Most of the clients and trainers working in commercial gyms do not know how to properly train. They are doing it wrong. That’s why a majority of people who join fitness clubs are disappointed in their results. Many buy a membership and start an exercise program, only to quit shortly after. Others keep exercising intermittently without ever experiencing meaningful results.

Notice a pattern here? In general, commercial fitness clubs are not delivering on their promise to help members attain their fitness goals. Part of the problem, too, is that there are many fitness myths that dominate people’s minds, creating false impressions as to what works and what doesn’t.

Over the last 10 years, a great deal of information has been published about exercise and nutrition in various magazines and self-help books. Prior to this, very few exercise magazines were even in existence. Today there are so many, that fitness magazines have their own dedicated area on newsstands and in bookstores. Now that exercise, and in particular strength training, has been given the acknowledgment it rightly deserves as the best means of getting fit, healthy and maintaining youthfulness, many “experts” have jumped on the bandwagon to exploit this field for the purpose of making money. Most of these self-proclaimed experts have never exercised before or achieved any significant fitness results.

The fitness and diet industry has certainly progressed as the internet has provided people with the ability to access instant information on every topic imaginable.

Myth #1

Performing isolated abdominal exercises will reduce fat around the waist and give you a washboard look.

FACT: The abdominal area is the most popular muscle group among beginning exercise enthusiasts: people wishing to lose weight, or who are obsessed with developing and showing a lean, muscular midsection. They perform hundreds, or even thousands, of abdominal crunches, sit-ups, knee raises and other exercises (sometimes multiple times a day) in the belief that doing so will result in a “six-pack” or “washboard abs.”

In the fitness/fad industry, this is what is referred to as “spot reduction.” To determine the potential of spot reduction, it would be necessary to study whether a greater fat loss change occurs in an exercised body part as opposed to an unexercised body part. In fact, this was done by researchers in one study who evaluated the effects of a 27-day sit-up program on fat cell diameter and body composition of 13 subjects. Over a four-week period, each subject performed a total of 5,004 sit-ups (with knees bent at a 90-degree angle and no foot support). Fat biopsies from the abdominal, subscapular and gluteal sites indicated that the sit-up program reduced the fat cell diameter at all three sites to a similar degree, which means that spot reduction did not occur only in the abdominals.

Obviously, abdominal exercises affect the abdominal muscles, but those exercises have little effect on the fat covering the abdominal muscles. This is true, since when we exercise, no matter the muscle group, energy from fat and carbohydrate stores are drawn from the body as a whole, and not just from one specific area. Consequently, you can do countless abdominal exercises, but doing so will not directly and automatically reduce the girth of your midsection. In fact, a very demanding exercise like squats with a barbell will do more to “lean up” your midsection, because it requires greater energy (more calories) to perform the exercise.

How should abdominals be exercised? Like any other muscle, intensely, using good form, performing no more than 6 to 12 repetitions of three exercises once every five days.

Myth #2

If you stop exercising, the muscle will turn to fat.

FACT: This is like saying that a chemist can turn lead into gold. Muscle cannot turn to fat because muscle cells are different and distinct from fat cells. If a person who is in incredible muscular shape stops exercising, while at the same time reduces their total food consumption (because not exercising means their body requires less energy to get through the day), the muscle size would decrease somewhat due to stopping the workout program. The fat cells, however, would also remain the same (very small) as a result of the total food consumed being reduced.

However, if the same person who stopped exercising consumed an equal amount of food as when they were exercising, then the extra calories not being burned(because the body no longer has a need for so many calories to sustain the muscle mass), would be converted to body fat. This fat would be added on top of the muscle and under the skin, giving the appearance that this once-muscular person was now bulkier, and the illusion that the muscle had turned to fat.

Myth #3

Weight training is not good for women because they will develop large, bulky muscles.

FACT: The belief that women who weight train will develop large muscles has been scientifically proven false. There are several reasons why women cannot build large muscles; most notably that women have very low levels of serum testosterone, a factor that restricts how much muscular size they will develop. Anytime we see a female with large, defined muscles (like those of a female bodybuilder), we must realize that in order for a female to develop such muscles, other factors are coming into play – namely anabolic steroids, together with unusual genetics to develop muscles. Unfortunately, the world of female bodybuilding is dependent on anabolic steroids and other growth stimulants as much as the world of men’s bodybuilding.

What weight training will do for females is allow them to increase their natural muscle size and reduce their inherent genetic fat cells. A woman’s anatomy is similar to a man’s, so each muscle can be exercised to look toned and “in shape.” As a bonus, most women who undertake a weight training program reduce in size, since muscle cells are more compact than fat cells. And so, even with a gain of five pounds of muscle and a loss of five pounds of fat, women who weight train will fit in smaller clothing.

Myth #4

Doing high repetitions will “tone” muscles while doing low repetitions will “bulk” muscles.

FACT: There is no scientific evidence that high repetitions increase muscular definition or “tone,” and that low repetitions increase muscular size or “bulk” exclusively. In one ten-week study, there were no significant differences in muscle size (and strength) between a group who trained with sets of four repetitions and a group who trained with sets of 10 repetitions. Now, when it comes to muscle definition, that is an issue of low body fat levels, which has more to do with proper nutrition and an appropriate amount of exercise, rather than the number of repetitions performed. Also, consider how much effort is required to lift 100 pounds 10 times as opposed to 50 pounds 20 times. The heavier weight is far more taxing on the system, and therefore will expend more calories.

If you had sets of twins, whereby one of the twins performed 9-10 repetitions and the other 4-5 repetitions, you would find little if any difference between the two physiques. On the other hand, if you had two unrelated people perform the exact same program (say, 6-8 repetitions of the same exercises and the same number of sets), both would have different-looking physiques because of their genetic difference. Look at any gym and at any set of training partners, and you will notice that they have different physiques, although they are exercising in the same manner.

You see, people respond differently to strength training because of their individual differences. Some people develop heavy, muscular physiques, while others remain very slight and lean, no matter how hard they train. Whether sets consist of low repetitions, high repetitions or something in the middle, individuals are still going to develop according to their genetic capabilities – provided that the sets are done with similar levels of intensity and quality of movement.

Further, we need to define what “higher” means. “Higher” repetitions merely means that the number is greater than some other number, and it could be concluded that 10 repetitions is high when compared to 8 repetitions. Certainly, a set of 25 repetitions would mean a light to modest weight, and exercising with such a load would emphasize muscular endurance more than muscular size or strength.

Myth #5

Lifting weights makes individuals become “muscle-bound” and causes them to lose their flexibility.

FACT: First and foremost, achieving a heavily muscled physique is not an easy thing to do, or automatic because a person starts weight training. Very few people have the genetic potential to increase muscle to the level of the bodybuilders we see in magazines, even with the use of growth-enhancing drugs. There is no correlation whatsoever between muscle mass and flexibility. While some individuals who are very muscular have poor flexibility, others who are very muscular can have good flexibility. This factor is partly genetic, but also dependent on the method and quality of exercise techniques used.

To explain this further, individuals who weight train can lose flexibility if they perform repetitions throughout a limited or partial range of motion, particularly if they ignore the stretched portion of an exercise. Those who do not fully stretch their arms down and back during a dumbbell bench press, for example, can lose flexibility in the shoulder joint. Conversely, by doing repetitions throughout a full range of movement, a person can maintain and even improve flexibility (as the weight pushes down against the muscle tissues in the stretched position). For those who still believe that lifting weights will make them less flexible, an option is to stretch the muscles after the completion of each exercise, or after a workout.