Today we’ll take a look at 9 of the craziest fitness myths and bust them!
More than 90% of people who exercise and 95% of trainers working in commercial gyms do not know how to properly train! They are doing it dead wrong ! That’s why a majority of people who join fitness clubs are disappointed in their results. Many buy a membership and start an exercise program, only to quit shortly after. Others keep exercising intermittently without ever experiencing meaningful results.
Notice a pattern here? In general, commercial fitness clubs are not delivering on their promise to help members attain their fitness goals. Part of the problem, too, is that there are many fitness myths that dominate people’s minds, creating false impressions as to what works and what doesn’t.
Over the last 10 years, a great deal of information has been published about exercise and nutrition in various magazines and self-help books. Prior to this, very few exercise magazines were even in existence. Today there are so many, that fitness magazines have their own dedicated area on newsstands and in bookstores.
Now that exercise, and in particular strength training, has been given the acknowledgement it rightly deserves as the best means of getting fit, healthy and maintaining youthfulness, many “experts” have jumped on the bandwagon to exploit this topic du jour for the purpose of making a buck.
Most of these self-proclaimed experts have never exercised before or achieved any significant fitness results. Some are downright fat! They don’t work out! Or don’t work out right, anyway! They can’t solve their own fitness problem, so how can they help others?
The fitness and diet industry has certainly progressed as the internet has provided people with the ability to access instant information on every topic imaginable. Inasmuch as this has been very positive for people such as myself in the health and fitness industry, it still amazes me how much misinformation – downright incorrect information – is put forth by those with some commercial venture.
They tout what people want to buy, based on false hopes, whether it be a new fad such as “slim-you-way” fitness pills, or the latest five-minute get in shape under-the-bed pullout unit that is promised to create washboard abdominals, instantly! A lot of utter fraudulent information and misrepresentations are being bombarded at people for the pure profit of it all.
The travesty of this advertising is that it preys on people who actually have honest desire to improve their health and fitness levels, and are easily susceptible to such grand but empty promises. I would like to examine some of these myths which are still put forth and traded upon, thus leading people on with misunderstandings and false impressions about exercise and fitness is all about. Without further ado, lets take a look at some of the most common fitness myths and bust them!
FITNESS MYTHS #1
Performing isolated abdominal exercises will reduce fat around the waist and give you a washboard look.
FACT: The abdominal area is the most popular muscle group among beginning exercise enthusiasts: people wishing to lose weight, or who are obsessed with developing and showing a lean, muscular flat belly. They perform hundreds, or even thousands, of abdominal crunches, sit-ups, knee raises and other exercises (sometimes multiple times a day) in the belief that doing so will result in a “six-pack” or “washboard abs.”
In the fitness/fad industry, this is what is referred to as “spot reduction.” To determine the potential of spot reduction, it would be necessary to study whether a greater fat loss change occurs in an exercised body part as opposed to an unexercised body part. In fact, this was done by researchers in one study who evaluated the effects of a 27-day sit-up program on fat cell diameter and body composition of 13 subjects.
Over a four-week period, each subject performed a total of 5,004 sit-ups (with knees bent at a 90-degree angle and no foot support). Fat biopsies from the abdominal, subscapular and gluteal sites indicated that the sit-up program reduced the fat cell diameter at all three sites to a similar degree, which means that spot reduction did not occur only in the abdominals.
Obviously, abdominal exercises affect the abdominal muscles, but those exercises have little effect on the fat covering the abdominal muscles. This is true, since when we exercise, no matter the muscle group, energy from fat and carbohydrate stores are drawn from the body as a whole, and not just from one specific area.
Consequently, you can do countless abdominal exercises, but doing so will not directly and automatically reduce the girth of your midsection. In fact, a very demanding exercise like squats with a barbell will do more to “lean up” your midsection, because it requires greater energy (more calories) to perform the exercise.
How should abdominals be exercised? Like any other muscle – intensely, using good form, performing no more than 12 to 15 repetitions of three exercises once every five days.
FITNESS MYTHS #2
If you stop exercising, the muscle will turn to fat.
FACT: I’ve often witnessed people look at a photo of someone in incredibly great shape and say, “What happens when he stops exercising? All that muscle will turn to fat.” This is like saying that a chemist can turn lead into gold. Muscle cannot turn to fat, because muscle cells are different and distinct from fat cells.
