Ireland has its leprechauns, Scotland its Loch Ness monster, the Himalayas its Yeti. Every culture has its folklore. And the fitness culture is no different. Despite the passage of more than a couple of dozen years now, the fitness boom that struck in the late '70s generated several myths that have withstood the test of time and can still be heard floating around gyms, tracks and saunas from New York to Los Angeles, from Vancouver to Mexico City. And while you may consider yourself a savvy workout vet, you've likely fallen prey to one or more of these falsehoods at some point in time. Well, we gym blokes at Men's Fitness are here to see that you don't waste another minute pursuing strategies rooted in sophistry. Get ready to free your mind and unleash your full-body potential.
MYTH: No pain, no gain
This is easily the most popular catch phrase to mislead a nation since the 1950s' Camel cigarettes ad, which declared, "More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette."
The truth: Regardless of the way Rocky Balboa's training scenes were portrayed, exercise does not have to hurt (you or any hanging sides of beef) to be effective.
How to reach your goals:
- When you first start an exercise program, it's normal to feel some discomfort for several days after your workouts. Starting at an easy level and slowly progressing to a higher intensity can avert much of this pain.
- Training too hard can be counterproductive, as it may lead to overtraining. Nicholas DeNubile, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania and orthopedic consultant to the Philadelphia 76ers, says, "When you overtrain, your body actually breaks down."
- To minimize soreness, warm up before your workouts and cool down and stretch afterward.
- Stay in tune to the signs your body is sending. DeNubile says, "You must learn the difference between slight muscle soreness from a good workout and the soreness that may be a warning sign of an injury."
Occasional muscle pain, especially if it's bilateral (on both sides of the body), is normal, but it doesn't necessarily indicate that you had a good workout.
MYTH: Sweating is a great way to lose weight
Remember those rubber workout suits some guys used to sport as they jogged or hit the weights? Just pour yourself in and wait for the fat to melt off, right? The persistence of this view is so great that you can still find variations on no-pain, no-gain infomercials targeting Hispanic cable-television viewers.
The truth: Exaggerated sweat loss does result in weight loss, but at best it's short-lived. Sweating off the pounds can be an unhealthy, even dangerous and potentially fatal way to lighten your load. Body suits, body wraps or any methods that promote profuse sweating (e.g., extreme saunas) do not lead to increased fat loss. In fact:
- More sweating does not amount to more calories burned.
- Sweating is the way your body cools itself off.
- Excessive sweat loss leads to dehydration. Dehydration has a negative effect on strength, endurance, even heart and brain function.
- Tim Scheett, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Human Performance at the University of Southern Mississippi, warns that "exercising when dehydrated can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, brain damage and even death."
- Any weight loss that results from sweating will be returned as soon as fluids are consumed. How to reach your goals: Weight loss can only be accomplished by burning more calories than you take in--sweating techniques have no role to play.
MYTH: Performing crunches is the only way to get a flat stomach
Yeah! It's time for some spot reducing! I'm gonna order me the latest, greatest ab machine featured on my favorite after-hours infomercial.
The truth: There is no latest, greatest ab machine. Understood? And there is no such thing as "spot reducing." Fat loss is a systemic process. When you lose body fat, it comes off proportionately from your entire body--face, buttocks, waist, triceps, everywhere.
How to reach your goals:
- To create a washboard stomach, your program has to consist of a low-fat diet, weight training, cardiovascular exercise and a variety of abdominal exercises (see "Summer Six-Pack," page 92, and "Lose the Gut, Get Cut," page 68).
- Crunches and other properly executed abdominal movements are indeed important components of a program that intends to deliver a tight, flat midsection. Abdominal exercises tone the area, or add muscle to it if you apply resistance; however, they won't cause abdominal fat loss. And if some infomercial claims that its equipment will, click over to Nick at Nite.
- The only exercises that experts say can directly reduce your waist size involve the transverse abdominis. This deep abdominal muscle helps to hold your organs in and provide stability to your spine.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help. While you get dependable exercise advice and diet tips in Men's Fitness, it can be helpful to seek one-on-one guidance from a certified personal trainer and/or sports nutritionist.
MYTH: Lifting heavy weights will make you muscle-bound
The truth: We should all be so lucky. Weightlifting does not make you too big. If it were that easy, creatine would not be as common to every locker-room stall as talcum powder. Fact is, lifting heavy weights on occasion is important for any guy interested in reaping the benefits of weight training.
For most of us, our genetics will prevent us from ever reaching the point where we have too much muscle. "Like a governor on a motor to prevent it from going too fast, our muscles produce a protein that prevents our muscles from growing too large," says Scheett. Individuals with large amounts of muscle mass got that way through many years of intense, dedicated lifting--up to five hours almost every day--and disciplined dietary practices. Be satisfied with any muscle you add, as muscle tissue promotes health, speeds metabolism and enhances sex appeal.
How to reach your goals:
- Be sure to stretch before and after lifting weights as well as on off days to keep your body limber and the muscle sheaths--the fascia--supple.
- Cycle the amount of reps and weight you use every workout. Try eight to 10 reps one workout, 12 to 15 the following, and three to five the next, then cycle back through.
- Follow the principles of progressive overload. Slowly increase the amount of weight you use once you can do more than the prescribed number of reps for all sets of a given exercise.
- Allow at least 48 hours of rest between workouts for similar muscle groups.
MYTH: If you stop lifting weights, your muscle will turn to fat
Some guys actually use this as an excuse to not start a weightlifting program. Although it may be possible if you're David Blain, the rest of us will never be capable of turning fat to muscle, or vice versa. Abracadabra ... abracadabra ... damn! (We do recall a come-on blurb on the cover of a so-called men's health and fitness magazine touting "Turn Fat Into Muscle.")
- Muscle and fat are two unique types of tissue that are made up of different kinds of cells. One cannot be transformed into the other.
- When you stop weightlifting for a prolonged period, the muscle tissue simply shrinks. That's called atrophy (the opposite of hypertrophy). When muscle cells are shrinking while fat cells are simultaneously growing as a result of a poorly conceived nutrition plan, it creates the illusion of muscle turning into fat.
- Scheett enlightens: "Without regular exercise, daily calorie expenditure is dramatically reduced. This is compounded by a decreased resting metabolic rate due to the loss of metabolically active muscle tissue. If a person continues eating the same amount he did when he was training, then he will rapidly gain body fat."
How to reach your goals: To keep your muscle mass, weight-train for 30 to 60 minutes three to five times per week.
- Always include basic, multijoint movements such as squats, bench presses and rows.
- Consume at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight.