Fitness Fables

Experts weigh in on what's true and what's not

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

The world of fitness abounds with fables, from no pain, no gain, to drinking water before exercising can give you cramps, and falling for one could have you spinning your wheels and getting nowhere instead of shaping up. Experts set the record straight and take the mystery out of these and other muscular myths for WebMD so you can make the most of your exercise routine.

No Pain, No Gain. "No pain, no gain is bad," says Jeffrey Berg, an orthopedic surgeon and team physician for the Washington Redskins. "When people start to exercise, there may be some muscle aches and pains, which are normal. But there are other aches and pains, such as joint pain, bone pain, muscle strains, and ligament or tendon strains, which are bad, and you should back off of because they'll get worse if you ignore them."

So start slow, explains Berg.

"Always ease into an exercise plan to avoid injury," says Berg. "The recommendation is if you're healthy and you know it, you can start exercising, but err on the side of being too slow than too fast to avoid injury."

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends starting an exercise program slowly and listening to your body and to your doctor.

There Is One Best Way to Exercise. "This is not true," says Berg. "In fact, not only is there not one best way for everyone to exercise, but there's not one best way for each person."

His recipe for success? Vary your routine.

"You have to incorporate different exercises and routines into your fitness strategy to reach your goals, which should be individualized for you," says Berg. "The exercises you choose should be tailored to what you like to do and then optimized for fitness and to avoid injury."

More Sweat, Less Fat. "This is false," says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "The amount you sweat is indicative of your body's ability to maintain its normal body temperature. You sweat when your body starts to store heat so you can experience cooling via evaporation of that sweat. So it doesn't correlate to how much energy, or calories, is being expended."

Drinking Water Causes Cramps. "Cramps are actually a symptom of dehydration, so this is an old wives tale," says Bryant. "Basically, drinking water will help ensure you are properly hydrated, which will ultimately reduce your risk of sustaining or experience cramps."

Lifting Weights Can Make You Look Bulky. "This is a myth that deters a lot of women from strength training, when in fact, what determines the amount of muscle bulk a person has is largely dependent on genetic factors," says Bryant.

So for the typical woman, and the typical man, the chances of looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger are slim.

"To keep things in perspective, less than 1% of women, and less than 10% of males, have the genetic predisposition to naturally develop muscle bulk in response to strength training," says Bryant.

Weight training is also an important part of any exercise plan, according to the American Heart Association web site. While aerobic activities help your heart and lungs and stretching improves your flexibility, weight training will improve your strength and endurance, and a combination of all three makes for an optimal exercise plan.

Exercising Is a Sure-Fire Way to Lose Weight. While it may seem obvious that exercise will result in weight loss, that's not necessarily the case.

"What can happen is an individual may gain weight because she is changing her body composition," says Bryant. "She's losing fat tissue, but gaining lean tissue, which is a good thing. So while you may gain, you'll start to notice that your clothes will fit better because lean tissue takes up less space than fat tissue because it's more dense."

And, of course, you need to take your diet into consideration.

"If you have a person who has a poor diet and she's inactive, and then she starts to exercise but continues the poor diet, she may lose weight, but it's only a modest loss," says Bryant. "The best method for achieving a change in body composition is to combine exercise with a sound eating plan."

You Can Target One Area of Your Body for Weight Loss. "This is a myth, pure and simple," Bryant tells WebMD. "No matter how much exercise you do for a specific region of the body, it's physiologically impossible to lose body fat in a targeted area."

Worse yet, the areas of your body that gain fat the fastest are the last to see it go.

"Fat is lost or gained throughout the entire the body," says Bryant. "But the last area where people tend to lose it from is the areas where they gain it first. So for most men, the abdominal region is the most difficult area to trim, while in women, the hips, buttocks, and thighs are the trouble spots."

Published April 9, 2004.


SOURCES: Jeffrey Berg, MD, orthopedic surgeon; team physician for the Washington Redskins. Cedric Bryant, PhD chief exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise. American Heart Association. American College of Sports Medicine.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 7:48:19 AM