Most Common Exercise Misunderstandings

We all mean well – we want to be healthy, and so we start exercising. Starting to exercise is good, please don’t get me wrong here, we all need to start somewhere, but are you exercising effectively? Is your exercise regimen a well-rounded one? We all want to reap the most health benefits by exercising regularly, and this is why we gather some of the myths that we think you should know.

1. I don’t need to exercise because I don’t need to lose weight

As we grow older, we are losing lean mass – that is, our body tends to store fat mass than muscle. And with that, our metabolism also slows down. Remember when you were younger you used to be able to eat anything and not gain weight? That is one privilege that we are losing as we age. Exercising helps in counteracting the slowing metabolism by burning more calories and help you maintain your weight. Additionally, exercising regularly helps your heart health, pushes Type A Diabetes at bay, gives your more energy, keeps your bones and joints healthy (remember that women are much more prone to osteoporosis), and helps you sleep better. Who doesn’t want all of that?

2. Women should not lift heavy weight

This myth persists forever! We are scared of lifting weights, let alone heavy weights, because we are told we would bulk up like bodybuilders. Truth of the matter is, it is very difficult for women to bulk up muscles the way men do. Our estrogen level is high and it makes it hard for us to build bulging muscles. Lifting weights is, in fact, an essential component to make a complete workout regimen. Muscles are also good to boost your metabolism, and making you stronger in doing everyday activities like lifting bag of groceries, moving chairs, walk longer distance, and carrying your child. Have I mentioned that because muscle occupies less area in your body than fat, you would fit better in your little bad dress? That’s what I’m talking about.

3. Stretching before exercising prevents injuries

Recent research findings dispute that pre-workout static stretching (that is, maintaining a stretch pose) prevents injuries. What you absolutely have to do before working out is dynamic warm up. Jogging, walking in place, and pretend-jump rope are examples of dynamic warm up. You raise your core temperature and warm your muscles, making them prepared of what lies ahead. That said, stretching is still very important. Do the static stretches after you finish working out to keep your muscles lean and long.

4. Because you exercise, you can keep eating whatever you want

To lose one kilogram of fat mass, you need to create a deficit of 7,716 calories. It’s a struggle if you need to lose weight and you are banking all of your efforts to solely exercising. To get rid of half a kilogram of fat mass each week, you need to have a deficit of 3,858 calories. By only exercising, you need to workout hard enough five days a week, burning 772 calories each day you exercise. That’s a lot of intense exercising. A more realistic plan is to create the deficit by combining exercise and healthy eating plan. It’s sustainable and you are less likely to quit too soon in the process.

5. Spot-reduce fat

No, sorry, you can’t. You could do five hundred crunches each day, but the ab muscle you may have gained would still sit below the layers of fat. You have to burn off those layers of fat first, and then the muscle tone will show. People with six-packs are likely to have low body fat percentage – meaning they carry little fat all across their body. This is also why the combination of your body measurements (waist, hip, arms, neck, thigh) can be good indicators of how much body fat you are carrying.  After the excess fat is rid (cardio and interval trainings are excellent for this), it is possible to target-tone and actually have the results show on the surface.

6. The scale is the ultimate goal

This, I am guilty as charged. We all tend to make the scale as the ultimate goal. You should not. The scale doesn’t tell you the complete story; body measurements are often the better storyteller. Invest in the humble measuring tape. You may only lose a kilogram or two, but if your clothing fits better and you are seeing smaller waistline, you are seeing results. But be careful to not also obsess over a certain clothing size. Not all of us are built to fit in a size 2, and it’s okay. You do know that runway models are the minority, and not the norm, right? If you are already within your healthy weight range, don’t obsess over losing more weight. Strive for being fitter, stronger, and more flexible. Accepting your unique body is an important goal too.

7. Flexibility is not that important

A well-rounded exercise regimen consists of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility components. Flexibility training is one area that many take for granted. Flexibility helps you achieve that lean and sleek figure you’ve always wanted, but it also helps you do a lot of your everyday tasks easier Being inflexible brings problems – picking up that pen you dropped under the table or even tying shoe laces could become a chore. We suggest you incorporate some sort of flexibility training, such as Pilates and Yoga to your exercise regimen. I personally do 20 minutes flexibility routines twice a week, on top of my regular cardio and strength training, but you can definitely do more.

8. Thinking you have done enough amount of exercise

I was surprised to find out the minimal amount of physical activity to keep you stay healthy. The United States Center of Disease Control (CDC) suggests in order to gain the necessity health benefits that you do at least:

  • For aerobic activity: 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity (i.e., brisk walking), or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity (i.e., jogging or running), or an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity every week, and
  • Do weight training/muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

To gain even more health benefits, CDC suggests doubling the above aerobic activity amount. Here is the good news: you can spread that minimum of 2.5 hours each week (meaning you don’t have to do all at once). You can choose to quick walk in the afternoon or during lunch break, or you may lump your exercise sessions into fewer but longer sessions in the weekends.

9. Working out at the gym is better than working out at home (or vice versa)

It really doesn’t matter. On two different times in my life, I have lost weight and getting fitter while working out at the gym, and being a home exerciser. It happens to be, I tend to stick better to home exercise program, but I know a gazillion of people who are motivated by gym settings. The more important thing is that you exercise effectively and correctly, wherever you choose to do it. It all comes down to your lifestyle choice, schedule, budget, and personal preference. Try out both and see which one you like better.

10. You believe whatever the “fitness authority” says

Let me tell you – don’t even take my word on this post. Do your own research and judge whether the suggestions you see on TV and read in magazines are true. This is a true story: friend of mine came to a gym, and as part of the promotion, the gym offered a free “body composition analysis”. Her results came out as “obese”. When she re-checked her results online, she found out that, while she was near the upper range of the healthy-weight spectrum, she was actually still within that range – not overweight, let alone obese. Also, don’t be a sucker for everything that a cardio machine tells you. Cardio machines are notoriously inaccurate by overestimating the caloric expenditure.

The point of the story above is to do your own homework. Double check what you hear and read, because even long-standing beliefs (see point #3) could end up disputed with more extensive and recent studies. There is a wealth of information available, many of it is free and readily accessible. You just need to be willing to find it out.

I always like to stress out to my fellow beginner exercisers: doing something is better than nothing. That said, we all want to invest our time and energy wisely by doing the right thing and doing it safely. You need to know that you are doing your squats and push-ups correctly to protect your knees and lower back, respectively – and in general, protect your body from injuries.

I know that there seems like a lot of pointers to remember. I myself have spent hours reading articles, research findings and books to keep myself informed. It does require some time investment, but it is really worth the results and the health benefits you will be gaining!

* images via matton.com