You can’t spot-reduce fat. There’s no such thing as lean muscle. HIIT isn’t the best exercise. Please, no more fitness myths!
The fitness industry is not noble. Like any industry, the fitness industry is chock-full of lies. Full of deceit. Many, if not most, companies in the fitness industry don’t have your best interest at heart — they have their bottom dollar at heart.
As such, the fitness industry’s own pool of marketing gurus have formulated dozens of myths over the years, all aimed at suckering some poor souls into their poorly developed programs or suspect supplements.
I’m here to end it. I’m truly fed up with fitness industry BS, and day by day, I’m working to dismantle the lies and shine light on the truth. Here are just a few fitness myths I’d like to clear up.
1. Fitness Myth: You can do “X” to build lean muscle mass
The truth: There’s no such thing as lean muscle mass.
Sorry, but you won’t build “lean muscle mass” through any training program. You might build muscle mass, though.
Physiologically, there is no such thing as lean muscle mass. All muscle mass is lean — it’s grouped into the category of lean body tissue or lean mass, which also includes bones, cartilage, organs, and water.
Lean muscle mass is an invented term used for marketing purposes, and I’m willing to bet its origin is related to the fact that most women are hesitant to lift weights because they think they’ll look too manly.
Look, ladies, you won’t turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight after an intense lifting session. If anything, you’ll earn your dream physique, feel more energetic, get stronger, and speed up your metabolism (yes, lifting weights and building muscle really does increase your resting metabolic rate. That one’s not a myth).
Now you know: “Lean muscle mass” is just muscle mass.
2. Fitness Myth: High-intensity interval training helps you get fitter faster
The truth: HIIT isn’t the best type of exercise.
High-intensity interval training became all the rage in the early 2000s when researchers discovered that you could burn more calories in less time than you could with traditional exercise, such as aerobic (versus anaerobic) cardio. The problem was, as HIIT continued to grow in popularity, there were no studies demonstrating its effectiveness or superiority to resistance training — or a combination of training modalities.
Now, there are countless research studies on the benefits of HIIT, and don’t get me wrong: I believe the science and I think HIIT is valuable. But, only when implemented properly. The issue is that too many people take HIIT and run with it, using it as their primary training modality, smashing workout after workout and never giving their bodies a chance to recover.
When you implement HIIT that way, you don’t reap the benefits. Instead, you wind up burnt out and chronically sore, wondering why you aren’t losing weight or building muscle or getting stronger. Too much HIIT can take a serious toll on your system and induce a number of side effects, from disturbed sleep to muscle weakness.
When performed one to three times per week in tandem with a smart training program, however, HIIT can offer extreme value and help you reach your goals faster.
3. Fitness Myth: Running is the best way to get fit
The truth: LISS isn’t the best either.
Hate to break it to you, but no type of exercise is “the best.” In reality, the “best” way to get fit is to find a comprehensive, results-driven, structured fitness program that accounts for your individual goals and needs.
Just like HIIT, low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio, such as running and cycling, has immense value. However, LISS alone won’t get you “fit” in the traditional sense of the word. Running won’t help you build muscle, and it won’t necessarily improve your body composition — while you’ll likely lose weight when you start a running program, you may also lose muscle.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to run three, four, five, or more times per week. Unless you enjoy running, it doesn’t offer much (for the average person) that walking and strength training don’t.
4. Fitness Myth: Men and women need different workouts
The truth: Men and women need to master the basic movement patterns.
If there’s one thing I hate about the fitness industry, it’s the way fitness brands market to women. Remember what I mentioned earlier? That “lean muscle” isn’t a thing? That’s a completely made-up term targeted at women who are afraid to build muscle because they don’t want to get “bulky.”
Another completely invented concept (with the purpose of targeting hesitant women) is that women and men should work out differently, because women can build “long, lean physiques” with certain types of exercise. Usually, the types of exercise attached to this marketing term are extremely high-rep, low-load workouts.
