Top 5 Exercise Myths

With a subject like fitness where there are lots of “experts”, but not many experts, there will always be a lot of disagreement about what’s right and what’s wrong.  There are so many myths about exercise and fitness – what works, what doesn’t, what happens – thatit can be really confusing.

Here’s 5 of the biggest exercise myths that have definitely been debunked:

Sit-ups / Crunches Get rid of Belly Fat

They don’t.  They help to condition and tone the underlying muscles, and they may help to give you a flatter stomach through tightening the area, however they’ll have a negligible impact on any subcutaneous fat.  To get rid of that, you need to eat a more sensible diet.

Steady Cardio Work is the Best Way to lose Weight

Lots of people think that running for miles on end is the best way to lose weight.  It isn’t if you want to lose weight through running, you need to smash out sprints like they’re going out of fashion.  Fartlek Running is much more efficient at helping you burn calories than just a steady pace.

Running on a Treadmill is Safer for Your Knees than Running on a Road

Ultimately, damage to your knees when running is done by your body weight crashing down through a joint many times over a period of time.  That’s going to happen whether you’re on the road or a treadmill.

Women Build Muscle Bulk if they Lift Heavy Weights

Without taking massive amounts of testosterone and vast protein supplements, women don’t get big just by lifting weights.  This misconception often means that women use 1KG weights in the gym for resistance for fear of becoming masculine.  Don’t worry, life weights that challenge you and you’ll get a better impact.

Stretching Before a Workout Prevents Injury

Actually, if the first thing you do when you walk into a gym is some extreme stretches, things are going to get bad pretty quickly.  If anything, stretching before you work out is going to do more harm than good.  What you should be doing is:

  • Warm up
  • Stretch
  • Lift
  • Stretch
  • Cool Down

Missing out on any of those steps is what increases your risk of injury.

Any More

What are your favourite (or least favourite) fitness myths?  Tell us below.

How to do crunches

Crunches have a number of advantages over traditional sit ups, especially when it comes to the stresses that they put on your spine when you do them.  If you kow how to do crunches properly, you’ll find that they isolate your abdominal muscles really well, and help to give you an enviable flat stomach and great muscle tone.

Here’s our guide on how to do crunches properly to maximise the impact while keeping your back safe.

Step 1

Start by lying on the floor, with your feet flat on the ground, and your knees bent:

 

Crunch Starting Position

Correct starting position for a crunch

Step 2

With your arms crossed against your chest, use only your abdominal muscles to curl your shoulders upwards a couple of inches of the ground.

Crunch finishing position

Middle position, with stomach tense

Step 3

Hold the position for a few seconds to work your abs hard, and then relax back into your starting position ready for the next repetition.

How many crunches do you do?

It’s not always necessary to do more and more of any exercise.  There are some people who proudly manage hundreds of crunches in their abdominal workout , and they generally have a great 6-pack to show off, but bear in mind that a fantastic body comes as a result of mixing workouts with a good diet.

Try to manage 3 sets of around 10-12 crunches as part of your workout.  If you find that this isn’t working your abs hard enough, try adding resistance – holding a weight across your chest will have a big impact on how hard your crunches are, and help you make big gains.

Leg Toning Exercises

A lot of people tend to neglect their legs at the gym: people concentrating on a fitness programme that’s aimed at either getting bigger or getting stronger, often see bigger gains in their upper body and focus on them.  If your goals are around balanced fitness and a better all around body, then leg toning exercises should definitely be a part of your routine.

leg toning exercisesWhen you’re planning a fitness routine to focus on your lower body, it’s important to include a range of different movements to ensure that you work all of the muscle groups equally and get a balanced workout.  Ideally, your leg toning exercises should work opposing muscle groups over the course of the session in order to give you a workout that delivers similar gains in all areas.

Use the following routine as a circuit, and do 5 sets in total, and concentrate heavily on getting a very smooth movement and great form throughout each repetition.  As you get more and more used to this routine, try holding weights to increase the effort, as this will really help to improve the impact of these leg toning exercises

  • 30 seconds sprinting
  • 10 x left leg lunges
  • 10 x right leg lunges
  • 10 x calf raises
  • 10 x deep squats
  • 5 x tuck jumps

When you’ve completed 5 sets of these leg toning exercises, be sure to stretch out fully to give your muscles the chance to relax after being worked hard.

Do you need supplements?

If you go into any health store or gym, you’ll see a range of diet supplements stacked up and ready to sell.  Everything from crash weight gain through to fast weight loss, along with plenty of energy drinks, and protein bars.

There are a lot of wild claims made about different dietary supplements that are available in the gym, and they can be expensive.  In a lot of cases, the kind of supplements that you see people taking at the gym are unnecessary for them.

If you’re a person who goes to the gym basically to get fitter, who eats a sensible diet, and exercises at a moderate level – a 30 minute jog, or a half hour weights session, then you probably don’t need to supplement your diet.

