7 Fitness Myths, Busted

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to get fit in 2012? The fitness resolution is a perennial on the top 10 list of the annual promises we make to ourselves, just after the all-time winner “lose weight”).

If you haven’t moved many muscles since high school gym class, you might not be up to speed on fitness myths, a stubborn bunch that just won’t die. A dose of reality right about now might strengthen your resolve.

Here’s a rundown on the seven top evergreen exercise myths that you’ll probably hear but can safely ignore:

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No Pain, No Gain

Maybe this one took on a life of its own because it rhymes and is so easy to remember. Forget it. If an exercise causes pain, you’re either doing it wrong (a session or two with a personal trainer can set you straight) or you’ve already managed to hurt yourself.

Be sure to separate pain from muscle soreness, which comes on after you tax a lax muscle and will wear off in a few days. Actual pain can mean that you’ve exhausted a muscle or torn a ligament. If what you’re doing really hurts, stop.

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Stretching Before Exercise

The idea here is that stretching before and after you exercise can prevent injury while you’re working out and muscle soreness afterward.

While stretching does promote flexibility (something you should strive for as an element of overall fitness), a study published in British Medical Journal found no scientific evidence to back up the notion that stretching before a workout reduces injuries or that stretching before and after can prevent muscle soreness.

Exercise Speeds Metabolism for Hours

While partly true--your metabolism does amp up during exercise and for a few hours afterward--the truth can be a big disappointment: the number of calories you can expect lose thanks to the afterburn is negligible, only 20 extra ones for the whole day according to one study.

But (and this is a really big “but”) you may be able to set your metabolism on high for hours after your workout if you can exercise intensely enough to reach the top of your VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in during exercise) and continue at that high level for 45 minutes. A tough prescription, but if you can manage that, a recent study found that you could burn as many as 190 extra calories in the hours after exercise.

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Crunches Lead to Sixpack Abs

Sure they will as long as you also get rid of any belly fat that obscures your abdominal muscles. While crunches strengthen muscles, they won’t burn off the fat in your belly.

To flaunt your newly crunched abs you’ve got to trim the fat via diet, cardiovascular exercise and resistance training. And, of course, for crunches to work, you’ve got to learn to do them right.

Running on a Treadmill is Easier on the Knees

Sorry, but it is the running itself that stresses the knees, not the surface you’re pounding.

To ease the impact on your knees, experts advise varying your aerobic activities: mix running with riding a stationary bike or using the elliptical machine at the gym. 

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Ice Eases Muscle Pain 

Applying ice to a sore muscle can numb it so it feels better, but a new review of evidence from 36 earlier studies concluded that icing doesn’t help heal muscle tears and can actually reduce muscle strength and power temporarily. This makes it a poor strategy for football players and other athletes who are itching to return to the action immediately after icing.

The researchers suggested that it is okay to ice sore muscles provided you don’t go right back to exercising. And they noted that more study is needed to learn more about the effects of icing, but this will be tough to accomplish since, for comparison purposes, there’s no placebo that feels like ice.

Using Exercise Machines is Safer

If you know what you’re doing, using machines at the gym can help you get the most out of your workout. But first the machines have to be correctly adjusted for your height and weight by a savvy coach or trainer. Otherwise, you’re as vulnerable to injury and as you would be if you were doing the same type of exercise with free weights or without any devices.

Nor is an expensive gym membership essential to get in shape, since jogging gives you a great cardio workout, while investing a pair of dumbbells to use at home helps with strength training.

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