Are you fed up spinning your wheels trying all the latest health + fitness tips and still not seeing any results?
We get it, there’s so much conflicting advice on how to achieve your goals popping up everywhere – from too-good-to-be-true headlines in health magazines to friends giving their not-so-expert opinions. It’s no wonder it feels like we’re perpetually chasing our tails … and yet, we’re no closer to where we want to be.
It’s time to cut through the noise, buzzwords, myths, and bad advice and get straight to what works. And no, it isn’t spending hours every day in the gym or eating nothing but 4 celery sticks and 6 almonds for lunch.
In this blog post, we’ll uncover some of the common terrible fitness tips out there that you should ignore. We’ll also give you some better advice on what you could be doing so you’ll be able to ditch the overly-restrictive fad diets, that expensive mystery-ingredient “cleanse” pill, and “trouble spot eliminator” exercise classes that make your knees hurt.
Terrible Tip #1: Target your “problem areas” to spot reduce fat.
Spot reduction is a term used to describe reducing fat in a specific area of the body through targeted exercises – like doing a bazillion crunches to reduce belly fat and endless reps of triceps kickbacks to get rid of the arm jiggle or some other exercises that someone on the internet said will “fix” whatever “problem area” they made up that week.
However, spot reduction is a myth. As cool as influencers make it sound, it’s not possible to choose which part of your body will lose fat. Doing those specific exercises can help strengthen and grow your muscles in a particular area, BUT it won’t make you lose fat there. So it’s fair to say that those “3 moves to thinner thighs” or “lose your belly pooch in 5 minutes er day” are lies.
The truth is that when you lose body fat, it occurs all over the body — not just from the specific area you’re currently loathing and trying to target. So if you want to lose body fat in a particular area, you’ll need to take a broader approach, skip the flashy IG gym reels, and use the tried-and-true approach of a well-rounded routine that includes a healthy, sustainable diet where you’re eating fewer calories than your body is using each day, some cardio that you enjoy, regular total body strength training, sleep and stress management, and daily movement.
Terrible Tip #2: No days off is the way to go.
Many people get sucked into the “no days off” mentality when it comes to fitness, believing that taking a day off from exercise will make you lose your gains and your motivation or both. And I get it, an all-or-nothing mindset creates “rules” that are black and white and keep us from having to make critical on-the-fly decisions which can be quite attractive for our brains. For example, “I don’t feel so good today but ‘no days off’ so I’ll head to the gym and push through.”
As you can imagine, this mindset is a recipe for disaster. Rest and recovery are essential components of any fitness routine because they allow your body to repair and rebuild. Your body doesn’t get stronger DURING the workout – it gets stronger when it recovers from workouts. Working your muscles hard in a workout temporarily weakens them but, if allowed adequate rest, the tissues super-compensate by getting stronger to ensure that the next time they face that same challenge, they’ll be more prepared to handle it. So if you don’t give your body enough time to recover and “catch up”, instead of getting stronger, you’ll just keep weakening the system — which can lead to fatigue, increased injury risk, and even burnout.
Rest days aren’t “breaks” from your training, they are a critical part of your training — just as important as the days you train hard. You need both work and rest. And if you fail to plan your rest, you’ll likely be forced to rest because of injury or exhaustion.
Terrible Tip #3: Skip breakfast before your morning workouts to burn more fat.
There’s a popular myth in the fitness world that fasted cardio, or doing cardio exercise on an empty stomach, is more effective for weight loss than fed cardio. The idea behind fasted cardio is that without any carbohydrates in your system, your body will more easily burn stored fat for energy.
However, research has shown that this isn’t necessarily the case. Studies on men have shown that while some elite male athletes may feel a performance benefit from training fasted periodically (not all the time, since fasting reduces your ability to train hard enough to get stronger), but it’s unlikely that recreational male athletes or casual exercisers will notice any of those performance benefits. When it comes to women, a 2014 study with all female subjects found no benefits to body composition with fasted vs. fed cardio. So, ladies, fasted workouts won’t help your physique (Schoenfeld et al., 2014). And it’s likely to tank your workout performance as well.
