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12 Biggest Workout Myths That Sabotage Your Fitness Goals (And Your Health)

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12 Biggest Fitness Myths That Sabotage Your Workouts
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Believing these myths keep you from living your best life.

For the last 7 years, my husband and I have run a neighborhood gym, training hundreds of people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and temperaments. You’d think that the actual 'fitnessing' would be the hard part, but it’s not. The hardest part is the crazy fitness goals that people have in their heads about getting in shape, most of which can be tracked right back to magazines and TV shows that set unrealistic standards for what good health and our bodies should look like.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back just to stop this nonsense from getting into people’s heads. There are a few preconceived notions you might have about gym workouts and fitness in general that you need to erase from your mind before you start seeing any kind of real results:


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1. No pain, no gain.

No. No. No. No. No. We do not push through pain. Ever. If it is stabbing, radiating, sharp, or localized, stop, immediately. Pain is your body’s way of saying, “stop, dude, now.” We push through fear, fatigue, soreness, and newness. But never pain.

Generally speaking, pain is your body telling you that something’s wrong. It’s a yellow light, maybe a red light. It is not a trophy.

2. "I’ll rest when I'm dead."

Rest is an incredibly important component of health, and of strength. Even elite athletes have rest days, and that does not mean “just” running 5 miles, it means literally giving your muscles time to heal, which is when they get bigger and stronger. If you are constantly breaking them down, you’re not going to get stronger. My personal target is 2 rest-days a week of actual rest.

3. You'll get visible abs if you train hard enough.

No amount of “core work” will get you a visible 6-pack. Period. The only way to have them is to have so little body fat that there is nothing covering the abs that EVERYBODY has. But the real kicker is that how you store and carry body fat is largely in your genes.

Most of the people I know are never going to have a visible 6-pack, and if they do, it’s because they starve themselves and over-train. That is not a goal we ever encourage.

4. If you’re not giving it 150%, you’re not trying hard enough.

If you’re in a career-defining competition, you can give 150% (if you ignore the fact that 150% isn’t even a thing.) But in your daily workouts? No. Give it a solid 90%. Push a little harder than you want to, go a few minutes longer, a few pounds heavier, but leave enough in the tank for your family, your friends, and to be able to come back tomorrow. After all, if you hate it, you’re not gonna keep doing it. I want you to keep doing it.

5. You have to be fit to get fit.

The fitness industry likes to glorify “beast mode,” but the reality is that you get fitter the moment that you did more than you did the day before. Any good fitness routine can be tailored to meet you where you’re at. If box jumps seem impossible, then step up rather than jumping. If you don’t feel emotionally safe modifying your workouts, then try to find someplace that you do feel safe.


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6. Women shouldn’t have visible muscles and men SHOULD.

We live in a society that has prescribed what people “should” look like, and done so in a way that is unattainable for the vast majority of us. We need different goals. The primary purpose of your body is to bring you joy, not look a certain way. You should be able to do the things that make you happy and feel good, whether that’s dancing or hiking or swimming or having sex.

Let’s get you strong and healthy enough to do those things with great abandon. Fitness is about what your body feels like and how it makes you feel, not what it looks like.

7. Fit people are lean people.

With a few exceptions on the far ends of the spectrum, size is not an indicator of health. I know plenty of people with visible 6-packs who can’t run around the block, and even more with big, bouncy bodies who can run marathons. You simply CANNOT judge someone’s fitness by the shape of their body. And you sure as hell shouldn’t be judging their worth.

8. Skinny people are sexy people.

“Sexy” is a personal thing. And it is something that should only matter between people who are having sex with each other. No matter what the magazines tell you, it is not your job to be “sexy” to every random person walking down the street. It’s not even possible because everyone has totally different things that turn them on.

The people who love you, and love having sex with you, will love your body. If they’re telling you that your body isn’t good enough for them, then they aren’t good enough for you.

9. Progress is linear.

The path to fitness, whether it’s casual or a career goal, is anything but linear. You have to look at it in the long term. Things like fatigue, injury, sleep, hormonal cycles and myriad mystery conditions will change how you feel on any given day. When all else fails, remember that doing something is generally better than doing nothing — give yourself points for that.

10. Problem areas and spot training.

Nope, not a thing. The only reason you think your thighs, are a “problem area” is because the media told you that they are. And let’s be clear: when media says “problem area,” what they really mean is “you have fat there.” Then they try to sell you a solution: a diet, a pill, a magic trick. There is no such thing.

You cannot spot-train to lose fat. Ever. You can work to strengthen parts of your body, but that won’t necessarily have any impact on what they look like.

11. Perfection is a real thing.

Don’t create fitness and nutrition expectations for yourself that you can’t live up to. If you’re trying to improve your general health and fitness, make small changes, not sweeping proclamations. I always encourage people to pick two or three things — that’s it. Less sugar, more veggies, move 20-minutes a day. Once those are solid, add two or three more, or go to the next level with those simple goals.

Life is, hopefully, long. Small changes add up quickly, good or bad. So make the kind of small changes that you can stick to, feel the sense of accomplishment for doing those, then do more.

12. You’re not good enough as you are.

Guess what, you are. And you’ll be good enough in the future too. It is totally okay to love yourself today, and still work to make changes in the future. In fact, it makes it easier. Why? Because when we love something, we treat it well. We protect it and care for it. And when it is something that brings us joy, we tend to maintain it and be excited about it. When we make plans for things to do with it in the future, we deepen our relationship with it. It’s as true with our bodies as it is with our cars, our pets and our friends. Love begets caring, which enables longevity.

Look, being stressed out and mad at yourself is far worse for you than not working out “enough.” Be kind to yourself. Don’t focus on what you look like. Instead, focus on how you feel and what you can do.

And yes, I know that’s hard. I know that because it is, all day, every day, the thing that I have to help people with the most. I can fix people’s squat form and help them deadlift their body weight, no problem. But the hardest part is, without exception, changing the dialog they have about their bodies.

But it’s also the most rewarding.

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Alyssa and her husband Brady own Rocket CrossFit in Seattle, which is a radically-inclusive, rainbow-laden gym filled with sweat, grunting, and love. She writes and speaks a lot about fitness, food, parenting and anything else that pops into her head on her blog.

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