Common Men’s Fitness Myths Busted (Part 1)

common fitness myths

We’re taking a bit of a change of pace with this post and looking at busting some common fitness myths.

I am travelling with work (yes, I do have a day job) at the time of production and writing and I didn’t want to lose my cadence with posting content so I am going for an easier-to-produce and easier-to-create post that doesn’t need quite as much research or deep diving.

So we’re looking at some common fitness myths and misconceptions and trying to break down what the actual truth is.

Let’s do this.

The Myth Of Toning Up

There is no such thing as toning up and I have talked about this one before.

It’s a common fitness goal for people to say they don’t think they want to lose weight or bulk up, they just want to “tone up”.

In visual terms, what that translates to is being roughly the same size, but with more muscle definition.

Muscles can’t or don’t “tone”. By the same token, fat doesn’t turn into muscle and muscle doesn’t turn into fat.

Muscles can get bigger or smaller and stronger or weaker and then body fat over them can increase or decrease.

That’s about it.

The way to get that “toned” look that seems to be so commonly desired is usually to gain some muscle tissue in the areas that you are trying to tone and then lose enough body fat to reveal that definition.

I don’t get a lot of compliments about my body, but when I do, they tend to be about my arms being toned, so I guess I kind of sort of know what I am talking about in this department.


My arms are not particularly big or muscular, and a size Small t-shirt is still baggy on them. But there is some leanness, there is some definition and they can form a bit of a bicep peak.

So I am pretty happy with the way they look.

Excuse that self-indulgent tangent.

The point I was making was that the “toned” look that so many people seem to aim for comes from 2 things:

  • Dropping some body fat
  •  Building some muscle in the areas you want to look toned

That doesn’t mean gaining a lot of muscle or bulking up. A little bit of muscle growth can actually go a long way in a lot of cases.

The problem with specifically trying to “tone up” as your goal is that it seems to completely ignore the process of how to actually get there.

Weights Can Make You Bulky

This is a common misconception. It’s probably slightly more common amongst women (at least from my own experience in gyms) but it is also very common amongst men.

And that is the idea that weights will make you bulky or that you will end up getting “too big” and that just doesn’t happen.

Worrying about getting “too big” from lifting weights is honestly pretty similar to worrying that if you go out for a walk you’ll accidentally run a marathon.

Building muscle takes a long time, a lot of hard work, and eating a hell of a lot.

And even to start seeing some muscle gain can take months of consistency.

It definitely doesn’t happen overnight, and I don’t think anyone in history has ever accidentally gotten “too big” without intending to get up to a certain size in the first place.

And as someone who has trained and lifted weights for years, any muscle I have gained very definitely hasn’t come easily.

I always say there is no perfect way to train and you shouldn’t force yourself to train in a way that you don’t enjoy. But holding yourself back because of that kind of misconception is a separate point altogether.

And some strength training is genuinely helpful for overall health for both men and women.

So don’t be scared to lift weights.

The Anabolic Window

When I first got into fitness, there was this idea floating around that you had to get in 25-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout or you would lose your potential gains.

This is called the anabolic window and it comes from the idea that post-workout is when your muscles are primed for nutrient absorption and building muscle.

I did find a study that suggests that around 30g of protein on either side of your workout within a total 3 or 4 hour window can be beneficial. But the study also admitted that findings were inconsistent.

In writing this, I couldn’t find any studies that declared as scientific fact that an anabolic window exists. The general consensus seems to be that there is a vague but inconsistent link between post workout meal timing and muscle gain.

But in the context of an overall balanced diet with sufficient protein, the impact of this eating window is minimal.

Carbs And Fat Gain

Since the Atkins diet came out in the early 2000s, it has become increasingly common, and maybe a bit fashionable to associate carbs with fat gain, and demonise them as a result.

There is nothing specifically about carbohydrates that suddenly or automatically will induce your body to start gaining fat.

Anecdotally – and yes I know this is a sample size of 1 – the periods in my life when I have been having regular carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet have been the periods when I have achieved the most consistent and steady weight loss results.

living on carbs

That doesn’t mean I had nothing but carbs or anything like that, but I didn’t exclude them from my diet and found I had plenty of energy and focus and was able to genuinely enjoy me food while still making progress on my weight loss goals.

So where did this demonisation of carbs come from?

I think a few things combined.

Atkins/keto/low carb diets grew in prominence, as did the number of people following them.

And going low carb does actually result in a very sudden short-term weight loss. Your body’s glycogen stores deplete, which means you also lose water weight.

