This year you have committed to exercising more and getting healthy. Before you jump on the treadmill, take a look at these five workout myths so you can get the most out of your hard work.

Myth #1: No pain, no gain

This remains a popular slogan in the world of fitness, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that pain is not a good target to acquire. Pain is the body’s way of signaling overload, whether it is in the hamstrings as you fold forward or in the back or chest when you bench press.

Pain is a warning sign, and the myth that you cannot progress without it is dangerous.

The truth: Workouts are not always comfortable

Does this mean that your workouts should never have you break a sweat? That you should never feel your muscles exerting themselves to the point of fatigue? That a stretch should stop the instant you feel a pull? Absolutely not. There are different kinds of pain, and tuning into what is happening in your body as you exercise is the best way to figure out which is productive and which is harmful.

Sharp, stabbing pain or pain that is results in numbing is a clear signal that what you are attempting to do could potentially harm you. Otherwise, the dull ache of a muscle that is being gently stretched or the burn of that last repetition is healthy and should be expected. If you are working out and feel a sharp pain, back off the exercise, inhale and exhale deeply, then give it another try, ensuring your form is correct and using your breath to help ease you into the exercise. If you feel that sharp pain again, stop the exercise.

Whatever you do, don’t push through pain that is sharp or causing weakness. If you are not sure, check with your doctor or a personal trainer or physical therapist.

Myth #2: Daily workouts are the only way to go

While it is great to make a commitment to a daily fitness routine, many people go overboard and feel like they need to workout every day in order to see results. Instead of making progress by leaps and bounds, daily, intense workouts can lead to injury and damage to the joints (especially if it is the same workout every day).

The truth: Your body needs rest

Contrary to popular belief, muscles are not built in the gym. When you lift weights or complete weight-bearing exercises, muscles incur tiny tears or strains. These tears heal with downtime, creating a muscle that is larger, stronger, and able to hold more weight over time. The key is to let them heal. If you don’t rest, muscles are unable to repair themselves.

If you are committed to daily exercise, you have some options. Many who strength train work through a circuit of exercises that include breaks for muscle groups (i.e., leg day, chest day, etc.). Another way to break a daily sweat while allowing muscles to recover is to cross train. Alternate days of running, yoga, strength training, and swimming to work all muscle groups without excessive strain. Choose several activities that you enjoy to keep you motivated while allowing your body to get the rest it needs.

Myth #3: You must work out to maximum ability all the time

Another popular saying in exercise is “go hard or go home.” While there are certainly times when going hard is appropriate, working out to your maximum capacity every time you hit the gym, treadmill, or trail is a surefire way to burn out and injure your body. Pushing yourself as hard as you can for 60 minutes every time you exercise can backfire. Instead of burning excess fat and seeing quick results, your body becomes overtired and ravenous for post-workout fuel. You may find yourself negating your efforts with the types of foods your body craves after such strenuous exercise (e.g., fat and carbs).

The truth: Balance in the workout is key

Instead of hopping on the treadmill and running for 45 minutes every day, try a warm-up walk, a light jog for 20 minutes, and then some weightlifting, with a walk to cool down. This helps your body to modulate its effort and gets better results. You can also try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) if you crave an intense push of effort. Try the Seven-Minute workout daily, followed by gentle yoga or a long hike.

Myth #4: Starting with the core is the way to go for a flat stomach

Six-pack abs as a fitness ideal has long been the goal for many people. To that end, they may head straight for the abs, working out to fatigue and leaving nothing in the tank for the rest of the workout. This type of workout can actually stall progress towards a trimmer waistline.

The truth: Abs are everywhere

If you are sitting, standing, or walking, you are using your abdominal muscles for balance and stability (to some degree). When you head straight for abdominal exercises, you ignore all of the benefit of naturally engaging the deep abdominal muscles as you complete squats, push-ups, and lunges. Warm up the abs by completing other exercises that require balance first, then work them to fatigue towards the end of the workout for the most benefit.

Myth #5: Working muscles in isolation results in bigger muscles, faster

Being hyper focused on just the biceps or just the triceps results in a tedious workout that takes forever. We have over 250 skeletal muscles in our bodies. Imagine taking the time to attempt to isolate each one in a workout. And for what? Not much additional benefit at any faster rate.

The truth: Muscles don’t work in isolation, so why treat them that way?

Muscles are all attached through the fascia, a thin membranous cover that goes over our entire body, under the skin. Muscles are also attached to bones and ligaments. It is impossible to truly isolate one muscle at a time. As one muscle is stretched or taxed, another has to release to allow that action to occur. While some exercises may naturally target one muscle group more than another, other areas of the body are also working to help you complete each exercise. Why not use that natural anatomy to your benefit, working more muscles at once to build overall fitness?

Instead of exercises in isolation, try to figure how to work more of your body. Instead of isolating biceps, work on push-ups or planks to engage every muscle in the front and back body. You will see better results, faster, when you exercise your body in a more holistic way.

You have made a commitment to yourself to break a sweat every day, and that is a great thing. How will you plan your workouts while avoiding these myths?

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