Myth Busters: Fitness Fact or Fiction?

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With so much information out there, which fitness myths are you holding onto that are hindering your health? Helen Jomoa clears up common misconceptions. 

1. Weight training makes you bulk-up

This may be true for men, but not so for women. Why? Women have lower levels of testosterone than men. The reason why female body builders gain muscle and definition is by sticking to a highly tailored weights program coupled with a strict dietary plan. Both of which are specifically designed to produce a high muscle, low fat physique. However for the rest of us mere mortals, we don’t need to be concerned about morphing into a female version of Arnie. Normal strength training at the gym helps us strengthen muscle and speeds up our metabolism. The more muscle we build – you’ve got it – the more calories we burn-baby-burn.

2. Sit-ups give you a six-pack

Sorry, but no! Why? You cannot ‘spot reduce’ fat from specific areas of the body such as ‘abs’ or thighs, by simply doing exercises that work the problem area. The best way to lose fat is by combining high intensity cardio with strength training. Total body exercises that work lots of muscles are more effective than isolated exercises and will burn more calories. Combine this with a reduced-calorie eating plan and you are likely to see your muscles starting to peek through as you lose body fat. Yes, believe me. Your ‘abs’ are in there somewhere underneath it all, so don’t let Tim Robards get all the adulation.

3. You need to work out every day

Move every day, not burn every day. Why? When you do an intense work out you may be sore the next day. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the pain felt 24-78 hours after exercise because of the micro damage caused to the muscle fibres. This process of tear and repair actually makes muscles stronger. But the word ‘repair’ is critical. Hammering the same muscle group everyday will only lead to injury and fatigue. Building in rest days is essential. Days-off may include less intense exercise such as a light jog round the park or a recovery swim.

The Department of Health’s recommended guidelines for physical activity per week are:
  • Accumulate 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity or 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities.
  • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week

4. No pain, no gain

Pushing through pain can actually hinder your fitness. Why? It is normal to feel a bit of discomfort after trying something new or when returning to exercise after a break. However, don’t ignore persistent pain during your workout because it is usually an indicator that something is wrong. Ask yourself if you are doing the exercise correctly, or if you have the start of an injury. Pushing through the pain threshold will just make things worse and is a recipe for disaster. If the aggravation continues, stop and ask for advice from an expert. It takes longer to heal an injury than to make one.

5. It is best to exercise on an empty stomach

If you’ve heard it is best to exercise before breakfast because your body will go directly to fat burning, then think-again! Exercising on an empty stomach does not assist weight loss and will usually cause you to train at a lesser intensity than normal. Exercising regularly is more important than what time of day you exercise. Find a time that best suits your lifestyle and stick to it. Training first thing in the morning doesn’t work for everyone. Changing your training time may help you avoid those exercise-induced early-morning head spins.

6. Eat little and often

Eating smaller meals more often does not actually lead to weight loss. Why? Scientific research has proven that constant grazing often leads to overeating and does not improve people’s appetite control or their perception of fullness. If you consume more energy from food than your body needs it will be stored by the body and you will gain weight, if you eat less than it needs you will lose weight. It is more important to consider total calories consumed, rather than the number of meals each day.

7. Avoid ‘carbs’ at night

‘Carbs’ are not the guilty culprit. Why? Oh those poor ‘carbs’ always get the blame! The reality is your body doesn’t notice what time of day you eat them; it is more to do with the quantity you are eating. The ‘no-carbs-after-6’ strategy often works because people are forced to modify their eating behaviour, swapping less healthy choices for healthier ones. This strategy works because it reduces total calorie intake. Carbohydrate verdict: innocent.