We all know exercise is a crucial part of any healthy lifestyle. It helps you stay fit, maintain muscle strength, and attain or maintain your body weight and shape. Yet often people do exercises that have little benefit, or do good exercises the wrong way.

Renowned physiotherapist, founder of the Back In Motion Health Group and author of Get Yourself Back In Motion Jason T Smith, debunks eight common exercises myths – which ones have you fallen for?

1. Crunches give you flat abs
Crunches and sit-ups may indeed be working your abdominal muscles, but if you have fat on your stomach, those abs won’t be visible! It’s important that you do a variety of cardio and core-strengthening exercises to lose belly fat as well as toning exercises that strengthen your muscles. Combine a good exercise program with a healthy eating plan for overall weight loss – then your muscle definition will be obvious.

2. You have to join a gym to get in shape
Many people feel they need to join a gym to stay in shape – and if you’re one of them, it’s worth figuring out why. Is it because you want to use the gym equipment or attend classes? The internet is a great source of information and videos on classes and weight-bearing exercises you can do in your own home. Many local councils also provide free outdoor circuit equipment in parks and along regular running tracks. And running, walking and cycling are all great exercise you can do for free. If you’re going to a gym because you lack motivation to exercise on your own, consider signing a contract with yourself. Research shows that the act of signing a contract makes us more likely to commit to something – it’s worth a try!

3. Exercise turns fat into muscle
Muscle and fat are entirely different types of body tissue with different types of cells – so it’s impossible to turn one into the other. However, if you make healthy changes to your eating habits, and embark on a cardio and strength training program, these factors result in changes to your body composition. Your body will burn fat as fuel and add muscle mass. These changes occur simultaneously but one is not the cause of the other.

4. Weights will make women bulky
Many women seem to be afraid of weights because they don’t want to gain muscle and become bulky. However, women don’t have enough testosterone in their bodies required to build bulky muscles. It is important for women to weight train to improve balance, strength and even weight maintenance.

5. You can eat anything you want as long as you exercise
You may think that exercise is your ticket to eating whatever you want, but consider this: it takes 30 minutes jogging on a treadmill to burn 200 calories for a 60kg woman. 200 calories is little more than half (41g) of an average 70g Snickers bar. No matter how much exercise you do, for good health and weight management, it’s important that you enjoy a healthy diet comprising fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and plenty of water.

6. You only need to stretch before you exercise
Stretching before you exercise is key to preventing injury and muscle strain during your workout. However, it’s equally important to take the time to cool down and stretch your muscles after a workout. If you don’t stretch properly after you exercise, you risk lactic acid build-up and muscle stiffness. Gentle stretching of your limbs for 5-10 minutes and a short walk after a workout can help.

7. No pain no gain
Exercise doesn’t need to be painful for you to reap benefits. Pain is not a reliable indicator of either injury or wellness; although it is a delayed sign that something isn’t quite right. Feeling some change and tension in your muscles is good, but pushing yourself so much that you feel pain may cause damage.

8. You’ll lose more weight if you exercise more
Exercise doesn’t have to be daily, or intense, for it to be worthwhile. If you do the right type of exercise for your goals a few times a week, you’ll reap the benefits. And if you fit an exercise program into your daily lifestyle, you’ll be more likely to maintain it over time – which will bring far better long-term results than short-term intensity.

Jason Smith is the founder of Back In Motion Health Group, Australia’s leading provider of physiotherapy and related services. Jason’s new book Get Yourself Back In Motion is available at Back In Motion practices around Australia, major book retailers and online bookstores RRP $34.95.