You may think your workout program is the result of careful research, but check to be sure you’re not automatically accepting common myths about exercise as fact. So much misinformation about fitness persists that falsehoods often go unquestioned. Here are five of the top exercise myths, as exposed by personal trainers, fitness experts and nutritionists who are leaders in their field.

1. No pain, no gain.

Experts agree that this is the most dangerous of all workout myths. It is definitely not true that experiencing pain during a workout means you’re getting the desired benefits. Instead, pain means you’re either doing the exercise wrong, or you already have an injury.

Pain increases your risk for injury and/or burnout that may lead you to ultimately give up on following any exercise program. If you hurt while working out, stop, rest, and see if the pain goes away. If not, or if the pain begins again or increases after you start to work out again, modify your routine. One advantage of being a member of Future Fitness is access to experienced instructors who can talk with you about your routine and recommend a program that will allow you to work out smarter. However, should you still experience pain even if you’re confident that your routine is appropriate for you, see a doctor.

2. As long as you don’t experience discomfort while working out, you’re not overdoing it.

This is the flip side of Myth Number 1. One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting or returning to an exercise program is doing too much too soon. Your muscles won’t let you know you’ve pushed them too hard until a day or two later. While some amount of soreness is to be expected, starting at an intense level can trigger – or retrigger – an injury. If you’re returning to your workout routine after an absence, ease back in with a reduced number of reps. If weight training was part of your routine, reduce the number of pounds, and build up gradually to your previous level (if medically advisable).

3. If you work out at the fitness center 30 to 45 minutes, you can do what you want the rest of the day.

This myth is just wishful thinking with the potential to cause harm. Following an exercise program doesn’t mean you can scarf doughnuts when you leave the fitness center, or stay rooted to the couch when you’re not on the treadmill.

Studies have found that people who spend more time sitting during their leisure hours have an increased risk of early death, even if they work out on a regular basis. The American Cancer Society conducted a study of more than 123,000 healthy people. The results: women who spent more than six hours a day sitting were 40 percent more likely to die sooner than women who sat less. Men who sat more had a 20 percent increased risk of early death.

4. Lifting weights will make women bulky.

Wrong. Women have too much estrogen to build large amounts of bulk. Competitive female bodybuilders work several hours a day, every day, to build muscles and sculpt themselves. For those who are simply interested in fitness and good health, strength training helps decrease body fat, increase lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently.

The U.S. government’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines recommend muscle-strengthening physical activity on two more days a week for adults – female and male – and at least three days a week for kids.

5. You can target specific areas of your body for fat reduction.

More wishful thinking – although without the potential for harm as believing that working out gives you a pass for unhealthy habits outside the fitness center. You can’t pick and choose the areas where you’d like to lose fat. The only effective method is to follow a workout program that includes both cardiovascular and strength-training elements. This will decrease your overall body fat content, including the area around your midsection.