Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Top 10 Fitness Misconceptions Debunked

I’ve noticed a trend in new clients: most come into personal training with the same misconceptions. Thankfully we're able to work through these misconceptions together, but it kills me to look around the gym & see the remaining 90% of women (whose goals are probably fat loss & toning) gliding on elliptical machines or doing 50+ triceps extensions with a 3lb dumbbell in hopes of building a lean & lovely physique. Why do I care? Because they’re wasting their time & I know how little of it they have to spare! Don’t worry; I’ll restrain myself from handing out cards with a link to this blog post, but I know these ladies continue doing what they’re doing simply because they don’t know any better. In my Toothpick Arms series on body image I encouraged you all to educate yourselves on proper training & nutrition in order to improve your overall health, both mentally & physically. As promised, I want to share with you a few of the things I wish I would have known back when I too was queen of the elliptical.

1. Measuring your weight on a scale is not a good indicator of health. 

We’ve been conditioned to step on the scale to track our progress or to maintain our weight. The problem is that scales do not reveal fat loss. Contrary to popular belief, muscle doesn’t actually weigh more than fat (a pound of muscle is still a pound, and the same goes for fat), however, muscle is more dense than fat. For example, I look a lot better weighing in at 135 than I did at 130 & I can say the same for a lot of women I’ve worked with in the gym. Check out this post by Nia Shanks if you want to see some great photo documentation to enhance my point. I encourage clients to come up with a new way of tracking their progress, like picking out a favorite pair of jeans they’d like to wear & trying them on every other week, or keeping track of their circumference measurements. Here is a list of other ways to weigh your progress.

2. Rest is an integral part of achieving your fitness goals.
Did you know that a lack of sleep can actually cause weight gain by affecting the way your body processes & stores carbohydrate? Or that sleep deprivation alters hormone levels that affect your appetite? It also adversely affects other important areas of our lives like learning, memory, energy levels & mood while contributing to increased inflammation! Yikes! Draw the blinds, dim the lights, turn off the electronics, & shoot for at least 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Here are some additional tips on how to increase the quantity & quality of sleep you're getting. 

3. Nutrition & how you fuel your body plays a more significant role in body composition than working out. 
 As important as it is to be active & workout, it’s even more important to fuel your body with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods that promote health. Think about it like this -- nutrition is comparable to the gas needed to fuel a vehicle. Without it, you won’t be getting very far. If the fuel you put into your vehicle is polluted or tainted in any way you might not see the effects at first, but over time it will affect the performance & lifespan of the vehicle itself. We want our proverbial “vehicles” running on premium-grade fuel to enhance our quality of life.

4. Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to food. 
Most of us have adopted a “calories-in, calories-out” approach to eating & we spend a great deal of energy trying to count those little guys in order to keep them under control. It’s kind of an unfair battle we’re fighting, as many of the foods promoted in a standard American diet are not high in nutrients, meaning we may be consuming what’s considered to be an adequate amount of calories, but never actually taking in the proper nutrition. We have a built-in mechanism to tell us when that’s taking place: hunger. So, when you’re not exposing your body to the nutrients it needs in order to function optimally, you’ll feel hungry, which leads you to eat more, & more, & well, you get the picture. Instead of counting calories, we need to focus on fueling our bodies with high-quality foods. Then our bodies will recognize when we have the proper nutrition in order to function & we will only eat when we’re hungry. 

Note: the meat was all in the fridge, but you better believe it's there! 

5. Long distance cardio isn’t the best way to go about building a lean body. 
Most women go to the gym with the goal of losing fat & toning. Unfortunately, they turn to loads of cardio in order to achieve that look. What most of them don’t know is that long-distance running & extensive aerobic exercise causes your body to produce more of the stress hormone: cortisol. This can be a recipe for disaster, as the body’s response to excess cortisol is storing fat, usually around the midsection. What’s the alternative to long aerobics classes or running long distances? Lifting heavy, sprinting, & walking. 

