Is the Loch Ness monster real? Does Bigfoot exist? Is that really hair on Bret Michaels’ head, or is it a wig?
These are myths, and like most myths, the legend grows over time. When things reach legend status it can become hard to explain the truth to people because they’ve become so ingrained in the saga. After all, there’s a cable channel that runs a nationally syndicated “reality” show based on Bigfoot hunters. Yep, that’s right – millions of dollars have been spent on grown men chasing a fictional character. Instead of opening my own studio maybe I should try to get my “Searching for Sasquatch” reality show greenlit.
Anyway, the fitness world is no outsider to the world of myths and fallacies. We’ve broken down nutrition myths before, so let’s continue our mythbusting – this time looking at the fitness world.
Fitness Myth #1
Traditional cardio is the best method for weight loss – When you want to lose weight what do you normally do? Run, right? Long distance cardio is usually what people do to shed some pounds because most don’t know how to organize a program and it tends to be most convenient/cost effective method out there. Plus, many in the industry don’t know how to program people for weight loss so it’s easier to just say “get 30 minutes of physical activity” and call it a day.
But traditional cardio is what we call a catabolic activity. This means that your body just chops up a bunch of energy to get through the exercise and then pretty much returns back to normal after you get done. This also means that your body doesn’t trigger receptors responsible for starting the fat burning process. In fact, a study focusing on the weight loss efforts of women for two years found that no matter how long subjects exercised, they ended up regaining the weight 6 months later (1).
Fitness Myth #2
Lifting weights make you big and bulky- Ah yes, the big and bulky myth. I always tell clients that if you want to look like a bodybuilder then you’ll look like a bodybuilder. What I mean by this is that gaining muscle is a skill – it takes a tactical approach in the gym with precise programming and a diet that requires you to eat more meals in one day than the entire cast of Goodfellas eats through the entire movie. If you want to gain a lot of muscle, you have to work for it.
You can lift weights and not worry about gaining weight (if that’s your goal). In an 8 week study, subjects increased their levels of strength without gaining any significant muscle mass (2).
Fitness Myth #3
Gaining muscle makes you lose flexibility – We all have that image of the muscle bound athlete that can’t turn their head or tie their own shoelaces because of all that muscle getting in the way. When we exercise, we change the length of our muscles. This means that our muscles are getting a good stretch. Issues with flexibility occur because of genetics and a whole host of lifestyle choices. Besides that, using a partial range of motion in the weight room can cause flexibility issues, so as long as you don’t cheat with your exercises, then building muscle will not effect your flexibility.
Fitness Myth #4
The fat burning zone – Okay, there’s some truth to this. One of the first things we learn in exercise physiology is the 411 on when your body burns carbs and when it burns fat – so yes, there is a zone in which your body burns more fat than other sources of energy. The myth here is the idea that simply exercising in this zone will guarantee that you’ll drop a bunch of pounds or get in the best shape of your life. The fat burning zone is great for novices or those looking for a low stress workout. But weight loss is all about pushing the envelope on your metabolic rate along with keeping your hormones in check, and this is something that’s not going to happen if you always train in this zone.
In an 8 week study on elite soccer players, researchers took subjects through a conditioning protocol in which they trained at near maximal levels (which basically means they were a LONG way away from the fat burning zone). The soccer players managed to increased their conditioning level along with dropping half a percent of body fat (3). This doesn’t sound like much, but the soccer players were already below 11% bodyfat.
Fitness Myth #5
I sweat a lot, so I’ll lose weight – Sweating is your body’s way of cooling itself off. If you sweat a lot, all you’re really going to do is offend people that you may get too close to. The last thing that you’ll do is lose more weight. The human body is anywhere between 60 and 80% water – so when you sweat a lot, you deplete form your stores. If you sweat a lot during a workout it may even feel like you’re working hard because you’re using up your body’s store of water and thus affecting your heart rate and circulation. Sorry to disappoint, but those sweat suits that look like a space-age garbage bag are only good for, well, taking your garbage out.
Fitness Myth #6
Lifting light weights for high reps will get you ‘toned’- Lifting light weights gives our muscle a small pump – meaning that you’ll feel a burn in your muscles while they swell up with blood. However, the after effect of all your hard work does very little to actually get you toned. Similar to our very first point, there isn’t much of a metabolic effect to using light weights. More often than not, many people are intimidated to use heavier weights, or they fear that the heavy weights will give them that bulky appearance we talked about earlier. Don’t get confused by the smokescreen of doing a bunch of reps; lifting heavy weights is a great way to increase your metabolism and lose weight.
While sport scientists don’t always agree on things, one thing they will see eye to eye on is the fact that the weight lifted in an exercise program is the most important factor (4).
Prior to becoming a sports medicine major, there were certain things I believed were true when it came to getting in shape. I drew much of my information from muscle magazines and gym lore. I can still remember when I had my bubble burst upon learning that what I thought was the truth actually wasn’t. This took me quite a few years, so I hope my hardships save you from a lot of hard work that won’t help get you in shape.
1. Jakicic, J.M., Bess, M.H., Lang, W.”The Effects of Exercise on 24-Month Weight Loss Maintenance in Overweight Women.”(2008) Archives of Internal Medicine.168;14, 1550-1559
2. Monterio, A.G., Aoki, M.S., Evangelista, A.L., Alven, D.A., et al. “Nonlinear Periodization Maximizes Strength Gains in Split Resistance Training Routines.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009. 23.4: 1321 – 1326
3. Sporis, G., Ruzic, L,and Lero, G. “The Anaerobic Endurance of Elite Soccer Players Improved After a High Intensity Training Intervention in the 8 Week Conditioning Program.” (2008) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22;2, 559-566
4. Lorenz, D.S., Reiman, M.P., Walker, J.C. “Periodization: Current Review and Suggested Implementation for Athletic Rehabilitation.” (2010) Sports Physical Therapy 2;6, 509-518