- The information age provides us with a double-edged sword – unlimited access to unfiltered information 24/7.
- Fitness myths perpetuate societal norms of what men are ‘expected’ to be and want.
- Fitness myths take advantage of these societal expectations to tap into the emotions of men and draw them in.
- While some fitness myths start harmlessly, some originate only for self-gain.
- Fitness myths are not harmless and can cause a range of effects from frustration and wheel spinning to poor self-image, and poor relationships with diet and exercise.
Is it true that skinny guys can’t build muscle? Do men need to dirty bulk to ‘get big’? Should men always train to failure?
These are all common questions asked by men on fitness forums and fielded by personal trainers.
When a guy asks a specific question like this, it probably didn’t come from a recommendation given by a true expert.
They likely heard it online or from the ‘big guy’ at the gym. In a lot of cases, these soundbites are false or misguided and come from myth. While fitness information is infinitely more accessible now than in past decades, it remains relatively unfiltered.
Anyone can deem themselves an ‘expert’, give unsolicited advice, and put out almost whatever information suits their narrative without consequence. As a result, myths, fallacies, and falsehoods plague the fitness industry, and men’s fitness advice is as saturated a place as any.
Welcome to the first volume in our stream of myth-busting pieces aimed to unpick the commonly held beliefs of the fitness industry when it comes to men. We want you to learn from the mistakes of others by avoiding the short fallings of the fitness industry caused by a lack of critical thinking and appraisal. We believe this will prevent you from spinning your wheels and put you on the fast-track to exceptional results.
Fitness myths are ideas about becoming fitter and healthier that are believed to be true yet are false. As they are often never challenged, they can become perpetuated and defended emotionally by fitness zealots to serve their own agenda.
One common place that men’s fitness myths come from are gyms themselves. We may notice that the biggest guy in the gym hoists as much weight as possible around with no regard for technique and assume this is good practice. He’s gotten big after all, so who are we to doubt? Not so fast. This is an example of a specific type of fallacy, known as an ‘appeal to authority’.
We think that just because someone sits in a position of authority, they do everything perfectly. Their word is the gospel, whether that authority is due to their impressive physique or their list of qualifications. While experience and education are valuable, they don’t guarantee critical thinking and unbiased opinions.
Another place that fitness myths originate is a given individual’s pursuit of financial or power gain. ‘Gurus’ take advantage of the societal expectations of men to be big and strong, to sell the next best solution. They tell you, for example, that you must consume a meal high in protein and carbohydrates immediately after a workout or else your workout is deemed pointless (also known as the ‘anabolic window’). As though it were a coincidence, they then attempt to sell you their post-workout supplement and take your hard-earned money. These gurus don’t sell anything valuable, more so their own agenda.
Myths of modern masculinity
When we look at fitness myths specifically aimed at men, it is easy to see that many reinforce societal norms on masculinity. ‘Men should train to failure, eat big and never take rest days’. These myths can make men feel that moderation is not part of fitness and health.
To strive, struggle and achieve is admirable, but it isn’t always for everyone. Sometimes men just want to tick along and move forward slowly and steadily, but the gym bro or ‘guru’ says it can’t be so. A hallmark of what we do with our clients is never to impose our goals or ideals on our clients. We strive to support and empower men to become healthier and fitter, whatever that looks like. We use fitness to lift men up. Fitness myths use deception to force men into a box.
Not so tame tales
While we may look at fitness myths and think, “what’s the harm?” we miss the problems they can cause. Fitness myths can cause stress and frustration, hamper adherence and progress, cause uncertainty and wheel-spinning, and, at worst, result in physical and psychological harm.
Whereas we typically think of issues like eating disorder to be more female-focused issues, they are most certainly present in men. Suppose we tell a man that to be lean and muscular, he must only eat chicken, broccoli, and brown rice like the bodybuilders do. We don’t just set that individual up for nutrient deficiency; we set him up on an overly restrictive diet that can easily lead to binge eating disorder due to an unnecessarily unsustainable approach.
We are also reinforcing that some foods are ‘allowed’ and that others aren’t. This dichotomous food ideal equally sets the individual up to increase their risk for failure at best and eating disorder at worst. We can see how even one single myth can lead to multiple issues. This isn’t just limited to diet myths either, but also training and lifestyle ones. We could see how myths about heavy lifting and training to failure could lead to injury if taken as gospel and followed to the letter.
In this series, we will strive to dispel a plethora of male fitness myths perpetuating for decades. The goal of doing so is to help empower men and dispel the myths that prevent them from reaching their goals. With education comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes power, the power to take control of your fitness goals and smash them out of the park.
Why do you go to the gym? If the answer is to make friends, chat with your mates or pose in front of a mirror, then you’re in the wrong place. Read Nick Mitchell’s “10 Things Every Man Should Avoid in the Gym”.