The Common Exercise Advice You Should Actually Ignore

Whether you sweat in a studio or in your living room, experts share how to reframe the way you think about fitness.

If you’re looking for exercise advice these days, chances are you don’t have to look very far.

Before social media, sessions with a personal trainer or a coach might have been your go-to for advice on what you should (or shouldn’t) be doing with your workouts. Now, fitness influencers are right at your fingertips ― and you don’t even have to put on your sneakers to learn how to get the best workout.

But not all advice is good advice ― or even correct. Here are some common exercise myths, according to experts (plus, what to replace them with as you work on your fitness).

You need more cardio to lose weight.

“Cardiovascular health is one of the most important things to focus on to decrease the risk of disease, but the idea that if you do more cardio you’ll lose weight faster is a recipe for burnout and food cravings,” said Juliet Root, a personal trainer for the workout app Onyx. “Unless you are training for an endurance sport like a marathon, performing hours of cardio can hinder your progress toward decreasing body fat.”

That’s because too much cardio increases cortisol levels, leaving you in a constant state of stress. “Too much cardio can also increase appetite,” Root said. “It takes a lot more time to burn the energy that one can consume in mere minutes.”

What do instead: Root recommended doing 30 to 45 minutes of cardio during a workout session that combines aerobic and interval training. On alternate days, work in strength training, which will support muscles and joints used in those cardio sessions and reduce the risk of injury.

Go hard or go home.

Not every workout needs to be an all-out effort. This is harmful to both our physical and mental health, said Kevin Gilliland, the executive director of Innovation360 and the host of the “Struggle Well, Live Well, Worry Less” podcast.

“The duration and intensity of your workout should really be based on how you feel on a given day,” he said. “This is how your body will perform and recover its best, not by continuing to push it to the limit.”

Research published in the journal Cell Metabolism supports this line of thinking. Both male and female subjects did a series of high-intensity interval training workouts on an almost daily basis. This led to a decline in mitochondria function. Mitochondria work as cell powerhouses, generating the energy needed for cell reactions in the body including metabolism regulation, glucose tolerance and more. Once the intensity levels of the subjects’ workouts were reduced, mitochondria function improved.

What to do instead: You don’t need to shy away from HIIT-style workouts, but make sure to also rotate in low-impact days as a balance, such as yoga, walking or a similar activity.

The "go hard or go home" mentality stands in the way of a legitimately good workout.
Edwin Tan via Getty Images
The "go hard or go home" mentality stands in the way of a legitimately good workout.

Heavy weights will bulk you up.

Just like there’s no magic bullet to lose 10 pounds, picking up a heavier dumbbell won’t turn your physique into a bodybuilder’s.

“Unless you are lifting with a high volume and dieting in a specific way, it is very hard to grow your muscles to the point where you would notice a big difference in size,” Root said. “Strength training that challenges your muscles to failure is an important part of creating lean muscle mass and can increase metabolism, helping you burn more calories at rest.”

What to do instead: Before you pick up heavier weights, focus on your form to make sure you’re doing the exercises properly. From there, increase anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds to keep your muscles guessing and your metabolism humming. Lifting heavier can often be the key to someone seeing a reduction in body fat and a leaner physique take shape,” Root said.

Working out at home isn’t the same as in-person at the gym.

Gilliland said this is one piece of advice that is true, but with a caveat. “There are a lot of benefits when it comes to home exercise but working out at home is extremely challenging for a lot of people,” he said. “What is often missing is the impact of people in a group, particularly on those days when you’re not feeling motivated. Even the most disciplined exercisers feel this from time to time.”

This doesn’t mean you have to force yourself back into the gym if you’re not ready or comfortable. You just need to get creative with your at-home setup to make sure you stay motivated and accountable.

What do instead: “No matter what type of workout you’re doing, connect yourself to a group or individuals virtually to build that gym-like community,” Gilliland said. “The influence and encouragement of other people is significant in subtle ways ― sometimes it’s attitude or perspective or new recovery techniques to use for your next rest day.”

Focus on your core.

Here’s the thing about those crunches you love churning out: They will make you a stronger athlete and person, but they aren’t necessarily going to result in a six-pack.

“Dietary changes and genetics play the biggest role in seeing a defined stomach,” Root said. “You can’t spot-reduce body fat in any one area, be it your core or somewhere else.”

What to do instead: Do exactly what you’re doing when it comes to core workouts, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and don’t get frustrated if you think you’re not getting results. A strong core (whether you can see it or not) is crucial to getting faster and stronger in any of your workouts.