Learn to discern exercise fact from fiction

Every day we read in magazines or hear on television different information about how to exercise, about what works, about the best way to exercise, etc.

Let's take a look at a few popular misconceptions that are perpetuated even by some of us in the business, vs. the facts that exercise science gives us.

Fiction: Women need different strength training exercises so we don't bulk up.

Fact: The same exercises that strengthen and tone muscles are used to increase muscle size. The bodybuilder next to you at the gym might be doing the same triceps extension exercise, but he will be using more weight!

Most women will not bulk up (we lack enough of the necessary hormone, testosterone), even when we lift a heavier weight. Heavier weight builds muscular strength (which elicits size increases, mostly in men), and lower weight performed with more repetitions builds muscular endurance.

The exercises, though, are the same! Of course, there are sport-specific, rehabilitative, power and athletic explosive exercises, each with their specific function, but the principle applies to all.

Lastly, exercising using a heavier weight can help bulk up our bones, and this is a good thing!

Fiction: Different exercises shorten or elongate muscles.

Fact: Our muscle length is genetically determined. All exercises contract muscles which briefly shorten them.

However, if the exercise is done properly moving through what experts call a complete "range of motion," we will not tighten our tendons and connective tissues and joints.

In fact, I teach clients that strength training using proper form and range of motion, even with heavier weight, increases flexibility and will not result in the myth of "shortening our muscles"!

Fiction: Stretching elongates our muscles.

Fact: Stretching reduces/stops our nerve firing which then causes our muscles to relax (stop contracting). Stretching can keep our tendons more elastic, relax our muscles (which mentally feels good) and help keep our joints and muscles from stiffening. However, as mentioned above, our muscle length is something we are born with.

Fiction: The right exercise will give us a six-pack in our abs, or remove the floppy fat on the back of our arms.

Fact: The right exercise will spot strengthen/shape a body area, but it will not spot-reduce overlying fat. Unless we combine additional exercise (remember aerobic training?), and eat to lose weight, specifically fat weight, then our newly toned abs and arms will not show definition. This is especially important for women to understand, since there really is no such thing as spot reducing.

What we will generally see as a result of weight loss and toning, is a leaner look in our leaner areas first. Most of us however, have areas of body fat that are higher than others (I've always wanted leaner thighs even when I'm at a great weight!) due to fat storage that is partially genetically determined (sorry!).

These are just a few of the most common misconceptions I hear often. Have you heard any confusing facts lately?

As founder and director of The Nutrition Center, located at Sparta Strength and Conditioning Center in New York City, June M. Lay provides dietary/nutritional counseling in several specialized areas including health risk assessment, weight loss/weight management, and sports nutrition. For more information, visit www.junefit.com.

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