There are a lot of sayings and phrases in this world that are meant to be positive and motivational. In the fitness world, they exist solely to lift your spirits when you’re down and keep you pressing forward when you feel like quitting. However, there’s a few that just aren’t worth the time and breath it takes to utter them and can potentially do more harm than good..
The problem with euphemisms and idioms is that they can be taken out of context, misunderstood, warped, bastardized, and eventually lose what substance they originally had altogether–if there actually was any to begin with. With that, here’s the top fitness sayings (in no particular order) that I wish would just finally die.
- “Turn fat into muscle.”
What is this? Alchemy? I thought we got rid of that “science” centuries ago. Adipose cells and muscle cells are two completely different things. You CANNOT, under any circumstances, turn one into the other. You can lose fat… you can gain muscle… you can do both… but turning one into the other is impossible. they are unrelated and one does not beget the other.
- “Turn fat into fit.”
Another piece of alchemist garbage and pretty closely related to #1. It conjures up images of Richard Simmons screaming motivational quotes on a late-night infomercial in his short-shorts, tank, and headband. For starters, fit is a relative concept. It all depends on your personal definition and your ultimate goals. Some people want to be able to run a 5k and others just want to move throughout their day without pain in the joints. As stated before, the best strength coach or personal trainer in the world can’t turn fat into muscle because magic isn’t real. Turning fat into a concept is just dumb.
- “Calories in… calories out.”
On the surface, this one seems OK. If you take in as many calories as you expend daily, you’ll maintain weight. Seems logical enough. However, scratch the surface a little and we discover the fallacy of it. Not all calories are created equal. Protein and carbohydrates are each worth 4 kcal per gram. Fat is worth a whopping 9 kcal per gram. However, carbohydrates are the easiest to digest with fats and proteins being the toughest. Eating foods that take longer to digest requires energy. In other words, eating 100g of protein and fat (in the right proportions) has a thermic effect that keeps your metabolism higher than someone that ate 100g of carbohydrates. The truth is a good deal more complicated than this simple saying. people rationalize simple because they don’t want to put mental effort into the same activity in which they have to put physical effort.
- “Hustle to gain more muscle.”
Haste makes for sloppy reps. Rather than rush through your set, pause at the point of greatest muscle tension and go slower during the eccentric phase. This will greatly increase time under tension, which will actually build more muscle.
- “Sweat is just fat crying.”
I’m not even going to bother.
- “Too fit to quit.”
Anyone can quit at any time for any reason. Being fit doesn’t prevent you from being human.
- “Unless you puke, faint, or die… keep going.”
Puking, fainting, or dying are the things that happen when you ignore warning signs. Dizziness, faintness, or nausea are normal once in awhile during periods of strategic overreaching, but you still need to end your session when you feel this way (or at least hit the pause button until you come down). Pushing yourself to or past those limits regularly will not only have negative consequences on your performance, but also on your health.
- “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”
Whose vocabulary are we basing this on? A kindergartner? A middle schooler? Stop me when I get close. This little gem comes from opponents of processed foods and the supposedly unpronounceable chemicals that make them up. Guess what? Our bodies are made up of chemicals that the average person can’t pronounce, let alone identify their purpose. Yes, on average, whole foods are likely better options than processed ones. Does that mean that processed foods have no value? We don’t yet have any longitudinal data on the vast majority of compounds that make up some of the foods we eat and if the best way to get 200 extra calories in your system is a protein bar between meals, have at it. Believe what you want, but don’t prevent people from eating food that could be beneficial for them because you have a hangup about what might be “unnatural”. Get off your high horse and give this one a rest.
- “No pain, no gain.
This one has been blown way out of proportion. There is good pain and bad pain. Good pain is the “burning” you feel toward the end of your set. Bad pain, such as overuse injuries in the joints, is nothing to sniff at and has NOTHING to do with gains. Ignoring real pain can not only set you back in the gym, it could also have incredibly harmful long-term side effects.
- “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
Whoops. I don’t remember seeing a study correlating “pain” to “weakness”. This is the kind of nonsense people tell themselves to rationalize pushing through potentially debilitating injuries so they can feel more badass before spending 8 weeks on the shelf doing rehab. Pain is not weakness. Pain is your body’s alarm system telling you to stop doing what you’re doing because something’s not right. Best listen or you’ll feel an unfathomable amount of “weakness” leaving your body.
Author: Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS
Aaron Runner is the Owner of Full-Stride Performance in Roswell, GA and a former NCAA Strength & Conditioning Coach.