Think low fat is good? Believe sit-ups will give you abs like Jessica Ennis? Think again, says Anna Hunter as she reveals the biggest health and fitness myths

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It all began with Project Bikini . From weekly spinning to outdoor workouts to merciless drill sergeant-style training, we stepped up our fitness routines for summer and are feeling more sprightly for it.

In addition to moving more, the marvellous Amelia Freer   helped us to tighten our belts as far as diet is concerned, which also lightened the load significantly. Despite professional help and expert supervision, however, a good few of us are still harbouring bad habits and unwittingly believing fitness fairytales.

It’s time to set the record straight and bust some of the most common health and fitness myths doing the rounds, and who better to help us than our team of masterful, all-knowing experts ?

Myth: Core exercises are best for developing visible abdominals

Busted: endless ab crunches aren’t the answer. Trainer to the stars Dalton Wong  sets us straight:

“Core exercises are great for helping to improve stability in your back, hips and knees, but to actually have visible abdominals it’s essential to have a very healthy diet and to choose the correct exercise programme. An exercise programme that involves several compound exercises leads to an increase in lean muscle mass which is key to lowering body fat.”

Nike master trainer and ITV Lorraine’s fitness expert Jane Wake  agrees:

“You absolutely can’t spot reduce fat from certain areas of your body. The inner thighs, stomach and bingo wings are typical target areas; working these specific areas will tone the muscle but as fat overlies the muscle, no amount of lifts, crunches or dips will get rid of that fat. To burn more fat you should incorporate high intensity cardio. Mix intervals of strength and cardio and in half an hour you can achieve so much more than you would from just doing a cardio or weights session alone. So much more time efficient!”

MORE GLOSS: Freer Nutrition's Bikini Body Summer School

Myth: Resistance and weight training will make me look bulky

Girls, you won’t be channelling Popeye anytime soon. Freedom2Train’s James Osborn  puts this porky to rest:

“Firstly, for muscle growth to occur there needs to be a significant amount of testosterone present, something which the female body is lacking. Secondly, for muscle mass to dramatically increase, the individual needs to lift a considerable amount of weight on a regular basis. An effective resistance programme would not involve this. Lighter weight, and even body weight exercises, will not result in any ‘bulking up’. What they will do is change the body’s composition. There will be an increase in the percentage of muscle throughout the body, leading to a higher metabolic rate and a more shapely figure.”

If you still need reassuring, trainer and Ten Pilates founder David Higgins  has some words of wisdom:

“The funny thing is, it is actually extremely difficult to bulk up (just ask any male). It takes a pretty extreme level of training and commitment.”

Myth: To achieve my dream body, I must exercise vigorously every day

Don’t launch into a punishing regime. Bodyism’s Nathalie Schyllert  advises exercising a little moderation:

“People who believe this couldn’t be more wrong. The most important thing is to exercise the right way. Some days a yoga session might do your body more good than going for a run. It is all about finding a balance and avoiding putting stress on your body.”

Which brings up to the next fitness fib…

Myth: I train three (sometimes even five) hours a week and that’s all I need to do!

Don’t think that putting in the hours at the gym gives you free reign in the big wide world. Time to flex that stiff upper lip, says Dalton Wong:

“This is one of the biggest misconceptions. What you do outside the gym is more important than what you do when you’re here! Our goal at Twenty Two Training is to educate and teach all of our clients regarding what to eat, how to move and how to make the correct choices when they’re not with us. Good choices and being disciplined is what ultimately gives them the body they want.”

Freedom2Train’s James holds a similar view:

“It’s simple - you can’t out-train a bad diet! There are 168 hours in a week, and even if you are working out seven days a week for an hour a day, there are still 161 hours left where you can be having a negative effect on your fitness goals through nutrition (especially if you’re eating during all of these spare hours!). If you’re not seeing the results you feel that you deserve based on the amount of exercise you do, chances are that your diet is to blame. It might surprise the majority of people just how much exercise you need to do to burn off the calories you consume through that extra drink, snack or dessert that you indulge in.”

On the subject of diet…

Myth: Eating low fat food makes you slim

We’ve been fed the idea that “lite” and 0% fat food is the key to staying svelte. It’s time to stop filling your mind and belly with fat free fluff. Just listen to Nathalie Schyllert instead:

“It’s all about choosing the right fat, not cutting it out completely. Consuming nuts, olive oil and avocado for example could actually help you to lose weight faster.”

James Osborn sheds some light on the issue of fat in our diet:

“It’s our carbohydrate consumption that has the biggest effect on our waistline, not our fat intake. Carbohydrates elicit a spike in blood sugar causing our body to release the fat storage hormone known as insulin. Our blood sugar is relatively unaffected by the level of fat in our diet. In fact, a relatively high fat diet can be healthy as long as you get your fats from natural sources. Foods such as avocados, nuts, mozzarella, full-fat milk and full-fat yogurt are great sources and you’ll get your requisite level of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.”

But that’s not to say that…

Myth: Carbohydrates are evil

Don’t go carb free forever, otherwise you’ll have Dalton Wong on your case:

“It’s the amount of carbohydrates that you consume that’s important. I try to educate my clients by telling them that the more body fat they have, the less carbohydrates they need unless they are specifically training for a sporting event. Once their body fat reaches a level that they are happy with I then teach them how to integrate healthy carbohydrates back into their diet.”

According to David Higgins, the main thing is to “Be mindful of portion sizes. We are all guilty of over eating at one time or another.”

There’s overeating, and then there’s over exercising…

Myth: Working out for longer will achieve better results

Like all things worthwhile in life, it’s all about quality, not quantity. Jane Wake states her case:

“Fat burning is often thought to be highest at lower intensity levels. Not true - if it was we’d all be sitting on the sofa burning fat. Higher intensity training brings about much greater calorie expenditure. What’s more, with high intensity training you get an ‘after burn effect’ which can increase calorie expenditure for up to 48 hours post workout. Lower intensity workouts will not do this.”

MORE GLOSS: The perks of keeping fit

Myth: Running is the best exercise for weight loss

Pounding the pavements may not be the best route to shedding the pounds, according to Dalton:

“My personal view on running is; you need to be fit to run, not run to get fit! Running is a great form of exercise as long as your body can handle it. Poor running mechanics in terms of posture, strength and flexibility can lead to injuries. It’s often best to focus on lower impact activities and cleaning up your diet if losing weight is your goal.”

Myth: It’s only women that believe in fitness falsehoods

Men believe the hype too, and most often they’re ignoring the elephant in room according to David Higgins:

“Men, regardless of age, still think that they are 20 something. Unfortunately, sitting at a desk for twenty years really creeps up on you. If you don’t look after yourself you gain weight, become unhealthy and are extremely likely to suffer daily aches and pains.”

Nathalie Schyllert makes it clear that it’s not just us women who kid ourselves when it comes to healthy living:

“Men tend to think they will always have the same metabolism as when they were 20 years old. It is only 10kgs later that they realise they need to change their lifestyle in order to stay fit and healthy.”

To finish, a final, sensible word from Mr Higgins:

“The fitness industry is full of ‘my friend told me this’ or ‘I read that…’ but at the end of the day, the ‘magic’ formula is really very simple. The more you focus on combining a balanced diet with an active lifestyle and ideally a few hours of concentrated vigorous activity per week, the better the results you will achieve.”

Treat your more active summer regime as a way to get out of the blocks, and then keep at a healthy pace for life. You’ve heard it before: life is a marathon, not a sprint. No burning out, no giving up.