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A few common fitness myths debunked

Sure, everyone on Pinterest positions themselves as a fitness expert, and your family, friends, colleagues, and fellow gym members might sound like they know what they're talking about, but that doesn't mean you should blindly trust their advice. There is so much conflicting health and fitness information available. Just because you have heard something a million times doesn't make it correct. I can't tell you how many times I overhear conversations about fitness — at brunch, at parties, and especially at the gym — that are so misguided I almost cringe. I encourage you to be a critical consumer of fitness information. The following are the four myths I hear most often. Take a read and see if you have been consciously or unconsciously buying into them.

1. Stretching is always safe; the more stretching the better.

Too many people fall into the trap of believing that stretching is always safe. It is not! In fact, excessive and/or intense stretching — especially done with cold muscles — can actually cause or exacerbate an injury.

The amount and type of stretching you need depends on your individual body, goals, and exercise and injury history.

Stretching is not always beneficial, since a balance of flexibility and strength is needed for optimum muscular and joint function. Too much mobility can be detrimental. Excessive flexibility, without corresponding strength, can lead to unstable joints — think ankle sprains and dislocated shoulders. On the other hand, strength without flexibility can lead to muscles that become strained from something as simple as bending down to tie your shoes. Follow these two basic guidelines.

A. Aim to create appropriate balance. Naturally flexible individuals should simply work to maintain their flexibility and prioritize traditional strength exercises. Individuals who are strong and relatively inflexible should prioritize flexibility and yoga-based workouts.

B. When you are not warmed up, only stretch at a 3 out of 10 intensity. If you are warmed up, stretch at a 6 or 7 out of 10. A 10 represents intense stretching where you feel your muscles might rip. A 1 represents the mildest form of stretching; you almost don't feel like you are doing anything.

2. Running is the best way to get into shape.

If you hate running or it always causes you injury, it is not the best workout for you. Yes, running is a good workout (and my absolute favourite workout), but it is not the best workout for you if you can't (or won't) do it consistently. To achieve any health and fitness goal you need to be consistently active.

If you decide to run, keep in mind that it is hard on the body. Remember one of my favourite Kathleenisms: "Get in shape to run; don't just run to get in shape." Your entire lower kinetic chain has to be strong enough to support continuous single-leg impact forces far greater than just the weight of your body. If your kinetic chain is not strong enough, or if you don't give yourself enough recovery time between runs, injuries occur. Make sure you are strong enough to run by strength training, cross training, and stretching appropriately.

3. Getting 10,000 steps a day is all you need to do to become fit.

Yes, adopting a healthier lifestyle shouldn't just be about going to the gym a few times per week. We all sit way too much; adopting a healthier lifestyle needs to be about sitting less and generally moving more. Sure, weaving small amounts of movement into your daily life — for example taking the stairs instead of the escalator — is a fantastic way to easily make moving more of a habit. BUT that doesn't mean you don't need to do a few more-intense cardio workouts per week. Your heart is a muscle; it needs to be challenged!

It goes without saying that I am all for making daily movement a "non-negotiable," but I encourage my clients to get 10,000 steps daily and do three weekly cardio workouts.

Doing a few cardio workouts at the gym per week doesn't offset sitting for 14 hours per day, but getting up from your desk regularly and walking around doesn't replace cardio workouts where you keep your heart rate between 60% and 75% of its maximum for 20 minutes.

4. I exercised today so I deserve....

The myth of "I deserve" is all too common: "I went for a 30-minute run today so I deserve all the beer, cake, fried food, or (fill in the blank) that I want" or "I exercised today so I don't have to feel guilty for watching 10 hours of TV in a row."

If you are exercising with the goal of losing weight, remember that exercise will only help with weight loss if you don't replace the calories you burned with extra food. Have a treat if you want it, but understand that the treat will affect how quickly you reach your goal. Portion sizes are always important, even on days you exercise.

Also, don't fall into the trap of believing that working out a few times a week means you can be a sloth the rest of the time. Prolonged sitting negatively affects the cardiovascular, lymphatic, and digestive systems, not to mention your metabolism. It is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes, and it affects how your body metabolizes glucose. Move wherever and whenever possible.

Work out as a way to feel better and become more fit, not as a way to eat copious amounts of food and justify sitting on your sofa for eight hours straight.