How can you spot those exercise myths and know you are getting the facts? It is the start of a brand new beautiful year so for many they are taking advantage of a clean slate and making some promises to themselves and their bodies. They will cut down their intake of sugar and fat and start whipping themselves into shape with visits to the gym, trying some group exercise classes (check out our timetable), going for long walks, cycles and swims, or perhaps popping on an exercise DVD. Whatever your plan is don’t forget that exercise accounts for around 20% of weight loss while your diet counts for the rest.
Here are twenty myths put to rest once and for all:
1. You will burn more fat if you exercise longer
High-intensity exercise burns the most fat because it demands more energy during the activity. The faster you walk, run, or train – the more calories you use per minute.
For the ultimate weight loss programme do 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise every day, with a 15 minute warm-up and a 15 minute cool down either side of it. Don’t forget a rest day to give your body a well-earned time out.
2. Exercise will lead to weight loss
Yes it will, providing that you do not eat the calories that you burn off as well as your daily calorie allowance. It is basic maths, no matter how you try and justify those extra calories to yourself. Plenty of people feel that when you have sweated and worked your body to its limit, you are entitled to a slice of cake, a chocolate bar, or even a takeaway.
Nutrition is a huge part of weight loss, so exercise alone will not get you to your goals. It will help you reach them, but you have got to watch your calorie intake and recognise that this is going to be a long battle. No quick fixes.
You can do this – making exercise and nutrition a permanent part of your life will benefit you far more than will be reflected in weight loss alone. A healthier, longer, more energetic and outgoing lifestyle is what you are aiming to gain.
3. Strength training leads to bulking up and does not aid weight loss
The best workout contains cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
Strength training is any physical exercise that specialises in the use of resistance to stimulate muscle contraction. This builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles.
These are both valuable for maintaining a healthy weight. Strength training increases muscle mass and assists in burning off body fat, as strong muscles burn more calories than soft ones. Muscle also burns more fat during exercise, daily life activities and even sleep. So weight training/toning and conditioning are essential in any training routine.
4. Signing up at a gym is the best way to get fit
Doing exercise consistently is the best way to get fit. Yes, gyms have people that can motivate you, but so can friends and family. There are lots and lots of free activities you can do to get fit and stay healthy:
- Hill climbing
- Marching up and down stairs/steps
- Vigorous cleaning (mopping/hoovering/dusting)
- Playing sports (football, rugby, netball, hockey, basketball, volleyball, tennis, squash, badminton…)
- Vigorous gardening (digging and turning soil over, mowing, weeding, sawing off branches)
- Strength training with cans of beans/water bottles/dumbbells
- Circuits of squats, lunges, press ups, tricep dips, etc.
Clearly weight loss is linked to high-intensity workouts, so you have to be able to motivate yourself and to keep pushing yourself so that each session is progressive and demanding, while still being fun and rewarding.
5. Strength training will make women too muscular
I hear this every week as a fitness instructor. It is hard to shift women off weights that really will not achieve anything. Your 1kg and 2kg weights are good as starting points to get your muscles used to the movements, but 3kg and above are needed for results.
If you aim for 8-12 reps (lifts/curls/presses) in a row, then you are not going to create short stocky muscles that bulge out; you are just going to strengthen and condition the muscles, giving them a little definition, and as a result they will burn more calories than fat or flab would.
If you can lift a weight 8-12 times, then it is the perfect weight for strength training, NOT bodybuilding. The advantages of strength training cannot be missed, so it is essential for women everywhere to get used to the fact that muscle definition does not equal a macho/masculine physique.
6. With the right exercise you can get rid of trouble areas – targeting weight loss
Sadly, targeting flabby areas is a total myth. 1,000 sit ups will not reduce the size of a flabby belly; they will strengthen and tone the muscles. Those muscles are underneath the layer of fat that you wish to target – the part that you can see. The only way to lose excess fat is by losing weight through doing cardio exercises and eating healthily.
I know it sounds harsh and is really frustrating, but if you want results then you need cardio exercise and a low fat diet to promote fat loss. Sorry, there is just no getting around it. There is no focused or targeted strategy to conditioning. If you have low body fat levels then you will see the sculpting and toning that comes from intense conditioning, as the muscles will be visible.
7. Light weights on your arms and legs can enhance the benefit of exercise
They are heavy enough to slow you down and reduce the aerobic benefit from the cardio exercise you are doing. They are also too light to provide any strength training benefits, so unfortunately no enhancement takes place.
If you wish to wear weights, then use heavy ones so you get a strength training workout out of it. Weights on the arms can also be useful for specialist training, like for boxers or racket sports players. Weights on the wrists can be used during slow punching and controlled racket movements (without the racket of course!). Then drop the weights and do the same movements with speed and precision. The arms will feel lighter and move faster. It combines slow strength and power training with speed and agility training in one session.
8. Exercise burns loads of calories
Exercise for a person of average build burns double the calories that would be expended naturally just sat on a sofa. The motivating fact is that the more exercise you do, the fitter you get.
The exercise machines in the gym are more often than not inaccurate. You can use them as a very rough gauge but there is no way they can accurately calculate the number of calories you have burned. To do this, machines need to measure your height, weight, heart rate and, ideally, your BMI (body mass index). So do not allow machines to dictate the level, intensity and duration of the exercise that you do.
9. You shouldn’t work out on an empty stomach
As a general rule this one holds its weight but there are exceptions. There has been research to support the fact that if you hit the gym before you have eaten breakfast, then you will burn off more fat than if you had tucked into some cereal beforehand.
I would never train on an empty stomach because everyone’s metabolism is different, and you do not want to risk faintness and loss of energy for the sake of a few extra calories.
10. No pain, no gain
There may be mild discomfort the day after an intensive workout. This signifies progression. However, you should never be in real pain. Sharp pains suggest an injury, usually caused by the muscle being worked to failure when it wasn’t strong enough to handle the overload.
Aching and some stiffness the next morning is an acceptable trade for a stronger, leaner physique. Just make sure that this isn’t happening the day after every training session. Your body needs time to heal, repair and build new muscle.
I do not want to completely discount this myth, because ultimately there are times in the gym when you have to grit your teeth and drive through the burn in order to get it done. That is what instructors are alluding to – it is not their intention to hurt or cripple you. They are pushing you through the peak of your workout and ensuring you progress – ensuring that your training does not become stale and plateau.
11. You should stretch before you work outStretching used to be a crucial ingredient to everyone’s warm up. Instructors automatically incorporated them just before the aerobic curve commenced. It is now believed that stretches loosen tendons and weaken muscles because they elongate them to their thinnest, most flexible state.
Before you are about to jump around, you want your tendons and muscles to be strong and prepared for greater loads to be placed on them. It seems to make sense that stretching them – a technique used to increase flexibility and make muscles and joints supple – is now only seen as necessary post workout.
I would still stretch tight muscles out, for instance, if I had done a big weights session or a run the day before a workout. You will know if they feel like your legs/arms, or if they are tighter and perhaps in need of a soft stretch before you train them again. Only stretch if you think it will return your muscles and joints to their normal pre-workout state – otherwise stretches are now considered a bad idea.
12. Exercise machines beat free weights
Most of us are quite aware of the fact that personal trainers and strength training experts have long been ambassadors for free weights over machines. Why? Because free weights engage the core muscles and, instead of just targeting primary muscles, they involve the supporting muscles around joints as well as secondary muscles while the lift, press, pull or curl is performed.
A shoulder press done with free weights engages the lower and top back muscles (lumbar region and trapezius) as well as the abdominal muscles and the sides (obliques). Seated shoulder presses done on a machine work the shoulder but do not engage the core muscles or allow the participant to work on posture.
There is functional training logic at work here as well. You would not bicep curl (e.g. lift something up off the ground) from a sitting position in everyday life. You are far more likely to bend and pick it up, so bicep curls using free weights mean you can combine it with a squat. From standing you are also working your overall form (back, abdominals, legs) as well as the bicep.
13. Running on a treadmill is as effective as running outside
Every runner will tell you that, from time to time, treadmill running comes in useful. The weather might be extremely bad, they may be recovering from an injury, or they may just fancy some controlled interval training where they can monitor speed, distance and incline precisely.
The treadmill lulls your feet and legs into a false sense of security, and it is also a different way of running because you are striking a moving belt. Treadmills are good for beginners wishing to build strength in their legs and set themselves challenges and targets. The level of measurability you get on speed and distance can only be matched in the outdoors by expensive route tracking watches, which not everyone can afford. Treadmills are an effective training tool but they can never be as effective as road/off-road running.
14. You shouldn’t work out every day
This one is entirely true and for good reason. Rest should be just as much a part of your workout schedule as everything else. You should also create your own workout schedule. The input from others – friends, fitness instructors, personal trainers, online experts, and of course family – should help guide you, but the ultimate decision on how and when you train has to be yours.
Rest is vital for repair, and it also restores energy levels and makes you far more efficient and eager to train when you return to the gym. You deserve a rest day and you have to listen to your body. One rest day is a minimum requirement – if your body is telling you to rest then take note because it has its reasons!
15. You cannot work out when you are illThis one is always down to the individual because only you know how you feel and if you are up for training. A strict rule here is that if it is above the neck (head cold, sore throat) then training can help relieve the symptoms. However, if it is below the neck (chest infection, indigestion, stomach infection) then training is not advisable because of the exertion your lungs and other organs experience during exercise.
It is common sense really that when you are ill, your heart has to work harder during exercise than when you are in good health. You should never train when you have a fever, because your body is fighting to maintain a healthy temperature and does not need the added stress of fluctuation caused by exercise. That strain can make your symptoms worse so you just prolong the illness.
I have always trained towards the end of an infection when the fever has gone, and when I can breathe without hindrance and have started craving physical exercise. When I am suffering I stay away from the gym because, for the sake of a few days off, I would sooner prevent making it worse. The first training session back from illness is always that little bit more energetic and rewarding as well.