Here’s what the research says about the effects of fasted training on your performance and health:
- By exercising on an empty stomach, you could send your blood sugar too low since both fasting and exercise lower blood glucose — which can be a double whammy.
- Fasted exercise often means decreased performance, increased fatigue, reduced skill, impaired concentration, and an increased perception of effort (so your workout feels harder than it should).
- Regularly exercising fasted when your blood sugar is low may increase your risk for overtraining syndrome, poor workout performance, injury, and burnout (Knuiman, Hopman & Mensick, 2015).
- Fasted workouts may cause you to lose muscle, leading to reduced strength, reduced recovery, more post-workout soreness, and in the long-term can mess with your metabolism and cause musculoskeletal issues as you age from the loss of muscular support for your joints.
- Fasted workouts can increase cortisol (a stress hormone), disrupt hormonal balance, depress thyroid activity and immune function, reduce recovery, decrease gains in muscle strength and endurance, and increase visceral fat (the more dangerous form of fat that accumulates around your internal organs). Not things any of us want.
And it’s important to note that burning fat as fuel during exercise is NOT the same thing as losing body fat. So just because your body has to rely on fat to power a workout doesn’t mean you’ll get leaner.
The largest body of research supports eating a small meal or light, easily-digestible, low-fiber snack before your workout to fuel your body and provide you with the necessary energy to workout. By properly fueling your body before exercise, you can improve endurance and intensity, leading to a more effective overall workout.
Terrible Tip #4: Training for a marathon is a great way to lose weight.
Running has often been thought to be a great way to burn calories, and therefore, to lose weight. So, if casually taking up running around the neighborhood a few days per week is good for calorie burn, then training to run 26.2 miles must be great … right???
This one is actually quite dangerous — especially for women and menstruating individuals who are at increased risk for low energy availability (LEA), which can have widespread negative health implications.
As you train for the marathon, your body needs more (not less) fuel to keep up with the demands of the training and to recover so you don’t get injured. It’s essential that you eat enough calories and nutrients to fuel your body’s efforts and repair, rather than restricting your intake to lose weight. And because of the increased hunger that often comes from the type of high-volume training needed to properly prepare to run a marathon, it’s quite common for runners to gain a little weight while training for marathons.
Training for a marathon is an intense physical challenge that demands a lot from your body and it’s a terrible time to focus on losing weight. Trying to do so can lead to fatigue and increased injury risk, in addition to most likely making the whole process of training pretty darn miserable. It’s better to focus on your training goals and fuel your body properly, rather than worry about losing weight. After the marathon, you can focus on fat loss if it’s still a goal for you.
Terrible Tip #5: Women need to work out differently (or not work out at all) during their menstrual cycle.
There’s a lot of fear-mongering around working out and the menstrual cycle. Some “experts” say that women should only do gentle exercise during certain phases of their cycle and other “experts” firmly preach that women should avoid exercise altogether at certain times.
While women may experience hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle, there is no need to alter their fitness routine. You certainly can if you like and/or prefer, but it’s not a blanket rule that you have to or that it’s better for all women. In fact, for some women, exercise during their cycle helps alleviate symptoms such as cramps and bloating and improves mood and energy levels.
But here comes the nuance: each woman’s experience is unique and valid. Some women will notice that their cycle impacts their exercise performance, hunger levels, appetite, and energy levels — and those impacts range from mild to massive. So while the studies generally point to there being no scientifically-backed hard-and-fast rules that apply to all menstruating individuals across the board, it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your workout routine if needed.
For example, if you’re experiencing heavy bleeding or extreme fatigue, you may want to skip high-intensity workouts and opt for more low-key activities such as yoga, walking, or an easy recovery run. In other cases, it might just be a matter of adjusting your expectations in your workouts, knowing that at certain times of the month it just feels more challenging (no, you’re not going crazy or getting weaker).
But, ultimately, there’s no reason why a person with ovaries can’t continue her regular workout routine while on her period and there’s lots of reasons why she may not want to as well.
