Myth Busting: Some Hard Truths for the Cult-like Fitness Enthusiast

There are a surprising number of well-intentioned fitness disciplines and practices that don’t actually do what you think they do. Regardless of which training style it is, there is probably a multitude of people ready throw hands to defend their discipline’s reputation. Warning: If you enjoy living in an echo chamber of your own fitness-related opinions, this probably isn’t for you.

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What you need to know:

  1. Yoga does not count as exercise… not even “hot yoga.”
  2. Core strengthening is not a complete workout.
  3. Corrective exercise might be holding you back.
  4. Pre-workout static stretching does not reduce the likelihood of injury.
  5. Post-workout stretching does not promote recovery from DOMS.
  6. Muscle confusion is not a great way to get better at anything.
  7. Running is not the most efficient way to burn fat.
  8. Barre workouts do not get you strong.

As fallible human beings, we operate off of our first impressions, seemingly out of habit. In fitness and strength and conditioning, we usually tend to believe the first information that comes our way and it takes a tidal wave of sound, valid opposition to budge our pre-formed opinions on the subject even slightly. All too often, the information comes from a friend who “swears by it,” a so-called expert who writes a column in your favorite mag (I know how this looks), or in rare cases even come directly from the purveyor of your favorite workouts. People buy into this misinformation and before you know it, you have cult-like followings filled with people who would rather die than hear you speak ill of their favorite training style.

If you’re already closing your mind off because you think I came here to bash these highly popular exercise disciplines, don’t bother reading any further. Your opinion won’t be changed and it might even make you a little angry. This is merely a reappropriation of effective parts of the whole. It’s a reclamation of the true intentions of these disciplines and how they relate to the grand scale of strength and conditioning. Honestly, I’m not even blaming the source (Yoga, Barre, Pilates) for most of the misinformation. For those of you that like to absorb new info and form your own opinion, read on!

