Apologies for the long post, but there are some great myths out there, and I felt it was a good idea to cover some of the more popular ones, and then go into the specifics of the questions that were asked.
I think the main thing to remember is that everyone is different – some people will respond to different type of training differently to another, so using other people and other training methods as a benchmark isn’t always a good thing to do.
1. Weight is the be all and end all
When you start an exercise programme, you have different reasons for doing so. For a lot of people, this is weight loss. Initially, the weight can fall off easily but everyone will reach a plateau. This is the time to change your exercise regime and methods, but remember that even with no change in the scales; you are making health improvements which are still beneficial.
If you want track progress, measuring body fat % or taking measurements can be a more favourable.
2. Women shouldn’t lift weights
There’s a common misconception that women who lift weights can easily turn into the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. Wrong. Women have too much oestrogen to build large amounts of bulk; men build muscles faster because they have testosterone.
Strength training will help decrease body fat; increase lean muscle mass and help burn more calories and it also adds variety to a work out. Aim for 2 strength training sessions a week, or add some to each session.
3. Going to the Gym means you can eat what you want for the rest of the day
Put simply, you can’t out train a bad diet. Everyone deserves a treat now and again, but get into the habit of refuelling with meals that go hand in hand with your exercise regime. Don’t undo all the hard work you’ve just put in by hitting McDonald’s straight away, make sure you have things in the house to stop temptation.
4. No pain, no gain
Feeling discomfort during a workout is ok, but feeling like you’re going to pass out is not. Working out at a level that you don’t feel you can sustain can increase your risk of burnout or injury. High intensity interval training (HIIT) pushes you to your limit, but the recovery afterwards should be sufficient. The same with weights, if you’re doing full-on power training, the recovery needs to be there as well.
5. Heart rate monitors are essential to know how hard you’re working
Instead of spending cash on a heart rate monitor, a better detector of how hard you’re working is your own body and your own perception.
Perceived exertion is your estimation of how hard you’re working and is a great way to learn (and recognise) your body’s signals and control your effort that little bit better.
Use a scale of 0-10 (0 being the lowest and 10 being the absolute maximum) and judge how you’re feeling when you’re exercising. Once you get into this habit, you get used to the working at the right intensity.
6. You can spot reduce certain areas
Unfortunately, as much as you can train certain areas, if there’s a layer of fat still there, the results won’t be noticeable.
By doing a whole-body strength programme, you’ll work all the major muscles groups and adding cardio work into that will help with reducing your overall body fat levels.
7. Having a protein shake after a workout
You would be better off eating real food, or relying on a glass of flavoured milk. Protein shakes, powders and bars are great for an emergency, when you have no other choice, but they can be processed meaning they’re not the greatest quality.
After a workout, you’re better to rely on a turkey sandwich for a balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein which can be beneficial. Research suggests that a glass of Nesquik contains a perfect balance of fats, carbohydrates, protein, electrolytes and sugar – a great post-workout combination. It can also be a lot cheaper to buy than some of the pre-mixed brands on the market.
Unless you’re looking to bulk significantly, the protein you get in your diet should be sufficient. If you feel you need more, try increasing you dietary protein intake first.
8. People always say about swimming being the best exercise – is this true for everyone?
Swimming is a good choice of activity for just about everyone, especially those who have physical limitations which prevent them from doing other forms of exercise. It recruits all the major muscle groups, including shoulders, back, abs, legs, hips and glutes. It can provide cardio benefits as well, although weight loss benefits can be limited.
The same with other forms of cardio exercise (running, cycling and walking etc), the intensity has to be right to get the most benefit. If you simply swim up and down, it can be the same as going for a slow walk. Add in intervals – however simple – and you can increase the intensity and, therefore, the benefits. Intervals can be as simple as varying the speed on alternate lengths.
When you get out of the pool, you can be ravenous, so beware of what you eat straight after – don’t undo all the hard work!
9. Does stretching give you a quicker recovery time?
A combination of dynamic stretches and static stretches can help with flexibility which can lead to a reduction in the risk of injury, although the jury is still out on whether this helps you recover quicker.
Static stretching at the end of your workout helps to return the body to a pre-exercise state. When you contract muscles with weight training, the muscle shortens and stretching helps to elongate them whilst they are still warm. Getting into the habit of stretching as part of your cool-down routine can help decrease post-workout soreness.
A perfect exercise routine would include:
– Cardio warm-up
– Dynamic stretches
– Main session
– Cardio cool down
– Static stretches
You can concentrate on major muscles with your stretches (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, deltoids and triceps) and hold for 10-15 seconds each. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
10. Does it matter what time you eat your main meal?
There’s a common phrase that people use in relation to meals – breakfast like a King, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. A rather simplistic way of how you should balance your meals, right? Well, not exactly. Eating a large meal in the evening won’t stop you from losing weight (although some people find it uncomfortable to eat late and then go straight to bed), but the total calories you consume during the day will. Providing you stick to your total daily calorie guidelines, you should see no difference whatever time you choose to eat. As I’ve already said, many people find it uncomfortable to eat and then go straight to bed, so it’s all about personal preference.
You could impose a ban on snacking after your main evening meal, and this could save many unwanted/ unnecessary calories.
Try keeping a food diary for a week and see what your eating habits are, and if/ where you can make changes.