If a person who is in incredible muscular shape stops exercising, while at the same time reduces their total food consumption (because not exercising means their body requires less energy to get through the day), the muscle size would decrease somewhat due to stopping the workout program. The fat cells, however, would also remain the same (very small) as a result of the total food consumed being reduced.
However, if the same person who stopped exercising consumed an equal amount of food as when they were exercising, then the extra calories not being expended (because the body no longer has a need for so many calories to sustain the muscle mass), would be converted to body fat. This fat would be added on top of the muscle and under the skin, giving the appearance that this once-muscular person was now bulkier, and the illusion that the muscle had turned to fat.
FITNESS MYTHS #3
To get really big and strong through weight training, a person must perform a large number of exercises and sets for each body part.
FACT: Over the years, people believed that to achieve better results, more work (more sets of an exercise) would result in greater increases in muscular size and strength than performing less work (one or two sets of an exercise). The overwhelming majority of scientific evidence today, however, indicates that single-set training is more effective than multiple-set training. This was demonstrated in an 1998 analysis conducted by Dr. Ralph Carpinelli and Robert Otto of Adelphi University (New York), which examined all studies that compared different numbers of sets of exercise dating back to 1956.
What they found was that five studies showed that multiple-set training was superior to single-set training, but 57 studies showed the opposite. Two of the studies that concluded multiple-set training was superior involved only one exercise. One of these studies was done in 1962 and used only the bench press, whereas the other study reported only data from the barbell squat.
In my experience, I have seen serious workout veterans who followed the concept of high-volume workouts (as many as 10 to 20 sets per body part) for years, then hit a plateau in muscular size and strength. When discussing with them what gains they have made in previous years, their response was they felt that they had genetically reached their potential in strength and muscular size.
They rationalized this, because they knew they could not work out any harder or longer than they already had. They couldn’t come to terms about performing more sets and work, so in their minds, there was no stimulus to produce more growth and strength.
I knew different. In one particular case, an individual approached me to train him, and the first thing I asked him to do was take four days off training before we commenced my regimen – which he did. Getting this individual started again meant reducing the number of sets and the amount of total work performed, but increasing the amount of workout intensity and the amount of resistance in each workout.
We reduced the total workout time per week from 12 hours to two hours and 15 minutes. Surprising to him (but not to me), this new type of higher-intensity, lower volume training and more rest between workouts immediately shocked his system into new muscle growth and strength development.
To his amazement, after the first month of training, this individual gained almost a solid inch of muscle on his arm, which was already rather large, over 17 inches. Making such wonderful gains caused this person to become overly cautious about training too much.
The key to continuing to make progress in weight training is to reduce the total volume of training and increase the intensity and stress placed by the exercise on the muscle at each workout. Until someone understands how the body works, the concept of “more is better” is often mistaken with “higher-intensity, lesser volume is better.”
FITNESS MYTHS #4
Weight training is not good for women, because they will develop large, bulky muscles.
FACT: The belief that women who weight train will develop large muscles has been scientifically proven false. There are several reasons why women cannot build large muscles; most notably that women have very low levels of serum testosterone, a factor that restricts how much muscular size they will develop.
Any time we see a female with large, defined muscles (like those of a female bodybuilder), we must realize that in order for a female to develop such muscles, other factors are coming into play – namely anabolic steroids, together with unusual genetics to develop muscles. Unfortunately, the world of female bodybuilding is dependent on anabolic steroids and other growth stimulants as much as the world of men’s bodybuilding.
What weight training will do for females is allow them to increase their natural muscle size and reduce their inherent genetic fat cells. A woman’s anatomy is similar to a man’s, so each muscle can be exercised to look toned and “in shape.” Without the use of anabolic steroids, a female cannot build any significant muscle.
The best outcome with proper weight training will be a lean, firm, toned body that looks as it was meant to look without a lot of body fat being stored between the muscle and the skin. Weight training will enhance a woman’s look, in that it can help her achieve shapely thighs, buttocks, hips and upper body. As a bonus, most women who undertake a weight training program reduce in size, since muscle cells are more compact than fat cells.
And so, even with a gain of five pounds of muscle and a loss of five pounds of fat (for an equal body weight), women who weight train will fit in smaller clothing.
