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10 Common Exercise Myths

Now, more than ever before, the world is literally at your fingertips.  Technological advancements have granted us access to limitless amounts of information.  If you are even the least bit tech savvy, you can Google, Wiki or look up anything your heart desires.

There is no exception when it comes to fitness related information.  In fact, due to the overwhelming abundance of fitness related information available today, it is sometimes very hard to discern between what is fact and what is fiction – what has been scientifically tested and what is theory.  I would like to dedicate this month’s article to dispelling some of the common myths that linger around the sometimes hazy world of health and wellness.

#1 Strength training will make women “bulky”

  • It has been proven that the average woman will not gain muscle mass to the same degree as the average male due to lower levels of the specific hormones that are involved in regulating muscle growth
  • It takes a lot to gain muscle mass, male or female; ask any guy who is trying to “bulk up”, he will tell you that it requires very hard work in the gym and lots of extra calories ingested through the day (approximately an extra 500kcal per day)
  • It is well documented that strength training is a fundamental aspect to overall healthy living for all individuals in all populations
  • Females have a higher predisposition to osteoporosis, therefore they must utilize strength training to keep their bones healthy and strong
  • Muscle atrophy (muscle loss) is a major cause of disability with age, therefore gaining and maintaining muscle mass is very important to healthy aging

#2 Spot reduction

  • This refers to the false belief that you can target fat loss at a specific area of the body (i.e. performing crunches to reduce stomach fat)
  • You will reap the benefit of strengthening that particular area, but will fall short on shedding the fat
  • A workout program combining interval cardio, total body strength training and healthy eating will be the key to attaining desired fat loss and muscle tone
  • Your body will pre-determine which fat stores will be used to fuel physical activity; it has been my personal experience that with the introduction of an effective training regimen, fat loss first occurs at the face, neck, forearms and lower legs; however, these appear to be precursors to fat loss at the trunk, hips and thighs
  • Remember, the key to fat loss is consistent cardio AND strength training, a disciplined, balanced diet and stress management

#3 No pain, no gain

  • To see the minimal benefits of exercise, working at a moderate-intensity (i.e. walking at 3-4mph) is sufficient
  • High-intensity exercise can help enhance efficiency and is important for athletes and enthusiasts
  • There is a distinct difference between “good” and “bad” pain; it is normal to experience mild soreness for 1-2 days after your workout, but it is red flag if you feel pain during your workout (may be performing exercise incorrectly or suffering from pre-existing injury)
  • Muscle soreness that is limiting and lasts for several days is usually indicative of overuse; listen to your body!

#4 Exercise can compensate for poor diet

  • Sorry – no way, no how
  • A high-intensity one hour workout can burn upwards of 500-800kcal (250-500kcal for moderate-intensity); a McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich will run you about 580kcal; add a large fries to that order and you’re looking at about 1150kcal!
  • Sadly, one hour’s worth of sweat, grit and hard work can be undone in the time it takes to scarf down a combo at McD’s (not to mention that that Big Mac combo contains over half of the 2000kcal daily intake for an average female aged 19-59)
  • Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself and enjoying life, but do so in moderation and be honest with yourself about the fact that that extra indulgence can, in seconds, undo what you have been working so hard to achieve

#5 Machines are always safer than free-weights

  • It is true that machines are a good place to start when you are new to the gym; they help you get a feel for the form and function of the exercise without having to divert focus to stabilizing your joints
  • However, if you have not been properly instructed on how to use the machines, you face the same risks you would using free-weights
  • –       Machines are only safe when they have been adjusted appropriately for your height and limb measurements (due to the variety seen amongst individual body types and composition, there is always some level of discrepancy), you are aware of the each machine’s unique mechanics and you are cognisant of the proper form, pace and endpoints of the exercise

#6 All-or-none approach

  • There is a misconception that if you cannot exercise enough to derive the health related benefits of physical activity (30+ minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity over the course of most of the days of the week), then it is not worth doing anything
  • Let’s keep this one simple – everything counts!
  • Take the stairs, clean your home, walk the dog…anything!

#7 During cardio, train longer at lower intensities to maximize time in the “fat-burning zone”

  • You may have observed a chart or graph located on cardio equipment specifying target heart rate zones based on your age and goal
  • These generally note that exercising at 65% of your age pre-determined maximum heart rate will bring you into the “fat-burning zone”, while exercising at 85% thrusts you into the “cardio training zone”; there is some truth to this concept, but it is misleading when not examined in it entirety
  • It is true that the enzymes responsible for mobilizing lipids (fat) into metabolic pathways to be used as fuel during exercise require more time than those responsible to mobilize muscle/liver glycogen and blood glucose (carbohydrates); therefore, when working at higher intensities, where energy is demanded more rapidly, carbohydrate stores are the preferred fuel source over fat stores (although fat is still used to varying degrees)
  • The problem lies in the fact that this is where some people choose to end the story – but the crux lies ahead
  • The key to weight management and cardiovascular conditioning lies not in the proportion of calories burned from fat stores, but rather total calories burned (irrespective of the source)
  • Therefore, the harder you work, the more calories you burn, the greater the gains…period
  • Stray away from the steady-state hamster wheel approach to cardio and incorporate high-intensity interval style cardio sessions to your routine

# 8 There is a “best” time to workout during the day

  • Some argue that if you workout first thing in the morning, you will maximize your potential for results; unfortunately, there is no research to support this claim
  • Each person will respond differently to exercising at different times during the day
  • Personally, I prefer working out in the morning because my energy level is high, I get it out of the way early and it’s off my plate, there are less chances for excuses to prevent me from working out (i.e. stay late at work, issues with weather, etc) and it gives me a great energy and mood boost as I start the rest of my day
  • However, I have many clients that dread morning workouts – and that’s fine; just find what works for you and stick to it

#9 Thin people are in better shape than heavier people

  • The scale can be your friend and enemy; body weight is a valid measure, but body composition (fat vs. muscle mass) is of greater importance
  • People vary greatly with respect to their body’s genetic predisposition (big, small, short, tall, wide, slim), so it is important to focus on healthy lifestyle habits that will maintain healthy body fat levels as opposed to placing too much emphasis on the scale or mirror
  • A female athlete that may be categorized as “big” by our society’s standards; but she is likely in much better shape than a runway model who may have next to no muscle mass on her body, poor aerobic conditioning and is at risk for multiple health related issues

#10 Sweating as an indicator of exertion

  • I speak a lot of high-intensity this and high-intensity that…partly because I have read the research supporting its effectiveness and efficiency and partly because I enjoy it myself and am biased towards it
  • However, there are several population groups that are not in a position to participate in high-intensity training (i.e. cardiac rehab, recovering from motor vehicle accident or one of the many other reasons that can prevent one from engaging in such demanding training)
  • You will still burn calories if you exercise and do not break a sweat
  • Firstly, the degree to which a person perspires is very individual (if you have ever seen me eat spicy food, you know what I mean!) and based on numerous other factors (i.e. hydration, ambient temperature, etc); therefore it is not an effective indicator of exercise intensity
  • Secondly, the name of the game is total calories burned; if you cannot perform 30min of intense exercise, try performing 45-60min of low-moderate intensity exercise and burn as many calories as you can, given the circumstances (in addition to appropriate nutritional modifications, weight management and conditioning can still be enhanced)
  • Work within your means and do the best you can with what you’re given
I hope this helps clear the air on some of the myths that are floating around.  Just remember to always do your own research and confer with your trusted personal health professionals.