9 Exercise Myths That Have Been Debunked by Science

These common workout myths have been discredited by scientific research.
Chris Young

It can be difficult to keep up a workout regime. New year's resolutions are quickly set aside despite our best intentions. Our busy lives get in the way, and misconceptions about exercise don't make things any easier.

There are many common myths about exercise that are getting in the way of our workouts or are impeding us from making the most out of the little time we do have to look after ourselves.

Here are some of the most common myths and a look at the science that debunked them.


1. Myth: You can be too old to exercise

Some people tend to be rather dramatic about hitting their 30s, saying it's all decline from that point on. Simply put, that's not true.

As a research paper by UK Active points out, aging by itself doesn't cause serious problems until much later in life. What does cause problems is inactivity, due to people's perception that they are too old to be engaging in any sort of rigorous physical activity.

Another study looked at the physical training of elderly people and concluded that they could effectively increase their strength, muscle power, and mass effectively by working out. 

In other words, for the majority of us, age shouldn't be a reason to skip the workout.

2. Myth: You can outrun a bad diet

When it comes to weight loss, it's all about diet. The title of this British Journal of Sports Medicine article says it all: "It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet."

9 Exercise Myths That Have Been Debunked by Science
Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and former director of the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic, told The Huffington Post:

“As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. An analysis of more than 700 weight loss studies found that people see the biggest short-term results when they eat smart." 

3. Myth: Sports drinks are healthy

Many people think they are eating and drinking healthy foods when really they are not. As per the British Journal of Sports Medicine paper, this comes largely down to the perception of what constitutes 'healthy'. The 'health halo' effect created by the marketing strategies of many food companies is largely to blame.

According to an article by Livestrong.com, sports drinks tend to contain high amounts of sugar, and are often high in calories. 

While we may need to replenish sugar levels after a workout, unless activity levels are very high, they might not justify the need for high amounts of sugar. In this case, the added sugar and empty calories ingested will contribute to weight gain and could hinder fitness.

4. Myth: Mornings are the best time to work out

They can be, but it also depends on whether you are a morning person. Getting up first thing in the morning and going for a run is undeniably a great way to kickstart your metabolism. However, as a 2019 study published in the Journal of Physiology points out, working out between 1 pm and 4 pm is just as effective as working out at the crack of dawn.

Not convinced? Turn yourself into a morning person. Another widely believed misconception is that if you're born a night owl, there's nothing you can do about it.

A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine shows that four simple habits can help you become a morning person, and that this is associated with better physical and mental health

5. Myth: Eat straight after your workout to refuel

Many people swear by the consumption of protein shakes or protein-rich meals within an hour of working out. However, the science on this is far from conclusive.

A paper in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition points out the following:

"Despite claims that immediate post-exercise nutritional intake is essential to maximize hypertrophic gains, evidence-based support for such an 'anabolic window of opportunity' is far from definitive." 

According to the paper, the anabolic window hypothesis is based on the presupposition that "training is carried out in a fasted state," when this is often not the case.

6. Myth: Pre-workout stretching prevents injuries

It is widely believed that stretching out before a workout will limber you up, and in doing so, make it less likely that you will tear a muscle or suffer a similar injury.

However, according to a 2007 study published in the journal Research in Sports Medicine, this isn't true. 

9 Exercise Myths That Have Been Debunked by Science
Source: Tacofleur/Pixabay

The researchers, "concluded that static stretching was ineffective in reducing the incidence of exercise-related injury."

However, while pre-workout stretching might not be as important as previously thought, a pre-workout warm up is still effective in preventing injuries, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation.

7. Myth: Avoid sex before competition

Many athletes and sports professionals, especially male ones, have long avoided sex before a professional competition. In men, it's rooted in the belief that it will drain them of energy and testosterone.

According to Vice, this belief has been held since the time of the Ancient Greeks. In other words, people have been pointlessly depriving themselves of sex for hundreds of years. That's according to a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The research even suggests that sex before a competition — as long as it's more than two hours before — might be beneficial, as it can lead to relaxation. 

8. Myth: Cardio should come before weights

What should come first? It's the age-old question: should we do cardio before lifting weights or after? A short run can leave us feeling energized, but can it also be detrimental to our weight lifting aims?

As Max Lowery, personal trainer and founder of the 2 Meal Day intermittent fasting plan, told Business Insider: "It's a huge mistake doing your cardio and exhausting yourself before you do weights. Cardio will deplete your muscle glycogen stores, which is essentially your stored energy for explosive activity. This means your strength and weight training will be much less effective."

In other words, while it depends a little on what your workout aims are, doing your cardio before hitting the weights will mean you won't have the stamina needed for serious muscle gains.

9. Myth: Bigger muscles make you stronger

A 2015 study confirmed what most of us suspected: gymgoers that concentrate all of their efforts on getting bigger aren't necessarily stronger than people who have a more rounded exercise routine and less muscle mass.

Man lifting weights
Source: Nikolas-jkd/iStock

The research, published in the journal Experimental Physiology, shows that weight lifters and sprinters have stronger muscle fibers, on a cellular level than bodybuilders. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, have more muscle fibers. So it comes down to quality over quantity. If you're only focused on getting ripped you might be sacrificing the quality of your muscles.

Of course, as with any scientific pursuit, the science around exercise and workouts is constantly evolving and improving. New research is constantly allowing people greater knowledge of their own bodies and how they function.

Do you know any other workout myths? Have you rid yourself of an unnecessary exercise belief that freed you to have a more effective workout? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

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