I used to believe a whole host of fitness myths. I drank more of the fitness industry koolaid then all of Jonestown. At one point I had a bar in my apartment completely stocked with different supplements from fat-burners, endurance formulas and natural testosterone boosters to 4 different kinds of multivitamins and vitamins that I still can’t find any real research on. Never took time off, would perform 3 exhaustive training sessions over the course of the day and would frequently “push through the pain.” Over the years I’ve certainly learned a few things about fitness and proper training and will be sharing 3 of my favorite fitness myths that I used to believe.
You need to confuse the muscles
People have one of two reactions to this advice:
“It makes sense, exercise forces muscle adaptation and eventually gets used to a certain stimulus. Changing it up keeps the stimulus fresh. So if my workouts consistently change…”
“This is pseudoscience at it’s finest, muscles don’t get confused, they’re muscles!”
The truth lies somewhere between options A and B. The reasoning in the first option is absolutely correct, the conclusion is just off. And the statement in the second option is also correct. Muscles adapt to certain stimulus, changing a workout routine can be beneficial because it forces new adaptation. The part that’s become distorted is the time frame. Someone new to regular exercise can continue using the same periodized progressive overload program for 18 months, or more, and continue to improve. When the results stagnate, then it is time to change up your program. At it’s shortest programs should still only change after 8 weeks, but this is heavily dependent on the program.
A lot of people start exercising without much knowledge of what they are doing and still make improvements. When they hit their first plateau they have a tendency to jump around between different exercises a lot to confuse the muscles and this isn’t going to work. The problem isn’t that your muscles have smartened up, it’s that your program is bad. At this point it’s time to seek out some professional advice.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body”
Oh dear god no! No. No. Just no.
If this were true then having surgery without anesthesia would turn me into the Terminator.
Let’s be clear about pain, pain is an unpleasant sensation that originates in your brains that you evolved to feel when something is going wrong! The misguided idea behind this saying is confusing pain with feeling a sore. If you had a good workout and the next day your legs are sore congratulations you’ve probably had a successful workout and you’ll be better in a few days when you can try it again. If you are in pain then you’re likely injured and should get some help with that, because training through pain is a sure fire way to get a serious injury that takes you out of the game for a long time.
Being exhausted at the end of a workout means it was good
What I find amazing about this myth is how it seriously perpetuates the strength training culture so much more than most other sports. Imagine a baseball pitcher, to practice his craft he pitches every single day. His regimen is something like: he steps outside, does a few shoulder stretches, sends a few easy pitches down the plate, slowly builds in intensity until he’s pitching like he would for a game. After about an hour he notices his speed slowing down so he dials it back with a cool down and heads home. Sounds plausible right?
Now imagine that same pitcher: goes out, warms up and then proceeds to pitch with everything he’s got until his shoulder is on fire and the last 6 pitches hit the guy up to bat. Now imagine he’s going to repeat this tomorrow. As you can imagine he’s going to wear out his arm pretty quickly and probably not get much better at the whole pitching thing.
This is what training to exhaustion is like, it’s burning everything you have today and sacrificing your performance for the next couple of days. The occasional intense session that leaves you somewhat tired is good, but utter exhaustion should be avoided.
Training to exhaustion because you then feel like you had a real workout is what a lot of those crazy intense dvd programs, questionable group classes and bad trainers try to sell you and it works so well. People usually try crazy workout program A, which they buy upfront, commit to it for a week and then start only doing it sparingly before it fades away. This is all because exhaustive workouts are horribly unsustainable.
Fitness myths, like many myths, usually contain some small kernel of truth that’s been distorted by marketing campaigns, bad science or just by catchy, yet inaccurate, phrases. If you were like me and believed any of these myths don’t despair. The fitness game is a learning experience that is extremely rewarding when you begin to function as a high level performer and know your body more intimately than most. Getting started just takes time and the fitness industry is filled with people that are all trying to sell you something. So again don’t despair if you’re ever tricked or bamboozled by those scheming salesmen, we all get fooled at first but learning their tricks is the first step out of the beginner phase.