If you’re looking for exercise advice these days, chances are you don’t have to look far.
Before social media, sessions with a personal trainer or coach might have been your go-to for advice on what you should (or shouldn’t) do with your workouts. Now fitness influencers are at your fingertips ― and you don’t even have to put on your sneakers to learn how to get the best workout.
But not all advice is good, or even correct. Here are some common exercise myths, according to experts (and what to replace them with when working on your fitness).
You need more cardio to lose weight.
“Cardiovascular health is one of the most important things to focus on to reduce disease risk, but the idea that if you do more cardio you’ll lose weight faster is a recipe for burnout. and food cravings,” said Juliet Root, a personal trainer for the workout app Onyx. “Unless you’re training for an endurance sport like a marathon, performing hours of cardio can hinder your progress in reducing body fat.”
It’s because too much cardio increases cortisol levels, leaving you in a constant state of stress. “Too much cardio can also increase appetite,” Root said. “It takes much longer to burn off energy than one can consume in minutes.”
What to do instead: Root recommended doing 30 to 45 minutes of cardio in a workout that combines aerobic and interval training. Every other day, work on strength training, which will support the muscles and joints used in those cardio sessions and reduce the risk of injury.
Go hard or go home.
Not all workouts have to be all-out effort. This is harmful to our physical and mental health, said Kevin Gillilandthe executive director of Innovation360 and host of the “Struggle Well, Live Well, Worry Less” podcast.
“The length and intensity of your training should really be based on how you feel on any given day,” he says. “This is how your body will function and recover to its best, not by continuing to push it to the limit.”
Research published in the journal Cell metabolism supports this line of thinking. Male and female subjects performed a series of high-intensity interval training workouts almost daily. This led to decreased function of mitochondria. Mitochondria function as cellular powerhouses, generating energy for cellular reactions in the body, including regulating metabolism, glucose tolerance and more. Once the intensity levels of the subjects’ workouts were reduced, mitochondrial function improved.
What to do instead: You don’t need to stray away from HIIT-style workouts, but also be sure to rotate on low-impact days as a balance, such as yoga, walking, or a similar activity.
Heavy weights will bloat you.
Just like there’s no magic formula to losing 10 pounds, picking up a heavier dumbbell won’t transform your physique into that of a bodybuilder.
“Unless you’re lifting high volume and dieting in a specific way, it’s very difficult to build muscle to the point where you notice a big difference in size,” Root said. “Strength training that challenges your muscles to failure is an important part of building lean muscle and can increase metabolism, helping you burn more calories at rest.”
What to do instead: Before you take on heavier weights, focus on your form to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly. From there, increase anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds to keep your muscles guessing and your metabolism humming. “Lifting heavier can often be key for someone seeing a reduction in body fat and a leaner physique taking shape,” Root said.
Working out at home is not the same as in person at the gym.
Gilliland said it’s advice that’s true, but with a caveat. “There are a lot of benefits when it comes to home exercise, but working out at home is extremely difficult for a lot of people,” he said. “What is often missing is the impact of people in a group, especially on days when you don’t feel motivated. Even the most disciplined athletes feel this from time to time.
This doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to return to the gym if you’re not ready or comfortable. You just need to get creative with your home setup to ensure you stay motivated and accountable.
What to do instead: “No matter what type of workout you do, connect virtually with a group or individuals to create this gym-like community,” Gilliland said. “The influence and encouragement of others is important in subtle ways – sometimes it’s attitude or perspective or new recovery techniques to use for your next rest day.”
Focus on your heart.
Here’s the thing about those crunches you love doing: They’ll make you a stronger athlete and person, but they won’t necessarily translate to a six-pack.
“Dietary changes and genetics play the biggest role in defining a defined stomach,” Root said. “You can’t reduce body fat in one area, whether it’s your heart or anywhere else.”
What to do instead: Do exactly what you do when it comes to core workouts, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and don’t get frustrated if you think you’re not getting results. A strong core (whether you can see it or not) is crucial to getting faster and stronger in any of your workouts.