Thursday, March 17, 2011

Top Fitness Myths

Department of even more repurposing: Here's a presentation I gave for the one of the events of the Wellness Challenge I assistant co-ordinated at PSU.

Longtime readers will be familiar with these fitness myths as I rant about many of them all the damn time.

Fitness Myths

What’s getting in the way of you getting fit? It could be that you’re relying on information that is widespread and passed along as “common knowledge” but that is actually untrue. We’ll bust some cherished fitness myths to help you achieve your fitness goals.

1. The fat burning zone

The fat burning zone chaps the hide of nearly every fitness professional you’ll meet. Basically, it says that when you exercise at a lower intensity, you burn a higher proportion of fats and fewer carbohydrates.

Actually this is true. The body uses both fat and carbs to fuel itself. When we exercise vigorously, the body’s preferential fuel is carbohydrate, which is why athletes carb load before long races.

Right now we’re all burning about 80 percent fat and 20 percent carbohydrates. However, losing fat--i.e. weight--is more a matter of burning more calories than you consume than any particular energy source those calories come from. Exercising at lower intensity just doesn’t burn as many calories as exercising more vigorously.

Look at it this way I can do these arm circles all day, engaging in very low intensity exercise and burning nearly 100 percent fat, but I’m only burning like 10 calories an hour doing it, so the next time I eat a breath mint, I gain back all the calories I have been expending.

Losing weight, and maintaining that weight loss is a matter of getting your heart rate up far enough to burn calories and get the health benefits of exercise.

And let’s be honest - if you don’t burn those carbohydrates that are available for fuel within your body, what do you think happens to them? That’s right - they turn into fat. So let’s keep it simple: calories in < out =" weight" calories =" lose">

2. If you do a oodles and oodles of crunches, you’ll get six-pack abs--aka, the spot-reducing myth.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as spot reducing. You can resistance train to strengthen and tone muscles, but if there is excess fat covering them, you won’t see very much muscular definition. The best way to get the definition that you want is to engage in sustained cardiovascular exercise (but not in the fat-burning zone!).

3. If you’re a woman who lifts weights, your muscles will “bulk up.”

Many women believe that if they pick up a set of 10 pound dumbbells just once, they’ll turn into some sort of She-Hulk.

Rest easy! I’m living proof that this rumor is just a myth. I’ve been lifting heavy weights for three years now, actively TRYING to add bulk to my muscles. But I can’t get any bigger. I recently asked a friend if my Hulkishly muscled arms freaked him out. “You’re not very musclely, you’re just very toned,” he told me. I wept.

The fact of the matter is that unless you are in a very small minority and still a teenager, your body just does not have enough growth hormone and testosterone to make your muscles grow very large.

So lift away! Lifting weights will help make you stronger and create more lean muscle mass, which takes calories to maintain even at rest, and helps “tone” the body. Lifting weights will also help increase bone density, enhance your mood, improve your ability to perform daily activities, and often helps with balance and coordination.

4. High Repetitions Burn More Fat

This is a kissing cousin to the “Fat Burning Zone” myth. High repetitions with low weight do have their place. They are great for building endurance,and if you do enough of them for long enough, you will burn the associated calories. But to change your body into a machine that burns more calories at rest as well as while you are exercising, you need to change your body composition by building muscle.

You build muscle not through high reps with low weight, but through a tried and true process called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy involves lifting a moderate amount of weight for 10-12 reps, for three sets. At the end of the third set, you should feel like you can only really do 9 reps.

It is true that you burn some calories when lifting weights, but if burning calories is your goal, you really should be doing cardio, supplemented with weight training if possible. Simply lifting light weights over and over again will not give you the full benefits of a cardio workout or the full benefits of a strength training workout.

5. Stretch before your workout

Think of your muscles as silly putty. If you take the Silly Putty outside on a cold day and try to work with it, you won’t get much stretch. It will break instead. But if you warm it in your hands, the putty becomes elastic and stretchy.


It’s the same with your muscles. Cold muscle doesn’t want to stretch. You will get much further in your flexibillity plan if you take the time to move a bit and get blood flowing to your muscles before you stretch them. In addition, for certain sports where you need a lot of power, stretching your muscles beforehand is counterproductive. Think of a rubber band. If you stretch the thing out, you just won’t get as much distance when you try to shoot it across the room.

Speaking of counterproductive, often people will try to bounce into a stretch. This actually activiates a reflex in the muscle that tightens it up! So you end up being able to stretch even less far than you could before.

Save your stretching for after a workout. But definitely do it. Aside from the fact that flexibility is one of the five components of fitness, some recent studies have shown that stretching after resistance training actually increases your strength.

There is absolutely no research that shows that stretching BEFORE a workout reduces the risk of injury. This is a common misconception that has been passed down through generations. Warming up before a workout helps reduce injury, but warming up and stretching are not the same. Remember that you warm up to increase body temperature, increase blood/oxygen/nutrient flow to the muscles, slowly increase heart rate, and prepare the mind/body for the work to come. Stretching involves standing, sitting, or lying in one place - none of which helps us reach the goals of a warm-up - meaning it is not an appropriate warm up activity.

6. You have to join a gym/get a trainer/join a class/ to get in shape.

You might feel like you have to spend a lot of money to achieve the fitness level that you’re aiming for, but the reality is that the secret to fitness isn’t in the gym, it’s in your heart. The secret to fitness is experimenting with different ways to move your body until you find the ones you fall in love with. Once you’ve done that, the rest is easy.

Now, that may be a tall order. Exercise is rarely a matter of love at first sight. Forming (or breaking) habits takes about 21 days to do. So give exercise a chance. Find something you can tolerate and stick with it for a month. By then exercise will be a habit and you can begin to experiment with different modes. Hate running? What about biking? Swimming? Rowing? Race walking? Hiking? Bikram yoga? Cross-fit? Parkour?

There’s a world of exercise out there. Go explore it.


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