If on the other hand, you’re working very hard towards a specific goal – aiming to increase muscle mass, or really extending your cardio work to run a marathon – then you may well want to adapt your diet, and this may involve supplements.

Why Supplements rather than Diet?

Diet supplements are just that, an extra to your regular food intake that will help you achieve certain goals.  It can be pretty impractical to get the amount of protein and other nutrients needed for big bulk muscle building through food alone.  A chicken breast contains about 30 grams of fat, and costs about £1.  If you buy in bulk, a similar amount of protein in supplement form (a shake) will cost less than 35p.  It’s also easier to store large amounts of protein supplements.

The acid test of whether you need to add supplements into your diet is whether you are achieving your goals on a regular diet alone.  If you find that your recovery times are long after working out, or that you’re not making gains in terms of strength or size, then it may be that your diet is lacking in areas that you need to cover.

If after you modify a diet to include more natural protein (eg meat or beans), you’re still not recovering from exercise well, that’s when you should consider supplementing your diet.

Don’t just buy a giant bucket of cheap protein because it’s cheap though, speak to people at your gym and in a health food store what they’d recommend for you based on your goals and body.

How Much Water Do I Need When Exercising?

If you don’t keep your hydration levels up when exercising, your performance will suffer.  Without getting enough water into your body to replace the sweat you lose, you’ll struggle to get cool, and risk overheating which can be dangerous.

There’s a common myth that you need to drink 8 glasses of water each day, but in truth, it doesn’t appear that there’s ever been a proper scientific study that proves that 2 litres is in some way the magic number for everyone.

The amount of water you need when exercising depends on a number of different factors:

  • The type of exercise
  • Your weight
  • Your fitness level
  • The ambient temperature and humidity
  • What you’ve eaten that day

If you weigh 200KG and go running on a hot dry day, you need a lot more water to replace sweat and keep your body temperature stable than a 100KG person who is lifting weights in an air conditioned gym.

Thirsty?

In most cases, simply being thirsty is an indicator that you need to drink something.  Our bodies generally tell us pretty quickly that they need water – scientific studies suggest that the thirst response kicks in when our blood concentration increases by just 2-3%!

When you’re exercising, you need to drink enough water to replace the water that you’re losing from your system as sweat.  The hotter you get in your workout, the more you will sweat, and the more you will need to drink.

Ideally, you want to maintain a fairly even level of performance throughout your workout session, which means keeping your body hydrated at a consistent level.  Taking a 500ml bottle of water on your run and sipping regularly as you go should be fine for a run of up to an hour.  Any longer, and you might want to consider investing in a backpack, or a water belt to keep you going.

Low Fat not No Fat

Fat is an important part of your diet.  Too much is bad for you, but too little is also very unhealthy.  You need fat in your diet to build new cells, act as a long term energy store, and also to act as insulation.  The American Heart Organisation recommend that to maintain a healthy weight, 25% of your calorie intake should be fat.

That means, to remain at the weight you are right now, 25% of your calories should come from fat.  Some people misinterpret this to mean that 25% of their food should be fat, which would result in them eating too much fat.  In fact, the 25% of calories represents about 55g of fat (2oz).

To lose fat from your body, you might reduce the 25% to 15% of calories coming from fat, which, based on a 2000 calorie / day diet would mean about 30g of fat.

Saturated Fat

Saturated Fat is often thought of as being bad fat, but again, you do need some in your diet.  Most recommendations such as that from the AHA suggest that no more than 5% of your calories should come from saturated fats.  That means about 11g of saturated fat each day.

 

Cycling Interval Training Example

Pro-cyclists can maintain speeds of 50KPH+ for 8 hours a day during a race, and hit more than 60KPH during a sprint.  They’re some of the fittest people on the planet in terms of their VO2 Max performance, and also in terms of their ability to recover from really strenuous exercise.

Of course, they don’t hit those levels of performance without sacrifice and hard work.  It’s easy to ride a bike, but it’s hard to ride a bike fast, and even harder to ride a bike fast all day.  If you’re trying your hand at cycling – either during an evening time trial series, or a triathlon, boosting speed can be hard to achieve.  Cycling is like running, once you’ve improved your endurance, you work on your speed, and the best way of doing this is through cycling interval training.

Cycling Interval Training preparation

Interval training on a bike isn’t so much about the speed you ride at, but the power, so to train effectively, you need a heart rate monitor that tells you what power you are outputting.  The two things you need to know are:

  • Your peak power
  • The maximum time you can sustain peak power

You find your peak power output by riding at increasing power levels until you become unable to turn the cranks.  That can take a full training session to achieve – you need to warm up at a light intensity for about 10 minutes before hitting a 100watt power level and increasing by 10watts every minute until you fail.  Make sure you warm down afterwards to avoid injury.

