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Estelle Underwood

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Fact or Fiction? Common Exercise Myths BUSTED

Posted: 04/13/2012 8:00 pm

New client consultations always remind me of the common misconceptions about exercise that continue to be perpetuated. The questions that arose in a recent consultation prompted me to write this article to bring to light some of these myths and why they are just that -- myths. Understanding the reasoning behind why these beliefs are untrue can only help us to engage in a more effective exercise program. Let's take a look.

1. If women lift weights, they'll become bulky and masculine looking.

The truth is that women have far too much estrogen to build excessive muscle bulk. Men build big muscles faster due to large amounts of testosterone -- which women don't have. So don't be afraid to weight train. It's vital to decrease body fat, increase lean muscle mass and efficiently burn calories around the clock.

2. Spot reducing will correct those problem areas.

This is absolutely false. There is no such thing as spot reducing. Very often people will ask me for exercises to reduce fat on specific parts of the body such as the waist, abdominal area or triceps. According to Alice Burton, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, "By exercising a specific body part, you are building muscle mass in that area that will look lean and mean only after burning the fat over the muscle." This is done through a combination of cardiovascular exercise and overall total body strength training to create metabolically active (calorie burning) lean mass. It's much smarter to focus on the total body than on one body part at a time.

3. Body weight is the best indicator of the effectiveness of your exercise program.

Getting on the scale is the last thing you should be doing to check for change. I hide the scale in my studio so that my clients don't get obsessed with their weight! I only have one because it's needed when measuring body fat and body mass index. Body weight is not a good indicator of change. You should be focusing more on body fat and how your clothes are fitting, because muscle mass is denser and heavier than fat, and it is more compact than fat. Chances are that you will see your waist size decreasing and your body shape improving before you see much change in your weight -- not to mention all the other health benefits you will enjoy. So get off the scale and have your baseline body fat measured... then periodically recheck it to see how you're progressing.

4. No pain, no gain.

This goes totally against my philosophy and how I work with clients. Being in pain is not a good indicator of a sound exercise program. If you're working with a trainer who inflicts pain on you, find another trainer! Exercise must be sustainable in order to be successful, and pain will surely bring your exercise plan to an end due to injury or burnout. Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak states that "it's also important to note that pain can be a warning sign of an exhausted muscle or torn ligament. Be smart -- you know the difference between feeling discomfort and being in pain. Discomfort is acceptable in a challenging workout -- pain is not.

5. Your cardio machine is accurately counting the calories you're burning.

This one comes up all the time and causes clients great distress! These numbers don't mean a thing! I wish these calorie counters would be completely eliminated. It is not possible for a machine to accurately calculate how many calories you are burning without asking for your weight, gender, and body composition. The lower your body fat, the more calories you will burn. So someone with a higher body fat percentage is going to burn less calories than someone with less body fat -- on the same machine. How will the machine be able to differentiate between those two people? So don't fret if you've been on the elliptical trainer for 30 minutes and it's telling you that you've burned a disappointing number of calories. It's just not that smart. Besides, if you're doing interval training as we discussed in previous articles, you're continuing to burn calories long after you get off that machine.

6. Wearing leg and hand weights while walking or running will boost exercise benefit.

Please don't do this. Wearing weights while walking or running puts you at great risk of injuring yourself because it alters your normal gait and movement patterns and is detrimental to joints, nerves, and muscles. There are safe ways to increase aerobic capacity, strength, and caloric expenditure. According to a study done in 2002 in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, this isn't one of them! If you really want to add weight to your walk or run, try wearing a weight vest. This will more evenly distribute the weight and will avoid injury.

7. Muscle soreness after exercise is caused by lactic acid.

This is another false belief. Lactic acid is a byproduct of weight training, but it clears shortly after you finish training -- long before muscle soreness sets in. Muscle soreness is actually caused by microscopic tears that result as you exercise. As bad as this sounds, it's actually a good thing. This is what needs to happen before your muscles can hypertrophy and get stronger as a result of the healing of these tears. It's all part of the process -- but is unrelated to lactic acid.

Though there are many other exercise myths circulating out there, these are the ones that are often brought to my attention. My hope is that understanding the truth about these myths will be helpful to you as you continue to exercise in your quest to live a long, healthy life. Until next month, easy does it... but do it!

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