Fitness fiction you still believe in, but shouldn't

Written by john romaniello
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How good are you at spotting fitness myths?

Fitness fiction you still believe in, but shouldn't
(Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Losing fat isn't rocket science, but it is indeed science.

You're having lunch with a friend, and the topic of exercise comes up. "I'm reading a book right now," she tells you, "and it says the best way to lose weight is ..." But as she describes a particular workout method, you remember reading a recent fitness article that said nearly the opposite. You know the trainer at the gym recommends a completely different method. And the doctor on television suggests still another. Information on health and exercise is available more than ever these days, and even the experts don't always seem to agree. Still, in spite of the many conflicting opinions, you probably know more than you think. Put your fitness knowledge to the test, and see if you can determine which of the following four statements are fact and which are fiction.

Fact or fiction: There is a way to make every exercise more effective

FACT. Some exercises are better than others at targeting a specific concern, but you can make any exercise generally more effective just by manipulating one or two variables. Resistance exercises, for example, typically consist of two main phases: the lifting and the lowering. With this in mind, you can increase the value of these exercises by adjusting the speed of contraction.

Craig Ballantyne, trainer and the creator of the Turbulence Training system, agrees. "You can make the lowering phase slower, and this is perfect for beginners getting used to a new exercise." He cautions, though, that this technique "may cause more muscle soreness, so watch out for that."

Another variable to consider is the stance in which you perform an exercise. A simple change in position can often increase the number of muscles involved, thereby enhancing effectiveness. The next time you work out, if you normally sit to perform a particular exercise, stand instead. This should present a greater challenge to your core muscles than your usual method.

Fact or fiction: There is a "best" way to lose weight

FACT. While nearly any type of sensible training and nutrition plan will help you shed unwanted pounds, if you really want to torch fat, change your game plan. After all, there's a very real difference between the simplistic approach of eat less and do more and the more discerning approach of a scientifically proven fat-loss training method. Losing fat isn't rocket science, but it is indeed science.

To find a method that scholars have shown to be exceptional, you'll need to look at the research. A number of studies, for example, have indicated that metabolic resistance training may be one of the most effective training techniques for fat loss.

This training style, known as MRT, consists of fast-paced weight-training circuits that are arranged in a noncompeting order. Noncompeting exercise order means your muscles are worked in an alternating sequence; so an upper-body exercise will be followed by a lower-body exercise.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University assessed the efficacy of metabolic resistance training and published the results in the September 1999 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise." Their study proved that combining a weight-loss dietary regimen with MRT yields greater results than either the combination of a weight-loss dietary regimen and aerobic exercise or a weight-loss dietary regimen alone. While all three test groups experienced similar reductions in body weight, those who combined diet and MRT lost nearly 20 percent more fat than those who combined diet and aerobic exercise and nearly 30 percent more than those who only dieted.

Another advantage to MRT sessions is that it allows you to move quickly from exercise to exercise, burning more fat in less time. And yet the effectiveness of MRT lies not only in the more efficient workouts, but also in what happens afterward. In a study published in the March 2002 issue of "European Journal of Applied Physiology," researchers from Ohio State University showed that MRT keeps the body's metabolic rate elevated for up to 38 hours. In other words, you'll continue to burn fat long after your MRT workout has finished. This is known as the "afterburn" effect and is a result of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC.

Fact or fiction: Lifting weights will make you bulky

FICTION. Body-weight training expert Adam Steer explains this myth. "Lifting weights won't make you bulky; it'll make you shapely. There's nothing more attractive than the curves of a well-developed derriere or the form of well-sculpted shoulders in a sleeveless top. And what gives shape to these beautiful body parts? Muscle."

Indeed, lifting weights tones muscles and develops definition, and there's nothing inherently "bulky" about that. But for those who still fear that weights will lead to hulking brawn, Steer said, "Don't worry about getting bulky. It's hard work to pack on a lot of mass. And it has to be done very deliberately. But adding some shape through lifting weights is achievable and desirable." And this is true for everyone.

It's also worth noting that weight training offers valuable health benefits for both men and women. In addition to simultaneously burning fat and building strength, resistance training is one of the most effective ways to strengthen bones and help prevent osteoporosis.

Fact or fiction: There is a "best" time to work out

FICTION. While training in the morning may have the very slight advantage of raising your metabolic rate earlier in the day, other considerations are more important in the long run.

Joel Marion, fitness coach, author and creator of the Cheat Your Way Thin weight-loss program, offers his perspective. "When is the best time of day to work out? In an ideal world, for several factors, it's probably in the morning, as the research suggests. But in the real world, the answer is the time of day in which you personally are able to work out with the utmost intensity, put forth the greatest amount of effort and train with impeccable levels of focus. For many, many people, that is simply not the morning."

So the meaning of "best time" when referring to workouts is highly subjective. For the exerciser, the definition might simply be the time most agreeable for a successful workout, which may not necessarily be what the research suggests is optimal. The answer, of course, is to train at the time that works best for you, the time when you're most capable, energetic and productive.

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