As much progress as we’ve made in the last 30 years, weight training is still subject to plenty of nonsense.
Today I’ll share my top 5 fitness myths that you’ll still hear in almost every gym.
If you’re a regular visitor to the Church of Iron, please join me in shaking your head at these.
If you are a newcomer just beginning your fitness journey, I hope these help you separate the science from the broscience.
1. You Can’t Eat That
My clients get this all the time.
Particularly as they tuck into their post-workout gummy bears.
Heck, we all know that friend who recently started “eating clean” and suddenly wants to frown at everything you put in your mouth until you want to jam it in their smarmy, pseudo-science-talking fucking face.
The tilapia and chicken brigade will try their best to push you to live on, well, tilapia and chicken (duh!) if you want to get lean in time for summer.
While so-called “clean eating” can work for some, it is certainly not the only way.
Far from it, in fact.
As a trainer I’ve found that the vast majority of people who go from “eating normally” to jumping head-first into this strict old-school bodybuilding lifestyle find it ridiculously hard to stick to and they binge every weekend.
Yes, even those assholes who act like they’re better than you.
So don’t let them get to you.
Studies show that diets have a failure rate of nearly 95% because the vast majority of people can’t maintain the lifestyle they used to get the weight off – with half of them going on to regain more weight than they initially lost.
Back in 1999, a study published in the Appetite Journal found that a more flexible approach to dieting was strongly associated with lower rates of over-eating, depression and anxiety and lower BMIs. (1)
This study pointed to one thing – restricting foods or putting certain items on a “bad list” is a terrible concept., particularly if they are foods you enjoy.
You see, despite the nonsense about superfoods, no type of food – none at all – will “make you fat”.
It’s all about moderation.
So long as your overall calorie intake and macronutrients are on track, there is absolutely no reason to avoid certain food groups like the plague.
Three years later, a second study showed that dieters (this time all women) following a rigid “clean” approach suffered far greater cases of disordered eating and mood disturbances, while those using a flexible approach and enjoying treat foods in moderation once again came out on top. (2)
So, here’s a crazy fact: all of my clients eat treat foods.
The best diet is the one you can stick to.
2. Eat Little And Often To Speed Up Your Metabolism
Ah, the favourite saying of the “wellbeing coach”.
You know, the girl at your office who recently decided to start selling Juice Plus or Herbalife and is suddenly a fucking dietitian.
“Eat small frequent meals and you will stoke your metabolism, keeping it burning more fat throughout the day.”
Indeed, some individuals believe that if you were to consume the exact same amount of food but split it into smaller, more frequent meals you will lose more fat.
This myth has been around for years.
It is engraved into the fitness community.
In fact, I can recall being taught this on a fitness course early in my career.
So here we go, I’ll say it:
- Eating small, frequent meals does not speed up your metabolism.
- The metabolism is not like a fire which needs to be stokedthroughout the day.
I feel better now it’s out.
A 2013 study from the University of Colorado discovered that increasing meal frequency from 3 to 6 – but keeping overall calories the same – had zero effect on metabolism and the amount of body fat burned.
In fact, the smaller meals caused an increase in both hunger and the desire to over-eat. (3)
When it comes to meal timing it’s the overall figures that matter – i.e. your nutrition over the course of the entire day, week and month – so do what works for your lifestyle.
- If you enjoy eating 3 big meals per day, do that.
- If you enjoy eating smaller, more frequent meals then do that.
3. Cardio To Lose Weight, Weights To Bulk Up
Every time I’ve ever ran an induction at my gym I am inevitably asked:
“Should I just do cardio for the first few months to lose weight, then do weights to tone up?”
No, you should not.
Cardio will help you lose weight and you should definitely do it as part of your training routine.
That’s for sure.
But you do not need to delay training with weights unless you have a medical reason to do so.
In fact, hitting the iron will help you to burn more body fat and reach your goals a hell of a lot faster, so incorporate it in your training from the get-go.
