In fitness, there are tons of misconceptions, myths, and lies. We often put too much value on stuff that doesn’t matter and completely ignore things that deliver lasting results.
With that in mind, I’ve put a list of 22 overrated things and their underrated counterparts.
Overrated: Finding the perfect combination of exercises.
Perfect is the enemy of good. If anything, looking for the ideal solution to anything wastes time and energy that could be better spent productively.
Underrated: Picking a few core movements and making them the foundation of your training.
It is much easier to progress on a compound movement like the deadlift than on an isolation exercise like the dumbbell preacher curl. The deadlift recruits muscles in your entire body where the preacher curl trains only one - your bicep.
Here are some suggestions:
Overrated: Constantly trying new things.
To some degree, we all suffer from shiny object syndrome. It’s important to realize that and avoid changing too many things too often.
Underrated: Sticking to proven methods for a long time.
If you’re eating well, sleeping enough, training hard, and making good progress, keep at it. Don’t fall for gimmicks and false promises.
Master the fundamentals, apply them consistently for a long time and you’ll make more progress than 90% of the people who step inside the gym.
Overrated: Training to failure.
There is a lot of information on the subject of training to failure and the literature is largely in agreement - we don’t need it if we want to make good progress.
Underrated: Building up your training volume over time.
We know that training volume - the amount of work we do at the gym - is a key driver for muscle growth. More volume delivers more results, to a point. If we want to make good progress we should aim to do enough work at the gym - enough to help us grow but not too much that we can’t recover well.
Overrated: Doing tons of isolation exercises.
Lots of folks, especially beginners fall for this trap. They believe that to grow optimally, they need to perform tons of different movements for each muscle group.
Underrated: Getting better at the compound movements and using isolation work as the cherry on top.
As a beginner to intermediate, you can grow your entire body with three or fewer exercises per muscle group.
You don’t need to hit your back with eight row variations. You need to get better at core moves like the deadlift, pull-up, and barbell row. You don’t need five types of curls for your biceps. You’ll do pretty well with a barbell curl and some weighted chin-ups.
Overrated: "Confusing" your muscles.
Small changes to training variables over time - exercise selection, intensity, number of sets, rest periods, etc. - is a good thing. But completely overhauling your training every week or two to ‘confuse’ your muscles won’t do anything more than waste your time.
Underrated: Progressively overloading your muscles.
Progressively getting better - lifting more weight, doing more repetitions with the same load, resting less between sets, using better form, doing more sets with a given load - is essential. Some degree of progress over time is needed. If you’re not improving, you’re not training - you’re exercising.
Overrated: Putting lots of weight on the bar.
Piling weight plates on the bar means nothing if you can’t lift it with good form and a full range of motion.
Underrated: Using good form and a full range of motion.
Squatting a hundred kilos with proper depth and good form is infinitely more impressive and more effective than doing quarter reps with twice the weight.
You should only increase the weight on the bar if you’re confident in your technique. Anything else is ego lifting that leads to injuries.
Overrated: Looking for the latest fat-burner.
Fat-burners are a dime a dozen. Everyone makes outrageous promises and very few deliver any benefit to the consumer.
Underrated: Sleeping eight hours per night.
Sleep is so critical for our gym progress, well-being, energy, productivity, and health, yet most people happily give it up. The best thing you can start doing to accelerate your gym progress, work productivity, and health is to sleep eight hours every night.
Overrated: Following a ridiculous diet that celebrities endorse.
Much like fat-burners, diets are also everywhere and new ones are popping up all the time. Apart from the fact that most diets are unsustainable, there are also some that are dangerous to your health.
Underrated: Sticking to a moderate caloric deficit with adequate protein intake.
Calculating your calorie needs and eating in a small to moderate deficit is the best way to lose fat. It’s sustainable because you don’t need to overly restrict yourself, it’s much more enjoyable than most of the diets out there, and it allows you to build better habits.
Read: Screw the ‘Perfect Diet’ (This is How You Get Sustained Results)
Overrated: Doing tons of cardio to get lean.
There are still a lot of people out there who are under the impression that getting lean comes down to doing tons of cardio. The truth is, you can get pretty lean without ever stepping on a treadmill.
Underrated: Having three solid strength sessions per week in combination with caloric restriction.
If you want to lose fat and keep your muscle, then strength training is a must. Having three to four solid strength sessions per week provides your body with the stimulus it needs to maintain the muscle mass. Without it, your body won’t have a reason to keep all that metabolically costly tissue around when calories are restricted.
Read next: Strength Training for Fat Loss: How to do it Properly
Overrated: Pushing through pain or exhaustion.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
“Pain is your dumb ass about to get injured.”
Inspirational quotes sound good on paper and do an excellent job of pumping us up for our next workout, but they are wildly misleading and often inaccurate.
Underrated: Taking a step back to recover before pushing forward.
Listening to your body and taking a step back from time to time isn’t as glamorous as ‘pushing through the pain.’ But it’s an integral part of longevity in the gym and good health. If you’re not feeling great, it’s better to step back for a bit, have an easier workout and focus on recovery.
One rep won’t make you, but it can break you. Listen to your body and take the occasional step back - you’ll be much better off in the long run.
Overrated: Staying lean all year long.
Genetically, some people don’t do well at a lower body fat percentage. Going against your nature won’t do you any good.
Underrated: Being comfortable at a body fat percentage your body feels good at.
Some folks can walk around at 10% body fat year round, make gains, eat tons of food, and feel amazing — more power to them. But if your body sits better at a slightly higher body fat percentage, don’t go against the grain. Embrace it.
I’ve deliberately spent time in the past leaner than I should have been. On top of the regular comments of people such as, “You’ve gotten so skinny.” I also felt tired, unmotivated, and hungry. My body prefers to be at 13+% body fat. But rather than fight against it, I’m learning to make the best of it.