Terrible Tip #6: If you’re not super sweaty and completely exhausted at the end of your workout, you didn’t work out hard enough.
Many people believe that a good workout means that you need to push yourself to the point of exhaustion and collapse in a pool of sweat on the gym floor. And that’s how it’s marketed, right? “You want results – you gotta WORK!”
While the feeling of leaving it all out there and seeing that you are capable of so much more than you thought can be incredibly satisfying, it’s not necessary to see progress or gain the benefits of regular exercise. In fact, pushing your body too hard can be counterproductive and lead to injury or burnout. Yes, it’s important to engage in moderate to vigorous exercise that gets your heart rate up and challenges your body to get stronger, but to do that, you only need to be working at or around your current limits — not pushing yourself past them.
When it comes to exercise, consistency is key, so it’s better to set a sustainable routine that you can stick to in the long term rather than trying to push yourself so hard that you risk injury or burnout. Also, knowing that your workouts are always exhausting can be a huge de-motivator and lead you to skip workouts when you don’t feel like being crushed.
While sweating can make you feel like you’ve had a good workout, it’s not the ultimate indicator. Sweating is your body’s natural way of regulating temperature, and it doesn’t necessarily correlate to the quality of your workout.
Terrible Tip #7: Lifting light weights for high reps gives you “long, lean muscles”.
The idea behind this myth is that lifting heavy weights will make you bulky, while using lighter weights for more reps will create a more toned, slender appearance. Sounds great, huh? A magic formula for that lean and defined look we’re all after…
But once again, it’s baloney. This is not how bodies work.
Your muscle size is determined by your genetic makeup, your hormone levels, and your overall fitness routine. To get more “toned” or “lean” muscles, you need to actually have muscle tissue AND have low enough body fat that those muscles are visible. Doing high reps with light weights will not get you there faster. In fact, it might actually get you there slower since muscle gain happens more efficiently when you are lifting heavy (for you) weights.
There is a place for lighter-weight, higher-rep strength work, but it should not be the backbone of your training if your goal is to be more toned. To do that, you’ll need to spend time GAINING muscle first through heavy lifting muscles, then you can focus on fat loss so that you can see those muscles you worked so hard for. If you don’t build the muscles first, when you lose fat, you’ll just be the same shape, only smaller, because there will be no shapely muscles under there to reveal.
Terrible Tip #8: If you’re not sore after a workout, it wasn’t effective.
Many people believe that a good workout leaves you feeling sore the next day. I’ve been in certain gym cultures in the past where people would compare and even brag about how sore they are. As if soreness was a badge of honor bestowed only on those who are absolutely crushing their workouts. As if your level of soreness is correlated to the quality of your workouts.
However, once again, this isn’t necessarily true. While muscle soreness can be a sign that you’ve worked your muscles hard, it’s not an accurate indicator of the effectiveness of your workout. The truth is that soreness is caused by microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which can lead to inflammation and pain. While these tears can stimulate muscle growth, they’re not necessary for a good workout. You can still get great results from a workout that doesn’t leave you feeling sore, as long as you challenge your muscles adequately and consistently over time.
Additionally, intense pain and persistent soreness during and after your workout could actually mean you’re overdoing it and not recovering well. A sense of mild discomfort in the muscles after workouts is normal, but you shouldn’t experience excruciating pain or feel it in your joints for days. And since soreness can be uncomfortable, persistent pain can make it harder for you to do your workouts and keep challenging your body to get stronger.
So, while your muscles might get sore when you first start working out or add new movements or challenges to your training (that isn’t a bad thing, so it’s nothing to fear), it’s not necessary to chase soreness as if it validates the quality of your workout. It doesn’t.
Terrible Tip #9: Low-impact cardio and yoga are enough to stay healthy.
This one comes from the belief that impact and vigorous activity are jarring for the joints and raise stress levels. And low-impact cardio (like walking and swimming) and yoga certainly can be fantastic options to stay active when impact and intensity are not advisable.
