Myths and Misconceptions

Fitness Myths and Misconceptions

People who engage in fitness programs quite often realize after some time that they don't make the kind of progress toward their goals they had initially hoped for. This is usually due to a variety of reasons.

Irregular exercise involvement (attendance), lack of knowledgeable guidance, poor exercise technique, improper exercise programming, insufficient exercise intensity or lack of discipline, especially when it comes to necessary adjustments of diet, may most often be the major reasons for failure.

Fitness enthusiasts also often get confused by a number of longstanding myths and misconceptions concerning certain fitness issues. These often prevent exercisers from performing the very exercises which would bring about earliest benefits and keep them from training with adequate effectiveness.

Some most prevalent misconceptions are addressed in the following paragraphs.

Myth 1 : Spot reduction

Surprisingly, people who engage in fitness programs for fat loss still tend to believe they need to specifically train the particular bodyparts where fat has accumulated in order to reduce the fat deposits in these areas. Some people for example still mistakenly think that side-bends with dumbbells help to decrease fat deposits in their waist and hip area, sit-ups and crunches are believed to reduce the midsection, isolation movements such as leg adductions, abductions and hip extensions are thought to help reduce fat in the thigh or buttock areas.

Working any bodypart systematically against weight resistance strengthens the muscles of that particular area, but does nothing to decrease the fat tissue covering the involved muscles. Overlying fat tissue does not provide the energy for the contractions of the muscles underneath. Performed with the necessary level of intensity, weight exercises are actually fueled by glycogen (muscle-sugar, derived from the carbohydrates in our diet), which is stored within our muscle cells and in the liver.

It is important to understand that losing fat is a process that involves the whole system, and always occurs gradually throughout the body. Fat loss occurs according to a pattern dependent upon genetics, sex (hormones) and age. Generally, fat put on last, will come off first! Unfortunately we can not influence our body by the selection of exercises where fat deposits should come off first and where later.

The best way to achieve permanent fat loss is by engaging in a sound overall weight training program of high intensity, concentrating mainly on the largest bodyparts. The resulting increase in muscle development raises your metabolism, which means you will burn more calories throughout the whole day, whether at work or at rest.

Your weight training regimen should be complemented by regular aerobic conditioning of sufficient intensity and duration (at least 30 min per session ) in order to increase your calorie output. As long as you won't consistently burn more calories than you consume, you will not be able to lose any stored bodyfat! (Remember: one gram of fat equals 9 kcals!). At the same time, you should also strive to slightly reduce your daily calorie intake. This doesn't mean fasting, but rather optimizing your food choices (avoid saturated fats and deep fried foods; no sweets, cakes, alcohol or carbonated soft drinks!). This will contribute most significantly to achieving earliest and permanent fat loss, which will not only improve your appearance but also benefit your health and prolong your life.

Myth 2 : Sauna is a good means to achieve weight reduction !

The often observed practice of competitive boxers of reducing their bodyweight by sweating in a sauna before being officially weighed for a competition may be one reason for the misconception that sauna bathing is a great means to achieve weight loss. In fact, shortly after having successfully weighed in at the prescribed weight for their weight class, these athletes very soon replace the lost fluids by consuming an adequate amount of suitable liquids such as fresh juice or water and weigh again as much as before.

Manufacturers of home saunas also sometimes publish ads which encourage the belief that sauna bathing significantly promotes bodyfat loss in order to increase their sales and profits.

Fitness enthusiasts with weight problems must realize that the weight loss through sauna bathing is only quite temporary. People may commonly lose between 0.5 and 1.5 l of water through perspiration during a 15 minute sauna bath, but this high loss of water causes thirst which must be satisfied very shortly after the sauna bath. Failing to rehydrate can eventually lead to a disruption of normal heart rhythms and cause fatigue and nausea. Unfortunately, bodyfat does not melt away in the heat of the sauna like a piece of butter in a hot pan. Bodyfat is the way our system stores excess calories , and in order to lose some of that fat we must expend the corresponding amount of energy(calories) through physical activity.

