As people rev up for the fall and the pre-holiday season, one of the things they are focused on most strongly is their fitness.
For a lot of people the upcoming holidays mean adding another 5 or 10 pounds of fat like last year. At first, it's just a few unhealthy meals. And then it's a week or two skipped at the gym. And then it's "oh well, I'll lose the weight starting after New Year". This is a recipe for disaster. Sound familiar?
But many people do try, do make an effort to eat better and stay fit and STILL fail to attain the bodies they desire. There are a few main reasons for this.
In the course of my life as a fitness professional who teaches people how to eat and exercise in a way that is consistent with their goals, I hear a lot of the same things over and over from incoming clients that are simply not true. The extent to which so many people believe these things can be overwhelming. And it makes what I do as much about helping people to “unlearn” the things that don’t work as it does teaching them the things that do.
We have to understand that it is not the fault of the fitness novice (or even the experienced exerciser) that they are convinced that these concepts are correct. They are perpetuated by a number of very powerful influences: A $60 Billion supplement and diet industry that has only profits in mind and markets and sells products which are ineffective and in many cases fraudulent; Infomercials which make false claims and sell products that could never work; Countless magazines and other media which promote impossible standards of beauty and fitness alongside diet and exercise programs that are guaranteed to fail.
In working with thousands of people over the last twenty years, I have learned that what the vast majority want is simple - to be stronger and move better, but MOST importantly to have a leaner, more toned body. Some call this weight loss, some call it being more “fit”, but in essence it is the same goal.
In this article, I will talk about some of the most egregious, and consistently repeated mistakes people make with their fitness plans, why they are absolutely wrong, and what you can do instead to avoid getting stuck when it comes to your fitness goals.
# 1: Lifting Heavy Weights Will Make You Bulk Up.
When you lift heavy weights correctly, you will add muscle to your body. Muscle IS the lean part of your musculoskeletal system. Muscle tissue is what gives your body the lean, cut, attractive shape that almost all of us seek. People invariably ask about the bulky shape of body builders at this point and the answer to why this doesn’t concern them is very simple - without the rare genetic make-up that natural body-builders possess, it is nearly impossible to look this way without ingesting an absolutely massive amount of calories, dedicating your life to the gym and injecting anabolic steroids.
It is not muscle, but fat, that makes you look bulky. A lean body is just that, literally - more lean muscle tissue with less of the fat that lies around and over the muscle. And it is muscle tissue that helps you burn that fat by increasing your metabolism (the amount of calories you burn each day) with every pound of muscle you add. In fact, adding one pound of muscle to your body burns 6.5 calories per hour which is almost 17,000 calories per year, the equivalent of burning 16 pounds of additional fat each year while continuing to eat the same number of calories.
# 3: To Lose Weight, Go On a Low-Calorie Diet
True in the short-term, false in the long-term.
While eating fewer calories than you burn each day will cause you to lose weight initially, the weight loss will plateau quickly. Losing weight by restricting calories is problematic in a number of ways.
Most low-calorie diets will cause more muscle loss than fat loss. And from # 1” above, we know that this will cause your body to burn fewer calories. But that’s not even the worst of it. Soon, your body will recognize that it is not getting the calories that it needs to function properly and it will set into a motion a whole array of protection mechanisms. Your internal “calorie thermostat” will reset so that the body burns even fewer calories and it will try to store whatever calories it can as fat (survival mode). Fat is metabolically cheap, it takes nothing to sustain. Muscle, on the other hand, is metabolically expensive, so it is the first to go.
The fact is: Your body does not know that you are trying to look great in a speedo this summer; it just knows that it is not getting enough calories.