Overrated: Hitting a ‘weak point’ a lot to make it grow.
Lots of people are under the impression that they need to ‘bring up the arms.’ And while there are legitimate examples of advanced guys with weak points, most people need more muscle. Everywhere.
Underrated: Balancing your training, so you build a good foundation.
Rather than worrying about your ‘small triceps,’ spend at least a few years training in a balanced manner to build a solid foundation. Get stronger on the main movements, build 30-35 pounds of muscle and then start paying attention to weak points.
You need to slab the clay first before you can shape it.
Overrated: Mindlessly following the advice of celebrities and famous fitness models.
I’m all for seeking new information and expanding your knowledge. But be very careful who you listen to. Just because someone has a large following or has been in your favorite movie, doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about.
Underrated: Making small changes over time, seeing how they affect you and learning what works best for you, as an individual.
We are all different and the same methods don’t work equally well for everyone. It’s important to experiment with your nutrition and training, make small changes, and see how they affect you.
As time passes and you gain experience, you’ll have a pretty good idea on how to get where you want to be.
Overrated: Looking for the next best training program.
This is very similar to the point I made above about perfection. Lots of people believe that they need to find that one amazing training program that will change everything for them. The truth is, so long as the basics are met - adequate volume, focus on progression, and smart exercise selection - every program has the potential to deliver great results.
Underrated: Training. Harder.
It sounds simple enough, but many people don’t need a better program, they need to train harder, track their progress, and get plenty of rest.
Overrated: Trying to be perfect all the time.
The all or nothing mindset trips many people up - they are either perfect with their training and nutrition, or completely fly off the handle.
Underrated: Being as consistent as possible.
We are human and we trip up sometimes. A family emergency prevented you from training or sleeping. You were at a friend’s wedding and couldn’t stick to your diet. *Gasp* You ate a cookie.
Rather than dwell on these things, focus on the progress you’ve made thus far. You couldn’t train twice last week. So what? You’d been consistent for three months before that. So you had some cake at your friend’s wedding. Who cares? You’ve been eating well for months. You ate a cookie. Again, so what? You didn’t blow your diet, and you certainly don’t have to eat the whole box now.
Overrated: Altitude masks, Bosu balls, chains, bands, etc.
Underrated: A solid lifting belt and a pair of Chuck's.
There is so much talk about ‘functional fitness’ out there, but what does that even mean? So long as you’re consistent with your training, there are two pieces of equipment worth having - a pair of Chuck’s and a solid lifting belt. They are going to take you much farther than all of the other equipment combined.
Overrated: Spending hundreds of dollars on supplements.
Underrated: Spending hundreds of dollars on whole, nutritious foods.
Investing in your health in the form of quality food is going to deliver a much higher return on investment than any supplement out there. The majority of health and fitness supplements are overrated, and there are very few that are worth the investment.
Overrated: Blaming your genetics.
Playing the genetics card is easy - we can avoid the hard work it takes to build a solid physique and instead tell ourselves that it’s not in the cards for us.
Underrated: Tracking progress.
We can’t improve what we don’t track. For most people, the biggest reason for the lack of progress doesn’t come from lousy genetics or consistency but because they aren’t monitoring.
When you track your progress, you are honest with yourself. When things are going well, you are motivated to keep the momentum going. When things aren’t going well, you force yourself to see what the problem is. Conversely, when you keep yourself in the dark, you don’t know where you stand.
Overrated: Setting goals.
Goals are by no means a bad thing. They give us direction and focus. But too many people put their entire emphasis on the end goal.
“I want to bench three plates.”
“I want to build 16-inch arms.”
“I want to squat 500 pounds.”
Underrated: Focusing on your daily actions.
As valuable as goals are, what’s much more critical for success is focusing on your daily actions. Sure, you want to bench three plates eventually, but what process are you following to get there? Same goes for your goals to build 16-inch arms and squat 500 pounds.
Knowing what you want to achieve is important. But focus much more on the processes and day-to-day actions and don’t obsess over your goals.
Overrated: Relying on motivation to get results.
Motivation is a powerful tool that helps us make better choices and improve. The problem is, motivation rarely lasts long and solely relying on it won’t work in the long run.
Underrated: Shaping your environment to automate good behaviors.
How we shape our environment can have a profound effect on our habits. If you keep mostly healthy food in your kitchen, you’ll automatically cut back on eating junk. If you install software on your computer to block distracting sites between certain hours, you’ll improve your work productivity. If you adjust your sleep environment - get a better mattress, more comfortable pillow, and blackout curtains - you’ll start sleeping better.
Read next: Environment Design and Fitness: How to Make Better Choices
Overrated: Obsessing over every little detail.
With the amount of information out there, it’s easy for beginners or those aspiring to start hitting the gym to overwhelm themselves and become paralyzed. From my experience, trying to figure everything out before you get started is a fool’s errand.
Underrated: Getting started.
Getting started and experimenting teaches us much more than planning does. I didn’t have the first clue about lifting when I was a teenager, but rather than trying to figure it all out before I got to the gym, I started training and learned little by little. Same goes for this blog. I didn’t have any idea how to make a site, write decent content or promote it. But I started and slowly learned through action.
So, rather than spend weeks or months consuming content and slowly overwhelming yourself, get started. You’ll learn much more from doing.
Overrated: Buying test boosters.
Ah, yes. Testosterone boosters. Perhaps the most overrated supplement out there.
Underrated: Sleeping enough, improving your diet, and strength training.
Improving your lifestyle is going to do much more for optimizing your testosterone levels than any testosterone booster ever could. Quite a bit of research out there has shown that sleeping enough, being active and eating healthy all play critical roles for our testosterone levels.