5 Fitness Myths Debunked

The fitness industry is full of misinformation, which I hear and see on a daily basis. Most people get into a gym or health club with the best of intentions but barely have a clue what to do. The scraps of information that they do get are from the type of guy who’s never performed a squat in his life when there wasn’t a toilet beneath him or the girl who spends 80% of her workout following Kim Kardashian’s Twitter updates. This leads to two major problems: an extremely high drop-out rate due to ineffective workouts, and a thriving physiotherapy industry due to injuries from poor technique. So I put together this list of 5 common fitness myths and shed some light on why you’d do well to ditch that way of thinking like a bad 80’s hairstyle. Hopefully, you’ll hit your workouts a little smarter and, at the very least, avoid making your physiotherapist a little richer.

1)    SIT-UPS AND CRUNCHES WILL MAKE YOU LOSE BELLY FAT

This is one of the biggest misconceptions of all, fueled by infomercials  promising Spartan-like abs in 8 minutes a day featuring fitness models who barely spend 8 minutes a day on anything but their abs.

It’s safe to say that the goal for most people is to have a nice flat stomach and maybe to have some definition in their abs. But most people who’ve been carrying extra pounds for a while, would be happier than a dog in fire hydrant factory just to have a trim midsection – even without the definition.

To address our myth, yes, ab exercises will make your abdominal muscles develop, BUT (and it’s a big BUT – think Jennifer Lopez if it helps), they will not be visible if they still remain covered by fat. If you have belly fat, your first order of business is getting rid of it, which requires a combination of cardio and resistance training that keeps your heart rate elevated for a sustained period of time coupled with proper eating habits – not sit ups and crunches. There is a saying that abs are made in the kitchen and it’s absolutely true. You’d have as much luck sawing wood with a butter knife as you would trying to flatten your midsection without eating properly.

Not that abdominal work shouldn’t be done though – after all, strong abs (visible or not) are beneficial for a number of reasons, but sit-ups and crunches are actually sub-par choices among a library of other exercises that do a more effective job, but I digress…

What you need to know is that there is a distinction between developing your abs (with ab exercises) and burning fat. The more fat you lose, the more the abs will show, and the more impressive your audition for Part 2 of the movie “300” will be.

2)    YOU CAN TARGET FAT LOSS

I often have people come up to me, asking how to get rid of arm fat, or leg fat, or fat from some other dominantly meaty area. And then they’re surprised when I tell them, “the same way you get rid of it anywhere else on your body.”

This may come as disappointment for some, but you can’t approach fat loss like a butcher in a meat locker and just shave it off wherever you please. Our bodies all deposit fat differently and it’s heavily influenced by hormone imbalances. For example, belly fat is a sign of elevated levels of the stress hormone called cortisol, while excess fat under the shoulder blade is indicative of insulin resistance. But despite the hormonal differences that affect fat gain, we all LOSE fat in the same manner. Vigorous exercise and diet will cause fat to disappear from all parts of the body simultaneously. There is no special method to target it – even if fat tends to favor setting up camp in particular area. It’d be cool if we could just launch a homing missile at it, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

The only way to control fat in a specific area is to get your hormones in check, but the science behind that is beyond the scope of this discussion. You can however, target specific muscles with exercises to firm them up which is why strength training is important. If you want firmer thighs then perform leg exercises. Trying to lose fat with cardio alone might leave you slimmer, but softer than a sponge cake. (Tip: Don’t be a sponge cake – do some strength training)

3)    WOMEN WILL GET “BIG” IF THEY WEIGHT TRAIN

I love this one. Every girl who’s seen a picture of a female bodybuilder thinks that they will transform into the Incredible Hulk if they weight train. I’ll tell you this right now, those women, who I agree, look about as feminine as a cement truck, usually take performance enhancing drugs to get like that. They essentially develop a manly appearance because they’re often taking male hormones. The fact that a woman’s dominant hormone is estrogen makes becoming a gorilla with lipstick virtually impossible.

