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Fitness: 9 myths busted

By Gabriella Boston
Special to The Washington Post

Let’s take a moment to clear up some of the most common fitness myths.

1. A higher number on the scale means you’re getting fatter.

It depends where those pounds are coming from: fat or muscle. “The difference is the density,” says Shirley Archer, a fitness and wellness educator with the American Council on Exercise.

A pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. That’s why it’s possible to become leaner and healthier while at the same time gaining weight. “So don’t be overly concerned with a specific number on the scale; it’s more about how you feel,” she says.

2. Lifting weights makes women bulky.

Most women have nothing to worry about in terms of bulking up, says Victor Ibrahim, a team doctor for D.C. United. “First of all, it requires very intensive training that most people won’t do.” Weight training does create some muscle definition, which is something many women want. “Resistance training is actually essential for toning,” Ibrahim says.

3. When you stop weight training, muscles turn into fat.

“This is like saying that lead can turn into gold,” says Ed Ingebretsen, an American College of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer. “Muscle and fat are two different types of tissue,” Ingebretsen says. When you stop training, you lose muscle mass, which in turn slows your metabolism, he says. The slower metabolism in turn can cause weight gain when you stop working out – but one type of tissue doesn’t “turn into” the other.

4. Running on a treadmill is better for joints than running outside.

Not so for most treadmills, Ibrahim says. “Unless it’s a high-quality, extra-shock-absorbing treadmill, it’s not going to make much of a difference,” he says.

5. Moderate aerobic work puts you in the ideal fat-burning zone.

“Generally, the harder you work, the more fat you burn,” Archer says. But before you can work at those most intense levels – i.e. anaerobically – you have to build up to it. “It’s progressive. You have to build some aerobic endurance before you can start working at high-intensity levels,” she says. In other words, walk before you run and run before you sprint.

6. As long as you exercise you can eat anything you want.

“Individual metabolism determines how many calories we burn at rest and while we exercise,” Ingebretsen says. “If we eat more calories than we burn on a consistent basis, our bodies will accumulate these extra calories as fat regardless of the amount of exercise that we do,” he says.

7. Machines are safer than free weights.

Not necessarily. Machines are not designed for all body types. There are only so many ways you can adjust the seat and other settings. “Machines are kind of averaged out,” Ibrahim says. “They’re not going to fit everyone,” he says. Free weights, on the other hand, can be adapted more easily. “But with free weights, it’s also easy to slip into bad habits,” he says. In other words, form, alignment and set-up are important for both free weights and machines.

8. If you don’t sweat, you’re not working.

“Sweating is not always related to heart rate – which is the best measure of exercise capacity,” Ibrahim says. Sweat is just the body’s way to regulate body temperature, he says. And some of us just run hotter than others.

9. Fat can be spot-reduced.

“This is just more wishful thinking,” Archer says. Fat reduction – in the midsection and elsewhere – will happen with a combination of healthy eating, cardio and strength work, she says. You don’t get to pick one body part or another. In other words, the 1,000 crunches won’t reveal the six-pack abs unless you also focus on healthy eating and some form of cardio-respiratory exertion.

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