Let’s debunk five of the biggest gym myths.

FITNESS MYTHS DEBUNKED

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

7 min read

It does not surprise me when people tell me they feel lost with fitness, nutrition and supplements.

Most people’s first port of call is to ask questions at the gym, but the gym itself is a breeding ground for all kinds of myths and bullshit regarding which exercises you should do, or which foods you should and shouldn’t eat.

And things don’t get much better on the internet – maybe it’s even worse!

So today I’d like to unpack five of the most common myths you’ll hear in any gym, and we’ll debunk them once and for all.


Does lifting weights create the afterburn effect like HIIT?

“Do cardio first to lose weight, then add weights to tone up!”

That’s usually how this piece of advice goes, but I do not recommend following it.

I’m not saying that cardio won’t help you lose weight (heck, I wish more people did it), but rather that you don’t need to delay adding weight training to your routine. Studies show that combining the two is superior, plus it’s a lot more fun, which significantly boosts your chances of staying consistent. (1)

A graph showing cardio vs weights vs both for weight loss results

fasted cardio myth

Of all the fitness myths on this page, this one hit me hardest.

I used to drag myself out of bed at Crazy O’ Clock and pound the treadmill because fitness magazines claimed that doing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach would burn more fat.

We now know that this is not true.

It was thought that training first thing in the morning when energy reserves are depleted of carbohydates would force the body to tap into your fat stores in order to provide the body with fuel during exercise. However, research shows that this process doesn’t actually lead to superior fat loss results, because it appears that the body balances itself out throughout the whole day, so if you burn more fat reserves during training the body will burn more carbohydrates reserves later in the day, or vice versa if you perform cardio in a fed state. This means that fasted cardio is not superior to traditional cardio, and you should do whichever type you enjoy the most. (9, 10, 11, 12)


anabolic steroids

If you’re just starting out in the gym, the worst thing you can do is compare your physique to somebody on steroids.

Seriously, it doesn’t matter if it’s an athlete, or an actor, or just a big dude from your gym.

Not only will it make you feel like shit, but it’s just plain unfair. Steroids make an astronomical difference to the muscle building potential of the human body (and that’s precisely why people use them). A 1996 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated this perfectly:

steroids vs no steroids results

Unsurprisingly, trainees who used steroids and went to the gym saw significantly higher muscle growth than gymgoers who did not use drugs, but the biggest shock of this study is that trainees who took steroids but did not workout actually built more muscle than those who trained! (13, 14)

Fuck!

So as you can see, comparing your results to someone who is injecting ‘vitamin S’ would be very unfair, kinda like comparing your bank account to Elon Musk, or comparing your dick size to me. Oh, and the next time some guy tries to protect his fragile ego by saying things like “They don’t make that much difference, bro, you’ve still gotta put in the work”, rest assured this is nonsense.


small frequent meals metabolism myth

This is one of the O.G. fitness myths.

The theory behind it is solid. Eating a meal causes your metabolic rate to increase, so by spreading your calories over several smaller meals instead of a few big meals, you should be able to enjoy more of these metabolic spikes and therefore burn more fat.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

Back in 2013 a study published in Obesity tested this theory by increasing the meal frequency of trainees from three meals per day to six meals per day. The participants still at the same number of calories overall. They confirmed that the switch had no effect on fat loss and no effect on the metabolism. They also pointed out that some of the trainees reported feeling hungrier as a result of switching to smaller more frequent meals. (2)

Unfortunately this myth has been around since the 1980s, and is so ingrained in fitness folklore that I was even taught it during the nutrition section of my gym instructor qualifications in the early 2000s! The situation is not helped when you see bullshit advice from fitness personalities (see below).

does eating small frequent meals speed up your metabolism

clean eating myth

I’ve asked Dr. Layne Norton to to debunk this one:

layne norton

“Clean eating is a meaningless fitness term which causes more harm than good.

Foods which are deemed to be healthy are classed as clean, and foods which are deemed to be unheathy are dirty, but this simply doesn’t work, because something which would be considered clean for a bodybuilder might be dirty for a vegetarian, and something which a vegetarian considers clean would be unacceptable to a vegan, etc.

Plus, encouraging people to categorize foods as good and bad (or clean and dirty) ensures you’ll build an an unhealthy relationship with food in the long-term. Research clearly shows that we do not need to fear or avoid any of the food groups (same goes for individual foods), because fat storage ultimately all comes down to total calorie intake, and there are a number of ways you can control this – so you don’t need to live on chicken and rice!” (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

References:

  1. Willis L. H., et al. Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training on Body Mass and Fat Mass in Overweight or Obese Adults. J Appl Physiol (2012).
  2. Ohkawara K., et al. Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity (2013).
  3. Leibel R. L., et al. Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition. Am J Clin Nutr (1992).
  4. Golay A., et al. Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr (1996).
  5. Golay A., et al. Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord (1996).
  6. Luscombe-Marsh N. D., et al. Carbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective at promoting fat loss and improving blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr (2005).
  7. Raatz S. K., et al. Reduced Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diets Do Not Increase the Effects of Energy Restriction on Weight Loss and Insulin Sensitivity in Obese Men and Women. J Nut (2005).
  8. Johnston C. S., et al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr (2006).
  9. Febbraio M. A., et al. Effects of carbohydrate ingestion before and during exercise on glucose kinetics and performance J Appl Physiol (2000).
  10. Schoenfeld B. Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss? Str Cond J (2011).
  11. Hackney K.J., et al. Timing Protein Intake Increases Energy Expenditure 24 H After Resistance Training. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2010).
  12. Paoli A., et al. Exercising Fasting Or Fed To Enhance Fat Loss? Influence Of Food Intake On Respiratory ratio And Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption After A Bout Of Endurance Training. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab (2011).
  13. Bhasin S., et al. The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men. N Engl J Med (1996).
  14. Sinha-Hikim I., et al. Testosterone-induced increase in muscle size in healthy young men is associated with muscle fiber hypertrophy. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2002).

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

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