Some fitness advice has been around since the beginning of time (or at least since humans started exercising for fun instead of survival) and refuses to die, even though it's just plain wrong. Here are five popular myths that people still believe are true, despite evidence to the contrary.
Myth 1: You need to stretch before you work out
While it's important to stretch after a workout, there's no need to do so before. In fact, it's not recommended to stretch cold muscles as they're not as flexible and the risk of overstretching or injury is increased. The best way to warm up is to do a less strenuous version of the exercise you'll be working on – for example, if you're going for a run, walk for five minutes, jog for another five and then your muscles will be warm enough to begin running.
When stretching after working out, make sure you don't 'bounce' the stretch. This is an old school practice which unfortunately some people still use. It can actually cause microtrauma in the muscle tissue, making you less flexible and more prone to pain. The best method is to hold your stretch in one position for at least 20 seconds. Also, always remember to breathe. Holding your breath while stretching can make you feel dizzy and light-headed.
Myth 2: Don't lift weights if you're a woman or you'll get HUGE muscles
So many women avoid weight training as they're scared of bulking up and looking like a man. This couldn't be further from the truth. As a woman, lifting weights will give you a toned, sculpted look. Men bulk up from weight training because they have a lot more testosterone than us ladies – about 15 to 20 times more, in fact. Because of this, women are physically unable to get as big as men without the use of steroids. Strength training will give you strong and hard muscles, but they won't have as much mass as those of a dude. Even if you lift heavier and heavier weights, you'll only gain strength, not size. So keep calm and start lifting.
Myth 3: Do XYZ exercise to burn belly/arm/thigh fat
Any personal trainer will tell you that there's no way to spot reduce fat, but still the myth persists that you can lose weight from the part/s of your body you please. Sorry, you can do all the crunches you like but you won't get a washboard stomach if your abs are hidden under a layer of fat. You can't control what parts your body chooses to deposit and lose fat from and everyone is different – some people carry their excess weight on their bum and thighs while others carry it on their belly and boobs.
The trick is to work on reducing your overall body fat percentage – cardio is a great way to do this – but the sad fact is that the part you want to lose fat from will probably be the last to go, as that's where your crazy body likes to store it.
Myth 4: After a workout, you should hydrate with a sports drink
The drinks companies would like you to believe this one, but you don't actually need to drink sports drinks during and after exercising. Unless you're a professional athlete or marathon runner, plain water will rehydrate your body just fine.
Most sports drinks contain a lot of unnecessary sugars that can actually be counterproductive to your workout. They do contain electrolytes - however, if you're just exercising for a short period of time (say, less than an hour) it's not necessary to replace electrolytes. FYI, coconut water also contains electrolytes and contains a fraction of the sugar and calories of sports drinks, so is a better option.
Myth 5: Eat THIS food to help you lose weight!
While it's true that eating lots of sugary processed foods will cause you to put on weight, there is no 'miracle food' that will help you burn fat. Yes, whole foods such as fruit and vegetables are low in calories and you'll lose weight if you eat these rather than stuffing your face full of sweets every day – but don't think, for example, that eating tonnes of broccoli will magically melt away all your fat from the inside. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise often and the weight will take care of itself.