The result of all of this is that your metabolism slows further and further. And at the same time, hormones in your body start telling you that you are starving until eventually you go “off” the diet. This is not a matter of poor willpower. It is a biological imperative - chemicals in your body telling you to EAT, to get the calories you need to function and thrive. And as soon as you do, as soon as you start eating more again (and likely bingeing from being “starved” for so long), the weight comes back, and then some. And the weight is stored in the form of fat, you have less muscle (so you are “softer”) and your metabolism is slower so you are fighting an uphill battle. DIETS MAKE YOU FAT.
If a strong, lean body is the goal, instead of dieting you will want to eat “supportively”; that is, eating in a way that supports lean muscle development and the release and burning of fat. I’ve written about this here before, in Part 2 of my 4-Part series on “Finding The Balance For Dramatic Physical Change”. You can read that article on this site to learn the best nutrition strategies and you can download my 2-Page “Empower Fitness’ Guide to Supportive Nutrition” by going to my web site at www.GetEmpoweredFitness.com/downloads. the password is: metabolism.
# 4: Long, Moderate-Pace Cardio Is Best For Weight Loss.
While it is true that long, steady-state cardio will burn calories, it is NOT a very effective choice if the goal is a lean body and a faster metabolism. There are multiple reasons for this.
First, this type of cardio tends to burn more muscle and water than it does stored body fat. The number of new clients who tell me that they do an hour or more of cardio most of the days of the week and are still very unhappy with their bodies is astonishing. These are the people who tend not to be terribly overweight, but so much of their weight is fat, and not muscle, that the “flab” is hanging off of their bodies. I call this condition “skinny-fat” and I see it in cardio addicts from Spinning enthusiasts to Marathon Runners.
Long, steady-state cardio is also limited in that the calorie-burning stops as soon as you step off of the treadmill or elliptical. That makes this type of exercise not very efficient when it comes to stimulating a faster overall metabolism.
A much better choice is Interval Training. This simply means working very hard and at a very high heart rate for a short burst and then bringing the intensity way down for a short time. Interval Training is better than steady-state cardio from just about every metric that should interest you: It burns more calories per time spent; it burns more calories from fat; it burns calories for hours after you finish doing it; it’s even better for the health, endurance and strength of your heart in just about every measurable way.
I recommend just 30 minutes of interval training per session. Another effective way to burn excess fat is to do just 15 minutes of cardio following your strength training workout. If you’ve lifted effectively, you’ve burned all of the sugars in the blood and in the muscles, so post-workout is the best opportunity to burn a larger percentage of calories from fat, instead of burning sugars.
So, if being more efficient, getting more improvement in less time sounds good to you, Interval Training is the way to go. I wrote more about Interval Training in Part 4 of “Finding The Balance For Dramatic Physical Change” and you can also find more information by downloading my “cardio” page from my web site (same link as above).
My clients, after learning the most effective techniques (and “unlearning” the ones that don’t work), eat more, spend less time at the gym, and still get results in terms of added muscle and burned body fat that are significantly greater than anything they have experienced in the past.
By learning why these common fitness myths are false and learning what to do instead, I hope that you will get dramatically better results from your nutrition and workouts as well.
Greg Rothman, MS PT , is a fitness professional, author and the owner of Empower Fitness . He received his Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from Columbia University and has 20 years of experience in the rehabilitation and fitness fields. Greg’s mission is to empower his clients to take control of their bodies and their metabolisms. He believes that absolutely anyone can find dramatic physical change and that doing so can be accomplished efficiently. www.getempoweredfitness.com
Greg Rothman, MS PT, is a fitness professional, writer and the owner of Empower Fitness in NYC. He received his Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from Columbia University and has twenty years of experience in the fitness and rehabilitation fields. He believes that absolutely anyone can have the body of their dreams once they understand how to eat and exercise in a way that supports their goals. It is his mission to Empower as many people as possible to do just that. His “Recession-Proof” Fitness Programs are an affordable way to find dramatic physical change over the course of 10 weeks. Greg is happy to hear from you if you have questions about any topic related to fitness or nutrition, and can be found at www.GetEmpoweredFitness.com.