Some so-called medical truths turn out to be nothing more than health fiction — like the old wives’ tale that you can catch a cold if you don’t wear a hat or that cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis. Enough of these unproven gems exist that, in 2009, two doctors wrote a book exposing some of the biggest myths in medicine, including ones that flummox even physicians and nurses.
Unfortunately, some of these misconceptions extend to fitness. Often, people focus on one muscle group — working only their abs, for example, to get a washboard stomach — to the detriment of the rest of the body. Others get stuck doing the same exercises over and over because of bad advice passed along by a misinformed friend or workout partner.
The perpetuation of these myths can make personal trainers like Christopher Gray seem like a sound bite stuck on repeat.”The key to success and overall fitness and weight loss is a combination of strength training and cardio work, with nutrition, of course,” said Gray, owner of Punch Kettlebell Gym in Dover. “It takes those three things together to get optimal results. It’s a constant battle I have to fight with people.”
Among newbie exercisers, there’s often a hesitancy to incorporate strength training into a fitness routine, said Sheri Minear, personal trainer with Lifestyles Fitness Center at Bayhealth in Dover. Some worry about hurting themselves, while others are concerned they’ll end up with an overly chiseled look.
“Most people, I think they don’t know how hard to push their body,” said Minear, who is also site supervisor for the facility, part of Bayhealth Medical Center. “They’re scared to push it.” But strength training can make a difference in several ways: increased metabolism, stronger bones, more endurance, and improved balance and coordination, said Dr. Victor Kalman, an orthopedic surgeon.
Best of all, it can help people reach their fitness goals without turning them into the Incredible Hulk. Read on for more strength-training myth busters:
Myth No. 1: Cardio is the only way to lose weight. Many of us think aerobics is the gateway to weight loss, perhaps spurred by those long-ago images of Jane Fonda in her Spandex workout gear. But cardiovascular activity without a jolt of strength training may limit your weight-loss success, said Arianne Missimer, a trainer and owner of Core Fitness in Brandywine Hundred.
Cardio activities like walking, running, biking and swimming elevate the heart rate and help the body burn calories for the duration of the exercise. Strength training, whether it’s lifting weights, doing pushups or using resistance bands, also helps the body burn calories, but the energy burn continues long after the exercise is completed, Missimer said. Muscle helps the body burn calories more efficiently, so results — whether it’s lost pounds or inches — can come more quickly when strength training is added.
“Muscle is the control center for metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more fat you burn,” said Gray, whose gym uses kettlebells, ropes and body-weight exercises to increase strength. “I coach my clients that muscle is your biggest ally when it comes to burning fat. You want as much muscle on your side to win that battle.”
Strength training also can indirectly improve cardiovascular performance. While it doesn’t improve lung capacity, resistance work can increase muscle performance so a runner might be able to shave time off a run.
Quick tip: If weight loss is your goal, start with strength training and finish with cardio. For increased muscle, reverse the order.
Myth No. 2: Strength training is only about lifting weights. Believe it or not, you can add muscle without walking into the weight room. Doing crunches on a balance ball, using soup cans for bicep curls or working your chest with a pair of resistance bands all provide an effective workout that’s more functional than a machine that works one muscle group at a time, Kalman said. Instead of doing isolated movements, he suggests exercises that incorporate core muscles and balance.
“You always want to challenge your body. You do more complex motions to get more accomplished,” said Kalman, co-founder of the Morgan Kalman Clinic in Brandywine Hundred. “It’s really getting more bang for your buck.”
At Gray’s gym, sandbags, kettlebells, rocks, ropes and tires are some of the equipment used during group classes. While Minear works with clients using weights and machines, she also includes exercises that use the body’s own weight as resistance, such as pushups. The goal is to improve your strength, but also make it easier to perform activities associated with daily life, such as bending over to pick something off the floor.
“There are so many different methods of training,” said Jeff Schneider, an athletic trainer and instructor at the University of Delaware. “It doesn’t matter the form, it’s just continually to do it, whether you’re doing it in your basement or local health club.”
Quick tip: Combine lunges with hand weights to work two body parts at the same time.
Myth No. 3: Women who do strength training will get bulky.
Hands down, this is the hardest myth to eradicate, Gray said, mainly because women think strength training will diminish their weight loss. Actually, the opposite is true — strength training can help reduce overall body fat, mainly by raising the body’s metabolism and helping it burn more calories.
Women have less testosterone than men, so they’re not going to develop the same muscle mass through resistance training, particularly if they’re not doing more than 12 to 15 repetitions per set, Kalman said. Unless women have a hormone imbalance or do more weightlifting than recommended, they’re only going to reap the benefits, including stronger bones and increased metabolism.
