Can crunches create six-pack abdominal muscles? Do weight-lifting women risk
bulging biceps? Is stretching always a good idea? Experts say disentangling
folklore from fact is not easy in fitness, where misconceptions are as pervasive
as push-ups and as stubborn as love handles.
Jennifer Burke, a fitness manager at a Crunch gym in West Hollywood,
California, said many women still worry that weight training will create big and
Women and weights
"Women say 'I don't want to get bulky,' but unless you take in extra kilojoules
or testosterone supplements, that's just not going to happen," said Burke, who
eases reluctant clients into resistance training gently, with body-weight
exercises. "When they see their bodies getting long lean muscles, getting toned, they
trust you a little more and you can start adding in dumbbells and machines,"
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that
adults engage in muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle
groups - legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms - two or more days
"A lot of people think if they want to lose a lot of weight they should do
cardio, but the best thing is to add in resistance training as well," Burke
"You'll get bigger, faster results because you're working on lean muscle
tissue which burns more kilojoules in the long run."
While it's true that muscle weighs more than fat, it's also more compact. "Five pounds (2.3 kilogrammes) of muscle is the size of your fist. Five
pounds of fat is the size of your forearm" she said.
Lower intensity doesn't burn kJ
Burke added that another misconception is that lower-intensity exercise such
as the fat-burning setting on most cardio machines is better for burning kJ's.
"That's absolutely not true," said Burke.
"If you increase the intensity you'll burn more kilojoules."
The CDC's rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous-intensity activity is
about the same as two minutes of moderate-intensity activity.
Too much or not enough
Stephanie Huckabee, a South Carolina-based fitness instructor, said people
who believe it is necessary to exercise every day are setting themselves up for
"I tell my clients to expect days when they don't exercise," said
Huckabee. "That's just being realistic."
Another fiction, Huckabee said, is that you can move fat away from a problem
"When I wanted to reduce my stomach, I had to do an all-over conditioning
program to get that fat tissue to shrink," she said. "Cardio will burn the fat over all. After that, you can work on sculpting an
area with resistance training."
Build your six-pack in the kitchen
Burke said one of the biggest fitness myths is that crunches can banish belly
"You build your six-pack in the kitchen," she said, while noting that no one
will see even the most developed abdominals if they're hiding under a layer of
Moira Merrithew, co-founder of Merrithew Health & Fitness, said one of
the most common misconceptions is that it's always good to stretch before a game
of football or a run.
"For some athletes probably the worst thing they can do is stretch before
they run," said Merrithew, who is based in Toronto, Canada.
"There's simply no hard and fast rule," said Merrithew, a former dancer.
"Pilates is good for dancers before they go out, because it mobilises the
joints. There are so many effects that stretching can and cannot have. There are
limits to really pushing that stretch."
And even the most dedicated couch potato cannot turn muscle to fat, according
to Carol Torgan, a consultant exercise physiologist with the American College of
"Muscles and fat are two different types of cells. It would be like turning
apples into oranges," she said.
More troubling is the fallacy that one can never drink too much water.
"It can result in a condition known as hyponatremia, in which there is an
imbalance of water to salt," Torgan said.
"This is also known as water intoxication or over-hydration, and can be