You want to know the quickest, simplest, easiest way to build that “long, lean physique”? Lift weights.
Sure, there are exceptions: Some women do build muscle more easily than others. But there’s a slim chance any woman will get bulky or big with basic weight training. And, yes, there are hormonal differences to consider. Women should try to get in tune with their menstrual cycles and determine if they undulate in terms of what type of training feels best at certain points of the month.
But for the most part, all women and all men need to train the basic movement patterns: squat, hinge, lunge, press, and pull. Everyone can benefit from these movement patterns, with or without a load, regardless of age and regardless of sex. These are the inherently functional movement patterns that all humans should master.
Read more: Why Tempo Training Is the Best Thing You Can Do For Your Fitness
5. Fitness Myth: More is better
The truth: Less is often more.
If you think we’re beating a dead horse with the whole “less is more” thing, too bad. Honestly, we’re tired of trying to be sold on fitness hustle culture. We’re tired of being told to do more, to lift more, to run more, to lose more, to build more, to sweat more. What if we just sweated smarter instead?
What if we experimented with fitness programming until we found a training regimen that works for our unique body type, metabolism, genetics, and desires? Wouldn’t that be something?
The truth is, you can do that. And once you do, you’ll be mind-blown at the fact that you don’t have to work out two hours a day, seven days a week to see results. This is the foundation of Smarter Sweat. We trudged through the trenches ourselves — excessively overtraining for years — only to find out it wasn’t worth it.
Now, putting in the work to try different training modalities and figure out which type of fitness your body and brain best respond to… That’s definitely worth it.
6. Fitness Myth: You can spot-reduce your fat.
The truth: Just… no.
This is yet another lie — most often targeted at women — that I hate the fitness industry for. And, it’s a lie that convinced me, for years, that I needed to do things like high-volume walking lunges and hip thrusters to get rid of fat on my legs. The end result, of course, was that I ended up burning fat in the areas in which I have a predisposition to.
You can’t spot-reduce body fat. Spot reduction is a point-blank myth.
If you’re in a calorie deficit (meaning you burn more calories than you consume), you’ll lose fat in whatever manner your body is genetically programmed to lose fat. Some people lose fat in their belly first. Some people lose fat in their legs first. Still others lose fat in their upper body first.
There’s no choosing which body parts lose fat first.
What you can do is build muscle in stubborn areas. Even under a layer of fat, strong hamstrings will look more “toned” than weak hamstrings. Even under a layer of fat, strong abdominal muscles will look more defined than weak abdominal muscles.
7. Fitness Myth: Lifting weights turns fat into muscle
The truth: This is literally impossible.
If someone is giving you fitness advice and they say, “You know, lifting weights can turn all your extra fat into muscle!”, run away. Seriously: Run, don’t walk. And never talk to this person again (at least not for fitness advice).
Body fat cannot turn into muscle because it is physiologically impossible. Fat and muscle are two different tissues, and the process of burning fat exists completely outside the process of building muscle.
In short, you burn fat when your body exists in a calorie deficit. This means you burn more calories than you eat. When this happens, your body has to get energy from somewhere, and if there isn’t enough glucose in your blood (first line of fuel) or glycogen in your muscles (second line of fuel), it turns to body fat, which serves as your energy reserves.
To build muscle, you actually have to induce micro-traumas to your muscle fibers, which encourages them to repair and, in the process, grow. Your damaged muscles are extremely receptive to protein and carbohydrates, and when you provide them with these macronutrients at the right times, your muscles utilize them for growth.
Amanda is the cofounder of Smarter Sweat. She's a certified personal trainer, health coach, and functional fitness coach. She also owns another business, where she writes about all things fitness, nutrition, travel and lifestyle.
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About Smarter Sweat
Smarter Sweat is a fitness company built from the ground up by fitness experts Amanda Capritto and Ashley Phantz. Amanda and Ashley are both dead-set on cutting through the clutter of the fitness industry and providing raw, real, utterly honest information about fitness and wellness.