There are many myths about fitness and weight loss out there that many exercise enthusiasts out there still believe. Some of these myths might actually be quite detrimental to whatever your goals may be pertaining to weight loss, getting stronger, or just getting healthier. Have you or someone you know ever said, “I don’t want to lift weights because I don’t want to bulk up or look like a body builder.” The truth is, lifting weights is one of the most effective ways to lose weight and trim fat, and it is almost impossible to look like a bodybuilder unless that is what you are training for. Below are some common fitness myths and the truth behind them.
Myth #1: My metabolism is higher/lower/different than other people.
The short answer is yes. Metabolic rate, the amount of calories burnt a day, does vary between people. However, the difference between metabolic rates, which is usually between 200-300 calories a day, is so minimal that it is doesn’t cause obesity. To give a sense of how much calories that is, 200kcal is approximately equivalent to two tablespoons of peanut butter, a single Pop-Tart, or half of a large slice of pizza. An oreo is about 70kcal, and a chocolate bar is in the rage of 150-270kcal depending on the brand (1). It is true some people have it easier than others when it comes to weight loss and metabolism. However, the key factor to losing weight is still burning more calories, through physical activity, than the amount of calories you consume.
Myth #2: Doing high reps of lighter weights will help me get toned.
Being “toned” is a subjective idea. When people think of toned, they think low body fat with lean muscles. However, the definition of “muscule tone” is the amount of tension a muscle maintains when it’s at rest. What most people mean when they say “toned” is certain level of muscular definition. Being “toned” is simply a matter of having enough muscle mass and low enough body fat.
Additionally, working high repetitions of exercises at low weights will increase muscular endurance more than anything else. If your goal is strength, you should be working high weight for low repetitions. If your goal is size and definition, you should be working medium weights for medium repetitions (2).
Myth #3: Ab exercises can make you lose stomach fat.
“Spot reduction” in weight loss is the idea that you can target a specific area of fat on your body by only doing exercises pertaining to that area. For example, doing ab workouts like sit-ups, crunches, and leg raises to lose your belly fat. Unfortunately, your body does not work this way. Muscle growth in the abdominal region does not reduce fat in that region. Your genes are responsible for where your body stores fat, and it’s the same thing for losing fat. It’s pretty much a “first on, last off” type situation, so if the first place you get fat is your belly, it’s probably going to be the last place to lose it (3).
Myth #4: Women will get bulky if they lift heavy things.
There are many differences between men and women when it comes to body composition, such as where your body tends to store fat, how quickly you’ll lose body fat, and how quickly you’ll add muscle. Many women fear the idea of lifting because they are afraid that they will “bulk up” or “look like a man”. However, most women will never get as bulky as guys because they lack sufficient testosterone. A good example would be to see male and female athletes of the same sport. The female professional athletes still maintain a lot of strength while not appearing as bulky as their male counterparts.
Myth #5: Lifting weights is going to make me huge like a bodybuilder
Putting on muscle is not easy. It takes years of dedicated work and maintaining a strict exercise regiment and diet. Unless you are training to pack on a lot of muscle, it is highly unlikely you will ever “accidentally” look like a bodybuilder.
Myth #6: Lifting weights makes you inflexible
The ACSM finds that full length strength training actually improves flexibility. Additionally, top weightlifters, bodybuilders, and gymnasts regularly demonstrate advanced levels of flexibility while being exceedingly strong (4). Moreover, in one of their studies, results showed that stretching before and after a series of exercises showed no statistically significant advantage over resistance exercise when it came to flexibility.