By Laura VanderStarre, Washington State University Dietetic Intern

The start of the new year is a time for new resolutions. For many of us, some of these resolutions center on health and fitness goals. January is often a month of packed gyms and new workout and weight-loss challenges. Our social media feeds get filled with detoxes, “ab blaster” exercises, and other fads that create confusion and unrealistic ideals. Here are some fitness myths to stop believing in order to set yourself up for success in 2021.


  1. “Weight training makes you bulky!”

One of the most common myths about weight training is that lifting heavy weights will make you look bulky or like a bodybuilder. This myth is especially common among women and is part of the reason many workouts designed for women include words like “tone” or “lean.” While there’s certainly nothing wrong with a more muscular appearance, the truth is it’s very difficult to achieve this body type without specifically training and eating for it. Your body needs extra fuel to build new tissue, so if you’re eating for a caloric deficit or maintenance, you won’t be putting on pounds of muscle. More importantly, your genetics play a significant role in the ability to gain muscle and how that muscle appears on your body frame.

Also, there are many benefits to weight training for women that you would miss out on by avoiding heavy weights. Resistance training can build bone density (helping to prevent osteoporosis later in life), prevent injury by strengthening the muscles supporting your joints, burn more calories, and of course make you stronger. In fact, building muscle can help with weight loss goals because muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue and will burn more calories at rest. Because of these and other health benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults should engage in strength training a minimum of two days each week.


  1. “No pain, no gain!”

“No pain, no gain” is a phrase that’s often thrown around in fitness spaces. Unfortunately, the phrase often misleads people into thinking they need to experience pain or push themselves to total exhaustion in their workouts. Muscle soreness is a common side effect of exercising and should be expected after workouts; however, sharp muscle and joint pain during a workout is not normal and trying to train through it can lead to injury. If you’re experiencing pain or severe fatigue in your workouts, try improving your warm ups, cool downs, and recovery, and talk to a medical professional if the pain persists or worsens.


  1. You can use spot reduction to lose fat in specific areas.

It’s pretty common to see workouts or training regimens marketed to “target your muffin top” or “shed belly fat.” While these so-called spot reduction workouts may help you burn calories and build muscle, no exercise can target fat cells in a specific part of the body. Fat storage is determined primarily by genetics and varies between each person. Workouts that claim to target fat loss in specific areas of the body are part of a larger issue with toxic diet culture: the creation and exploitation of body insecurities in order to make money for the diet and weight loss industry. Exercising for weight loss and other health benefits can be a great thing, but don’t let a workout program make you feel bad about where your body naturally stores energy.


  1. “You have to eat protein immediately after a workout.”

Now this myth is based on real fact, which is why it’s one of the harder myths to bust among fitness circles. It’s true that consuming a protein source 30 to 60 minutes after exercise can promote muscle recovery, especially when paired with a carbohydrate source. However, this approach isn’t totally necessary for the average person following an exercise program. Recovery meals recommendations are more suited for those who need to maximize recovery in a short time period, such as competitive athletes who have multiple high intensity events in a single competition. The average gym-goer will be perfectly fine eating a regular balanced diet, without any need for high-protein snacks or supplements. That being said, eating a meal or snack after a workout may help prevent extreme hunger LATER in the day as a results of under-eating post workout.

  1. “You can outrun a bad diet.”

Another common misconception is that if you’re exercising regularly, you can eat whatever you want because the calories “cancel out.” This myth is perpetuated by the food industry who want to place the sole blame for the obesity epidemic on physical inactivity. While exercise is a great tool for preventing metabolic conditions like heart disease or type 2 diabetes, alone it is often not enough to promote weight loss or even maintain a healthy weight. Physical activity and a healthy diet are both necessary for a healthy lifestyle, and having one doesn’t cancel out the need for the other. For example, training for a half marathon often is not the solution when trying to lose weight.

For those trying to lose weight, it’s difficult to get substantial results through exercise alone. It’s generally easier to achieve a calorie deficit by reducing consumption than by burning more calories, as exercise can lead to an increased appetite or a feeling that we can eat more because we’ve earned it. For overall health and long-term weight loss, both a healthy diet and exercise are key.


  1. “Longer workouts get better results.”

Often when we start a new exercise routine for the new year, it’s easy to feel impatient about seeing results. This often leads to people working out for longer periods of times in hopes of getting results more quickly. Not only does this increase the risk of overtraining, it also leads to people dropping their new routines because of the time commitment. It’s just not sustainable! While the ACSM and the American Heart Association recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week to prevent chronic disease, bouts of exercise as short as 10 minutes can accumulate towards those 30 minutes. Therefore, a 10-minute brisk walk at lunch and a 20-minute workout when you get home from work each day would be enough to meet these exercise guidelines.

Additionally, while not counting towards your 30 minutes of exercise, increasing physical activity in your daily routine can also lead to health benefits. This might include things such as standing at your desk instead of sitting, parking your car further from the door, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. These little increases in non-exercise physical activity can help to increase the number of calories you burn throughout the day and help you lose or maintain a healthy weight.