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Mythbusters for Women: Exercise Fact or Fiction, Part 1

By: Jonathan TaylorSports Performance SpecialistSpectrum Sports PerformanceKnowledge is power, but wisdom is applying that knowledge to actually affect what you do. With the excessive amount of information pertaining to fitness, gaining muscle, and fat loss out there, what is true and what is just a gimmick? One could pick up five health and fitness related articles and get five very different answers, leaving the reader even more confused than when he or she first started. Can I believe everything I read just because it “says so,” by an apparent “expert” or does there need to be an exploring of what is really the truth? Just because we aspire to look aesthetically pleasing like celebrities, trainers, and athletes, are they really credible when it comes to selling us information to achieve that look? Much that is known in the fitness industry is based on misinformation, lack of research, and just plain assumptions. So with that in mind, let’s explore some of the common fitness myths and expose them by bringing them into the light of what science and research have to say about it.

1. Lifting Weights will make me “bulky”

Much of the female population is usually deterred from lifting weights of no more than five pounds because it is believed that by lifting, they will soon balloon like Schwarzenegger, causing unwanted girth, pulsating veins, and a voice that will drop three octaves. This is largely due to watching other women that they aspire to look like lift no more than a Latte. However, most of the women marketed in magazines, movies, and the like have always had that same physique since they were twelve years old and have had no need to properly train anyway. Also, many women will tend to stick to “cardio” activities because this is believed to burn the unwanted fat, leaving behind the highly coveted, goddess-like shape. Finally, with a small population of females into bodybuilding, this only furthers the belief that women who lift weights will soon morph into a man-like beast. This, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Firstly, muscle that is stimulated and stressed through load-bearing movements, i.e. resistance training, with progressive loads, force that muscle to adapt to the excess strain, causing a huge metabolic response. A metabolic response can simply be defined as excess calories burned during rest to aid in the body’s recovery. So that means that if strength training is done on a consistent basis, the body will actually burn more calories at rest, causing a huge, internal shift, which will lead to tapping into fat stores to aid in the process. Also, from an aesthetic point of view, muscle is denser in circumference than fat, which will actually lead to inches lost and a more shapely appearance.

Next, research has brought out that just completing long, slow, cardiovascular activities for duration, does nothing for post-exercise, calorie burn. Yes, energy is burned during the activity, but when the activity stops, so does your calorie burn! Conversely, completing resistance training in a circuit like format, or high intensity intervals, can increase post-calorie burn up to 48 hours after one workout (refer to my Blog, “The War on Fat Loss,” for the specific study)!

Lastly, muscle growth is largely an endocrine response, or shifts in hormone levels in the body. One of the major hormones responsible for muscle growth is Testosterone, which is present in both male and female bodies. However, women have a much smaller production of this hormone, which makes it physiologically impossible for females to “get swole.” Specifically women who body build must take external sources of multiple hormones to receive the massive stimulation of muscle growth that give them that “man like” physique.
Don’t fear, resistance training will get you much farther than a body builder can run!

2. For best results, I need to stay in the “Fat Burning Zone”

In my experience, fat loss is the number one issue discussed among female clientele. The question always arises, “How do I burn the most fat in the least amount of time?” The fat burning zone has been largely utilized over the years, but widely misunderstood. This misnomer originated from taking too literally what we know about the body’s energy systems and metabolic processes. The body has to produce energy for any type of activity during the day. From driving to dead lifting, from cooking to cardio, and from sleeping to skiing, the body must decide the most efficient way to produce energy for the task at hand. It has been determined that fat is predominately used as the body’s main substrate at any low to moderate activity, including rest. So that seems logical, if I want to burn fat, I must stay in the “fat burning zone” during lower to moderate activity. Based on this, different fitness publications have stated that when performing cardiovascular exercise, one must maintain a range of 60%-80% of one’s maximum heart rate, thus assuring “fat utilization.” That means that in order to burn fat all I have to do is wake up in the morning, go about my day, and if I feel like it, spend 20-30 minutes doing a light, cardio session a couple times a week. If that were true, why is the obese epidemic higher than ever in this country? Guess what? Drum roll….It doesn’t work! Exercise science has brought out that the higher the intensity of the workout or cardio session, the more the body has to expend energy post-workout to recover the body’s tissues, water levels, energy stores, etc. We must really look at the overall effect of how the body responds to what type of exercise being performed, not just when performing the exercise session. A cardio session might burn 500 calories, but I would rather burn 3-4 x that when I am done exercising through an intense, interval session.

The fat burning zone has been debunked of course because in order to make the body a long term, fat burning machine, one must increase resting metabolism by increasing lean muscle and progressively challenge the body’s nervous, muscular, and cardiovascular systems, which will lead to more hormone shifts, aiding in overall fat loss. If you want to burn the most fat in the least amount of time, skip the recumbent bike and start looking for exercises and interval formats that will keep the body burning calories for hours on end.

3. I can spot reduce my body

Unfortunately, many women have been led to believe that if there is an area on the body that needs improvement, all that must be done is to work that specific area. I am still trying to figure out what one woman asked me to do when I started training her, “Can you get rid of my knee fat?” If I went into most gyms across the country, it seems that they offer specialized, shining, magic machines that all I have to do is sit down, move this handle back and forth a few times or push on this small platform for a few minutes and, bingo, firmer triceps and a more shapely rear end! Crunches, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and thigh Ab/Adductors tend to be the most popular. However, in order to see change over a period of time in a specific muscle, the body must learn to use itself in a coordinated fashion by engaging multiple muscles at once. Why? Because hormone response to exercise is one of the biggest components to fat loss and increasing lean tissue; hormones are utilized when many muscles are used at the same time.

Fat loss and tissue building occurs from a global response (full body) to exercise and not an isolated (single joint) one. When the body performs multi-joint exercises, research shows that hormone shifts occur, thus leading to physical changes in the body. For instance, if I want to make my triceps stronger, I need to perform pushups, presses (horizontal and vertical), dips, and the like that force those smaller muscles, the triceps, to help their bigger counterpart, the pectoral. Similarly, if I want to improve the appearance of my legs, squats, deadlifts, and power exercises such as a hang clean, can do wonders for the lower body and aids in an increased calorie burn.

Train the body, the whole body, and your problem areas will be glad you did!

Next month, look for more debunking and expelling of the common misnomer!

Edit by Courtney VandeStreek

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