Exercise advice circulates around the fitness community like gossip around a junior high school.
Picking up recommendations from friends may be a great way to keep your workout fresh, but any suggestion is only as good as the facts behind it.
Your workout time is precious. Before adopting a new mindset, make sure it’s more than just another exercise myth.
Take a shot at the questions below, and then learn the truth about a few of the most common fitness fictions by checking the answers at the bottom of the page.
What you may have heard:
1. Complete the following sentence: Fat turns into muscle. . . a. after 30 minutes of aerobic activity. b. never. c. after working out regularly for at least a month.
2. If I’m a woman and don’t want to look bulky, I should avoid weight training. True False
3. Which of the following statements are true? a. Skinny people are fit people. b. Heavy people are unfit people. c. Working out = losing weight. d. Being fit = losing weight. e. None of the above.
4. When trying to build muscle, I should eat as much protein as possible. True False
What the experts say:
1. b. Never. Fat’s turning into muscle is highly improbable, according to Colleen M. Hacker, PhD, professor and assistant dean of the School of Physical Education at Pacific Lutheran University. “It’s completely different tissue,” she says.
So why exercise? To change both fat and muscle cells, says Dr. Hacker. “Fat cells and muscle cells can enlarge and shrink,” she explains. “What happens when I exercise regularly? I don’t lose fat cells, I shrink their size. When I strength-train, I don’t create additional muscle cells, I increase the size of the cells that I have.”
2. False. Stephen A. Black, MEd, a health and wellness clinician practicing in West Springfield, Massachusetts, says unless you’re using performance-enhancing drugs, you won’t develop huge muscles. Women can’t. You lack sufficient testosterone. So lift away, ladies.
If your goal is endurance, Black recommends light weights and high repetitions. If a long, lean look is what you’re after, try Pilates, swimming, or t’ai chi.
3. e. None of the above. “The notion that our body size is somehow indicative of our overall health . . . just isn’t so,” says Dr. Hacker. Instead of focusing on size, she emphasizes a focus on physical activity, and the research backs her up.
“Men and women who are medically classified as overweight or even obese but who regularly exercise and are physically fit have lower all-cause death rates—even though their bodies remain above the height/weight ranges or BMI [body mass index]—than men and women who do not exercise, who are unfit but are within those desired height/weight ranges,” she says.
The upshot? Spend less time on the scale and more on the bike.
4. False. “Protein doesn’t build muscle. Strength training along with an adequate diet that includes protein helps stimulate muscle growth,” says Heidi Skolnik, MS, sports nutrition consultant to the New York Giants. Protein is necessary—and is especially helpful when beginning a new workout regimen, but overall caloric intake is more important, she says.
Your best bet? Have what Skolnik calls a “recovery meal,” carbohydrates and protein, within 15 to 20 minutes of a workout’s end.