For some reason, few fitness activities produce more myths than stretching (image: Pexels).
The human race has relied on myths for millienna to communicate universal themes.
But there’s another kind of myth generated by humans. It is a belief shared by many that turns out to be untrue. a widlike these 14 about fitness:
Athletes fending off dehydration should reach for sports drinks.
A salty-sweet drink called Gatorade hit the market in the mid-‘60s. It was originally developed to prevent dehydration in football players at the University of Florida. The school mascot? A gator.
Sports drinks have since swelled into a global industry that in 2017 was worth an estimated $28 billion.
The revenue growth is amazing, especially when you consider that plain, cold water remains the recreational athlete’s best bulwark against dehydration.
Only people exercising more than an hour benefit from sports drinks. The drinks contain sugar for energy, water for hydration, and electrolytes like salt to enhance water retention.
If you exercise for less than an hour a day, stick to the naturally calorie-free sports beverage, water. The much-promoted alternative, a 20-ounce bottle of sports drink, typically contains more than 100 calories.
Severe dehydration can put athletes in danger of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. But the marketing message of sports drinks risks feeding into an irrational fear of dehydration.
The signal to drink during exercise is when you are thirsty, experts say. Your body is well designed to tolerate mild dehydration.
Overhydration is a greater threat. That’s according to Timothy Noakes, a South African researcher and author of Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports.
Drinking too much fluid too quickly, known as water intoxication, has led to a number of cases among high school athletes where the consequences were serious, even fatal. The body can only process so much fluid at a time.
Weigh yourself before and after workouts to follow the approach recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine. It suggests drinking enough to avoid losing more than 2 percent of your body mass.
If you often exercise for more than an hour, consider making your own sports drinks, suggests the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University. It shared the following recipes with the school’s news and information site, ASU Now.
Lime Coconut Sports Drink
1–2 limes, juiced
1 cup water
2 cups coconut water
2 tbsp. maple syrup
¼ tsp. salt
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a pitcher or jar. Stir or shake until well-blended. Pour into a glass and enjoy.
Lemon Ginger Sports Drink
1 lemon, juiced
3 cups mineral water
1 ginger chunk, grated
2 tsp. agave nectar
¼ tsp. salt
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a pitcher or jar. Stir or shake until well-blended. Pour into a glass and enjoy!
Green Tea and Juice Sports Drink
2 cups green tea
½ cup pomegranate juice
2 tbsp. honey
¼ tsp. salt
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a pitcher or jar. Stir or shake until well-blended. Pour into a glass and enjoy!
Myth # 2
Abdominal exercise will flatten your stomach.
I know from experience that this is a biggie. When I taught aerobics classes at a major gym chain, my students were happiest when I devoted at least 10 minutes to crunches and other abdominal exercises.
No matter how hard I tried to dispel the myth that exercise will flatten your stomach, my students were immovable.
Maybe there’s something about the unique suffering caused by an abdominal workout of at least 10 minutes that convinces people their stomach has gotten flatter.
Countless articles and products promote this myth. You can’t visit a major fitness website without being promised exercises and eating plans that will give you six-pack abs or banish your love handles.
The reality is more complex. When you eat less and work out more, the fat stores in your body are burned from all areas evenly. In other words, spot reducing doesn’t work.
You need strong abdominal muscles to sport a six-pack. But the only way the muscles will be visible is if you reduce your overall body fat, so the layer of fat just below the surface of your skin becomes thinner.
So, burn off the body fat, and you’ll slim down everywhere – including your abs.
On a cautionary note, you really can be too thin. Your body needs a certain amount of fat to stay healthy. The American Council on Exercise says athletic men should aim for a percentage body fat no lower than 6% to 13%. Women athletes should stay above 14% to 20%.
Endurance exercise is the best route to cardiovascular health.
I believed this one, too. Sure, I’ve read the more recent research holding up high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, as superior.
But old truisms die hard. You can still find plenty of fitness guidelines promoting aerobic activities like jogging or cycling. The American Heart Association instructs people to engage in aerobic exercise to improve their cardiovascular health.
You’ve probably read plenty of fitness guidelines that advise doing aerobic exercise for at least two-and-a-half hours a week.
But moderate aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes at a time is becoming outdated as the optimal exercise program.
Recent studies suggest that shorter sessions of HIIT offer benefits similar to the longer workouts. That’s because HIIT works differently on the body, promoting oxygen-free energy creation inside the muscles.
A major proponent of the HIIT approach, kinesiologist Martin Gibala, explains the approach in her book, The One Minute Workout. Research into this fairly new form of exercise, has encompassed everything from sprints to intense sessions of pushups.