FITNESS MYTHS #5
Doing high repetitions will “tone” muscles while doing low repetitions will “bulk” muscles.
FACT: There is no scientific evidence that high repetitions increase muscular definition or “tone,” and that low repetitions increase muscular size or “bulk” exclusively. In one ten-week study, there were no significant differences in muscle size (and strength) between a group who trained with sets of four repetitions and a group who trained with sets of 10 repetitions. Now, when it comes to muscle definition, that is an issue of low body fat levels, which has more to do with proper nutrition and an appropriate amount of exercise, rather than the number of repetitions performed.
Also, consider how much effort (per unit of time) is required to lift 100 pounds 10 times as opposed to 50 pounds 20 times. The heavier weight is far more taxing on the system, and therefore will expend more calories.
If you had sets of twins, whereby one of the twins performed 9-10 repetitions and the other 4-5 repetitions, you would find little (if any) difference between the two physiques. On the other hand, if you had two unrelated people perform the exact same program (say, 6-8 repetitions of the same exercises and the same number of sets), both would have different-looking physiques because of their genetic difference. Look at any gym and at any set of training partners, and you will notice that they have different physiques, although they are exercising in the same manner.
You see, people respond differently to strength training because of their individual differences. Some people develop heavy, muscular physiques, while others remain very slight and lean, no matter how hard they train. Whether sets consist of low repetitions, high repetitions or something in the middle, individuals are still going to develop according to their genetic (or inherited) limitations – provided that the sets are done with similar levels of intensity and quality of movement.
Further, we need to define what “higher” means. “Higher” repetitions merely means that the number is greater than some other number, and it could be concluded that 10 repetitions is high when compared to 8 repetitions. But semantics aside, let’s look at this from the point of extreme. Certainly, a set of 25 repetitions would mean a light-to-modest weight, and exercising with such a load would emphasize muscular endurance more than muscular size or strength.
But, when performing 10 or fewer repetitions as recommended through the IPF program, you will find little difference between 4-5 repetitions and 9-10 repetitions. Consequently, and for reasons of safety and better muscular “feel,” you should aim for the higher rep count of 9-10. And, by performing about 9-10 repetitions with a moderately heavy weight and watching your food intake, you can achieve the best of both worlds – a toned, muscular body and definition (low body fat levels).
FITNESS MYTHS #6
Lifting weights makes individuals become “muscle-bound” and causes them to lose their flexibility.
FACT: First and foremost, achieving a heavily muscled physique is not an easy thing to do, or automatic because a person starts weight training. Very few people have the genetic potential to increase muscle to the level of the bodybuilders we see in magazines, even with the use of growth-enhancing drugs.
There is no correlation whatsoever between muscle mass and flexibility. While some individuals who are very muscular have poor flexibility, others who are very muscular can have good flexibility. This factor is partly genetic, but also dependent on the method and quality of exercise techniques used.
To explain this further, individuals who weight train can lose flexibility if they perform repetitions throughout a limited or partial range of motion, particularly if they ignore the stretched portion of an exercise. Those who do not fully stretch their arms down and back during a dumbbell bench press, for example, can lose flexibility in the shoulder joint.
Conversely, by doing repetitions throughout a full range of movement, a person can maintain and even improve flexibility (as the weight pushes down against the muscle tissues in the stretched position). For those who still believe that lifting weights will make them less flexible, an option is to stretch the muscles after the completion of each exercise, or after a workout.
FITNESS MYTHS #7
The last repetitions of an exercise performed to fatigue in a high-intensity manner are the most dangerous.
FACT: Some exercise authorities (experts) contend that training to muscle fatigue is dangerous, and suggest that tissues become so weak that injury is more prevalent while lifting a given weight. However, the opposite is true, and the further one progresses into a set of exercise, the safer the work becomes. Conversely, it is the first repetition that is the most dangerous on a muscle structure.
To explain, what you feel during lifting is not your actual output (e.g. 50 pounds of force), but a percentage of your output at any particular moment. For instance, if you can curl 100 pounds once, then 60 pounds will feel relatively easy on the first repetition, but progressively harder from one repetition to the next – until the end of the set. Once you reach the final repetition, the 60 pounds would feel as hard as the 100 pounds, since you would then need 100% of your momentary effort to move it.
