Muscle weighs more than fat…or does it?

Creating an effective diet and exercise routine isn’t as easy as it looks. Over the years, people have developed an idea for what is “healthy” based on old adages and misconceptions about how to burn calories, burn fat, and build muscle. But every day science and research debunks these myths and the reality behind some common fitness myths may surprise you.

Myth #1: No pain, no gain.

This is a dangerous phrase for anyone who is starting a new diet or exercise routine. True, hitting the gym isn’t a walk in the park, but if you are experiencing a sharp pain as you lift or train, you may have an actual injury that requires treatment, not more reps. Failing to recover from an injury will only make the injury worse, and may eventually leave you unable to exercise for a long period of time or, worse, unable to lift ever again. If you are experience persistent or sharp pains, you should consult a doctor or professional trainer who can assess the situation and recommend rest or lighter exercises that won’t affect the area.

In addition to physical pain, putting too much pressure on losing weight or building muscle can cause high stress levels, which is counterproductive to living a healthy lifestyle. Too much stress can lead to unhealthy habits and cause weight gain. Taking care of your physical and mental health is important for achieving the results you want.

Myth #2: Muscle weighs more than fat.

Not exactly. A pound of muscle weighs exactly the same as a pound of fat (in fact, a pound of muscle weighs exactly the same as a pound of gold or a pound of Willy Wonka Chocolate bars, too).  This old phrase comes from the idea that muscle is more dense than fat, and takes up less space on the body. Three pounds of muscle on the body are smaller, tighter, and more defined than three pounds of fat on the body. The thing we should really talk about is that building muscle and burning fat will help to tighten your physique and give your body a more defined shape.

Myth #3: Building muscle is for men.

Many women hesitate to lift weights because they are afraid of “bulking up.” In reality, strength training can slim you down, burning fat and building stronger, more defined muscles. People who are actively trying to bulk up should look beyond strength training for mass; a “bulky” body is created when you eat more calories than you burn, while you build muscle. If you pair strength training with a healthy, modest diet, you will start to slim down before you start to beef up.

Myth #4: You cannot eat a healthy diet without meat.

People who want to build strength or lose weight while eating a vegetarian or vegan diet can see the results they want, if they pay attention to their diet. Protein is not just for carnivores. If you eat copious amounts of healthy beans or greens and take plant-based supplements for your daily dose of vitamins and minerals, you can still achieve the body that you want without sacrificing your personal stance on meat.

Myth #5: Separate “upper” and “lower” ab exercises will give you a six-pack or eight-pack.

This is a myth on many levels. If you are only seeing two or four “packs” on your stomach, you won’t see more separation by targeting one group of “abs.” Our abdominal muscles are made of four separate muscles, but they are not the different “packs” you see on models. The rectus abdominis is the top layer of abdominal muscles, but is just one muscle. In addition to the rectus abdominis, the abs are made of the inner and outer obliques, and the transverse abdominis, the deepest of all the ab muscles.

And, really, everyone knows a few crunches is not going to give you a six-pack overnight. Have you ever heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen?” This isn’t a myth.  If you really want to see your abs, consider starting with your diet.

Myth #6: Spot reduction will help you burn fat in areas that you want to slim down.

If you want a six-pack, you need to do more than a few crunches (like change your diet, too.  See above.). If you want to reduce fat in your glutes, you need to do more than just a few squats. When you exercise, you will not lose fat in the specific area that is targeted. If you want to reduce fat in one area of your body, you will have to focus on reducing fat in all areas of your body, through exercise and a healthy diet.

Myth #7: Flexibility is not important for building muscle.

Many muscle groups have opposing muscle groups close by. If one group of muscles is contracting, the opposing group is lengthening. If you don’t stretch your muscles, they become tight and lose their range of motion. A limited range of motion reduces your ability to perform an exercise properly and get the benefits that the exercise provides. Flexibility also reduces the risk of injury during strength training, and allows you to train longer. Stretching should be an important part of any exercise routine.

Myth #8: Sweat is a sign of fat loss.

Sweat is a response to your body overheating. Standing in a sauna or a hot room is not going burn any extra fat. If you are sweating a lot during a workout, you shouldn’t necessarily pat yourself on the back, but whether you do or not, the really important thing to do is hydrate. Sweating helps to hydrate the exterior of the body, but as your sweat evaporates into the air, it takes the fluid with it. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.

Myth #9: The morning is the best time to hit the gym.

This may be true for some, but that doesn’t make it universally true for everyone.  Every person is different, and may benefit from working out at different times of the day. If you are starting a new exercise routine, you can experiment with different times of day and see how you feel before and after the workout. Eventually, choosing one set time of the day to work out will benefit you. Your body will get used to the routine and benefit the most from sticking to that routine.

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