I encourage all women (barring any injuries or ailments that contraindicate it) to do some form of resistance or strength training. And the reason is that muscle raises our basal metabolic rate (BMR); the amount of calories we burn at rest, all day long. So the more muscle you have, the higher your BMR will be and the more fat you burn and avoid. Strength training also results in stronger tendons, ligaments and muscles (duh!) and helps maintain bone health, inhibits age related muscle loss, and improves insulin sensitivity.

The takeaway: be sure to do some kind of resistance training as part of your fitness program. And if you start looking like you could derail a freight train, I promise to quit my job and preach to trainers all over the world about how everything they thought they knew about women’s fitness is wrong.

4)    YOU HAVE TO EAT LESS TO LOSE WEIGHT

If your weight loss plan involves eating the same way you are now, then lowering portion sizes will help – but it’s a flawed plan of action that more often than not gets you right back where you started. You may lose a little weight and appear to be thinner… but how’s your overall health? Diet isn’t just about keeping weight off, it’s also about disease prevention.  Does the inside of your body resemble something that Oscar the Grouch would happily move into?

With the right eating plan, you would likely find yourself eating more than you normally do! There’s a couple of key points here. ONE is that you should eat 5 to 6 times a day – every three hours or so (3 meals with snacks in between).  This keeps blood sugar levels more stable and prevents your body from going into starvation mode, causing metabolism to slow down, so fuel (aka calories) isn’t burned as efficiently. TWO, processed, high sugar foods actually cause your body (for several hours after consumption) to cease using fat as fuel and use protein from the muscles instead, while any extra sugar that couldn’t be cleared from your blood gets stored as fat. More fat and less muscle? What a lousy deal! Think about that next time you reach for a Mae West instead of an apple. THREE, is that diets low in processed foods and high in nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats and poultry will lead to weight loss without even having to count calories AND you’ll have all the stuff you need to keep the doctor away. By eating 5 to 6 proper meals a day, you’ll always be giving your body exactly what it needs to function at an optimal level without anything leftover that can get stored as fat. So it’s not about quantity as much as it’s about quality.

5)    JUICE IS A HEALTHY FOOD CHOICE

Do you have juice in your fridge right now? Well mosey on over there and have gander at the nutrition facts. Now, you may want to sit down because fainting from a standing position may land you in the hospital. Take a look at the value for fiber. Does the number have an uncanny resemblance to a goose egg? Hang on – don’t throw your reading glasses out the window; they’re working just fine. You really did see a zero there. But isn’t fruit high in fiber? The package says it’s made with real Florida oranges! I know the first time that fact came to my attention, I felt so deceived that I re-enacted the shower scene from the Crying Game. I admit, it’s a bit dramatic, but seeing that zero was distressing nonetheless.

Now, once you recover from that devastating blow, feast your eyes on the sugar content. Is it in the vicinity of 30 grams per 250ml serving? With all that extra sugar in our bloodstream, we’ve just introduced some new buddies to our already unwanted fat cells.  Yikes. Can this day get any worse? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but at least you know now right? Yeah, those words didn’t get me out of the shower immediately either, but I survived.

If you have stubborn fat, this may be the reason that dreams of weight loss elude you like a wet bar of soap. Juice is not a replacement for actual fruit. Not only are you getting a dose of sugar that even Mary Poppins wouldn’t recommend, but you also miss out on the benefits of fiber that real fruit provides. If optimal health and weight management is your goal, put down the juice box, and walk away slowly… for he is the enemy.

CLOSING WORDS

If any of these facts came as surprise to you, it’s ok. You’re far from alone. Like I said, I hear these myths all the time and they can be a serious roadblock on your quest to reach your fitness goals. Consider hiring a personal trainer to learn the right techniques to maximize the time you invest working out. This is especially important if you’re a beginner. The last thing you want is an injury or to feel like you’re wasting your time. Exercise has phenomenal benefits. With a few personal training sessions you’ll quickly see how your goals are more within reach than you thought.

masuccibrunilda