Updated 03 October 2014

Exercise myths you shouldn’t believe

A thousand sit-ups a day? Extreme before and after pictures? A sports scientist discusses some of these common fitness misconceptions and why they won't work.


From pill-popping to extreme exercising, Professor Elmarie Terblanche, Chairperson of the Sport Science Department at Stellenbosch University, busts some common fitness myths.

Myth # 1: “Before and after” pictures of an overweight, jelly-like individual turning into a Greek god

You know these ads: You can have a six pack in six weeks! Lose 30 kg in seven weeks! Well, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. To build significant amounts of muscle mass or to lose a significant amount of weight is very hard work. Of course there are short cuts, but these are neither healthy, nor long-lasting. So do not ever entertain the idea that there is a quick fix.

Myth #2: “Healthy” muscle building supplements really exist

There is nothing healthy and safe that will help you build muscle mass, except good old fashioned home-made food and a lot of dedicated training. Make no mistake, you can aid muscle building by taking something from a bottle, but none of these substances are legal. The only muscle building supplements that will give you results are those that contain anabolic steroids and growth hormones.

The market for health-related products is not properly regulated, so you will easily find these products in any health shop. These substances are dangerous and will lead to a number of health problems, for example heart, liver and kidney disease, as well as infertility.

Myth # 3: I can ditch the diet for fat burning pills

These supplements are commonly known as “fat burners” and it is suggested that if you take these magic potions you lose fat weight fast, while eating what you wish. Very few people actually read the fine print on the supplements that says you also have to exercise and follow a calorie-restricted diet.

 Unfortunately, there are no supplements that have been shown to melt your fat away. Those supplements that do lead to weight loss invariably contain stimulants, such as ephedrine and amphetamines, which can be dangerous for many individuals (especially those with high blood pressure or those on certain medication). Furthermore, as soon as you stop taking these substances, you will gain everything you lost, and probably even add a few extra kilos. This is NOT a long-term or healthy solution.

Myth #4:  A six pack is only 1 000 daily sit ups away

Sorry, not true! No amount of abdominal exercises will make a six pack appear. You first have to get rid of the flab covering your midriff. Only then you can start working on definition, and don’t expect results instantly. It requires hard and dedicated training.

Myth #5: Protein shakes, powders and bars are the ‘whey’ forward

Protein shakes, powders and bars are very low quality and if you read the labels carefully, you will see how much sugar actually hide in these products. There is no substitute for real food, as all the components of natural food work synergistically to provide your body with the most nutrients possible, in the correct amount and in the optimal combination. No manufacturer can capture this in a powder. Unless you are a high performance athlete who trains six to eight hours per day and therefore don’t have enough time to prepare and eat real food, you should really stick to using protein supplements only in emergencies.  


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