But it is important to note that is specifically water weight, not body fat being lost in that stage. And that is something a lot of people either don’t know or forget, because the scales are going down.

Plus it is also worth remembering that most of the popular and tastiest foods that we as a society tend to overeat are carb-based – cakes, cookies, cereal, pasta, rice, takeaways, and bread are a few examples.

If you cut those out, you will of course be likely to be eating less naturally, which can also result in said weight loss.

But in the context of an overall balanced diet, or unless you have been told to by a medical professional, you don’t need to eliminate carbs from your diet to get results.

It is largely down to personal preference and what works for you, your tastes, and your lifestyle.

Spot Reduction

Spot reduction is the idea that you can pick and choose the areas you want to lose body fat from and make it happen specifically from those areas.

There is no truth to that.

Doing lots of sit-ups and crunches won’t be making any fat from around your stomach disappear any quicker.

There is no way to target specific areas. All you can do is follow an overall balanced diet and exercise routine that is designed to help you lose fat.

And body fat will start to go from all over your body in whatever order your body decides.

People lost fat from different areas, at different speeds, and in different orders.

In my case, for example, I have a fairly lean back and arms. My face is fairly thin. My chest and stomach are moderately lean. I carry disproportionately more body fat around my lower body.

And that is different for everyone. I know people who have very lean arms and legs, but carry most of their body fat around their stomachs. I know people with more body fat on their limbs and a very lean torso.

There is some science to it – it’s not just completely random. Fat cells have 2 types of receptors – alpha and beta. And in your cells, one of those will be more dominant than the other.

Alpha-2 receptors encourage your body to store fat and beta-2 receptors encourage the usage of stored fat. So areas where your fat cells are beta-dominant will lose body fat quicker than areas where your cells are alpha-dominant. The alpha-dominant areas are areas that we will typically call “stubborn fat”.

I am not a scientist or clinician so please check out this article for more information.

You Need To Sweat To Have A Good Workout

It’s common to associate sweat with hard work and workout intensity. And it is common to think that if you didn’t sweat, you either didn’t work hard enough or had a bad workout.

I remember a quote from a TV presenter in the UK once who said that unless they are covered in sweat, they don’t feel like they have had a good workout. If I could find the quote or the original article, I would link it here.

Let’s be 100% clear. Sweat is your body’s reaction to heat and to feeling overheated.

Yes, sweating can definitely be a sign that you are working harder. It can also just be a sign that your body is heating up and trying to cool down.

I don’t sweat much at all from yoga or weights but I am definitely working hard and those workouts are doing me some good.

It also usually takes me 5-10 minutes of consistent aerobic effort before I start to sweat doing cardio.

That doesn’t mean I am being lazy – that is just how and when my body heats up.

I am much more likely to sweat sitting outside when it’s humid and making no effort to move than I am when going through an intense weights workout.

But hopefully, you can figure out which one I am working harder in.

No Such Thing As A Bad Workout

I see 2 variations of this phrase on social media a lot.

The first is “there is no such thing as a bad workout”.

The second is “the only workout you regret is the one you didn’t do”.

It’s one of those weird, somewhat toxic phrases that can shame people into working out when it genuinely won’t do their bodies any good.

Yes, I am sure it is helpful for people who are feeling a little bit tired or a little bit lazy to actually get up and go to the gym.

But there are definitely bad workouts, and workouts you may regret:

  • The ones you force yourself to do when you’re already feeling completely burnt out
  • The ones you’re not sure how to do safely or risk injuring yourself from
  • The ones you force yourself to power through despite injuries or niggles, risking making your injury worse
  • The ones you get no enjoyment or positive sentiment from, worsening your relationship with exercise in a way that may put you off working out altogether
  • The ones where you feel guilty because of something you ate or because you feel like you need to burn it off. Taken to a more extreme level, this does start to overlap with bulimia.

Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day

The idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day came largely from American marketing hype.

I couldn’t find the exact chain of events that led down this route but it started with the typical American farmers’ breakfast and eggs.

Chickens lay eggs in the morning, they’re quick and easy to prepare and became a prominent breakfast food from that.

As people moved into offices and became more desk-based, there were more worries about indigestion and discomfort from eating a bigger breakfast.

common fitness myths breakfast

That led to the growing prominence of cereal (yes, Kellogg’s) and a big marketing push to make breakfast the most important meal of the day and to make cereal a prominent breakfast food.

Around the time I got into fitness, breakfast was being pushed as a weight loss aid. The pseudo-science behind it was that it will stop you from snacking until lunchtime so you will eat less. Allegedly.

If you have a commute to work or train early, then yes, it definitely makes sense to fuel yourself properly.

