I really think the health and fitness takes the cake. I have yet to come across an industry that has so much conflicting, misleading, misinterpreted, and downright wrong information. Our industry is like a big game of telephone. If you recall playing telephone as a kid, you can remember that the message given at the start was never the message that came through “the other end” when the last kid announced it to the teacher. If there is anything I can tell you in this industry, it is that context is everything. Yet ignoring context is why we have this big game of telephone in the first place! Many well intentioned folks take apparent facts, research, and information as absolutes, neglecting the bigger picture and the “real world context”, which is why information gets misused and misinterpreted. And ultimately where this game of telephone starts and ends.
To make some inroads, and to start dismantling this game of telephone, we need to quash some of the more pervasive myths existing in this industry today.
Without further ado, here we go!
This one was touted and promoted by various TV infomercial programs like P90x and the like. The concept of muscle confusion was based on the premise that constantly “switching” it up, shocking, and confusing your body as often as possible leads to the best outcomes and better results. Again, let me reiterate, context with this baby is king. Yes, you need to switch up your routine, but only when it is absolutely necessary. There comes a point where there is too much of a good thing, and “change” is certainly one of those.
We often confuse making change with making progress, thinking that if we constantly change things up we are making progress in the process. It’s the same adage with business vs productivity, thinking that if we are busy we are being productive, which is generally not true. So conflating change with progress is often a big mistake, especially with the beginner or new exerciser. Sure, you may need to change your routine, but only with the situation calls for it. Change for “change’s sake” is silly, and will actually reverse the progress you make over time. When you change your program or routine too frequently, you fail to give your body enough time to adapt to the stimulus you are providing it and thus your body does not adapt, and if it does, adaptation is lose when frequent “change” kicks in. If you change your workouts, exercises, and routines too much, your body gets confused, and adaptations like improved fitness, strength, endurance, etc. come to a halt.
It’s no different than if you were to learn a language like French, but you decided to learn Italian, Chinese, and Spanish as well. You are going to have a harder some learning French, because there are too many other things your brain has to handle with the other different languages it is trying to process and learn. We all need repetition in our exercise program if we want to make and more importantly, sustain any progress over time. It has been said repetition is the mother of all learning.
Here is what does work:
- Stick to a routine or program consistently for a least 8-10 weeks. Monitor your progress as you go. At the end of 10 weeks, evaluate the changes you have made and then make minimal adjustments from there, only if you have to.
- If you are getting bored, consider changing a few exercises in your routine, but the not the entire program!
- Also consider that the program may not be the issue, but it may be the nutrition plan you are following that needs to improve or change.
- Many people confuse the “program not working” as a sign that they need to “switch up” their entire routine. When in reality eating habits need to adjust for their exercise program to start working.
All Calories are Created Equal
I was at the grocery store the other day, and couldn’t help but chuckle at the 100 calorie Weight Watchers bars that were for sale that day. Companies like Weight Watchers and others do a clever job in leading you to believe that 100 calorie snack bars are perfectly fine if you have weight loss goals, even though they are smothered in chocolate and gooey goodness. And this leads me to the big lie perpetuated in our industry that “all calories are created equal”, which of course is completely false.
Different calories provide you with different nutrients, vitamins, minerals, energy, and feelings of satiation. A 300 calorie Chocolate bar will never leave you feeling full, satisfied, full of energy, and ready tackle that tough workout. Not only is there zero nutritional value, but there is zero nutrient density and actual weight to the food itself. Fueling your body with low quality calories will lead to a crash and burn scenario ½ way through your workout This “all calories are created equal” nonsense takes advantage of people’s desire for a “quick fix”. And instant gratification. This leads food companies to create 100 calorie snack bars, chips, and chocolate with the disguise and appearance of health via clever marketing. It’s human nature to want the path of least resistance, even though this path invariably leads to the path of most resistance over the long term.
Here is what to do instead:
- Focus on eating clean, natural, healthy foods 80-90 percent of the time, and leave 10-20 percent for fun foods and treats.
- Focus on eating nutrient dense, fibre rich, and heavy (in terms of weight) foods that are relatively low in calories. These include veggies, fruits, lean protein, and complex carbs.
- Skip the 100 calorie snack bars and snack packs that give you no energy, satiation, and nutrients.
- Stay away from calorie dense, low nutrient, and low weight in terms of actual mass
Cardio is king.
- For whatever reason, this myth will not die. Sure, some cardio in your routine is needed, especially as you get further into your weight loss journey, where plateaus become inevitable.
- But weight training has to be a foundation of your program to tone, shape, and sculpt your body, and for long term weight control.
- Cardio based activity makes your body more efficient at burning calories, which means over time you will burn less and less calories from the same activity.
Efficiency is the enemy of weight loss!
Weight training and interval style cardio does not create this efficiency adaptation, which is one of the many reasons they are better options for fat loss. Furthermore, cardio for long durations at medium intensities, which is typical for what most people do at the gym (while watching TV to make matters worse), is the worst form of cardio. It burns up muscle tissue for energy, lowering your metabolic rate and how many calories you burn in a given day. The common adage, especially with women, is that they think they need more cardio to see quicker results and to “get rid” of those extra pounds. This line of thinking that concludes a decrease on the scale equals progress.
I don’t blame women for thinking this way, as magazines and society have sold you a bill of goods that weight training will “make you bulky”, which creates this fear of lifting heavy things- which ironically is one of the best things for you.
Of course, this line of thinking is faulty and misleading, and as we’ve discussed leads to a slower metabolism, less muscle ton, and more potential weight gain down the road. I don’t want you to think that I dismiss cardio as a form of activity, but it is certainly not the be all and end all to achieving sustained weight loss. It’s a tool, and a tool that can be added, once a sound nutrition strategy and weight training routine are established. As a caveat, cardiovascular work should be interval or long/slow in nature. These methods utilize body fat as fuel better than any other form of cardio work, even though they are polar opposites of one another. On another note, weight training can be set up in a way to produce cardiovascular and metabolic effects through super-setting, and pairing up non competing muscle groups, and/or alternating between lower body and upper body movements. And also using this style of training with limited recovery in between sets. This is the best of both worlds, as you experience the metabolism boosting benefits of weight training, while creating a positive effect on the heart and lungs.
Here is what to do:
- Weight train at least 3-5 days per week
- Combine your weight training into supersets, and take as much recovery in between sets. Only take as much as you need to complete the next set with as much intensity as the last. This means no texting for the next 5 minutes or chit chatting on your rest break.
- Focus on developing sound eating habits, balanced nutrition, and eating the appropriate portions and calories for your body type and goals
- Add interval style cardio as well as long slow cardio, to compliment your weight training program and nutrition plan.
- Do not make cardio the exclusive focus of your program, or use it as a crutch to justify and “cancel out” poor nutrition choices.
While there is much more misleading, and misinterpreted information out there in our industry, these are the big 3 lies I come across every week.
Now that you know better, you don’t have to buy into these pesky little myths. And you can come to understanding that context and the bigger picture is everything, whenever you hear or read anything health/fitness related.