By Lisa Hoehn
The Active Times

It's not always clear where we've acquired fitness knowledge -- was that fact pounded into you from elementary gym class? Or perhaps you read it in a magazine somewhere. But regardless of its origin, you now follow that advice in your day-to-day, right?

Well, not all exercise information -- and there's a lot of it -- is created equal, so it gets confusing. Do you work out hard all the time, or is it sometimes best to shoot for moderate intensity? Should you pop ibuprofen for post-workout soreness? And how long after exercising should you eat? We know what you've been told before, and now it's time to get the facts straight.

Most people, whether they know it or not, are guilty of following at least one outdated—or just plain lousy—piece of oft-repeated fitness instruction. We talked to fitness experts across the country and scoured medical journals to get to the bottom of some of the most widespread -- and flagrant -- exercise myths, and give you science-savvy, expert-approved solutions.

Worthless Fitness Tips You Probably Follow Slideshow


Always stretch before your workout

Earlier this year, two studies (one, a comprehensive study of studies) emerged to finally put the stretching debate to rest. The results? Static stretching before exercise can actually decrease your muscles' strength (by as much as 8.3 percent) and result in a loss of explosive power -- the kind that's necessary for quick bursts of force. The longer you stretch, the weaker your muscles become. As one study author says, "A warm up should improve performance, not worsen it." The new mantra: Warm up and engage your muscles with dynamic movements, such as jumps and kicks.


Push through the pain

"There’s a difference between pain and discomfort," Reddish says, "but sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference.” Pain is your body's way of telling you that you're overusing (and potentially injuring) some joint, muscle, or tendon, whereas discomfort is more akin to fatigue, which is necessary in pushing your body to the next level. Sharp, acute pain, perpetually hurting post-workout and swelling are all signs that you're at risk of being derailed by injury, and it's time to ease off. "If you're not sure how to read your body cues, start out by exercising with a fitness professional," she adds.


To lose weight and fat, focus on resistance training

While resistance training is a great way to increase lean muscle mass, research has shown that aerobic exercise is king when it comes to dropping pounds. In one Duke University study, people who worked out with cardio burned 67 percent more calories than those who worked out with weights -- and also shed more bad belly fat (that is, visceral and liver fat), to boot.


A cool down is absolutely necessary

In fact, several studies have tested the cool down -- and they’ve found that there’s almost no significant difference in muscle soreness or next-day ability in athletes who'd cooled down vs. those who hadn't. But, as the New York Times points out, a cool down, physiologically, "feels nice," and there’s been no research to say that some light jogging after a strenuous session has any negative effect on the body. The bottom line: If you like cooling down, then cool down; if you don't, then don't.


You can drop pounds and inches -- without dropping a bead of sweat!

Advice such as, "dance while you clean,” "walk around your office on a conference call," and "do more yard work!" has been lauded by magazines and websites as a time-efficient way to lose. The truth: “If you went from couch potato to active housekeeper, you may experience some weight loss,” says John Boyd, group fitness director at the Chelsea Piers Sports Center. "But to actually improve your fitness level, this isn’t enough." Of course, any movement is healthier than none, but these types of tips should be considered add-ons -- not your total fitness plan.


It's always better to do vigorous workouts than it is to exercise at a moderate-intensity

"Common sense says that the harder you exercise, the healthier you'll be overall," says Cris Slentz, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Duke University Medical Center, “but common sense can get you in trouble—as there simply haven’t been enough studies to prove it.” While high-intensity workouts may do wonders for increasing your VO2 max, research has shown that for other measures of health --such as decreasing your levels of triglycerides or improving insulin response -- bouts of moderate-intensity are actually more effective than vigorous work. Which is not to say that you should slack off -- but instead remember that “the most important thing is simply to move."


It doesn't matter if you do cardio or weight training first

It does -- and the order you choose should depend on your fitness goals. "A cardio-first routine may increase your weight loss because your heart rate will continue to stay elevated during weight training," says Sharon Huey, exercise physiologist and wellness coordinator at Chelsea Piers. "You'll also have a higher core temperature, which can decrease your risk of injury.” What’s more, one study found that after a moderate-intensity cardio bout, men who lifted weights produced more testosterone, a key hormone for muscle growth and recovery, than those who began with resistance. If your goal is simply to increase muscle size, though, Huey suggests lifting first to avoid starting with fatigued muscles.


If you're feeling sore after a workout, pop an ibuprofen

It’s tempting -- but don’t do it. “NSAIDs such as ibuprofen actually inhibit muscular growth after a workout by counteracting your body’s natural healing process,” says Landen Jones, ACE-certified personal trainer at Mark Fisher Fitness. In fact, one study found that ibuprofen stopped growth in rats by a whopping 50 percent. "Soreness occurs because your muscles have done something new," he says. "Your muscles will adapt -- try to power through." Still need relief? Natural alternatives such as cherry juice can help. And if the pain is intolerable? See a doc.


If you have bad knees, do your running on a treadmill

While some models claim to be "joint-friendly," or "low-impact," the reality is that there are very few -- if any -- treadmills that function differently from a sidewalk. To truly take pressure off of your knees, opt for grass or sand outdoors and the elliptical or a stationary bike indoors, suggests Rachel Reddish, fitness manager at Crunch gym in NYC.

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For the complete slideshow of Worthless Fitness Tips, go to

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