personal trainer walk you through correct technique and the right weights for your body and your level of progress.
Or you could be doing way more harm than good.
That being said - the opposite is also true. There are plenty of people who use weights that are too light for them, congratulating themselves for using weights at all. Quite honestly, you’re probably doing about as much good as sitting on the sofa with a movie.
Your weight use should increase in increments, to ensure that your body is exerting itself.
Every Day’s A Gym Day
It’s great that you’re getting into the habit of regular exercise, but you can have too much of a good thing, especially if the same muscle groups are in play.
Rest days are just as crucial to getting into shape as hitting the gym. Celebrity fitness trainer Ashley Borden explains, “your body needs to recover, especially after a tough session.“ Too much gym-time can be dangerous, so remember to schedule regular breaks during the week.
Some Exercise Is Better Than None
Ok, so there is some truth to the saying ‘some is better than none.’ If you’re a stranger to exercise then "any little increment of physical activity is going to be a great boost to weight loss and feeling better,” says Rita Redberg of the American Heart Association’s Scientific Advisory Board.
However, if you want the best possible results from your gym efforts, random workouts need to stop – it’s all about consistency. Stop giving yourself a pat on the back every time you walk up a flight of stairs.
Instead, plan a workout schedule, that pushes your body to just the right degree, incorporates those vital rest days, makes use of the right weights at the right frequencies and stick to it.
Speak to a trainer, and work with them on a plan that will help you reach your goals. Step outside your comfort zone and choose exercises that are certain to get you into shape, like bench press, squats and overhead lifts.
If You’re Hitting The Gym You Can Eat What You Want
We’ve said it before, but it bears reiterating. Regular gym workouts don’t provide a free pass to eating whatever you want. If you’re trying to flatten your tummy or sculpt those thighs, you need to fuel your yourself with foods that help the body reach its potential; high-energy, filler-foods like oats and bananas.
Match great exercise with a poor nutrition, and your fitness goals will grow even further out of reach. It’s simple: combine a well-balanced diet with 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week, and you’re on the right track.
And yes, again, you can have too much of a good thing. Eating too much - even if it’s too much kale and almond butter - will prevent you from losing weight and seeing your abs.
Starvation is, of course, not the key to health and over-limiting can also have adverse effects, but your portion sizes need to be appropriate for your fitness and weight loss goals.