Fact or Fiction

These days there’s heaps of information being fired at us from all directions about all sorts of topics, and the health and fitness area is no exception. We thought it would be helpful to look at some fitness facts and fictions. Which of the following list are fact, and which are fiction?

  • As long as I exercise for 30 minutes three times per week, I will continue to get fitter.
  • I will bulk up if I lift weights.
  • Now that I am exercising, I can eat more and not gain weight.
  • Exercising on an empty stomach will improve weight loss.
  • Working in the “fat burning zone” will increase fat loss.
  • I need to warm up before exercise.
  • I need to stretch before exercise.
  • A training diary is a waste of time.
  • I need one of those new wizz-bang GPS type workout recording gadgets to be really effective with my running training.

How Did You Go?

As long as I exercise for 30 minutes three times per week, I will continue to get fitter. Fiction

Getting stuck in a training rut is probably the most common training error of all. Yes, 20 minutes on the treadmill and three sets of 10 reps with 5kg weights might be fine when you start out – but if you fail to increase either the length or intensity of the run, and the weight or number of repetitions that you do, the improvements will plateau out. In fact, one study found that in beginners, aerobic fitness began to plateau in as little as three weeks when the training load was not increased. So, to continue making progress in fitness, you have to keep moving the goalposts every time they get close enough to touch – every six weeks at least, but ideally more often. This is why your sessions with us never seem to be getting any easier. It’s not that you are not getting fitter. You are! We are just working you harder.

I will bulk up if I lift weights. Fact and fiction, it depends on the weight.

Increasing Muscle Size: If you want to increase the size of your muscles, you need to be lifting a heavy weight, one which you are able to lift no more than 12 times. For good muscle hypertrophy (ie bulking up) you need to be lifing weights which you can lift 4-6 times (or even less in some cases). You shouldn’t try this sort of lifting on your own. Enlist the help of someone who knows what they are doing- yes, that would be us- and always have someone “spotting” you when you are lifting heavy weights.

Muscle Toning: Muscles consist of long, thin fibres which come in two principal varieties: ‘type 1’ fibres, which are highly resistant to fatigue and recruited mainly at low intensity; and thicker, more powerful ‘type 2’ fibres, which only kick in when the going gets tough. The fibres within a muscle are always recruited in the same order – type 1 first, then type 2. So, if you only ever lift light weights, (no matter how many times), you will never work the muscle in its entirety, nor engage the type 2 fibres. What will happen, however, is that as the fibres within the muscle grow bigger, they will fill some of the empty space within the muscle sheath (an untrained muscle contains lots of space between fibres). The result? The muscle will become firmer and denser, but not bigger.

Now that I am exercising, I can eat more and not gain weight. For the most part, fiction.

You can eat more and not gain weight, but only if you are burning more calories than your extra eating puts into your system. Imagine you are a car, and your food is petrol. If you drive to Brisbane, you will need more fuel than if you drive to Newcastle. If there is not enough room in the tank to hold all the fuel you want to put in, the tank will overflow. Think of that overflow as fat, as that’s what happens to all the extra fuel you put into your body, no matter what time you eat it, no matter whether it is protein or carbohydrate, fruit or chocolate. Too much food turns to fat! Since running for about an hour will burn approximately 500 calories, and your average cheese sandwich is about 300 calories, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales the wrong way.

Having said that, exercise does burn a lot of calories especially if you are training for longer distance running events. If you intend to get up and do it all again the next day or even if you have a life to lead and need to be on the ball for your family and work commitments,  then you will need to ensure your glycogen stores are replenished post-workout. Your muscles use glycogen for energy and when the muscles are depleted they need to be refuelled quickly to maximise the training effect. It is important to refuel within half an hour of completing exerise, but be careful not to consume more calories than you have just burned. Some people refuel soon after their exersise session is finished, and then go home and have a meal as well! If you are training in the morning and have not been exercising constantly for more than 1 hour, going home to your normal breakfast should be sufficient, as long as you eat as soon as you get home. Likewise for dinner. If however you have been on a longish run of more than about 50 minutes, we recommend Endorox R4 to aid with recovery. I haven’t come across anyone who hasn’t said this is the best thing since sliced bread for preventing exhaustion and that inability to satisfy hunger after long duration exercise. Ask us about this fantastic training aid.