But plenty of people don’t eat breakfast and it doesn’t negatively impact their weight-based goals. Since I started working from home a few years ago, I found I was very rarely hungry in the mornings and wouldn’t normally eat anything until 10 AM or 10:30.

When I started intermittent fasting, I often didn’t eat until 12 noon.

And I actually lost weight during that time.

Meal timing has a fairly small part to play in your overall health. And your overall diet and making it fit into your lifestyle is probably much more important.

Low Calorie Is Better

It’s common to call lower calorie foods or swaps guilt-free or sin-free, which does a couple of things.

Number 1 is that it automatically assumed everyone needs to be losing weight. Number 2 is that it makes it sound like calories are the only thing that matter.

For a fat loss goal, lower calorie foods might be easier to fit into your eating plan.

That doesn’t mean they will taste better or carry any other actual nutritional benefits.

In fact, it’s possible to end up eating more if you are eating foods that you deem to not have any guilt associated with them or that you decide are good for you.

common fitness myths fat free

Plus if you go for a lower calorie swap, you might find it isn’t as satisfying so you end up needing to eat more to get the same feeling of satiety as if you went for the “normal” version. Powdered peanut butter as a swap for normal peanut butter is a good example of this.

Lower calorie or lower fat versions of foods do have their uses and it is always down to personal preference, but don’t make the mistake of automatically thinking or assuming that they will instantly be better than the full calorie version.

The one exception I make is Pepsi Max because as far as I’m concerned, that is an absolute good compared to all other soft drinks out there.

Fat Burning Workouts

I hate to break it to you but there is no such thing as a fat-burning workout.

All workouts, and pretty much all movement to be fair, burn calories.

When you burn more calories than you have been consuming, your body will start to dip into stored fat reserves for extra energy.

Some workouts burn more calories than others and some training styles are also likely to result in higher calorie burn than others.

common fitness myths fat burning workout

But there is no workout that suddenly flicks a switch in your body and makes your body fat start to burn off.

Muscle Confusion

Another common myth is that you need to keep changing your workouts or exercises at set intervals to keep your muscles guessing or confused.

When you start something new, it’s common to make a lot of progress very quickly. That rate of improvement then starts to plateau which can feel a bit demoralising.

For some reason, the default assumption is that your workout isn’t working any more as soon as that happens and that it’s time to change things up.

If you change your workout entirely, all that happens is that you will go through the same rapid early progress with something else before hitting the same kind of wall.

Changing your workouts for the sake of some variety to keep you engaged and interested is different, and definitely worth doing. So is taking breaks, trying something else, and coming back to what you were doing after a short while when your progress has stalled, as you can come back to it with a renewed energy and fresh perspective.

But you don’t need to go and throw your entire training plan out the window.

common fitness myths - muscle confustion

My best periods of sustained progress have come from consistency and sticking to the same few exercises. I will take de-load weeks, I will take rest weeks, and I will occasionally change the number of sets and reps I am doing.

But it is strategic and planned and usually happens after a prolonged period of not making progress.

It’s not just some bizarre attempt to confuse my muscles or done on a whim.

When you bear in mind that your muscles don’t know the exact exercise you’re doing or the weight you’re lifting (they don’t have their own brains), trying to confuse them makes even less sense.

If You’re Not Sore, You Didn’t Train Hard Enough

When you are new to training, it is common to feel sore after every workout. You feel like it is a badge of honour in a lot of cases and a sign of hard work.

And it definitely is.

As your body adapts to working out and exercising, that feeling of soreness post-workout tends to reduce, until you may get to the point where you’re rarely sore after a workout.

common fitness myths - doms

The soreness, also known as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is your body recovering. During exercise, your muscles are subjected to microdamage – tiny tears in your muscles. The soreness comes from your body repairing that damage, and hopefully building you back that little bit stronger.

It is an inflammatory process, which is what causes the soreness.

As you get more used to exercise, your body adapts and the process doesn’t cause as much discomfort.

But for some reason, we still think we need to feel sore after every workout for it to have worked, which just isn’t true.

Focus on making progress, focus on the effort you’re putting in, focus on keeping yourself safe with good technique, and stick to training in a way that makes you happy and gives you some enjoyment.

Yes if you do something new or push past a certain level, you might be very sore. That doesn’t mean all the work that goes into the workouts where you don’t feel sore is wasted.

common fitness myths

More Common Fitness Myths

This is going to be a series so do keep an eye out for more posts about common fitness myths.

If you have any questions on any of these or on anything else fitness-related, the best way to reach me is on social media:

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