Does "no pain, no gain" really signify a dynamic workout? Learn the truth behind the most ubiquitous fitness tips to see if they're worth believing
"Always do a dynamic warm-up before you go for a run." "Don't forget to stretch when you finish your workout." "Foam roll every day or you're setting yourself up for an injury." As if working out isn't tough enough—either because you have a hard workout lined up or you're just lacking motivation thanks to one too many Happy Hour drinks the night before—it seems like every day there's some new fitness advice "rule" the experts insist you follow. (See The Worst Fitness Advice Personal Trainers Give Clients.)
But in the spirit of living—and sweating—on the edge, we say some rules are meant to be broken. Here are a few of the catchy "dos and don'ts" we're sure you've heard, and reasons why you should be ignoring them.
Ouch. Not all pain is positive, and not all next-day soreness means you really rocked your workout. "It's a common mistake to think that the more you 'feel' a workout, the more it's working," says Refine Method founder Brynn Putnam. "Soreness means there has been damage to your muscles or connective tissue that your body is trying to repair, which is why you're frequently sore after any new exercise or an increase in intensity. The problem comes when you use the absence of soreness as a sign that your workout program is no longer workout."
While you may be less sore doing the same workout week after week, you didn't necessarily burn fewer calories or work your muscles less. You simply didn't damage your muscles or connective tissue as much. "A workout that constantly makes you sore is actually a red light," says Putnam. "Chasing short-term results like soreness and sweat can be seductive, but won't pay off in the long-term. Instead, measure your success by inches lost, definition gained, or balance, stamina, and coordination increased." (Too late? Here, 6 Ways to Relieve Sore Muscles After Overtraining.)
"This piece of fitness advice is true," says exercise physiologist Jonathan Cane. "It's just not always true. In fact, trying to always run fast is counterproductive and will inevitably lead to poor performance." The trick is to balance your fast runs and your slower runs, and to be OK with slowing down sometimes. "Running fast but judiciously will make you faster," says Cane. "Workouts don't happen in a vacuum—one impacts the next. If you try to run hard every day, your body will rebel. Instead, running hard one day and easy the next will lead to better performance."
Some studies say doing an aggressive workout before hitting the sheets is a bad idea because you'll be wired and won't get a good rest. Our take? If burning the midnight sweat helps you snooze—or if that's the only time you can squeeze in a workout—have at it (some experts agree!). "I know people who sleep better when they work out and unwind after their day," says Lyons Den Power Yoga co-founder Bethany Lyons. "There's nothing worse than having pent-up stress or energy left at the end of the day and then laying in bed willing yourself to go to sleep." Sweat it out!
Many runners swear by "all miles outside all the time." And we get it: What's better than logging a few sunrise miles as your city is just waking up? But the idea that "real runners don't use treadmills" couldn't be further from reality. For runners who want to try a specific workout—say a tempo run or an interval workout at a certain pace—hitting the treadmill is a great way to lock, load, and hone in on your stride. For someone like Cane—a self-proclaimed "numbers geek"—treadmills are an optimal solution for knowing exactly how far you've gone, how much you've climbed, and what paces you've hit. Don't fear the treadmill, runners—choosing the belt over the trails doesn't strip you of your legitimacy. Promise. (Need more convincing? Here, 5 Reasons to Love the Treadmill.)
That depends hugely on the kind of yoga you're contemplating. While there's a bounty of restorative, calming, non-aggressive forms of yoga that are perfect for when you want a more gentle stretch or relaxing way to move without doing all-out cardio, not all yoga falls under the "easy" category. So before you pop into the gym's "yoga" class thinking you'll be in savasana most of the time, do some research.
"The workout you get depends on the style of yoga you're doing and the intensity level at which you work," says Lyons. "Baptiste yoga, for example, will really get your heart rate elevated while working on strength and flexibility—key components to a 'real workout.' In some 90-minute yoga sessions, the number of calories burned rivals many other types of physical activities out there." In most cases, leave the rest days to real, luxurious, glorified, sit-on-your-butt-and-recover rest.
Actually, the real key to scoring a ballerina-like body is having ballerina-like genetics and, well, being a ballerina. "Stretching does not impact how your body looks," says Putnam. "It won't create long, lean muscles. Your genetics determine your propensity to gain both muscle and fat, and your proportions." However, adds Putnam, "Flexibility does have implications for fat loss and muscle development. If you don't have the flexibility to execute an exercise in a full range of movement, you will burn fewer calories and burn less fat than if you were moving through that full range."
We get it—a rider bouncing along off-beat can distract fellow indoor cyclers looking to burn and tone in harmonious sync with the rest of the room. But in order to maximize your workout, you should position yourself wherever you're most comfortable and will be best served. "Don't be intimidated," says Putnam. "A successful group class relies not just on the instructor, but also your fellow exercisers to build a supportive and encouraging environment. If you're brand new, you may want to sit or stand closer to where you can see the instructor's demonstrations, or you may opt for a spot in the middle of the pack so you can enjoy the energy of the group." Either way, set up where you'll perform your best and gain the most—and won't get in the way of others. And remember that everyone was a first-timer at one point! (Now, learn the 7 Pieces of Fitness Advice We Actually Want to Follow.)