Articles, Fitness and Exercise

Exercise myths that might be holding you back

There’s so much advice out there about weight loss and exercise that it can be hard to separate the fact from fiction. So often I overhear participants talking about various exercise tips which are nothing but myths. So here are ten of the most common myths I hear that you shouldn’t believe.

#1 – Lots of steady state cardio will help you lose weight

When you’re trying to lose weight it’s far too easy to get sucked in to a pattern of stead-state cardio overload. You’ re loving your spin classes and long runs on the treadmill, some days you even mix it up with a bit of elliptical trainer work. You’re fitting in 5 sessions a week – with all that cardio surely you’re burning fat and losing weight… but your body shape isn’t changing and you’re not losing weight… sound familiar?

The problem with all that cardio is that it doesn’t really do much in terms of increasing fat burning, and can actually end up causing you to gain weight because it can make you very hungry afterwards leading to overeating after your sessions. Now I’m not saying all cardio is bad – obviously it isn’t, but it’s about balance. Aim for 2 – 3 cardio sessions a week, and then in the other two introduce some resistance work – weights in the gym, bodypump etc. When you do your cardio sessions make sure you’re including some high intensity interval work – which is a great way to burn fat.

This links in to the myth of the fat-burning zone – now whilst it’s true that exercising at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate will burn a higher percentage of fat calories, you burn fewer calories overall. That’s not to say it’s not good to include this in to your workout but setting the treadmill on 5 miles per hour and jogging for 45 minutes every day for months  is not going to do very much to change how your body looks. If it’s the only thing you’re doing you’re going to find you plateau and don’t see results.

So mix it up!

#2 Lifting heavy weights will make you bulk

I hear this so much, mostly from women! – “I don’t want to lift weights because I just want to get toned, not all muscly and big”… Well good news – you’re not going to get bulky. For women particularly it’s extremely hard to get bulky and build big chunky muscles. Women have too much oestrogen and not enough testosterone to build really large muscles. Even for men it’s not that easy to build big muscles! Of course, by lifting heavier weights in the gym or your pump class you’re going to build muscle and strength but you’re unlikely to be lifting anything heavy enough to make you look like a body builder and ladies – you’re certainly not going to get chunky – look at me – I lift big weights and I’m not massive! So chill. The truth is that by building your muscles you’re actually going to burn more calories and increase your metabolic rate, even when you’re just sitting at your desk, or watching tv –  win win!

#3 Lots of abdominal exercises will give you a flat belly

Sadly it won’t. Yes doing abdominal exercises will strengthen the muscles of your core which means they’ll be toned, but if they’re still under a layer of fat you won’t see them. Abs are made in the kitchen – not from doing lots of sit-ups. Yes you need to strengthen those muscles so they look good when you do lose the fat, but you need a diet low in refined carbohydrates and full of lean proteins, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables, on top of a fat-burning resistance and cardio workouts.

#4 Your weight loss can plateau in only a few weeks

I often hear people talking about how they’ve been doing their new exercise/diet plan for a few weeks and have started to plateau… they feel low, they’re demotivated and they think that’s it and they may as well give up… Well good news – hope is not lost! A study has found that it takes about 6 months for an individual to reach a weight loss plateau (Journal of the American Dietetic Association). I can certainly relate to this – it took me about 6 months too. So if you are only a few weeks in to your new regime and your weight loss has slowed, then it’s probably time to re-check your diet, as you won’t have hit a plateau with your exercise. It’s more likely that increased activity is making you hungry and you may not be eating the right things (i.e. not enough protein or slow-release carbs).

#5 Doing lots of squats will give you a bigger butt

Squatting is not going to give you a big butt – sitting on it, on the sofa and not working out will! Squats are still awesome though. What squats will do is strengthen your glutes which means your butt will appear to be lifted, and will be firmer and stronger. Make sure you’re squatting properly – sitting back like you’re sitting into a chair and then squeeze your butt as you rise back up to standing.


#6 Working out on an empty stomach burns more fat

Lots of people think that if you work out first thing in the morning before you eat that your body will have to use its fat reserves to fuel itself. Sadly this isn’t quite the case. In actual fact studies have shown that you need some glucose in your bloodstream in order to kick the body in to fat-burning. If you run out of glucose you start burning muscle. So always have something before you workout. For me a protein shake does the trick – I can have half before I do my workout and half after – it’s light, easy to digest and packed full of what you need to get the body going and burning fat (check out the recipes here and here).

#7 You can target trouble spots

This is probably the most common thing I hear from participants. They just want to lose a bit on their inner thighs, or stomachs or wherever… don’t we all! 🙂 Unfortunately it’s all down to genetics – the body burns fat from different areas preferentially in different people, regardless of the exercises you are doing. So for some the belly fat will be last to go, for others it’s butt or thighs and doing lots of sit-ups, or squats isn’t going to change that. However, as I’ve said before, targetting those muscles so that they are toned beneath the fat means that when you do lose it you will be looking awesome. Focus on whole body workouts and a protein packed, low refined carbs diet to lose overall body fat.

#8 Doing core work first builds better abs

Strengthening and working the core is really important and something everyone should do, but heading straight for the abs mat and bashing out a load of crunches, planks etc is not doing as much good as you probably think it is. It’s vital to remember that your core muscles are working in every single standing strength exercise that you do. So that includes squats, lunges, shoulder presses, even bicep curls and you’ll be recruiting your core during these exercises to enable you to balance. So if you’ve already worked your core and they’re fatigued you’re likely to perform these exercises less well which will affect your progress at best, but could cause serious injury at worst. It’s better to do your ab work last, that way you can maintain a strong core for the rest of your work out, and it means you can reduce the time spent doing just ab work at the end. Of course this only works if you really focus on actively engaging your core during those other exercises – so draw that belly button back to your spine the whole time and hold that belly tight.

#9 Isolation exercise overload is the way to build strength

It’s really easy to get into the habit of focusing on specific exercises for specific muscles – so heading up to the gym and doing three tricep exercises, then three bicep exercises, then three hamstring exercises and three quad moves etc etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if you have specific goals and want to build certain muscles then that’s cool. But if you’re looking for overall strength and fitness then the majority of your workout should involve compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, chest presses etc These work more than one muscle at once and will deliver much better results. Chat to the PT’s at your gym if you need some advice on specifics or grab Colette or I in class or on facebook if you want to know more.

#10 Who needs rest?! More workouts equals better results

Ok ok, I know – pot, kettle, black…. but I’m very aware of the problems of not enough rest! One of the biggest mistakes people make is too much exercise. You’re loving the workouts – you’re hitting the gym every day, sometimes twice or three times a day and it’s all the same sort of stuff…. you’re going to find you either stop seeing results and/or you burn out. Remember your body needs time to rest and recover and it’s during the rest time that your body builds new muscle tissue to make you stronger. If you don’t rest your progress will slow. Aim for one day off a week at least, and ensure a couple of your sessions are lower intensity. For the average gym-goer wanting to lose some weight and get fit a good aim is 2 – 3 cardio based sessions, 2 strength sessions, 1 – 2 stretch/”relax” based sessions (e.g.  body balance, stretch, yoga etc).


So there you go – ten myths busted! Did you buy in to any of these – I think we all have at some point. If so, it’s no biggie, just change what you’re doing and you’ll see the benefits.

Nancy 🙂


(This article was originally posted on

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