Ten exercise myths a personal trainer should know (Part 1)
This exercise blog looks at some of the common myths about health and fitness that a personal trainer or fitness professional should be aware of, so they can better educate their clients.
1. Doing sit ups will help lose belly fat
Myth: Many people wrongly believe that doing sit ups will help them lose weight around their stomach area.
Why is this a myth? Fat cells are distributed all through the body, including in the belly. As an isolation exercise for the rectus abdominis (six pack), sit ups can help develop muscle strength, but won’t 'spot remove' fat.
What’s the alternative? When an individual plays sport or works out with a fitness instructor, they will burn calories and reduce fat throughout the body, including belly fat. If they have been following a regular programme that includes sit ups, their six pack won’t be noticeable until they have lost this body fat.
A personal trainer can help a client lose body fat by working the bigger muscle groups. Large compound exercises such as the chest press or back squat will recruit and burn more energy. The fitness trainer can also add in moderate to high intensity cardio-vascular exercise such as interval training with circuits, running or rowing.
2. Lifting weights will bulk you up
Myth: Weight training programmes will cause an individual’s muscle mass to increase dramatically. Women will often avoid weights because of this fear of bulking up (see our blog on The benefits of strength training for women).
Why is this a myth? Lifting weights recruits the central nervous system and increases the number of calories burned in a training session, which helps with weight management.
What are the benefits? A low to moderate resistance, working to an endurance phase of 15 reps plus, will bring about a range of benefits. These include increasing muscular strength and endurance, helping to improve performance and increasing the strength of cartilage and connective tissue.
As muscles are anabolically active and need fuel to work, weight training will increase the calories burned during a work out. By strengthening the body, weight-bearing exercise can also reduce the risk of injury, back pain and arthritis.
3. People who are unfit start to sweat earlier
Myth: If a personal trainer is working with a client who has low levels of fitness and has little experience of training in a gym environment, they are likely to sweat more.
Why is this a myth? As the body’s core temperature increases it needs to release heat. Sweat is essentially the body’s efficient cooling system, which prevents us from overheating.
When a client regularly works out with a fitness instructor or frequently attends fitness classes, their body starts to adapt to the environment and activity. Over time, as the client starts their warm up phase, the body will recognise this and prepare itself; therefore, a fit person is more likely to sweat earlier than an unfit one.
Additional information: Someone who is fit is less likely to lose electrolytes or become dehydrated as their body will reabsorb sodium through the sweat glands during their training session.
4. No pain, no gain
Myth: An individual exercising on their own or with a personal trainer will only see the benefits if they push themselves to “feel the burn”.
Why is this a myth? As any good fitness professional will know, you don’t have to be in pain to make gains. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which can happen within 24 to 48 hours after exercise, is a natural response to exercise, in particular if a new routine has been introduced. However, more serious pain, especially during a work out, should not be ignored.
What are the recommendations? A personal trainer with a new client should be able to assess their reaction. While a client may “feel the burn” when the lactic acid threshold is reached, for example during an unfamiliar back exercise, if they feel joint pain or stabbing pain, then it’s time to stop (see our blog on Going to failure in strength training).
While it’s good for a fitness instructor to encourage clients to progress, this should be built up gradually, recognising the difference between trying out a new exercise or weight and pushing the body towards injury. The best route is to follow a periodisation training programme and build up strength by going through an endurance phase then hypertrophy before training for strength.
5. Static stretching before work outs prevents injury
Myth: Before starting a work out, playing sport or taking part in a fitness class, an individual should carry out some static stretches.
Why is this a myth? There is no research to support this theory. Although a personal trainer will advise their client to warm up before starting a work out, static stretching is not generally considered the best option.
What’s the alternative? A better alternative is dynamic stretching (see our blog on Flexibility and warming up). This includes shoulder rolls, walking lunges, squats and similar movements that will stimulate the muscle groups and get the body prepared for the work out.
The dynamic stretches or mobilisation exercises should replicate the sort of movements the personal trainer will be taking the client through during their gym session. They will help prepare the body and take the joints through their full range of motion.
Typically, static stretches are better left to the end of the session, when the muscles are more pliable and easier to stretch. This can lead on to developmental stretches, where a stretch is held for up to 30 seconds (see our blog on PNF stretching: a powerful technique for personal trainers).