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
If you consider your body to be made up of 4 spheres, you can think of them as: 1. your neck, 2. your shoulders, 3. your hips, and 4. your knees. Warming up each of these spheres daily can go a long way to reducing stress and tension in your body. Note: be sure to do these warm-up exercises carefully (preferably in front of a mirror), after having been properly trained in their use. In addition, if something hurts, please stop doing the exercise and see your trainer.
Do 5-10 repetitions of each of these, per side/direction. Be sure to work each side/direction the same amount of repetitions.
1. Neck: Warming up your neck should be done in three parts: First, look at yourself in a mirror and draw small to medium-sized circles with your chin. This will help move your neck without going too far. Next, draw figure-eights with your chin, still watching yourself in the mirror (don’t go too fast!). Finally, turn perpendicular to the mirror, and turn your head towards the mirror. Make sure that you turn only enough so that you can see your opposite ear, no farther. And most of all, think of it as movement rather than actual stretching – this will help you prevent injury.
2. Shoulders: To warm up your shoulders, imagine drawing circles in the mirror with your elbows. Try not to bring your elbows up much higher than your shoulders, in an effort to prevent constriction of your shoulder and neck muscles. Nonetheless, draw big circles, focusing on your elbows as the part of you that’s drawing the circles.
3. Hips: Now the circles you’re going to draw are on the floor. With your pelvis as the focal point, draw circles on the floor, keeping your hands on your hips and your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet planted through this exercise, although you may find that they will want to lift a little from side to side.
4. Knees: Still on the floor, the circles you’re going to draw are just in front of your feet. First, put your feet together, and place one hand on each knee. Then draw circles as indicated on the floor, first in one direction and then the other. If you hear cracks and groans in your knees, don’t worry – this is normal. Be sure to make small circles with your knees, in order to prevent pain afterwords.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
If you exercise regularly, you know what it’s like to wake up and feel sick, then immediately wonder if working out that day is a good idea or not. If bed rest and fluids are a generally prescribed plan, how can exercise make sense? And yet, some doctors say that it won’t have any effect on the severity or duration of your cold symptoms. Some will tell you yes, go exercise, but others will say no – what’s the right answer?
Exercise is commonly known to be good for boosting your immune system, and certainly when you’re sick it’s your immune system that needs boosting. However, there are times when a workout might have a negative effect on your body. When you exercise, your heart rate increases, no matter what type of exercise you’re doing, i.e. yoga, weights, cardio and so on. Your core body temperature also increases, causing you to sweat more, thus depleting you of water. When you’re healthy this is all right, of course, but when you’re sick it can have a negative impact. Fluids when you’re sick help you to flush out the toxins, to cool down a fever, and to carry away other germs that might cause a future illness (remember that when you’re sick you’re even more vulnerable to other germs!). Plus, increasing your core body temperature when you’re already running a fever can be dangerous – even deadly.
But if you’re clearly not running a fever, it might be okay to do a light workout, according to some. If you’re merely congested and sneezing, light exercise might help you feel a little better, but be sure not to over-exert yourself. And if you think you might be contagious, consider others around you – sneezing on your fellow yogis might not be appreciated! And this is a good time to get in the habit of wiping down the machines you’re using at the gym – before AND after you use them. Decreasing the spread of germs helps everyone.
And certainly if you have symptoms such as chest congestion, muscle aches, chills, and abdominal upset, you may have the flu. In this case it is definitely advisable to rest until your symptoms disappear – exercising while you have the flu can prolong the illness or even make it worse. Skipping a workout or two might get you better faster than if you were to workout with the flu.
If you’re not sure how bad your symptoms are, whether or not you have a fever or think you might be contagious, just take some time off. It could be better for you in the long run. Pun intended.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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