Don’t Believe These 8 Fitness Myths: Experts Explain Why

Doing exercise the right way can benefit your health. But following bad advice can harm you. Many myths still exist in the fitness world, because science changes.

The New York Times asked more than a dozen fitness experts to reveal the myths they see most often among their clients and patients, and that they want to debunk once and for all.

Myth 1: You should stretch before you work out.
You may think that you should stretch for a few minutes before exercising. But recent studies have shown that this does not help you avoid injury and may even harm you. This is because stretching a muscle for more than 90 seconds makes it weaker for a while. For the best way to get ready for a workout, try a dynamic warm-up — a series of active exercises that get your blood flowing and gently stress your muscles.

Myth 2: You need to lift heavy weights to build muscle.
A lot of research now shows that lifting relatively light weights for, say, 30 repetitions is just as good for building muscle and strength as lifting weights that feel heavier for five to 12 reps. It’s up to you.

Myth 3: Running ruins your knees.
Don’t worry, research has shown that running does not increase your chance of osteoarthritis, and may even help your knees avoid the condition. In fact, being inactive increases your risk of getting osteoarthritis, along with age, weight and genetics.

Myth 4: Walking is enough to keep you fit as you age.
Walking is a popular and beneficial activity for many seniors. It can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, as well as early death. And it’s easy to do. But walking alone is not enough to stay fit as you age. Your muscle mass starts to decline in your 30s, so you also need to do strength training. Otherwise, you may lose the ability to do daily activities that require strength or power. To prevent this, add at least two 20-minute strength-training sessions every week to your walks.

Myth 5: Modifications are for beginners.
Doing a less-hard version of an exercise — like a push-up or plank with your knees on the ground — is not a sign of weakness or inexperience or regression. It is a sign of awareness and safety. Our bodies have different needs on different days, and modifying exercises helps us improve our form and the mind-body connection.

Myth 6: Runners and cyclists don’t need to strength-train their lower body.
Runners and cyclists often resist strength-training their lower body. But hitting the pavement or pedaling hard does not make their lower body strong enough to grow their muscles significantly. A strength-training routine that includes squats, lunges, glute bridges and pointers can boost bone density and lower the risk of injury — and improve their running or cycling performance, too.

Myth 7: You need 10,000 steps a day to be healthy.
Wrong. Exercise scientists proved this wrong years ago, but many still think it’s a measure of good health. latest research suggests that the health benefits of walking level off at around 7,500 steps, but even as few as 4,000 steps per day can lower the risk of dying from any cause.

Myth 8: You recover better from a hard workout by taking an ice bath.
A freezing tub after a tough workout may seem like a good way to avoid injury, since it lowers inflammation. But this has a downside. Not all inflammation is bad, and taking an ice bath after every workout can stop or slow down the healing process. When you exercise, you cause good inflammation by stressing your muscles on purpose, and as the body heals, it gets stronger. If you have a specific injury after a workout, you should either ice the injury itself or wait a day before taking a cold plunge, to let your muscles start healing. The same idea applies to painkillers like NSAIDs: Because they lower inflammation, you should only use them after a workout if you have an injury. Otherwise, you cancel out your training. Cold water immersion can stop inflammation very well, but you have to use it when you want to stop inflammation and not after every workout. For overall recovery after a workout, studies show that saunas may be better and safer.

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