Exercising on an empty stomach will improve weight loss. Fact and fiction

Scientifically speaking, this is a fitness fact, however in practice, is is more a fiction. Performing cardiovascular exercise first thing in the morning before you’ve eaten, means that insulin levels are at their lowest, while another hormone, glucagon, is at its hightest.  Your body s then encouraged to draw on its fat reserves for fuel, seemingly increasing fat loss. HOWEVER……. fat metabolism is dependent on the availability of carbohydrate, when carb stores are low, fat metabolism is compromised. Exercising feels much harder, so you may tire sooner, or slack off and end up burning fewer calories – and less body fat – overall. You could also end up losing muscle as you start burning protein – as well as fat – for fuel. So exercising on an empty stomach is counter productive. Be sure to have at least a small amount of carbohydrate- eg fruit or a sandwich-an hour or so before you exercise.

Working in the “fat burning zone” will increase fat loss. Fiction

The idea that you only burn fat when you are exercising in a particular ‘zone’ of intensity – usually between 60 and 70% of your maximum rate went out with the ark. We actually burn fat 24 hours a day, but  the percentage of fat we use for energy varies at different levels of intensity. A greater proportion of fat is burned during low-intensity exercise, which is where the idea came from that we should exercise more gently – but while the percentage of fat contributing to energy expenditure may be lower during more vigorous activity, it is the overall number of calories burned that really counts when it comes to fat loss. More vigorous exercise will require more energy, and therefore more calories will slip away. This is not to say you should try for a 2 hour run at high intensity – you won’t be able to do it, but adding some more intense workouts (such as interval training) to your overall training programme will definitely help with energy expenditure.

I need to warm up before exercise. Fact

This one is a fitness fact, however it is the type of warmup which is important. Skipping a warm up will make things harder for yourself. Warming up reduces the risk of injury and improves performance. One study found that warming up reduced the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, and other research has showed that just five minutes of warming up enables runners to exercise for longer than those who did not warm up. 5-10 minutes is fine. Try to do a gentler version of the exercise you will be doing during the main part of your session. So if you are going for a run, walking briskly for a minute or two, then gentle jogging for up to 10 minutes should do the trick. If you are in for a weights session, 5 minutes of walking, slow jogging, then run through all the exercises you will preform either with no weights, or very light weights. If you are training with a group, don’t be late, or you may miss one of the most important parts of the session!

I need to stretch before exercise. Fiction (mostly)

There has been quite a debate around stretching before exercise in the last few years. Opinion is definitely lining up on the “no need to do it” side. That doesn’t mean you can neglect stretching altogether though. Stretching isn’t necessarily about lengthening muscles, it’s about restoring them to their natural length after all the shortening involved in exercise. Imagine an elastic band attaching two pieces of stick (representing your bones). If the elastic contracts (ie gets shorter) the sticks come closer together. That is how your muscles work. They contract to bring your limbs closer together. Think of the simple biceps curl. Your biceps contract, bringing your forearm closer to your upper arm. So why do you need to stretch this muscle BEFORE it needs to get shorter? You don’t, however you do need to stretch after exercise.

Stretching is also about putting joints through their full range of motion, which is important for keeping cartilage nourished and healthy, reducing stiffness, and maintaining correct alignment between the muscles and the skeleton. Stretch muscles when they are warm, holding for 30 seconds – and do it after every workout.

Having said all of that, there are some injuries which need to be stretched gently after a warm up and before the main part of the session. Many people feel they need to stretch their calves after warming up to prevent cramping, shin splints or plantar fasciosis. If you are one of those people, or if you have been told by your medical practitioner to stretch prior to exercsie, then keep doing doing so.

A training diary is a waste of time. Fiction

You may not be an elite athlete, but you should be keeping tabs on your fitness regime, otherwise you have no way of knowing if it is working, or whether you are getting fitter. If you are struggling keeping up with all of your planned training sessions, a training diary can help you to pinpoint which sessions you are finding hardest to get to. Then you can start asking yourself why? Is it because your boss always seems to call a 5 o’clock meeting every Monday, or is it because you don’t like the session you have planned? Keeping a diary is also a great way of staying motivated!

I need one of those new wizz-bang GPS type workout recording gadgets to be really effective with my running training. Fiction

It’s great fun pressing buttons and finding out how fast you are running, or how far you’ve run, or what your heart rate is etc etc, and it can help with motivation, but let’s face it, all the modern gadgetry in the world is not going to do the work for you. Bottom line is you still have to put in the hard yards. Your workouts can be very effective just going on the way you feel. Using the Rating of Perceived Exertion (a 1 to 10 scale of how much you are exerting yourself) can be just as effective as a heart rate monitor. A “workout gadget” can be helpful if you are having trouble running at a steady pace, but for the most part, you can certainly be effective with your training with no more than a stop watch.