With our New Year’s Resolutions still fresh in our minds, healthy diet in place (for now) and gym membership purchased (again), we’re all looking to shed that winter layer before the rapidly approaching spring season.
Before you get set to hit the health club, we’ve debunked several workout myths and provided some solid fitness facts to get you the most out of your gym time.
MYTH: A killer ab workout will produce the perfect six-pack. There is no shortcut to great abs, and just doing crunches won’t get the job done. Your ab workout may indeed strengthen your core, but it won’t address the problem of body fat. If you have a high percentage of body fat, you need to lose it in order to expose those sculpted abs underneath. While it’s good to work your abs—your entire core, as a matter of fact—you should also add a consistent regimen of cardio, strength training and a proper diet to get that washboard stomach.
MYTH: Heavy sweat is a sign of calorie burn. Doesn’t it always feels like the calories are melting away with every bead of sweat during an intense workout? Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. Your body produces sweat to regulate its internal temperature and keep your skin cool. Your first spring run under a warmer sun or a spinning class in a hot, stuffy studio may be the primary reason for your heavier-than-usual sweat level.
MYTH: Pre-workout stretching prevents injury. Stretching before strenuous activity like weightlifting or intense cardio can actually be counterproductive. In fact, stretching prior to a heavy workout can destabilize major muscle groups and lessen their ability to handle workout loads. Also, that limbering up doesn’t really make you any more limber—pre-workout stretches do not significantly increase range of motion. Try replacing that five minutes of stretching with a solid cardio warm-up for a better workout.
MYTH: Running doesn’t enhance strength training. If someone at your gym tells you that running makes your legs weaker, run away! Running and other weight-bearing exercises promote the development of lower body lean muscle mass and helps to keep your bones in good health. In conjunction with lower body exercises such as lunges and squats, running will make you stronger.
FACT: Weightlifting won’t make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The key to building mass is testosterone. While men, whose testosterone levels are 20 to 30 times that of women, can add bulk more easily, the average Joe or Jane Gym would have to lift weights at Mr. Universe levels—and all the time—to ever “pump it up” like Arnold. The real truth is that regular strength training, in combination with a consistent cardio routine, will help you lose weight faster, keep it off longer and retain toned muscle as you shed unwanted fat.
FACT: Yoga is not good aerobic exercise. You may sweat during yoga—especially during hot yoga—but its primary benefit is flexibility and strength. Yoga simply doesn’t burn the calories associated with aerobic activity or even with strength training. As a mater of fact, 50 minutes of power yoga burns roughly 230 calories, which is about one third the calories you would burn during the same period of intense cardio activity on a bike, elliptical or treadmill. While yoga may not melt away the pounds, the strength and flexibility you’ll gain will enhance your strength and cardio training routines.
FACT: Rest does the body good. Whether you’re a seven-day-a-week gym rat or just an overzealous first timer, your body needs to rest. Working out too much leads to muscle fatigue and injury. Your body and muscles need time—especially if you are a beginner or returning after a long layoff—to recover and rebound. Without proper rest—a couple of days a week for newbies, once a week for advanced athletes—your body will suffer from overwork and won’t improve.
FACT: Sleepless nights can lead to weight gain. Studies have shown that women who sleep less than seven hours a night may be more prone to gaining weight. For anyone who suffers from insomnia or who prides themselves on getting by on just a few hours of sleep, the news isn’t any better. Research has also demonstrated that sleep deprivation leads to higher production of ghrelin, a hunger-inducing hormone. So get your eight hours a night!