Risk of injury has nothing to do with how hard something feels or how exhausted a muscle is, but rather, the forces involved in exercise. Suppose your connective tissues, more particularly where the tendon meets the muscle (the most vulnerable area) can withstand 100 units of force, but would tear if it worked against 105 units. The tendons’ ability to withstand 100 units will not change throughout a set of exercise, whether it is the first or last repetition of a set.
However, muscles are different in that they may be able to exert 120 units of force, but in doing so would injure the tendon. But with each repetition in the set, muscular force, ability, diminishes. Therefore, if you perform 10 repetitions to which the muscles exert no more than 90 units of force, the muscles eventually exhaust to the point whereby 90 units is their maximum and the tendons never need to withstand forces they cannot tolerate.
Conversely, it is at the beginning of a set when muscle strength is greatest, and when it is more common or possible to exert a great amount of force quickly. At the end of a set, on the final repetition, the muscles are too weak to move quickly, and can only move slowly against resistance, thereby keeping overall forces to a manageable level.
In effect, it is lifting a weight quickly (explosively) or a bouncing/ballistic action that must be eliminated. Therefore, as long as you only produce enough force to move a moderate-heavy weight slowly and under control, the forces will never be so great as to cause injury. The forces produced by the muscles are never much more than the weight itself.
This is not to say that injury cannot occur under “to-fatigue” conditions. It is only when a person trains to fatigue and loses proper form (at least excessively) that any risk of injury occurs. However, this is an issue of improper mechanics (which could result from lack of mental focus) and generating strain on the tissues in an improper position that poses a problem. This condition can also occur with sub-fatigue exercise practices.
FITNESS MYTHS #8
The more advanced a workout person you are, the more training you need.
FACT: The situation is the exact opposite. Although a person can increase his or her strength by upward of 300%, recovery ability and the ability to tolerate hard exercise, only increases by not more than 50%. Also factor in the following:
1) as we age, we tolerate strain less;
2) as we age, our testosterone levels and growth hormone levels decrease, and both hormones have a big influence on recovery and exercise tolerance;
3) a larger, stronger muscle requires more fuel/energy to contract and, likewise, it takes longer to replenish muscle energy with all other factors remaining equal.
As a result, the more lean muscle you have and the stronger you become, and particularly as you learn to exercise properly (contracting of each muscle harder to fatigue), the more recovery you need and/or the fewer sets of exercise you can tolerate. The reason why some people believe otherwise, is that fitness magazines publish “apparent” routines of bodybuilding stars – routines that anyone not on anabolic steroids could sustain, and likely these routines that are fabricated to make the bodybuilding stars appear more super-human.
FITNESS MYTHS #9
You cannot improve cardiovascular (heart) and cardiorespiratory (lung) conditioning through weight training.
FACT: Yes, you can! When you weight train, the heart beats and the lungs respire. The harder you exercise, the harder these organs work. You will notice that strength training exercises can raise the heart much higher than steady-state aerobic activity. By performing a weight training workout properly, you can keep your heart rate at a much higher level than any aerobic activity you could engage in.
By performing each exercise properly, in particular meaning moving from exercise to exercise without delay or rest, you will maintain a high pulse rate for the entire duration of the workout (maximum 35 minutes).
However, a word of caution. You must work up to this type of strain on the heart slowly. Start with break-in training, which is performed at a much slower rate and lower intensity. As you improve in your conditioning, you can increase intensity and also decrease the amount of rest between exercises.
A highly experienced individual performing workouts is able to work continuously from exercise to exercise for 35 minutes without rest, thus keeping their pulse rate at a near maximum level for the whole workout.
We must remember that the heart is a muscle, and therefore as we increase our lean skeletal muscle tissue, we also want to increase our cardiovascular conditioning by performing work that stimulates the heart to grow and get strong.
This is important, since a heart that does not improve in conditioning has a harder time pumping blood and oxygen to bigger and stronger muscles.
It is not unusual for very large bodybuilders (the ones who take a lot of drugs and weight in excess of 250 pounds) to have breathing problems, and to become winded by completing very simple tasks like climbing stairs. The reason for this is that they carry so much muscle that their hearts cannot keep up with the blood and oxygen needs of their muscles.
Certainly, these are extreme cases, but the connection of how the heart works with the muscles and the need to work the heart and lungs effectively in strength training workouts should be obvious.