For decades now, the fitness industry has propped itself up on the idea that average people lack the know-how, the equipment, and access to the right nutrition to achieve their fitness goals on their own. If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, you’ll need our trainers, our gym, and our supplements to get you on the right track.

For that ruse to work, the marketing effort has to cut deeper than the surface, eating away at your understanding of the basic mechanics of your body until we’re willing to believe that a pill can reduce love handles, a rubber girdle can help shred fat, or that eating like a caveman is somehow better than eating like a 21st century American with a life expectancy that’s about double what our caveman ancestors could have hoped for.

If we were shopping for a car or comparing cable providers, our modern skepticism and general distaste for advertising would almost certainly leave us laughing at most full page ads in fitness magazines and pop-ups on fitness pages… but our insecurities fuel us to want their claims to be true. We work hard, we slip up, we can never seem to get to where we want to be physically… so we start to wonder if maybe it really is because we haven’t cut sugar, carbohydrates, GMOs and Scientology’s thetans from our diets. We wish we could be doing better, and it sure does look like these pills will help, that new machine will change us, or another powdered beverage will make all the difference.

It’s not stupidity or even gullibility that makes us believe this nonsense – it’s just a natural byproduct of being human. We’re all busy, we’re all overwhelmed, we all could use a little help… It’s not that we can’t see through the gimmicks, it’s that we’re hoping there’s no gimmick at all. With that in mind, here are a few persistent fitness myths that just won’t seem to go away. Some of them have been touched upon in previous columns, others are new in this venue, but all have become such common marketing tropes that they’ve somehow weaseled their way into the cultural lexicon as accepted truths.

The only way to combat misinformation is by being informed. That’s just as true about weight loss as it is about politics, so let’s get started.

Myth #1: Sit ups or crunches will shrink your stomach


This myth is so pervasive because the truth sort of seems like it contradicts common sense. If I have fat on my stomach, why not work my stomach muscles to burn the fat? The problem is, fat burning doesn’t work that way – and developing your stomach muscles will actually make your gut bulge, rather than recede.

The idea of “spot reduction,” or burning fat in only the areas you’d prefer, is a common myth in the fitness industry. The vast majority of people that start working out and changing up their diet are hoping to address a weight issue, and the industry has shaped itself to market to the specific desires of the customer.