But the impact and stress of exercise actually aren’t bad things. Exposure to both is necessary to keep your bones and joints healthy. This is especially important for women as they age, as women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Low-impact cardio and yoga are great for improving cardiovascular health and flexibility, but heavy weight training as well as some impact and high-intensity work (with sufficient rest periods) help with things like endurance, power, and coordination. Also, since women tend to lose muscle mass as they age, which can lead to a slower metabolism and increased body fat, strength training can help prevent this by helping women build and maintain muscle mass.
The truth is that if we avoid impact and intensity, our bodies become less able to manage them as we age, which can lead to more injuries. Our bodies aren’t inherently fragile – quite the opposite actually – they are incredibly adaptive, so as long as we regularly subject them to a specific stressor (like impact or high-intensity work) and allow them enough time to recover, they will continue to be able to handle that stressor as we age. Low-impact cardio and yoga can be excellent gentle components of a fitness routine, but we need to do more than just these activities to achieve optimal health and fitness, avoid excessive weight gain, improve overall physical function, and lower the risk of injury.
Terrible Tip #10: Carbs cause weight gain.
“Carbs are the devil.” “You have to stop eating carbs to lose weight.” “Keto is the only way to lose fat.” These days, it seems that everywhere we look is this message that carbs make us fat.
But it’s not the carbs that are making us fat – it’s eating more food than we need to meet our daily energy requirements. The vast majority of people don’t even hit the minimum recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day — if you’re not active, your energy requirements are less and you’ll need to eat less if you want to avoid gaining body fat.
So, if your energy requirements are lower because you’re sedentary and you take in more carbs that your body needs right now or can store for later, the excess gets converted to fats called triglycerides and stored in your body. But, to be clear, the issue isn’t that you’re eating carbs, it’s that you’re consuming more energy (calories) than your body needs to function and the extra has to go somewhere.
A 2019 study even found that while sugar consumption in the US has been steadily declining since 2000, obesity rates have been continuing to rise (Faruque et. al., 2019). Further evidence that it’s not the carbs making us fat. It’s simple math – eat too much of anything and you’ll gain weight.
Another layer here is that carbs make it oh-so-easy for us to over consume them because they are so damn tasty and our bodies are literally wired to crave them because they provide so much potential energy. Think about it, the most tasty forms of carbs are often laced with added sugar, sodium, preservatives and chemicals that enhance flavor, and fat (hello delicious delicacies that are deep-fried or slathered in butter … yum), so it’s easier to overdo it with them.
Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates do not directly cause weight gain. Eating too much of any food can contribute to weight gain, including carbohydrates, but it is not necessarily the type of food that causes the problem. Instead, the number of calories consumed relative to one’s calorie needs is more at play when it comes to gaining or losing weight.
Carbohydrates are an important source of energy and provide essential nutrients such as fiber and vitamins and there are no direct links between carbs and obesity. Rather than cutting out carbs to lose weight or worrying about their effect on your health, focus on adopting a balanced diet that includes healthy sources of carbs like fruits and vegetables alongside lean proteins and healthy fats. Eating adequate amounts of these foods can help you achieve your goals while still providing essential nutrients for optimal health and well-being.
TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read)
Don’t just jump onto any bandwagons without doing your research. Challenge and question all popular new trends that promise some kind of shortcut. There’s a reason the health + fitness basics have stood the test of time and are still going strong … they actually work!
Have you been following any terrible fitness tips? Don’t be shy — out yourself below in the comments. The confession might just be good for your soul (and also help out fellow readers!)
Knuiman, P., Hopman, M.T.E. & Mensink, M. Glycogen availability and skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise. Nutr Metab (Lond) 12, 59 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-015-0055-9.
Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Wilborn CD, Krieger JW, Sonmez GT. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):54. Published 2014 Nov 18. doi:10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7.
Faruque, Samir & Tong, Janice & Lacmanovic, Vuk & Agbonghae, Christiana & Minaya, Dulce & Czaja, Krzysztof. (2019). The Dose Makes the Poison: Sugar and Obesity in the United States – a Review. Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences. 69. 219-233. 10.31883/pjfns/110735.