Top 7 Fitness Myths You Shouldn’t Listen to According to Experts

Fitness myths and exercise misconceptions are literally everywhere. From the gym floor to well-meaning relatives at family gatherings, it seems everyone has a fitness myth dressed up as ‘helpful advice.’ We aim to help you distinguish fact from fiction by debunking the fitness, fat loss, and muscle-building myths that could be preventing you from reaching your ultimate health and wellness goals.

Myth 1: Lift heavy weights to build muscles

This notion stems from an outdated muscle-building myth centered on the belief that "the heavier, the better," but in reality, it's simply not true.

The truth:

According to a growing body of scientific evidence, lifting heavier isn’t always the most effective way to get those gains. In fact, doing 30 reps with lighter weights is as effective at building muscle as 5 reps with a much heavier weight, and you’ll be less likely to injure yourself.

Utilizing progressive overload methods rather than just lifting the heaviest weight you can is the best way of building lean, strong muscle. The most effective progressive overload methods according to fitness experts include:

  • Increasing the reps
  • Increasing the number of sets
  • Increasing the weight
  • Decreasing rest time
  • Increasing the frequency of workouts
  • Improving and refining your technique
  • Increasing your range of movement
  • Slowing down your reps

Myth 2: Running is bad for your knees

We’ve all heard this fitness myth, and it’s one of the most prevalent exercise misconceptions in society today.

The truth:

While it’s true that injuries and knee pain are more likely if you push yourself too far and too fast, studies show that gentle and consistent running may actually protect the knees from conditions such as osteoarthritis.

So rest assured, your knees are not going to buckle and crumble into dust if you go out for a jog. Just remember to start slowly and build up as your body gains strength and endurance.

Fitness expert advice
To keep your knees safe while running, make sure you do a warm-up, invest in some good running shoes, increase your running distance gradually, keep your strides shorter, and do squats and lunges to build muscle around the knee.

Myth 3: You should stretch before exercising to prevent injury

Many of us grew up spending half the time at PE class stretching before doing anything else. However, according to science, this fitness myth isn’t always the best way to go to prevent injury.

The truth:

When we stretch, we are elongating our muscle fibers, which theoretically should lead to less injury. However, when cold and unused muscles are stretched out, we can actually run the risk of hurting ourselves and weakening the muscles we want to use while exercising.

The best and safest way to prep the body before exercising is to warm up in a way that gets the blood flowing to your major muscle groups and loosens any stiff joints. According to recent research, the question isn’t so much that you ‘have’ to stretch, it’s more along the lines of if you ‘want’ to stretch.

Fitness expert advice
To warm up for a brisk walk, spend the first 10 minutes strolling slowly and taking long strides. If you are going for a run or hitting the treadmill, start with walking for 5 minutes, slow jogging for another 5 before gradually picking up the pace.

Myth 4: If you're not sore after a workout, you didn't work hard enough

This is one of the most dangerous exercise misconceptions out there. We are all familiar with the drill sergeant caricature shouting, ‘No Pain, No Gain!' at unsuspecting gym goers trying to improve their gains and it’s both outdated and completely false.

The truth:

While some muscle pain and soreness is normal after a heavy workout, it can actually be a sign that you have pushed yourself too hard or are performing the exercise incorrectly.

Repeatedly doing more than what your body can handle isn’t healthy and doesn’t give you enough time to repair and rebuild. You can still build muscle, burn calories, tone up, and get in shape without feeling like you’ve fallen down the stairs after a gym session.

Fitness expert advice
You will likely feel more sore after working out as a beginner, and that will slowly decrease as you get stronger. Rather than focusing on muscle aches as a measure of your workout success, focus on whether it made you feel fitter, stronger, and happier.

Myth 5: Muscle turns into fat when you stop exercising

When it comes to debunking fitness myths, this one comes up in conversation a lot. People are often concerned that if they skip a workout, their hard-earned muscles will transform into unwanted fat. This is simply not true.

The truth:

Muscle cells and fat cells are two completely different structures and cannot be swapped or interchanged. It would be like a pineapple suddenly morphing into a potato — totally impossible.

If you stop training your muscles, you will naturally start to look less toned due to muscle fiber shrinkage.

Fitness expert advice
If you know you need a break from your usual workout routine, try not to stop exercising entirely but drop down to lower weights, less reps, less time on the treadmill, or shorter workouts.

Myth 6: Cardio is better than strength training for weight loss

This is a common fat loss myth that has experts frustrated because, once again, it’s just not true.

The truth:

While it is great for your overall health to add 20–30 minutes of cardio into your exercise routine, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine revealed that strength training is on par with cardio for reducing visceral body fat.

Building muscle raises your base metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories even when you are at rest. More muscle equals more effective calorie burning which reduces visceral body fat effectively.

In addition, strength training has a whole host of benefits that you don’t get with aerobic exercise, including improvements in bone mineral density, lean muscle mass, and improved muscle quality.

It’s important to remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so if you are trying to change how your body looks, try not to focus on the number on the scales but rather your overall body composition, how your clothes fit, and how you feel.

A lot of people think that if you want to lose weight, you need to go out and run, but our findings show that even when strength training is done on its own, it still causes a favorable loss of body fat without having to consciously diet or go running.

Dr. Mandy Hagstrom, exercise physiologist and senior lecturer at UNSW Medicine & Health

Myth 7: Lifting weights makes women bulky

The fitness myth that lifting weights makes women bulky is all pervasive and one of the most negative muscle-building myths affecting women today.

The truth:

Most people don’t put in the time or effort it takes to get to the body shape that is negatively termed ‘bulky.’ Building muscle is a gradual process taking a lot of time and effort. You aren’t going to bulk up and look like a bodybuilder without many years of a calorie-intensive diet and intense progressive overload on your muscles.

Lifting weights can actually be highly beneficial for women:

  • Improves bone density, which may help prevent osteoporosis
  • Improves body composition with more lean muscle and less body fat
  • Benefits mental health
  • Reduces the risk of chronic diseases
  • Improves flexibility and mobility
  • Makes you feel stronger, more confident, and empowered

Final thoughts on debunking fitness myths

Exercise misconceptions are prevalent in the health and wellness world, and if you ever hear someone casually throwing out a fitness myth like, ‘no pain, no gain,’ then feel free to step in and correct them. Not only are fitness myths plain wrong, they can actually be dangerous.

When it comes to gym education, we need to approach things with a critical mind and look out for the latest peer-reviewed scientific research. Seek out the personal training truths from qualified fitness experts rather than relying on old and outdated fat loss myths to guide your journey to a healthier, fitter you.

Key takeaways:


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