  1. Yoga is not an effective way to lose body fat.
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    That’s right, campers… not even hot yoga. Originally, yoga was formed as a discipline to achieve spiritual growth and control over your mind and body. The modern western yoga is a great way to build mobility, particularly if you have none to begin with. The poses can also lead to some rudimentary joint stability and improvements in body control. However, as a fat burner, it’s highly ineffective. To over-simplify it, burning fat is about elevating your heart rate with movements that require the expenditure of energy. During periods of moderate-intensity exercise, your body finds a large portion this energy in it’s fat stores. If your heart rate elevates enough during yoga to burn fat, I have news for you: so will any other form of stretching or light walking. Even if you find yourself losing a little weight, it won’t last long. Once your body adapts to the low-level stress yoga presents, you’ll need to advance to something a little more effective to lose weight… like brisk walking or cycling. At least with aerobic activity you can build some mitochondrial density. Don’t even get me started on hot yoga. Trust me, the only weight you’re losing there is water-based.
  2. Core strengthening is not the magic cure-all it’s made out to be.
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    Maybe it started with Pilates, maybe it didn’t. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. In no other aspect of fitness (strength, flexibility, etc) do we focus on only one part of the body for effective training. Not one. Fitness professionals and their clients have bought into this one hook, line, and sinker for years and it’s maddening. FYI, I’m operating using the actual definition of the core (everything from the shoulders to the pelvis) and not just the abs, just so there’s no confusion. Core strength and stability is but aspect of the complete training. Many people that focus on the core tend to do so under the belief that core training is a prerequisite for actual performance training results. It’s not. Others make their strength training sessions core-centric, to the detriment of say, lower-body strength. Every body part should be given it’s fair share of attention. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time. More on prerequisites below:
  3. Corrective exercise might be preventing you from achieving results.
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    Similarly to the core training disciples, there is a segment of the fitness industry that believes that people are too dysfunctional to train effectively. So they go through endless sets of mobility exercises to make sure their bodies are ready for when they’ll never pick up a weight. News flash #1: everyone carries some level of dysfunction. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it’s viewed through the lens of the universal movement patterns. It assumes everyone needs to squat the same way and that without cleaning up these inefficiencies, the individual can’t train. News flash #2: everyone is unique with varying bone structures and lever lengths. We don’t all move the same way. My functional movement might be dysfunctional for you. News flash #3: all exercise is corrective exercise. We constantly train to refine technique. If it takes some additional mobility exercises between sets of deadlifts to get into a more optimal position, so be it. Being dysfunctional doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of ways to tailor ane exercise to fit the immediate needs and get stronger. That’s fear-mongering and the self-perpetuation of a need for a service that actually isn’t really necessary for most people.
  4. Muscle confusion has never helped anyone achieve.
    p90xHeads up P90X fans… this one might sting. “Achieve” is the operative word here. Muscle confusion has been around since the ’80s but only gained serious traction in the early 2000s with everyone’s new favorite DVD workouts. The thing with muscle confusion is that it keeps the body guessing… for a little bit. Once you’re not a beginner anymore, there needs to be a solid plan in place. Like most infomercial home programs, it stretches the truth by showing you some jacked guys doing the workouts. Trust me, they didn’t get jacked doing P90X. The likely built mass with more traditional sets and reps. You need a specific strategic way to entice the best out of your body as it fights back with adaptation. Random workouts and exercises won’t do this, especially if you have specific goals. Only progressive overload (yes, this applies to aerobic conditioning as well) will continue to place additional stress on the body to force new adaptations. If you’re just looking to be active, get some exercise, and lose a little weight, then it’s a great way to get a sweat in. However if you want to train for specific outcomes, you should look elsewhere.
  5. Stretching before workouts does not reduce your risk of injury.
    an-exercise-scientist-explains-what-everyone-gets-wrong-about-stretchingIt can actually lead to a greater risk of injuries. Static stretching relaxes muscles. A relaxed muscle belly isn’t ready to be tested under high load or contract explosively.  When the muscles aren’t creating stability, the body will find it elsewhere in your ligaments. Static stretching is the pre-workout equivalent of letting your muscles take a nap. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t warm up and mobilize. A comprehensive warm-up prepares the body for movement and actively mobilizes your joints. If you want to stretch afterwards, be my guest but read on:
  6. Stretching after workouts does not help with recovery.
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    Once upon a time, the fitness industry discovered that muscles “damaged” from exercise would spasm and restrict blood flow, allowing lactate to pool in the muscles, causing muscle soreness. Static stretching increases the blood flow to the stretched tissues. Naturally, it was hypothesized that stretching would cure soreness. This was debunked as far back as 1986. For some reason, this is still around. Muscle soreness is pretty much inevitable for those who are trying to achieve a particular goal. The best way to alleviate it is to train through it. The more your body adapts to greater stresses, the less likely it is you’ll experience debilitating soreness. That’s not to say you shouldn’t stretch post-workout. It’s just very important that you know why you’re doing something.
  7. Running in and of itself is not a long-term solution to efficient weight loss.
    runningThe thing about any stress placed on the body–in this case exercise–is that the body adapts to it. While running can burn a lot of calories, the body adapts to the stress and finds a more efficient way to use its fuel after your newbie phase. Without increasing your running intensity or improving your calorie-burning rate through resistance training, you’ll continue to see a diminishing return on your investment. Furthermore, if you don’t improve running mechanics, you might be causing some undue stress to your joints. Overuse injuries can put you on the shelf for quite some time which would derail any progress you’ve made. If you love running, continue to do so but supplement it with strength training sessions to get the most out of your time and effort.
  8. Barre workouts do not build strength.
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    Barre is just the example because it’s popular. Really any form of training that predominantly uses bodyweight as its primary form of resistance cannot be considered strength training. Yeah, right now you might only be able to do 6 push-ups or hold a plank for 30 seconds… your body perceives this as “high load” and adapts to get stronger. Eventually, improvement at these exercises changes your workouts into an hour long endurance drill. Once you’re out of your beginner phase and start to rack up the reps and longer hold times, load needs to be added in order to see continued growth. If you love Barre, keep doing it, just don’t be fooled into thinking that it serves ALL of your needs.
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