“They’re not going to be one of those …people, with veins bulging out of their neck,” he said. Missimer said some female clients initially have been hesitant about adding strength training, but they changed their minds once they saw the results. “Even if they had 25 percent body fat and dropped down to 20 percent, but only lost a few pounds, they still look leaner than they did before,” she said.
Quick tip: Rather than focus on the number on the scale, look for other changes, such as lost inches.
Myth No. 4: Strength training is for young people.
It’s another sad reality of getting older — in addition to wrinkles and thinning hair, we lose muscle tissue, starting around age 35, Minear said. So it’s important to keep challenging your muscles to maintain balance, coordination and flexibility.
Older people can benefit from resistance training, whether it’s reducing their risk of injury by strengthening their bones or helping them stay flexible enough to tie their shoelaces, she said.
Exercises like a one-legged squat with dumbbells can help with balance and coordination, Kalman said. For an older person at risk of falling, better balance may mean the difference between a mild and more serious injury.
A side effect of a one-leg exercise is that it incorporates the whole body, Kalman said. “For you to stand one-legged, everything has to work.” It’s a good idea for seniors to get help when coming up with an exercise plan, such as talking with a trainer who knows the unique needs of the older population. In some cases, modifications may be necessary, with no more than two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions recommended for most in this age group, Minear said.
Quick tip: Everyone — seniors included –should talk with a doctor before starting a fitness program.
Myth No. 5: Kids shouldn’t do strength training.
Parents often worry that if children take up strength training, the activity will overwhelm the body and stunt their growth, said Schneider, who is also the clinical coordinator of the athletic training education program in UD’s Department of Kinesiology & Applied Physiology.
If children haven’t gone through puberty — particularly boys — they haven’t seen the increases in testosterone that typically result in building muscle mass, Schneider said. As a result, their strength gains likely will be due to neuromuscular improvements.
Guidelines from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a research-based organization focused on improving athletic performance and fitness, reaffirm that resistance training is safe for prepubescent athletes as long as they are being supervised by a professional.
“You can’t train a 16-year-old like a 20- year-old,” Schneider said. “We have to monitor the stressors being applied to the body.”
Quick tip: Make sure children work out with a trained professional to reduce the risk of injury.
Myth No. 6: Nutrition doesn’t matter.
Jose Rivera exercised most of his life, but it wasn’t until he changed how he ate and ramped up his strength training that he saw a dramatic improvement in how he looked and felt. Rivera, 55, became “The Biggest Loser” at Bayhealth Medical Center this year after he shed more than 40 pounds as part of a healthy lifestyle change. For Rivera, the changes include eating more lean meats and vegetables and limiting carbohydrates, including rice, a staple in his Hispanic culture. So far, the change has been surprisingly good.
“Really, it’s intake and output,” said Rivera, who has several relatives with diabetes. “Since cutting back on the carbs, I don’t have the sugar rushes and I just feel better.”
Proper nutrition can have a big effect on performance, as runners and other athletes well know, Schneider said. Eating too much or too little can reduce performance as well as the body’s ability to recover following a workout.
It’s a good idea to think about eating every three to four hours, focusing on balanced proteins and carbs, said Missimer, who is also a registered dietitian. While endurance athletes have to worry about replacing lost nutrients, that’s not really an issue for the average person doing an hour-long workout. A pre-workout snack — such as something with a little fat, protein and carbs — can help sustain you through your exercise, but protein bars and carbohydrate replacements aren’t necessary and can add unnecessary calories.
Quick tip: For most people, water is the best choice to stay hydrated while working out.
Myth No. 7: Sore muscles are a sign of injury.
It’s expected that you might have some soreness after working out, especially if you’re new to strength training, Kalman said. Muscle fatigue is a good sign.”They should be able to get through the first set, but by the second set, you should feel soreness at 12 to 15 repetitions,” Minear said. “When you stop having that fatigue on the second set, you should think about adding something. It should be hard to get to that point.” It’s not uncommon for people — especially newbies — to experience delayed onset muscle soreness, sometimes called DOMS. This soreness, which can peak the second day after the workout, results from an accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, Minear said. While it might be tempting to take the day off, working out those sore muscles actually can help.
Rivera said learning about his own body — including just how far he could push it — has been one of the biggest surprises. He likes the challenge that comes from changing up his workouts to keep his body from getting used to exercising the same muscles. “It’s a whole different world,” he said. “You really feel it the next day.”
Quick tip: Do enough repetitions or use a weight heavy enough to fatigue your muscles.
News Journal-May 17th, 2011