16. Sweating means you are out of shape
It is truly astonishing the amount of people who think sweating is a negative thing. They seem to think that it is a sign people are unfit, when quite the opposite is true. Firstly, sweating is your body’s natural response to exertion, as it needs to keep its temperature down. Sweat is the body’s way of releasing heat quickly.
The fact is that with every workout you become even more efficient at sweating. So do not be put off by a little perspiration, because it is in fact a sign that you are moving in the right direction.
17. Crunches are the best moves for your core
This could not be further from the truth. Crunches are an isolated exercise for your abdominals. To work the core you have to work a massive cluster of muscle groups – those that make up the back, abdominals, and sides. To do this, of course, you need an array of exercises.
- Stand on one leg and then lower your right hand down towards the right foot; your left leg will push backwards and eventually you should be touching the foot
- Sit on a flexiball and raise both legs. When proficient, you can try kneeling on the ball (making sure you are holding on to something stationary to begin with) and, for the more advanced, try standing on the ball – not to be taken lightly!
- Sit in a crunch position with your feet and back off the ground so you are pivoting on your bum in a V shape. Now take the weight and rotate through the core, touching the weight down on your right side and then on your left side From standing, perform a pendulum swing by swinging the right leg diagonally to the left and then back through and behind you diagonally to the right. Do on both legs
- Leg raises: lay flat and lift straight legs off the ground until they are at a right angle to your torso, then lower them back down (without letting your feet touch the ground once you have begun)
- Pull up leg raises: grab an overhead bar and lift yourself off the ground. Whilst hanging there, raise your knees up towards your chest. Eventually you will be able to straighten your legs and do a full upright leg raise
- Hula hoops are great for the side and front abdominals, and you can also perform the exercise without a hula hoop – just by vigorously rotating the waist in a circular motion
- Plank: go to a press up position but start with your arms rested on the elbows/forearms. You can also kneel as long as you are tucking the abs in hard and pulling them through to the back. Once you progress, outstretch the arms and hold the position there. It is a static position held for 30 seconds initially, and anything up to and beyond five minutes for the extra committed
18. Working out makes you eat more
On the contrary, high-intensity exercise can actually suppress or decrease food cravings. The body fills with endorphins post workout and you may find that you are tempted to skip lunch/tea. This is because of the adrenaline pumping around your body.
The best approach is to let your body rest and wind itself down after a workout. Try and make sure you go through a thorough stretch routine, and that you do an activity that is calming, so that your system returns to a normal operating level. Then try and eat within the first couple of hours of exercise when your body needs the replenishment the most.
Failure to eat will cause you to wake up the next morning feeling fatigued and drained, and all that hard work will have been for nothing. The body will shut down (metabolism wise) because it will assume you are starving it and you will be on a go slow.
Eat regular meals daily and if exercise does suppress your appetite then remember to eat, but also benefit from the fact that your body is not willing you to overeat. Drink plenty of fluids and eat lots of balanced, healthy, and nutritional meals. Exercise is not an excuse to eat double what you would usually eat. There is a calorie increase for those who train at a high-intensity regularly, but these are examples of amateur athletes or serious sports/fitness enthusiasts – not your run of the mill.
19. I have got no will power whatsoever
The chances are that you have been pushed too hard previously, or that you have never enjoyed the exercise you have tried. This is very much a state of mind that can be overcome. The first trick is not to expect too much out of yourself.
So ask yourself what you would love to do if given the opportunity. There are tons of ways to keep fit that won’t make you feel like you are there just for that reason:
- Roller derbies
- Indoor rock climbing
- Dog walks
- Team sports
- Xbox, PlayStation and Wii interactive physical games
- Swimming with trips down flumes and dips in the Jacuzzi after
- Dance classes like Zumba and Drums Alive
- Aerobics classes with a theme you might enjoy – for instance, combat, fight, weights, legs, bums and tums, cycling, balance, yoga, pilates, etc.
20. I am as fit as I can be – I do 6 classes a week – but I am not losing weight and my body shape isn’t changing
I see this pattern a lot in gyms. People attend the same classes every week and expect changes. The fact is that your body gets used to patterns in exercise, so once you have been doing something for several weeks, the benefits begin to wear off.
However, if you are intend on weight loss and greater body conditioning then you need to keep raising your game. You have to try different classes, and to challenge your muscles with new moves in the gym, aswell as upping your weights and intensity. This can only be done by you because, while instructors can encourage weight increases and keep routines fresh and challenging, only you know your own limits.
Instructors have to monitor many individuals, so they cannot know for sure exactly what stage you are at. Do you need an extra push? Do you still walk out sweaty and shattered? Or could you give a little more and tell the instructor that you would like to push on, so motivation and encouragement would be happily accepted? Then they know what your ambitions are and give you a little kick when they feel you have more to give.
Do not let your workouts become stale, repetitive and equal in intensity, or your body will feel like it has reached a happy medium as well. If there is no call for extra energy and effort then there is no need to burn more calories and create more muscle mass.