4. You Need Supplements
About two years ago, a client once cancelled a session he’d paid £90 for, by uttering the immortal line:
“I can’t train today, I’ve ran out of preworkout.”
Get the fuck out.
But this is quite a common thing.
No sooner do you start weight training, the supplement industry hits you like a ton of bricks.
Suddenly you’re being told you need powders for this, and pills for that, otherwise you’re not going to reach your goals in the gym.
And, as you’ve probably guessed, it’s really just bullshit.
If you are training hard and watching your diet you will achieve great physical results with or without the use of supplements.
If you need some energy before you train and don’t have any preworkout left, just have a cup of coffee – caffeine is the dominant ingredient in almost every preworkout formula on the market – don’t skip your entire workout.
It’s gotten way out of hand.
I remember tucking in to a banana after a workout, and “that guy” came over – every gym has one, he goes around giving everybody unrequested advice – to tell me I should ditch the banana and just add maltodextrin to my post-workout shake because the carbs would be “cleaner”.
Let’s not even get into that debate – not a fan of the meaningless term “clean eating” hence why I always put it in speech marks to piss people off – but this guy was telling me to ditch fruit, literally the best thing you can eat, in favour of adding a funky-tasting substance to my protein shake?!
I then sniggered as I watched him gulp down another mouthful of a questionable-looking drink that had so many substances mixed together it looked like it came out of the wrong end of Frankenstein’s monster.
Plus, it broke the one rule my mother told me – never drink anything luminous.
I encourage you to ditch this whole “I need supplements” mentality which is plastered all over fitness magazines.
Because back in the day, people just trained incredibly hard on a consistent basis.
And unlike the formula for the latest, greatest powder which is basically the same as the last one but with a different coloured tub, the formula for success has not changed.
Just train hard on a consistent basis.
You should not be going to the gym feeling like a drugs mule.
5. Creatine Causes Bloating
One of the supplements I mentioned above was creatine.
This is a naturally-occurring substances responsible for boosting explosive performance, and of all the supplements for weight training purposes, it sits at the top of the tree.
It’s been utilized by top level athletes from around the world for over 25 years now, and is the subject of literally 100’s of clinical studies proving it’s effectiveness.
But even creatine is the subject of gym myths.
One such myth is that continued usage will cause bloating.
Ads in fitness magazines always claim you need to replace your creatine monohydrate with something like creatine ethyl-esther or kre-alkalyn to avoid this negative side effect.
Which doesn’t exist.
Alongside the main use of increasing our capacity for explosive movements, a side-benefit of creatine supplementation is that it forces water into our muscle cells making them appear fuller and harder.
If we were to stop using creatine, the water which had been pushed into our muscle cells would be flushed away, but the strength gains created by creatine usage – i.e. you built more lean muscle because you were able to lift heavier weights and perform more repetitions – are 100% real.
The important thing to take note of above is that water is forced into the muscle cell.
It does not – under any circumstances -force water to sit between the skin and the muscle, in order to cause a blurry, bloated appearance.
The supplement industry is to blame for this myth, sadly.
Once it became common knowledge just how cheaply creatine monohydrate can be manufactured, supplement companies began formulating newer, more expensive versions of creatine for you to buy instead.
The problem, however, is that creatine monohydrate has a wealth of scientific research to document it’s effectiveness while these new formulas had zip.
So they did the only thing they could to sell their expensive products – make people paranoid.
The moment they said creatine would cause bloating, they struck fear into the hearts of bodybuilders everywhere.
And once you begin doubting yourself, you find yourself spending £40 per month for something you could have gotten the same results with for £5 per month.
Trust science, not broscience.
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1. Smith C.F., et al. “Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes.” Appetite. 1999 Jun;32(3):295-305.~2. Stewart T.M., et al. “Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women.” Appetite. 2002 Feb;38(1):39-44.
3. Ohkawara K., et al. “Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger.” Obesity, 21, 336-343
4. Cramer M. J., et al. “Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery and Exercise Performance is Not Significantly Different Between Fast Food and Sport Supplements.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Mar 26.