It’s exhausting trying to get to grips with the advice, rhetoric and devices surrounding fitness and exercise these days.
And for those brave enough to do so? Chances are, you’re probably doing it wrong. Even worse, you’ve probably always been doing it wrong…
Don’t freak out. Exercise myths have existed forever, and even the most religious runner is bound to make a few.
Here are four common ones getting in the way of your workout – and some easy steps you can take to tackle these for a more enjoyable experience!
1. It only counts if you sweat
Cast your mind back to high school gym class. Perhaps you shudder at the memory of running laps around the sport pitch in an almost parodic fashion, while your gym teacher stood comfortably by the sidelines barking: “Put some back into it, the aim is to work up a sweat here!”
We’ve been fed that myth for as long as we can remember. “Exercise only counts if you sweat”. And yes, while breaking a sweat is an indication of hitting your target heart rate, it should never be the end-goal to any workout.
The primary benefit of sweating is to cool your body down when it overheats – so, as you become fitter and are able to work harder, it makes sense that your body will begin generating more heat in a shorter timeframe, and therefore need to start sweating more and sooner.
It all boils down to a case of misplaced emphasis.
The amount you sweat when working out will change over time, which makes it a secondary concern. Stop measuring the quality of your workouts based on “how much water you lose”, says David Otey from New York’s Equinox Sports Club, and begin building up your fitness level by refocusing on the intensity and volume at which you’re working.
2. Lactic acid is to blame for soreness
Another one you might have heard before – that your DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) is caused by lingering lactic acid in your muscles. It’s a counterproductive belief that refuses to die, and seems to encourage a “no pain, no gain” mentality to working out that can sometimes cause you further injury.
Associate Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aitken, Dr. Parr, explains that when we attempt anaerobic exercises such as weightlifting (in contrast to aerobic exercises, which rely on oxygen to give you energy), lactic acid is produced to for compensate for the lack of oxygen reaching your contracting muscles.
But this acid build-up is only temporary, it clears before post-workout aches can creep in. This means that the pain you do experience is usually caused by microscopic muscle tears, a necessary stimulus for your body to bounce back fitter and stronger.
So, while a little soreness isn’t cause for concern, it’s also important not to normalize being in pain. Build up the intensity of your workouts gradually, and if you feel like you’re pushing yourself too far – give those biceps a break!
3. Stretching is necessary pre-workout
Despite that evidence has existed to debunk this myth for years, the truth about static stretching seems to have bypassed our general notice. Turns out, your preliminary warm-up of striking and holding a series of poses (think touching your toes) for 30 seconds at a time is wreaking more damage than it’s worth.
That’s because stretching a cold, tight muscle before you’ve got the blood flowing to loosen your joints is a recipe for injury, and can even impede the quality of a range of exercises. Experts continually despair to see it happen, and would rejoice to see more of us spurn this ineffective ritual in favor of something that eases us more gently into strenuous activity.
Namely, dynamic stretching. Incorporating repetitive, muscle-engaging movements such as walking lunges or arm circles is a surefire way to relax your muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues in preparation for any more arduous exercises like running, weights or cardio.
It’s like Mr. Schneebly said – you gotta keep it “loosey-goosey, baby, loosey-goosey”.
4. Getting intimate detracts from performance
One of the oldest myths in the book, sex has been considered the Achilles heel to achieving athletic success since Ancient Greek and Roman times. Urban legend even has it that Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson both abstained from intercourse for weeks before a fight, to maximize their competitive potential.
Ever to be blamed as our downfall, I guess it’s easy to fathom why the myth has prevailed. We wouldn’t automatically consider post-coital relaxation as being a helpful spur to a good, rigorous workout, after all.
But times change. New evidence has found that having intercourse even just a couple of hours before a workout is unlikely to slacken your performance. If anything, it’s the disrupted sleeping pattern resulting from sex that’s holding you back.
Health journalist Robert J. Davis told TIME magazine that the findings remain somewhat inconclusive, especially since most studies to date have failed to include female participants. His advice?
“…if you’re wondering how pre-game sex affects your golf score or your 5K race time, you’ll need to do your own experiment and see for yourself”.