For all the women out there that have benched their workout because of an exercise myth that refuses to die, this one is for you. We caught up with Australia’s top sports science researchers to find out how these old wives’ tales really stack up.
Myth 1: You can’t exercise when you’re sick
Fact: Take a break if your symptoms are below the neck
If you’re running a high temperature and fever, it’s crucial you let your body rest. “Your core temperature is already elevated and exercise is going to raise your temperature even further, which could put you in the unsafe core temperature zone,” says Professor Steve Selig, the Director of Curriculum at Exercise and Sports Science Australia. “Often, you’re already dehydrated and sometimes the bug can attack healthy tissues when you’re sick.”
But if you’ve just got the sniffles, Selig says exercise shouldn’t do any harm, but advises you “bring the intensity down a peg or two”. The same goes if you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis or depression. “Ninety-nine per cent of people with chronic disease can exercise and benefit from it,” Selig says. “People with chronic disease should see an exercise physiologist so they can get a safe and effective exercise program.”
Myth 2: No pain, no gain
Fact: Stop if you’re seriously sore
While there’s no doubt doing regular, high-intensity workouts will get you results, forcing yourself to push through pain is never a good idea. “If there’s any kind of pain that is sharp and comes on immediately, definitely stop straight away and see what’s going on,” says Lauren Banting, a researcher at Victoria University's Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living.
But if you’re simply feeling the burn from a challenging weights session or spin class, then Banting says there shouldn’t be any cause for concern. “There’s not much you can do about muscle soreness the day after you exercise, especially when you’re first starting out,” she says. “Just make sure you have a couple of rest days between resistance training. Some women might do back, shoulders and arms one day and the next day do abs, butt and thighs – that way, they’re working out two days in a row, but not actually exercising the same muscle groups.”
But Selig points out that you don’t need to crack a big sweat to get great health benefits. “You get 90 per cent of the results with 60 per cent of the effort,” says Selig. “Find something that’s enjoyable for you – that might be hopping on the treadmill next to your friend so you can talk.” As long as you’re getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days, Selig says your health will benefit. “It doesn’t have to be in one half hour block – it can be broken up into chunks of five minutes if you like,” he says. “So on days when you just can’t make it to the gym, five minutes of stair-climbing at work, six times a day, will get you your daily dose.”
Myth 3: Lifting weights makes you bulk up
Fact: Lifting weights makes you leaner
If you think lifting weights will bulk you up, think again. Lifting weights creates tears in the muscle, which are then repaired (that is why you get sore). Lifting weights makes the muscle stronger and, over a long period of time, a little bit bigger. However, because muscle tissue is much heavier and more compact than fat, and burns more calories, over time this small increase in muscle size will actually decrease your body fat and make you look leaner.
Myth 4: You shouldn’t exercise when you’re pregnant
Fact: Keep it up while it’s still comfortable
If you’re already active, experts say you can keep exercising until your third trimester. “By then, fatigue really starts to show because you’re carrying so much weight,” Banting says. “At this time, a lot of women will move into the pool to get a bit of relief on the joints.” If you’re new to exercise, Selig suggests chatting to an exercise physiologist or experienced personal trainer before getting into some light exercises. “They can start you off gently and gradually work you up into a good intensity and volume of exercise,” he says.
If anything feels strange, Banting says you should speak to your doctor immediately. “One thing that you’ve really got to watch out for is if you’ve got low blood pressure or if you experience any dizziness,” she says. “It’s not necessarily bad for the mother or the baby, but it can increase your risk of falls.”
Myth 5: Doing heaps of sit-ups will get you a six-pack
Fact: You need to lose fat first
While it’s tempting to think that working your most hated body parts super hard will make them melt away, unfortunately that’s not the case. “We tend to gain weight in the areas that annoy us the most and we lose it from those areas last,” says Selig.
“What you need to do is lose fat by doing cardio and weights and not engage in emotional eating. The six-pack will eventually appear if you put in sustained effort for a long period of time. But if you’re doing three hundred sit-ups every day to try and get a six-pack by next week, forget it,” says Selig.