A fitness expert busts common fitness myths

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With all the conflicting fitness information out there, it can be hard to know exactly what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s actually dangerous. Since fitness science has come so far in the past decade, we’ve also learned that a lot of the things that seem self-explanatory about working out are actually completely false. How do we wade through all this information and find out what to believe? 

Our best bet is to turn to the professionals. Mark Hendricks, Group Fitness Manager at Equinox, busted some common fitness myths about the best ways to stretch, workout and build muscle without bulking up for us. He also shared some of his favourite full-body exercises to work on overall fitness and strength. 

Myth: Stretching speeds up muscle recovery
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding when and how to stretch during a workout for optimal benefit. Sorry, but whether you stretch before or after a workout doesn’t matter when it comes to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). If your goal is to decrease DOMS, your best bet is massage or myofascial manipulation (foam rolling) which increases blood flow and thereby soreness. 

The type of stretching you’re doing might actually be increasing your recovery time. Contrary to popular belief, static stretching (going to your end range of motion and holding) decreases blood flow which hurts rather than helps your muscles. What you really want is a dynamic stretch that is movement-based, no holding and restricting blood flow. 

Exercise: The World’s Greatest Stretch
The world’s greatest stretch is a dynamic one to get blood flowing and is best done before a workout to prepare joints for the work ahead. 

Begin upright and step forward with your left leg, lowering your body into a lunge. As you go down, place your right hand on the floor so it’s even with your left foot while keeping your right knee just above the floor but not touching. Next, move your left elbow inside your left foot and rest it on the floor. Square your hips so you feel the stretch on both sides and keep your back as flat as possible. Then, move your left hand to the outside of your left foot and twist to reach for the sky. As you are doing that, try to pull the toes of your left foot up towards your shin. Afterwards, repeat on the right side. 

Myth: No pain, no gain
This is a common mantra, but we really shouldn’t classify anything we feel while working out as “pain.” Yes, we are placing stress on our bodies during a workout which can be uncomfortable, but that feeling should always be manageable. Especially when stretching, it is important to go to the point of “manageable discomfort,” not pain. Be realistic and respect your own limits. 

Myth: Doing too much cardio won’t build muscle
There is a tricky relationship between cardio and strength and most people (including scientists) don’t fully understand it. Recent research suggests that moderate amounts of cardio can boost the effects of strength training. Studies show that resistance training coupled with two to three days of cardio a week can lead to greater gains that just strength training alone. 

The takeaway here is that there is a “Goldilocks” blend of cardio out there. Too much can interfere with muscle growth and so can too little. The scientific “sweet spot” seems to be two to three days a week at various intensities to protect muscle and prevent a plateau. 

Exercise: The Cross-Country Ski Thruster
This move is total body and highly metabolic (similar to a burpee) to get you to that breathless state quickly and hit that high intensity easily. 

Stand tall with your feet one foot in front of the other and shoulder-width apart with arms on-guard. Bend down and place your hands on the ground before hopping your legs back into a push-up position. Then quickly spring your legs forward to the bottom of a squat and jump back up into the starting position. Do this three times, then repeat on the opposite side. 

Myth: More sweat means more fat burn
Contrary to how it might feel, there really isn’t a huge correlation between the amount of sweat you’re producing at any given time and the amount of fat you are burning. The rate at which you sweat is determined by many factors outside of your actual workout because it is your body’s way of cooling itself down. 

Men’s sweat glands are more active than women’s and other factors like fitness level, air temperature, humidity, anxiety level and simply how many sweat glands you have will determine how much you sweat during your workout. It isn’t uncommon for fit people to break a sweat more quickly because their systems are more efficient at cooling their bodies down. 

Myth: Strength training will make you bulk up
Women in particular are sometimes hesitant to do too much strength training out of fear that they will get “bulky.” Mark says that just isn’t true and weight training is the perfect way to get the shape of body you want and to create a solid, muscular base. Since testosterone is one of the major hormones responsible for building muscle and women have about a 15-20% lower concentration of it, they cannot build muscles as large as men can. It is biologically impossible according to science. 

Exercise: Unilateral Chest Press
With that fear out of the way, chest presses are a great strengthening exercise and this one has an added twist to involve more muscles and stabilize movement. Remember: more muscle means more blood flow, which means more calories burned. 

Set yourself up for a basic chest press, laying on your back on a weight bench. Shift your right shoulder off the bench and place your right foot on the floor. Then execute a chest press using your unsupported right arm. Repeat, then do the same on the left.   

Myth: Big muscles are strong muscles 
It seems self-evident that bigger muscles would be stronger and while that’s typically true, it doesn’t mean that they are more agile. Strength is primarily gained by lifting heavy weights for low reps and lots of sets, mostly as a result of adaptations of the central nervous system. This maximizes neural efficiency and makes you more coordinated at a movement which allows all participating muscles to more fully contribute to each rep. 

The bottom line: the way in which one trains and exercises is an important factor in the strength and efficiency of muscles. 

Exercise: Unilateral Chest Pull/Row
A good way to build more efficient and coordinated muscle is to exercise by unevenly loading the body which requires more muscle engagement to stabilize. More muscle, more blood flow, more calories burned. 

Get into the plank position, hands on a weight bench, feet on the floor. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and place a weight in one hand. Then, execute a row, resisting the movement with your torso. Repeat for several reps, then switch sides. 

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