When it comes to weight loss and fitness advice, it’s hard to separate fact from fallacy. Friends tell us one thing, doctors another, and lifestyle gurus tell us something else entirely. In an effort to sift through the conflicting information, many of us turn to fitness experts and treat their words as gospel. It’s a safe bet; these people have spent years in the fitness industry, so they must know what they’re talking about, right?
Guess again. It turns out that some of the leading fitness experts do little more than repeat the false information they’ve read in the headlines. Worse, most of these experts have never had a weight problem, and cannot relate to people who have struggled with obesity.
Thankfully, we live in the Information Age. Good advice is widely available, but it doesn’t always come from the “experts”. In fact, studies have proven time and again that fitness gurus have it all wrong.
Here are some important facts that so-called experts have gotten wrong in recent years:
Wrong: You must always stretch before exercising.
Really, it depends on the type of exercise you’re doing. Runners might need to stretch a bit before they take off, but anyone doing resistance training will be better off leaving the stretching until after the workout.
That’s because when you stretch, the fibers of your muscles grow longer. This makes them less stable and more prone to stress injuries. You could actually harm yourself by stretching before a strength-training session. It is important to stretch after you’re done, though, to promote circulation and ward off stiffness.
Wrong: Light wrist and ankle weights will give you a more effective workout.
Actually, the added weight is more likely to tire you out. If you throw in the towel due to fatigue, you’re going to miss out on the benefits of a long cardio session. In fact, runners and walkers are better off leaving the weights behind so that they can go longer distances at higher speeds.
But what about weight training? Some experts suggest that wrist and ankle weights will add muscle mass, but the truth is that these weights are usually too light to be of much benefit. You are far better off devoting some time to weight lifting, using sufficient weight to tire your muscles out after 8 to 12 reps.
Wrong: Women must exercise an hour a day to maintain their weight.
This discouraging statistic recently showed up in the headlines, and it has been passed around by fitness experts in an attempt to get women to work out longer and harder.
What the experts don’t tell you is that the accuracy of this study is very questionable. The sample group was very small, and consisted only of women over the age of 50. This group is not representative of women as a whole. The study also failed to take diet into consideration.
The real danger here is the spreading of false information, and its effect on female dieters. Many do not have an hour each day to commit to exercise, so they wonder why they should bother working out at all.
Some exercise is better than no exercise. You don’t have to spend your life at the gym in order to lose weight (though there are some personal trainers who’d like you to think that). Half an hour of cardio five times a week, coupled with a healthy diet and a few sessions of strength training, is all it takes to maintain a healthy weight.
Wrong: BMI is a good way to measure total fitness.
BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a measurement that factors your height and weight to determine if you’re at a healthy weight. It has been in use for many years, and continues to be used by many professionals today – which is unfortunate.
BMI does not take muscle mass into consideration. Muscle is much denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space but weighs more. Therefore, a heavily muscled man might be considered overweight or obese by the BMI scale. A slender woman might have a healthy BMI, when she actually has a high percentage of body fat and little muscle.
If the BMI charts have kept you running in circles for years, trying to fit the mold of health, just ignore them! Your waist-to-hips ratio and body fat percentage are much better indicators of a healthy weight.
Wrong: Exercise is more important than diet.
There are fitness experts who would have you believe that you can eat whatever you want, as long as you work out long enough to burn off the calories. In theory, it sounds plausible; weight loss is a matter of burning more calories than you consume. But when you dig deeper, you find that this is really bad advice.
Diet is at least as important as exercise in maintaining a healthy weight. By learning to control portion sizes and distribute calories throughout the day, you are learning to give your body the fuel it needs to perform its best.
Eat small meals throughout the day, never going for longer than 3 hours without snacking. You will find that this strategy decreases hunger and cravings, and leaves you energized and ready to work out.
Wrong: You should exercise on an empty stomach.
The premise behind this bad advice is that exercising on an empty stomach will force your body to tap into its fat stores immediately. If you eat before you exercise, your body will only burn off the calories you just consumed.
This is wrong for many reasons. First, when you exercise, your body always burns a combination of carbs and stored fat. Second, your body needs fuel so that it can metabolize its fat stores. It won’t do this efficiently if you’re hungry or dehydrated.
Finally, working out on an empty stomach can quickly lead to low blood sugar, which causes dizziness, fatigue, irritability, and nausea. Low blood sugar also makes you more likely to binge later in the day.
The best approach is to eat a small meal one to two hours before your workout. Make sure that the meal includes lean protein and carbohydrates. Some tuna with low-fat mayonnaise on a whole grain roll is a good example of a balanced pre-workout meal.
Wrong: You’ll get a better workout at the gym than at home.
Again, there are a lot of gym owners and trainers who would love for you to buy into this myth. And it seems plausible, since gyms have a lot more equipment and group exercise routines than we have access to at home.
But gym memberships aren’t a necessary part of weight loss. In fact, results continue to prove that old classic exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and running provide the most benefit. While these exercises might not be glamorous, they get the job done without the need for pricey equipment.
Many people have trouble sticking to a gym-based workout plan. Some find it difficult to afford the monthly membership dues. Others find it inconvenient to drive to the gym. Still others simply never grow comfortable exercising in a group setting.
Here’s a fitness fact that gym owners won’t tell you: The most effective fitness program is one you’ll do consistently. Often, that means exercising outdoors or in the comfort of your own home. You don’t need fancy machines to get a good workout; you just need your own body weight and a healthy dose of determination.
Nobody has all the answers 100% of the time – not even the experts. You know your body better than anyone. Experiment with diet and exercise habits to find the best fit for yourself, regardless of what the fitness gurus tell you to do.