In last week’s edition of Old Man Fitness, we discussed a number of myths associated with working out that have become so ingrained in the popular consciousness that many of us mistake them for facts. This week, we’re diving right back into that same pile of wives tales, marketing gimmicks and misconceptions about fitness that have managed to worm their way into our brains.
Some of these exercise related myths are harmless enough, others may impede your progress or empty your wallet, but the worst of them can actually result in injuries.
It’s important to note, however, that believing in some of these common myths doesn’t make you foolish or gullible – they’re common for a reason. A combination of contemporary media culture and good old-fashioned human hard wiring has left us particularly susceptible to misinformation about our own health. Our culture (and our media that both reflects and creates it) has long had a bad habit of accepting the opinions and ideas of respected or popular people as facts — and while this has become a focal point of partisan bickering in American politics as of late, it’s been going on since long before our two-party system devolved into gang warfare.
However, it’s actually a little known trait of the human psyche called “source amnesia” that really allows these fake facts to take root inside our brains. Put simply, source amnesia occurs when you remember something, but not where you learned it. For instance, you may know for a fact that giraffes are native to Africa… but can you remember where you first learned that? Probably not – you can make guesses about classes, documentaries, or logical leaps you made as a kid, but unless you’ve been to Africa and seen the giraffes, you’re recounting a fact without any sense of your original source. It makes sense for our brains to work that way, because in most cases, where you learn something from doesn’t matter nearly as much as what it was… unless what you learned happens to be utter bullcrap.
Ya know, bullcrap like …
Myth #1: Static stretching is good before a workout.
We all remember the stretching exercises we had to do at the start of gym class – and if you served in the military, you can probably still recall your platoon sergeant counting out the cadence as you count the repetitions of your butterfly and calf stretches… we all assumed we needed to put that time in to avoid injury and maximize our performance in the workout to come, but it turns out that neither was really true.
Studies have shown that, at best, static stretching does little to prevent injury, and at worst, may even compromise your performance. Some of those studies have even specifically shown consistently weaker performance out of athletes that begin with static stretching, while others have demonstrated little to no effect whatsoever on the likelihood of injury.
That isn’t to say stretching can’t help – but try doing dynamic stretching warm ups before a workout (walking lunges, high kicks, etc) and save static stretching for before bed to help manage soreness and maintain flexibility.
Myth #2: The more you sweat, the better the workout.
Who can blame you for feeling accomplished when you wrap up your workout, flop on the floor and leave a soggy sweat angel on the concrete to show off how hard you worked? We all know that working out makes you sweaty, but somewhere along the line we began misconstruing that with assuming that you have to work up a good sweat if you mean to accomplish anything in the gym.
Depending on your fitness goals, working up a good sweat may not be necessary in each workout. Many powerlifters and bodybuilder, for instance, take intentionally long breaks between each set to ensure the greatest possible recovery for their muscles. This lets them move more weight more times, and ultimately leads to developing larger, stronger muscles. This style of working out tends to take hours, which is why professional bodybuilder often spend their whole days in the gym, despite doing around the same number of lifts you might see a different sort of athlete accomplish in an hour or two.
Sweat isn’t a metric for success, it’s a by product of some processes. If you are putting out, but you’re not dripping wet, well … don’t sweat it.
Myth #3: Exercise has to be regular and long in duration.
This is one of those myths that’s been advanced by trainers (and former trainer assholes like me) that are always harping on the importance of consistency. Without a doubt, the best way to see progress is to get to work on a consistent basis, with a well put together workout regimen based on a plan that’s derived from your specific fitness goals — and if you’re training for the NFL combine, that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. However, if you just want to drop an inch or two from your waistline, you can ease off of the throttle a bit here and take on a more reasonable approach.
We’ve all used the excuse, “well, I’ve only got 20 minutes so it’s not worth starting my workout.” It makes us feel justified in staying planted on the couch for a bit longer, but it certainly doesn’t help us reach our fitness goals. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. You don’t have to spend an hour killing yourself and you don’t have strictly enforce a daily schedule to get better; you just have to get it in whenever you can. It may take longer to reach your goals than it would if you could devote 6-7am of every day to your workout, but fitness is a long con, and you don’t cross the finish line until your dead. So if all you can do is get 20 minutes in today, well, you’re still 20 minutes closer to your goal than you would be if you hadn’t.
Myth #4: You can either build muscle or burn fat.
The most common question I’m asked about fitness is how to build muscle while burning fat, and my response is always the same: you can do one well, or the other, but doing both at once means making some compromises.
Body builders often alternate between these goals, using “bulking” phases to add mass with less concern for body fat, and then transitioning to “cutting” phases to burn off that fat they added while they bulked. Cutting stages always make you weaker, but the net gain in muscle from the bulking/cutting cycle makes it worth it. Because many serious lifters and trainers use this approach, many people have come to think lifting weights doesn’t actually help with burning body fat… when in reality, it can be even more beneficial than cardio in many instances.
Not only does weight lifting benefit you in the sense that the exercise burns calories, but having more muscle mass will increase your body’s daily caloric needs. That means that as you build more muscle, your body will burn more calories to just to sustain you, aiding in your efforts to cut fat.
Once again ladies, don’t listen to people who say lifting weights will make you look manly. In fact, the most common thing women who believe that have in common is usually the extra weight they wish they could find a way to lose.
Images courtesy of the author