6. Lifting heavy weights will not make you big or bulky. 
Excess body fat makes you look big & bulky, not muscle. Additionally, women do not have the hormonal composition required to really “bulk-up" unless they ingest it on purpose. Strength training with heavy weights will enable you to build lean muscle, which will in turn increase your metabolism & actually help you to burn body fat. Sounds like a great recipe for achieving the lean look you’ve been striving towards! 

7. Machines aren’t your friends.
You see dozens of them in the gym + ladies flocking towards them after they finish gliding on the elliptical. Most machines force your body to move in patterns that do not promote intramuscular coordination & stabilization, like using free weights would do. Ditch the machines & grab some free weights to train your body in a way that utilizes & improves movement patterns to promote optimal & functional performance.

8. Working big, compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, etc) offer more bang-for-your-buck than working isolated lifts (triceps extensions, biceps curls, crunches, etc). There’s a common misconception that working a specific muscle group will burn or use fat around that muscle. For example, if you have a flabby stomach & you do loads of crunches/sit-ups will help you eliminate belly fat. Wouldn’t it be strange to see a woman with really defined abs rocking excess amounts of body fat in her arms & legs? Lean, well-muscled, healthy bodies equate to an overall healthy package. You can target your “problem areas” by striving to achieve overall health instead of working isolated movements. 

9. More isn’t always better when it comes to working out. 
This is for the gym rats that are frequently pulling two-a-days, for the group fitness groupies & for those of you who are in the gym huffing & puffing 6 out of 7 days each week. Though you might be able to sustain it for a time, there are very few athletes who have the capacity to preform this kind of activity long-term. You will likely find yourself experiencing adrenal fatigue or an injury that could require years of recovery. Instead, try strength training 2-3 days a week, sprinting & taking long walks. 

10. Coaching and personal training isn’t just for newbies. 
Even the most highly recognized athletes & trainers have coaches. In fact, I have my mentor, Sasha Brainerd, to thank for exposing me to the majority of the information I’ve included in this post. As with most areas in our lives we need to ask someone (preferably an expert) to make sure we’re doing things well, especially when it comes to something as important as training the one-and-only body we’ve been entrusted in this life! If you’re trying to figure things out on your own, you will probably end up wasting time & put yourself at risk for injury. I understand that not everyone can afford to hire a personal trainer, but there are some really great (free) resources online! Here are a few of my favorites to get you started: The Girls Gone Strong, Charles Poliquin, Jason Seib, Jason Ferruggia & Mobility WOD. You can also message me at for more information about online coaching & programming if that’s something you’re interested in! 

My fitness mentor & me

What did I miss? What common mistakes have you made or seen others make when it comes to health & fitness?
 Have you fallen prey to any of these misconceptions in the past? If so, which one(s)? Choose 1-2 of the suggestions you want to incorporate as you move forward in your journey towards healthy living. 


  1. I loved this post! Loved it so much I pinned it. I have a question about #5, because that has happened to me and I love that you said, lifting heavy, sprinting, & walking, because those are my favorite. For the walking and sprinting... would that be as easy as going for a walk and while walking doing bursts of sprints?

    1. Hey Samantha! Totally! Or even chasing after kiddos in the park! Basically, short, high-intensity intervals are the way to go! Thanks for reading + sharing!

  2. This is such good information Hunter! Thank you!

    1. Sure thing, Ashley! Would love to catch up more extensively soon! Much love to you and your sweet fam!

  3. LOVE!
    I totally agree! Once I finally got over the intimidation of the free weights area (former group fitness and cardio junkie) I loved it. Cardio will only give you a smaller version of the body you already have... weights will change the shape and overall look of your body. As far as mistakes... I find that sometimes folks aren't truly willing to put in the effort/time with either exercise, food, or both. There are no quick fixes... it takes time to see the changes and even longer for others to see the changes. Being half hearted only makes things take twice as long ;)You have to be willing to show yourself some patience.

    Have the Beless girls point me out next time you're visiting their home church... I'd love to chat with you :)

    1. Yes & yes! Would love to chat about such things face-to-face! I will ask Joy, Becca, or Beth to introduce us next time I'm in the area! Thanks for your feedback, Jessica!