As human beings, we tend to hear something that sounds plausible, and so we believe it. Or we hear something that actually sounds doubtful, but we hear it so many times that eventually we figure it must be true. And sometimes what we hear from friends (or people who are supposed to know what they’re talking about) we carry with us for a long, long time. Oftentimes believing false facts about our health doesn’t really hurt us, but usually it doesn’t help us either. Here are some exercise myths debunked – you may have heard one or two of them yourself:
1. Out Damned Spot! You may have heard that spot training, i.e. exercising certain muscles excessively to achieve optimal results, is the best way to reduce abdominal fat. The truth is, you would have to train your abs non-stop for more than 30 minutes each time, and even then it would only do a minor amount of improvement to the area. Truthfully, the best way to cut abdominal fat is to do a full-body weight workout, followed by some high intensity interval training. And like any muscle in your body, your abs should only be trained every other day – it is also a myth that you can train your abs daily. That just doesn’t make physiological sense since your abdominal muscles are the same type of muscle tissue as the rest of your body’s skeletal muscle, which you take days off from training.
2. No Sweat. Many people have believed for decades, if not longer, that sweating more while you work out will make you lose more weight. These people will wear heavy clothes while they work out, or even worse, won’t work out at all and will instead just sit in the sauna thinking that they’re burning calories. The truth is, sweating more only causes you to lose more water, which puts you in danger of being dehydrated. And replenishing the water can potentially help flush out your organs, but not nearly as well as just plain exercising and eating well. And while we’re talking about hydration, stay away from electrolyte drinks unless you’re doing a seriously heavy workout – otherwise you’re just adding unnecessary calories to your body.
3. Yoga Good? No, Yoga Bad! Okay, this feels a little like blasphemy, but the truth is that yoga isn’t for everyone. If you’re in pain, there’s probably some type of yoga you can do, but that doesn’t mean that yoga is necessarily your answer to getting relief. In fact, some poses may even exacerbate your symptoms. The best solution? If you really want to do yoga, book a private session with someone who knows how to handle injured people – they’ll be able to steer you away from the dangerous poses and towards the helpful ones.
4. Rage Against the Machine. It’s fairly commonly believed that the exercise machines at the gym are safer to use than dumbbells, barbells, exercise balls, and so on. But the truth is, unless the machine you’re using is properly adjusted for your weight and height, chances are that you could injure yourself on a machine just as easily as you would with free weights. And another potential for injury that free weights don’t have is that exercise machines have no give, that is they are fixed to a certain spot to move in a certain plane of motion. If you don’t move precisely in that plane of motion as you use the machine, you could injure yourself. A better idea? Train with someone who knows what they’re doing, or hire a personal trainer for 5 or 6 sessions to show you – it’ll be worth the money.
5. No Pain, Good Gain. Perhaps the most tenaciously held onto myth, the idea that you have to be aching, sore and generally feeling horrible the day after a workout is actually not true. Sure, some soreness is to be expected, but severe pain suggests injury, and that’s just not a safe way to exercise. It can also be a huge de-motivator! If you want to see benefits, follow a reasonable plan that doesn’t leave you feeling too sore afterwards. Then slowly build on that, giving yourself a week off every six to eight weeks. And while we’re on the subject, if it ever hurts while you’re doing the exercise, stop immediately – otherwise you might just injure yourself to a state that will keep you out of the gym for a long time.
6. Just Let Go. Stretching is an often-confused area of exercise, and it’s no wonder since there are different and sometimes adamant schools of thought on the subject. Many believe that you should stretch before exercise, and that this stretch should be held for 30 to 60 seconds at a time. Let’s tackle the former first: many studies show that stretching before a workout can lead to injury since your muscles are not warm, and at the very least does not do you any good, even if you don’t hurt yourself. The best idea is to warm up doing light movements that get your blood moving, including things like tossing a light medicine ball around. As for how long to hold a stretch, it is actually healthier for your muscles and tendons (and better as a stretch) if you do your stretches in 3-5 second holds only, repeating them 7-10 times. This is called active isolated stretching, and is a much safer and beneficial way to stretch.
7. Don’t Be Naughty! You might feel like rewarding yourself with a cheese burger and fries after a workout. Why not? You’ve earned it, right? Sure, but having exercised, even with an intense workout, cannot make up for the ingestion of several hundred calories in a meal. In fact, you can consider eating right about 80% or more of what you’re doing to get into shape. The exercise may feel like the work, but it’s the discipline with your fork that’s really going to make all the difference. Best idea? Exercise in fun ways that don’t feel like work, and take a cooking class to learn how to cook healthy meals for yourself.
By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc