From fat burner pills to machines that promise to target troubled spots, the fitness and nutrition industries have become infamous for promoting pseudo-science, half-truths, and all sorts of incredulous claims in order to rake in the big bucks. Misinformation spreads faster and louder these days — thanks, in part, to the double-edged sword of social media. While some myths stem from facts, others are fictional and simply won’t be crushed into oblivion.
So, what’s fact and what’s fiction? We broke it down with Susan Trinidad, a certified personal trainer of athletes and celebrities at Gold’s Gym Philippines, and other Filipino health and fitness experts to help debunk these prevalent exercise myths once and for all.
MYTH #1: Static stretching beforehand reduces injuries.
From the moment we start our workouts, we’ve been instructed to reach for our toes or hold a pose in order to stretch our cold muscles to prevent soreness and injury. However, several studies have shown that static stretching neither reduces the risk of local muscle injury nor muscle soreness after an exercise.
“Save static stretching after your workout, when your muscles are already warm because it helps elongate them,” Susan advised.
FACT: To optimize our fitness routine, dynamic stretching is the better option between the two as recommended by experts and trainers. Not only is it more fun, but it also primes our muscles for action, helps improve our performance, and prevents injuries. So circle your arms, swing your legs, do lateral movements, lunges, high kicks, etc.
MYTH #2: Women will bulk up excessively with strength training.
FACT: Ladies, we will never bulk up the way men do. That’s in part because we have less absolute mass and lower testosterone levels than men, the hormone responsible for muscle growth.
According to Susan and other experts we spoke to, the more women lift, the more we develop lean muscles, and thus help increase our metabolic rate.
So, have no fear — lift those barbells, crank up the resistance, and keep pushing yourself with those dumbbells and kettlebells because strength training prevents osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass as we age. It also increases our functional capacity to perform daily activities.
Of course, it’s a different story altogether for female bodybuilders. These strong ladies work closely with a nutritionist for a meticulously designed diet plan to meet all their body’s daily protein needs via food and supplements. The goal is to assist the body in producing more of the much-needed male hormone, testosterone, alongside a rigorous training regimen specifically designed to beef up all those muscles.
MYTH #3: Exercise alone is the key to weight loss.
It is true that exercise does wonders for our bodies both mentally and physically.
FACT: What many of us are blissfully unaware of is that exercise alone is simply not enough in order to achieve weight loss goals as only 10% – 30% of food is burned through exercise. Great bodies are made both in the kitchen and in the gym.
To illustrate, a study on overweight adults showed that exercise alone delivered modest results only. Likewise, studies on people training for marathons showed that the subjects lost only a few pounds after the study because their diets weren’t changed. In a 2001 Review, the participants of the study showed that after 20 weeks of exercise alone, their weight loss was less than expected. The researchers concluded that a correlation does not exist between energy expenditure and weight loss.
So what is energy expenditure? Energy expenditure refers to the calories burned daily based on our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which we have very little control of. BMR includes all the energy that we use for basic functions when our body is at rest. This accounts for 60% – 80% of our total energy expenditure; 10% of which accounts for food digestion, leaving a very small portion for physical activity with exercise as just a subset of it. Weight loss is not as simple as calories in and calories out as has been commonly promoted.
If you’re dead serious about attaining a lean body, Susan recommends focusing on strength training because it helps build more muscles. The more lean mass we have in our bodies, the faster our BMR will be, and our overall health and physique will improve tremendously. Along with strength training is the most important factor of all ─ mindful and healthy eating by monitoring the food and calories we ingest.
MYTH #4: If I don’t feel extreme pain after a workout, I didn’t train hard enough.
If the excruciating pain isn’t felt the day after we exercised, many people wrongly believe that they didn’t train hard enough. While it is true that workouts should be challenging enough to help you achieve your goals, pain is our body’s signal for us to stop and rest.
FACT: Whenever we exercise, our muscles produce lactic acid. However, the lactic acid produced during exercise is flushed out as soon as we finish our routine, long before we feel the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). It is natural for muscles to become sore the day after an exercise, but DOMS is not the indicator of how hard we trained ourselves. Rather, the soreness that we feel is the microtears in our muscles, which means that our muscles are naturally repairing themselves resulting to increase in size and strength. Because muscles are made up of protein, it is most helpful to include protein in our meals and after exercise to promote their growth and repair. It is also advisable that we increase the resistance or the heaviness of the weights we lift or vary the routine as soon as we become accustomed to one level ─ by doing this, our muscles will continually grow stronger and leaner.
MYTH #5: Sweating a lot means I worked out really hard.
Many of us are under the impression that whenever we see tons of sweat or our shirts completely drenched in sweat, that we worked out pretty darn hard. However, sweat is not necessarily an accurate indicator of how intense our workout was.
FACT: Sweating is our body’s physiological response to regulating its temperature. When we exercise, our muscles create heat. Sweating is also the result of the humidity of the place where we are exercising. Those of us who regularly exercise and eat right tend to sweat more than anyone who has just started with his/her fitness journey. Sweating doesn’t mean you torched a lot of calories, nor did you “melt” off fat. On the contrary, your body uses its fat stores to create energy.
MYTH #6: Spot reduction gets rid of troubled areas.
Countless women and men alike are on a quest to attain that washboard midsection. This is probably why we see a lot of gym enthusiasts do countless reps of crunches. But achieving six-pack abs entails more than just doing exercises that target those muscles. And don’t be duped either by home-TV shopping and online stores promise to naive customers that their machines can get rid of the body’s “troubled areas” for “spot reduction.”
FACT: Spot reduction targets only a small portion of our body through exercises that are relatively insignificant to our overall fitness. Even if we feel the “burn” on the muscles we are exercising, the fats in those areas will not “melt” at all.
According to Susan, spot reduction can cause injury risks because of imbalanced muscle strength. Some of those impossibly buff guys we see in the gym walking on chicken legs are at risk for a knee injury because their leg muscles don’t have enough strength to absorb a strong force needed in plyometrics, for example.
You need a comprehensive exercise program that involves both strength and cardio training if you’re dead serious about attaining a lean body. Focus your routine on compound workouts like squats, push-ups, pull-ups, etc. because those target not only the large muscle groups but also the small muscles.
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