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Test Your Exercise IQ: Can You Separate Fact From Fiction?

  • True or False: If You Want Flat Abs, Skip the Crunches

    Answer: True. You can have flat abs and never do a sit-up or crunch again. The "sit-ups-equals-flat-abs" idea is based on the myth that you can spot reduce. You can't. Doing crunches can strengthen your abdominal muscles, which is great. But to lose a flabby midsection, you need to drop excess weight all over your body—not just from your stomach. The best way to a flatter belly? "Doing exercises that work your core—such as Pilates and yoga—as well as cardiovascular exercises [like running or tennis] to burn calories," says Mike Fantigrassi, director of professional services and a master instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). "One of the best exercises is simply drawing in your belly button towards your spine by sucking in your stomach and having erect posture. You'll stabilize your spine and strengthen a very deep muscle called the transverse abdominis, which can actually make your waist appear smaller when you draw it in."

  • True or False: Stretching Before Exercise Won't Improve Performance

    Answer: True. According to new research, stretching before an athletic competition may result in poorer performance. In fact, a study from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that static stretching worsened balance and had zero effect on an athlete's reaction time, while a study from the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed that doing so before sprinting resulted in slower times.

    But that doesn't mean you should forego a good stretch altogether—it's helpful for maintaining a good range of motion, flexibility and agility. But you'll see the best results from doing so after a workout. So unless static exercises are specifically recommended by a sports trainer or your doctor, opt for a dynamic warm-up that includes gentle cardiovascular exercise such as walking or jogging.

  • True or False: Strength Training Can Make Women Bulky

    Answer: False. Chalk it up to your hormones. "Your body needs testosterone for muscle hypertrophy—or the ability to grow muscles," says Brian Sutton, director of development for NASM. "Women don't have as much testosterone in their bodies as men. Over time, regular resistance training can help you look leaner and slimmer because as you strengthen your muscles, you will burn fat calories more efficiently." In fact, muscle burns calories at three times the rate of fat tissue, and resistance or strength training can raise your metabolism, which also works to burn calories more efficiently. So really, it's a win-win.

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    True or False: Walking Burns More Fat Than Running

    Answer: False. "It's true that when you do low-intensity activity, your body primarily burns fat to keep your body functioning," says Sutton. Running burns a combination of carbs and fat—so you burn a lower percentage of fat, but more in total. "If you work out at a higher intensity, you'll burn more calories overall, and that's always better."

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    True or False: Grab a Glass of Ice Water to Rehydrate Post-Workout

    Answer: False. Go ahead and reach for that glass of H20, but make it room temperature instead. "The body is able to absorb it better because the blood vessels remain wide open and do not clamp down in response to the cold. Your body doesn't have to spend energy warming it up first," says Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and the director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes (PRIMA) at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. If you've done an hour-long (or longer) high-intensity workout, opt for a sports drink like Gatorade or a glass of chocolate milk to replenish electrolytes and nutrients you expended during the workout.

  • True or False: You Should Always Be Sore the Day After a Workout

    Answer: False. Exercise doesn't need to hurt to be effective. "Pain is your body telling you something is wrong," says Sutton. "It's saying you either have an injury or you overdid it. Minor soreness that goes away in a day or so is usually okay, but if you work out so hard you can't sit down or raise your arms over your head, that's too much." Translation: Taking a day to stretch and work on flexibility is totally okay.

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    True or False: Exercise During Pregnancy Is Safe

    Answer: True. For most pregnant women, exercise is not only safe, it's recommended. It can reduce unpleasant pregnancy symptoms (think backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling), lower your risk for gestational diabetes, and improve sleep, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Walking, swimming, aerobics, and running—especially if you were a runner before becoming pregnant—are generally all good activities during pregnancy. Scuba diving, contact sports, and exercise that raises your risk of falling are not recommended. (Just say no to that skiing lesson.) Of course, talk to your doctor before doing any physical activity to find out what's safe for you.

    Related: Exercising While Pregnant: How Much Is Too Much?

  • True or False: You Don't Need a Plan to Lose Weight

    Answer: True. Any amount of activity is better than being sedentary. "Remember the acronym NEAT," says Sutton. "It stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and it refers to all the movement that you do throughout the day that is not technically considered a workout—standing, pacing, brushing your teeth, and making your bed, for example. Studies show that people who have higher NEAT lose weight faster and they manage to keep the weight off." The takeaway? Don't skip every workout, but remember these tips when you can't make it to the gym. "Never sit when you can stand. Always take the stairs. Park in the farthest parking space," says Sutton. "It all adds up."

  • True or False: If You Stop Exercising, Muscle Turns to Fat

    Answer: False. Muscle is muscle and fat is fat, and one kind of tissue can't turn into the other, says Fantigrassi. However, you may look less toned if you stop exercising because muscle tissue can shrink, making fat tissue look more apparent. The good news: Even if you take a break from exercising, you can get in shape again. Your muscle is just hidden away, waiting for you to discover it again!