We are all social creatures and sharing information is one of our favorite pastimes.
But sometimes, despite the best intentions, that information may not apply to your situation or may actually be harmful to you. “This works for me, so do it this way!” should actually be “This appears to work for me. Give it a try or ask an expert in that specialty.” but instead it becomes a suggestion and then a guideline and eventually an accepted truth. Thus is born another myth.
The Fitness environment is a rich breeding ground for these sorts of “mythconceptions”.
See what our Exercise Physiologists have to say about some of them.
Lose Belly Fat! Fast!
If I had a dollar every time I saw the above phrase advertised, I would have, well let’s just say, a lot of dollars. There are a ton of workout DVDs and websites dedicated to helping you get that flat 6-pack you have always wanted by working out just 10 minutes a day! What a steal! Unfortunately, the only winners from those sales are the DVD makers.
Spot reduction is a myth. It is impossible to reduce fat stores from a specific area. Doing hundreds of sit-ups every day is fine; it will give you stronger abdominal muscles. Those strong muscles, however, will then sit there happily under a layer of subcutaneous fat. When you burn fat, the fat molecules are circulated through the blood stream, they do not come from the most local store of fat. Fat will be reduced overall, but your body’s hormones decide where the fat comes off of first. There is no magic secret to 6-pack abs; just decrease fat overall.
Similarly, doing bicep curls and tricep extensions will not give someone perfect “guns” or reduce the underarm “wing” that many people want to get rid of. The misunderstanding may come from muscular hypertrophy and its firming/shaping effects. As muscle cells get larger, they start to take up new space which can briefly compress subdermal fat against the skin until the skin begins to adapt. A larger muscle can also be seen more easily through layer of fat, giving the illusion that fat has been reduced when in fact, it hasn’t.
A common misconception about weight lifting is that weight lifting exercise done with low weights, high repetitions, and short rest periods is the best for increasing tone. For strength training we generally recommend exercises to stimulate muscle breakdown and repair. This is done with multiple sets of 8-12 repetitions of different exercises. “Toning” and “bulking” are just different words to the same end: hypertrophy (muscle growth). Women use the word “tone” because they’re afraid of “getting big.” Most of the time, what they mean is that they want to see their muscles. How can we make this happen?
Go for a workout that takes aim at all the major muscle groups, include your endurance exercises for cardiovascular health, and maybe talk to one of our dieticians to see if there’s anything more you can be doing from a food calorie standpoint. Don’t forget that fitness also includes things like speed, agility, and flexibility; it’s not just strength and endurance. Talk to an EP today about what your goals are and how we can make sure you’re taking the most effective steps toward success.
BONUS FACT: 1 pound of muscle does not weigh more than 1 pound of fat. 1 pound will always be equal to 1 pound. Muscle is, however, more dense than fat. What this means is that a chunk of muscle is heavier than a chunk of fat of equal size. As a person loses fat and gains muscle, the scale may not move very much at all, while their total body volume (size) still decreases. Theoretically, you could be losing fat, shrinking, but gaining muscle, and gaining weight. Conclusion? Get off the scale and into your closet. How do those pants feel on your shrinking waistline? If you were 400lbs, but your ideal size, would you care?
Is there such a thing as The Fat Burning Zone?
We have all seen the charts on exercise machines. Exercise at lower intensities is the “fat burning zone”, while exercising at higher intensities is the “cardio training zone.” Without fail there are then murmurs that this isn’t entirely accurate, and looking it up online doesn’t prove very helpful as most sources end up contradicting each other. But…what is it really?
There is actually some truth behind this zone. When exercising at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate, you will burn a higher percentageof calories from fat. This percentage of fat burned out of total energy expenditure actually increases with lower intensities. Sounds kind of funny… However, sitting on the couch watching television will put your fat calories at around 60-70% of total calories burned. Since this is the case, why bother exercising at all?
When it comes to weight loss, the general goal is to burn calories overall. Working at higher intensities, closer to your maximum, burns more calories overall. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. It should “cost” more energy if your body is doing more work. So, which “zone” is better, and how do you choose? How intensely should you aim to exercise?
It’s important to remember that your metabolism doesn’t have a magic switch that picks carbs or fats based on how hard you are working. We are always using a little bit of everything. Working out at a higher intensity is not going to make you stop burning fat. Working out at a lower intensity will not burn only fat, either. Your body will go right for the carbs in your system during high intensity exercise because carbs are a much more readily available energy source in the muscle, but these used fuel stores will be replenished either through diet or (trumpets sound!) by broken down fat stores. In short, if the goal is weight loss, do your best to burn more calories.
Why suggest lower intensities at all, then? If a person is deconditioned, and unable to work for a prolonged amount of time at higher intensities, then a lower intensity is just what the EP ordered. The intensity question is best answered with how much time a person has available for their workout. For shorter workouts, feel free to push a little harder, maybe HIIT (High-intensity interval training) cardio style. If you’re going to spend a longer time on cardio, a lower intensity that you are able to maintain for the entire session may be more appropriate. At the end of the day, focus on maximizing your time and distance traveled.
Head Exercise Physiologist