Although it is probably true that there actually are some extra calories burnt during a sauna session due to the increased blood circulation, increased rate of breathing and harder work of the sweat glands, this lost energy hardly amounts to anything that can be noticed. Sauna bathing has, however, many other desirable heath benefits and can therefore only be highly recommended. These benefits include improvement of blood circulation, strengthening of the immune system, stimulation of all vital organs and glands, removal of lactic acid and waste residues/toxins from the muscles and the blood, cleansing of the skin and the pores, relief of joint stiffness as well as relief of tension headaches, back aches, arthritis, rheumatism, colds, sinus congestion, and minor respiratory ailments. Sauna bathing promotes a general feeling of well being and its relaxing effect on the whole body also contributes to improved sleep at night.

Myth 3 :Weight training makes women un-appealingly muscular and bulky !

Women who have seen competitive female bodybuilders in magazines often consider the appearance of these athletes as unfeminine and "freaky"; the concern they might attain a similar look, just by engaging in a simple weight training program makes them shrink back from this most beneficial activity. No need to worry. Only one among thousands of women may have the genetics necessary to acquire the looks of a competitive bodybuilder in the first place. In addition to exceptional genetics, it also takes many years of training with highest possible intensity, utmost discipline in the diet, and last, but not least, the use of a variety of (often illegal) supplements and drugs for these female athletes to attain their excessively muscular appearance. This appearance can usually only be maintained for the limited time period of preparing for a competition. After competition, when resuming a normal diet and ceasing to use performance enhancing supplements and drugs, even these competitive female bodybuilders very soon regain their normal feminine look with attractive, sportive contours.

Most women fail to realize how extremely difficult it is even for men who train quite heavy and actually strive to increase their muscle size, to achieve a certain degree of muscle gain. For the average female an unwanted increase of muscle size is therefore no issue at all, also due to differences in the male and female hormone system. As women produce only very limited amounts of testosterone (male hormone, which plays a major role in muscular development), the female muscular system naturally rather responds to weight training by getting stronger and firmer instead of increasing in size.

In fact, due to the fat loss which tends to occur throughout the body with engaging in a properly designed weight training regimen of sufficient intensity, the size and circumference of women's bodyparts and limbs will rather be reduced over time. This will soon enable them to wear smaller clothes sizes and contribute to looking healthier, slimmer and more attractive.

Myth 4 : The best training method for women is "toning" plus high amounts of aerobics !

With all the evidence and literature about the benefits of weight training around many female fitness enthusiasts don't want to miss out on them either.

In the insensible fear that weight training might make them too bulky (see above), they however often restrict themselves to handling only very light weights for lots of repetitions and many sets. This concept of performing a high amount of work with only very little effort is called "toning", and is erroneously believed to produce muscle "tone" (firmer muscles ) without any size increases.

The term "toning", is merely a made-up term, which does not have any scientific basis and can't be found in any physiology book. For more than fifty years it has been known that the low intensity/high volume "toning" approach is an ineffective training method, as it hardly affects any muscular adaption. The result of such exercise is a waste of time and energy. Increased muscle tone , a state of continuous partial contraction , which gives muscle tissue a firm consistence, is in fact a result of regular progressive strength training with high intensity !

As already mentioned above, aerobic exercise is a good complement to any weight training regimen since it helps to burn off excess calories and improves cardiovascular fitness. However, even with aerobics it is rather the quality not the quantity which brings about the desired results. In the world of exercise, better quality always refers to higher intensity rather than higher volume of work with little effort. Aerobic workouts at only 60 % of maximum heartrate are quite ineffective as they do not burn many calories and don't contribute much to increase metabolism or improve cardiovascular fitness. The only reward of long hours of such high volume/low intensity aerobics is a high degree of boredom.

Challenging aerobic interval training sessions beteen 75 and 90 % of maximum heart-rate are on the other hand one of the best means to burn calories and even help to increase metabolism for quite a while after each training session. Two or three cardio workouts of this type per week for 30 minutes duration each is all that is required to receive optimum aerobic training benefits.

Whether aerobic exercise or weight training is concerned, exercising at the appropriate level of intensity is obviously the key to success. With exercise, more is not better, but better is better!

Christoph Klueppel

Master of Fitness Sciences
Specialist in Performance Nutrition