Back when I was living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I freelanced for the Saudi Gazette, one of the country’s English-language newspapers. During that time, I wrote a ton of articles for the health and fitness page. I am just a big health fanatic and really enjoyed interviewing doctors, fitness trainers, nutritionists and once even a plastic surgeon. My passion for this is such that I even did a course at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and could call myself a Personal Trainer – a diploma I have never really used, but who knows, one day I may start my own PT business.
So when I recently got asked whether I was still interested in writing for the newspaper’s Wholesome Living page I did not need a long time to think about it. Of course I was! How I am going to find the time to do so is another story though…
Anyways, I thought it would be fun to share a health or fitness story I wrote for the newspaper every now and then on this blog. I will kick off with a (lightly edited) version of an article on the biggest fitness myths. Here are my favorite ones.
Fitness myth # 1: If you want to lose fat on a certain area of your body, you have to train that part
We all know those TV infomercials for ab devices that promise a flat belly within weeks. While these might help you develop a stronger core and abdominal muscles, as long as there is fat on your body you won’t be able to see that six-pack. They will also not help you burn fat on that specific area. Just like you cannot choose where to gain weight, you cannot choose where to lose it. The only solution is to lose overall body fat by eating less and burning more.
Fitness myth #2: If you stop training, your muscles will turn into fat
If you stop an exercise program, you will certainly lose muscle mass. However, this does not necessarily turn into fat. An increase in fat is a result of eating more than you burn. If you stop exercising but keep eating the same amounts of food, you will most likely gain weight because your body needs less energy.
Fitness myth #3: The more you sweat, the more fat you burn
Sweat is mainly composed of water and some minerals and contains no fat, so sweating more does not equal burning more. Just because it feels tougher to exercise while wearing five layers of clothes makes it not more effective. It may even be dangerous, because you will lose plenty of water that may leave you dehydrated and in the worst case cause a heatstroke.
Fitness myth #4: Weight training bulks you up
Many women avoid weight training out of fear to end up looking like a bodybuilder. Others only train with 1 or 2 kg-weights to prevent bulking up. The truth is that women have 20 to 30 times less testosterone than men, a hormone that is key in muscle building. For a woman to bulk up, an enormous amount of weight training in addition to hormones are needed. Resistance training will only tone your body and even help you lose weight in combination with cardio. It will prevent muscle loss if you are on a diet and keep your metabolism high.
Fitness myth #5: To lose weight, you have to exercise long and at a low intensity
This myth is partially true. After 30 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise, a gradual shift occurs from carbohydrate toward an increasing reliance on fat as the body’s main fuel. The low to moderate intensity exercise zone is also called the fat burning zone, because of the higher percentage of fat burned in this zone. This, however, does not mean that the absolute amount of fat you burn in this zone is higher. Imagine you burn 200 kcal in the fat burning zone, and 60 percent comes from fat. That means 120 kcal of fat burned. Now if you burn 400 kcal in the high-intensity zone and 40 percent comes from fat, that means a total of 160 kcal of fat burned, 40 kcal more than in the fat burning zone.
Fitness myth #6: a slow metabolism as the cause of obesity
Have you ever heard an overweight person blaming his obesity on a slow metabolism? While metabolic rates differ slightly from a person to another, people who weigh more (generally) also have more muscle mass, which means their metabolic rate is actually higher. Besides, they need more energy to perform activities of daily living, such as walking or cleaning the house. The most likely cause of weight gain is an imbalance in energy intake and expenditure.
Fitness myth #7: Exercising is essential for weight loss
It is highly recommended to exercise if you are trying to lose weight. Cardio training will increase caloric expenditure, while resistance training will help preserve lean body mass and metabolic rate. The most important factor, however, is to change your diet. Food intake accounts for about 80 percent of your success, while only 20 percent comes from exercising. Working out on a regular basis can never outweigh a bad diet.
Fitness myth #8: Not feeling sore means the workout was not hard enough
Some muscle soreness is normal, but extreme delayed onset muscle soreness is an indication you have done too much. In that case, decrease the volume and/or intensity of the training. It is important to gradually increase resistance load and volume to limit muscle tissue damage. Likewise, the phrase No pain, no gain is a dangerous one. While it is okay to experience some discomfort and push yourself from time to time, feeling a sharp, uncomfortable pain while exercising means you are overdoing it. A good way to check if you are working out at the right intensity is the talk test. You should not be so out of breath that you are unable to answer a question, but you should also not be so comfortable that you can easily carry on a full conversation.
Fitness myth #9: Running and jumping damage the joints
Running and activities that involve jumping, such as volleyball and basketball, often have the reputation to be bad on the joints. These sports do indeed put stress on the knees, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. They actually stimulate the body to increase bone density, just like weight training damages your muscles, after which your body recovers and becomes stronger. Individuals at risk for osteoporosis, for instance, often get the advice to perform weight-bearing activities and activities that involve jumping to preserve bone health. The expression Use it or lose it seems to apply to both muscles and bones. One side note: To prevent too much stress on the joints, it is important to strengthen the muscles around them. So make sure to include some strength training in your workout program.
Fitness myth #10: Always stretch before a workout
Stretching remains somewhat controversial. While it appears to be beneficial in increasing or maintaining flexibility, stretching before a workout might actually be counterproductive, as some studies have shown it decreases muscle strength with up to 30 percent. Post-exercise stretching seems to be more important, although there are no hard proofs it decreases muscle soreness.