The studies show consistently that physical improvements offered by continuous, moderate exercise is identical to shorter sessions of HIIT.
Although it contradicts advice that has been dispensed for years about so-called special populations, the newer research also shows that HIIT workouts are safe for people suffering from diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer.
There is more than one way to achieve cardiovascular health. If endurance exercise is not your favorite, that’s good news for you.
Protein powders are a good way to bulk up.
You might think this if all you did was look at the buff gym rats on the labels and promotions for protein powders. But experts in sports nutrition say the optimal amount of protein for an athlete is easy to achieve through diet.
The best kind of protein for athletes is found in foods like eggs and milk.
The ideal amount of protein in your eating plan depends on a number of factors, including your metabolism, your size and the kind of training you do. Even well-trained weightlifters only need about 50 percent more protein than what is required by sedentary folks.
The key to your protein requirement is that you have to eat enough protein to avoid having your muscles degrade.
A serious college athlete doing strength training six days a week and weightlifters just starting an intensive program need 100 percent more than a sedentary person needs. Any protein consumed beyond this will pass through your body and be eliminated in urine without providing any benefit.
The best kind of protein for athletes is found in foods like eggs and milk. The reason they are ideal is that they are at least half protein, in a form the body is able to metabolize almost fully.
Protein powders work well as a dietary supplement if you are temporarily unable to consume enough protein to meet your needs. Most of the time, however, you’re better off getting your protein from fish, poultry, and lean meats, as long as you maintain a good stash of recipes for quiches and omelets.
You should stretch before you work out.
This has got to have more adherents than just about any myth. I believed it for years, since becoming involved in gymnastics in junior high school.
When I first read that it wasn’t true, I was convinced the writer was misinformed, and I set out to prove it. Guess who was wrong. Yeah, it was me.
Science has put the lie to the former wisdom that we need to be stretching against trees and benches before setting off on our early-morning run in the park.
Researchers have found that stretching your body while it’s cold, so to speak, can actually be harmful. When you force a cool muscle to relax by doing a static stretch, your body responds by producing a surge of stress hormones. In other words, it actually creates the opposite of the desired reaction.
Static stretching is still believed to have many benefits. Done right, it can help maintain or increase the range of motion in a joint.
The promises of injury prevention and improved athletic performance from stretching are a little shakier in the face of newer, contradictory studies.
Some of them show reasonable gains and improvements, while others show no effect, and others show the stretching has a negative impact on performance and preventing injuries.
The revelations about static stretching are not a reason to leap into your aerobic activity cold. They just mean that your preparation needs to change a little.
The pre-workout warmup you’ve been doing (right?) is still a good idea. It could just use some tweaking. More recent recommendations are to do anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of easy-paced aerobic activity to warm up the body.
That will prepare your body for a set of dynamic (not static) stretches designed to prepare your body for the range of motions you’re about to perform in your workout
If you’re not sore the day after working out, you didn’t train hard enough.
Soreness the day after a workout can be a useful indicator. But one thing it doesn’t tell you is whether your workout was tough enough.
The burning pain of muscle soreness is a function of the two different muscles you use during a workout, according to current exercise science. It most likely signals that you overworked your global muscles and failed to do enough to challenge your core or local muscles.
Global muscles are larger. They come most readily to mind when we think about a resistance workout: gluteus, biceps, hamstrings, quadriceps. They are known for their capacity for developing strength.
Local muscles help support the global muscles. They make up the core, or foundation, muscles for the body and provide support and mobility during movement.
To avoid that unpleasant burn and broaden the impact of your workout, aim for a combination of exercises that enables you to target both your global and your core muscles.
A related myth is that, unless you are working up a sweat, you’re not working hard enough. Sweating is your body’s attempt to cool itself, not a reliable indicator of exertion.
Depending on conditions, you can burn a significant number of calories without breaking a sweat, and vice versa.
Running on a treadmill stresses your knees less than running on pavement.
This statement seems logical, until you learn that it’s not entirely true. A good treadmill offers a running surface that has more give than asphalt. We can agree on that.
But the unique biophysics that go into the act of running on a particular surface paints a picture that’s more complicated and less intuitive.
A cushioned surface can offer relief to athletes who are taking extra care with their knees. It can help disperse the vertical forces of the body during foot strike while running.
But studies have found that there is only a small difference in the impact of a treadmill on your knees compared with running on a paved road.
Researchers have identified what is probably the main reason a treadmill won’t provide the level of relief to your knees that you might expect.
Blame it on the effects of your body needing to deal with a moving belt beneath your feet.
The changes your body automatically makes to accommodate the unique demands of a moving surface results in additional stress to the Achilles’ tendon and other muscles and tendons in your lower leg.
