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MYTH BUSTERS: FITNESS EDITION

by Caroline Daniel

Lifting heavy weights “bulks you up.”

Especially a concern among much of the female population, this long-touted theory has deterred thousands through the years from lifting and making positive gains in strength. Fortunately, recent science has shown that this myth can and should be busted.

First off, lifting heavy can actually increase your calorie burn–both during the workout AND at rest. Resistance training increases your body’s release of both human growth hormone and testosterone–which ultimately boosts your metabolism, increasing the overall number of calories you burn throughout the day.

Second, the amount of heavy lifting required to “bulk up,” per say, far exceeds the amount of lifting an average personal training client would perform. In order to experience significant gains in muscle mass, a person would need to lift heavy four to six days a week. An average person working out for general health would only lift one to three days per week. This typical amount of lifting will help far more to redefine the overall “shape” of your body than to increase your muscle mass–most of your gains can be classified as “toning” rather than “bulking.”

Finally, in order to “bulk up” your body, you must also “bulk up” your diet. Just like you should not expect to lose a significant amount of weight by working out without consuming a healthy diet, you should not expect a large amount of muscle growth without consuming an excess in calories and protein. As long as you are eating your typical, balanced diet while increasing your lifting load, you should not experience extreme increases in muscle mass.

High fat foods are unhealthy.

            For years, we were urged to trade full-fat for low-fat foods in order to avoid this essential macronutrient as much as possible; however, this was a myth that needed debunking. “Fat” itself is not bad for you; in fact, your body needs fat from food as a source of long-term energy to complete many cellular functions. While carbohydrates serve to give us a boost in short-term energy, fats act as stored energy that can ultimately help satiate our hunger throughout the day. Fat helps build cell membranes, protect nerve cells, clot blood, and assist in muscle movement.

            This is not to say that all fats are “healthy.” Unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated) are far better to consume than trans fats (which are technically banned in the United States), while saturated fats fall in the middle of these two categories. You do not need to avoid saturated fats all together! The main concern with saturated fats is that they have been shown, when consumed in large amounts, to drive up harmful LDL cholesterol, which can ultimately aid the development of blockages in the arteries.

But all foods that are high in fat are not unhealthy! Foods like nuts, avocados, salmon, and olive oil provide heart-healthy fats which have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol. These foods can also help to make you feel full–eating meals low in fats and loaded with carbohydrates are more likely to leave you feeling unsatisfied. Overall, like any other nutrient, fats should be consumed in moderation. A balanced diet is key–elimination is typically much more harmful.

Stretching before your workout helps prevent injury.

            You surely encountered this since disproven myth in your middle school gym days–does standing in a circle and counting to 10 as a group bring an image to mind? Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that static stretching like this before exercise does not have any significant effects on injury prevention. In fact, static stretching has been shown to potentially weaken certain aspects ofperformance like sprint speed (and overall speed) by tiring out your muscles before the workout has begun and diminishing the maximal power your muscles can produce. Think about it–a tight spring can rebound much faster than a loose, stretched out spring–and your muscles function in a similar way.

            Instead of stretching statically before a workout, try implementing dynamic stretches before your workout. Most trainers will recommend doing a few minutes of cardio before your workout to get your heart pumping and metabolism going and then doing moving stretches to continue to gradually increase intensity before entering the main segments of your workout.

Doing simple core workouts will give you a “six pack.”

            You see them on advertisements everywhere–some might say they’re a hallmark of total body strength and fitness; however, “six-pack abs” are not all that they seem to be. And achieving them takes far more than performing consistent crunches and sit-ups.

            In reality, we all have a “six pack.” Take a look at the rectus abdominis, the muscle responsible for the “look” of six pack abs:

            Everyone–men and women alike–have this muscle. And it looks just like this in every person–but we don’t all have six pack abs. And, try as we might, some of us might feel like we simply cannot achieve them no matter how many core exercises we try.

            Achieving the coveted “six pack” means doing much more than a couple of 10 minute ab workouts. Much of what ultimately determines whether or not we have a “six pack” is the amount of fat between the rectus abdominis and the skin. The less fat, the more you can see the definition of the rectus abdominis muscle. In order to not only sculpt your rectus abdominis but also burn belly fat, you will need to implement consistent cardio and full body strength exercises into your workout routine; and, perhaps most importantly, you will need to consume a healthy and balanced diet!

You should exercise at a low-intensity to maximize fat burn.

            This “myth” does have an element of truth to it: exercise at a lower intensity uses fat as the primary fuel, while exercise at a higher intensity uses more carbohydrates. In other words, as intensity increases, so does use of carbohydrates as fuel compared to fats; however, this does not mean low-intensity exercise by itself can automatically help you achieve your fat burn goals.

            High intensity exercise burns a very high amount of calories–in a significantly shorter period of time than low-intensity exercise. For this reason, especially for adults with a tight schedule, short bouts of high intensity exercise might be the key to fat burn. A ten minute run can produce the same or greater burn than a thirty minute walk.

            It comes down to this: sure, high intensity exercise burns a lower percentage of fat; however, the total calories burned in high intensity exercise are so much higher that it ultimately burns a similar or greater amount of fat than low-intensity exercise. So if you have the time or hate higher-intensity workouts like running–stick to your walk! But if you want to knock out your fat burn in half the time, know that high intensity exercise can do the trick.

Caroline Daniel is a Student-Athlete running Cross Country and Track at Belmont University while Majoring in Exercise Physiology. She is currently completing her internship at Personal Best Fitness