That doesn’t mean treadmill running is bad. It’s just different from running on a road. One option would be to take advantages of those differences by incorporating both types of surfaces into your training.
On the other hand, training needs to be specifically geared to the activity you intend to do. Pavement running helps condition the body for the impact of running in an event like a road race.
The springier surface of a treadmill can help you improve your strength, especially in the stabilizer muscles. That comes from the challenge of having to work harder to propel your body forward and upward as you run.
An aerobic workout boosts your metabolism for hours after you stop.
Not everyone will agree that this belongs on a myth list, since it is technically true. The mythical part is pretty significant, though. It’s the implication that the additional calorie burn is significant. It’s not.
Your metabolism will continue to burn at a slightly higher rate after an aerobic workout, the amount is not statistically significant. In fact, it lets you to burn only about 20 extra calories for the day. Strength training produces a little more of a residual effect. Unfortunately it’s not enough to pull it out of the insignificant category.
Swimming is a good way to lose weight.
There’s no question that swimming is a wonderful fitness activity. It will boost your lung capacity, reduce tension and tone your muscles. But unless you expand your workout to several hours each day, it’s unlikely that swimming will contribute much to any weight-loss goals.
It is the very nature of water and the way it reacts to your body that makes it an underperformed for weight loss. The water’s buoyancy is supporting your body, which for most people means they’re not working as hard as they would if they were doing a more gravity-bound exercise.
Yoga is a good way to reduce back pain.
This is another one of those partly true and partly false myths.
If you suffer from back pain, now or in the future, you’ll be glad to know this distinction. It’s true that yoga can help alleviate back pain, but only certain types of back pain. If you have another type of back pain, yoga can actually make it worse.
Muscle-related back pain may respond well to the practice of yoga. Some of the stretching positions are especially helpful, as are positions that help you build a stronger core. Strengthening core muscles in one way or another is helpful for many people suffering from pain in their lower back.
If your back pain stems from some other problem, like a ruptured disk, yoga will not help and, in fact, could cause additional pain.
As long as you feel OK when you’re working out, you’re probably not overdoing it.
As a physician once advised me about running with a minor heart condition, “If it hurts, stop.”
This myth is a big blip on the radar. One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting, or returning to, an exercise program is doing too much too soon. The reason this happens is that we feel OK while working out. The pain that results from overdoing doesn’t come until a day or two later.
No matter how good you feel when you return to an activity after an absence, experts say you should never try to duplicate how hard you worked in the past or what the person next to you is doing.
Even if you don’t feel it at the moment, you’ll feel it in time, and the pain could take you out of the game again.
Myth # 12
Machines are safer than free weights, because they guide you to use good form.
Although it may seem as if an exercise machine automatically puts your body in the right position and helps you do all the movements correctly, that’s only true if the machine is properly adjusted for your weight and height, experts say.
A trainer can help figure out what are the right setting to fit your body. OtherWise, you can make just as many mistakes in form and function, while facing just as high a risk of injury on a machine as compared to working out with free weights or doing in any other type of nonmachine workout,
Myth # 13
Of all the fitness rumors ever to have surfaced, experts agree that the no-pain-no-gain holds the most potential for harm.
While you should expect to have some degree of soreness a day or two after working out that’s far from feeling pain while you are working out. If you feel pain during the activity, make sure you are doing it right and check for a possible.
As for “working through the pain,” experts don’t advise it. They say that if it hurts, stop, rest, and see if the pain goes away. If it doesn’t go away, or if it resumes or increases after you start to work out, see a medical professional.
If you work out consistently, you’ll lose weight.
A Marist poll regularly finds that weight loss is the top New Year’s resolution among its respondents, followed by exercise. (Physicians also say weight gain is one of the most common problems they see during the holidays.)
The latest findings indicate, however, that “exercise is critical not in the weight-loss phase but in the tricky maintenance phase, WebMD hosts the stories of people who credit exercise for their lost pounds.
Body weight has two major components: lean body mass, which consists of muscle and bone, and body fat. Several studies have demonstrated that, while endurance and high-intensity interval training can reduce visceral fat (lower waist circumference) and improve cardiovascular fitness, they often do not produce overall weight loss.
Athletes typically find significant strength improvements with resistance exercise but no reduction in body weight. A 2012 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology followed people who worked out for eight months.
The group doing only aerobic training lost weight, while the group doing only resistance training lost none, though they improved their health.
Current wisdom is that the most effective way to knock off weight is by combining aerobic exercise with dietary and lifestyle changes — and to focus on the many health benefits of working out without becoming a slave to the scale.