Post recovery, you need to identify your maximum time at peak power.  Again, this will require some effort.  After a good warm up, you need to hit your peak power and then stay there as long as possible.  Most people will manage a minute or two.

Once you know your peak power and the maximum time you can sustain it, cycling interval training becomes possible.

Cycling Interval Training Schedule

You will either want to do this ride using a turbo trainer, or on a safe road with no other traffic because your pace will vary, which might make you a risk to other road users.

Warm Up Phase

Start with a 20 minute warm-up ride to increase heart rate and warm up your muscles

Intervals Phase – repeat 5 times

Ride at peak power for half of your maximum sustained time

Ride at recovery pace for 2x your time at peak

Recovery Phase

Have a warm down ride for 20 minutes.

Notes:

The level of intensity that you ride at during interval training on a bike is far higher than the level you hit running, and many people find it uncomfortable.  in the cycling interval training schedule above, we’ve suggested 5 interval sessions.  At first you may struggle to achieve this, however once you can, you might want to increase it to 10 gradually.

Don’t forget, the purpose of cycling interval training is to boost maximum power levels and the time you can sustain them, so regularly review these KPIs to maintain training intensity.

How Many Calories Do I Need To Eat Each Day?

Getting the right calorie intake each day is essential if you want to meet your goals – whether you want to stay at a healthy weight, increase your muscle mass, or lose weight.

Calorie Intake to Gain Muscle

If you want to grow, you need to eat more than you normally would.  This is a combination of taking in more protein, and also increasing your calorie intake.  To gain muscle, as a rule of thumb, you should take your goal weight in lbs, and eat that many grammes of protein each day.  So, if you weigh 150lb, you should aim to eat 150g of protein.

To support this, you need to up your calorie intake to gain muscle too.  Again, take your current  weight in lbs, and multiply it by 17.  This will tell you how many calories you need to eat.  If you currently weigh 150lb, you will need to eat ~2,550 calories per day.  This level of intake should increase your overall weight by ~4lbs per month.  That will include some fat, but that’s dependent on the actual make up of what you eat.

Calorie Intake to maintain weight

If you’re already at your target weight, and you want to stay there, you need to eat the right amount for your size.  Your calorie intake to maintain your weight can be calculated quite easily as follows:  Take your current weight in lbs, and multiply it by 14 – so if you currently weigh 150lbs, you would need to eat 2,100 calories per day.

Calorie Intake to Lose fat

If your goal is to lose fat, then you need to reduce your calorie intake below what you actually need so that your body will burn some of its stores.  Your calorie intake to lose fat can be calculated by taking your current weight in lbs, and multiplying it by 11 – so if you weigh 150lbs, you need to cut back to 1650 calories per day.

Improve Running Endurance

We blogged recently with some Fartlek Training Tips to help improve your overall running speed, but for many runners – particularly those starting out on their training, increasing the level of running endurance that they have is just as important.

Quite simply, the best way to improve running endurance is simply to run further each time you go out on the trails, however it’s also really important to set some goals, and stick to them.  It’s also absolutely essential that you don’t become disheartened during the early parts of your training regime when you’re probably running a lot less than you would hope.

It’s easier to keep yourself motivated if you measure what you’re achieving so you can see some progress.  There are loads of run tracking programmes available.  Endomondo is really popular and works well with iPhone and other smartphones with GPS, alternatives like GMap Pedometer, and Map My run have been around for a while and also provide a really good suite of tools for measuring how far you go

Stage 1 – What running endurance do you have?

Improve running enduranceThe first thing you want to know when running is how far can you go, and in what time.  Go for a run at a comfortable pace, and keep going until you have to take a break.  Look at how long it took you, and also take into account how far you managed.

On your first run, you might manage 10 minutes, and cover a mile or so.

Stage 2 – Set a Goal

it’s essential to have a programme to improve running endurance, and this means setting out some goals and timescales.  A common initial goal for runners might be to run 5KM non stop, and if you’re initially able to cover 1.5KM, or manage 10 minutes of consistent running, then it means increasing endurance by a factor of 3.

Set yourself a goal that will push you.  This might be to increase your time by 5 minutes each week so that over a period of one month you go from running 10 minutes non-stop up to running 30 minutes non-stop.

Stage 3  - Go for it

Once you have a goal set, and the means to measure whether you’re achieving it, then it’s time to get started.  The most important thing you do is start.  Don’t make excuses, or try and put things off, once you commit to getting fit, you need to stick to your plan.

Stage 4 – Increase distance and Time

Once you’ve set out your objectives, and got started, you need to start working.  Go running every other day, and simply go further each day.  A good way to improve running endurance is to plan a route around where you live or work that covers your target distance.

Try and cover the full distance each day.  Start by running at your ideal training pace, and when you need to stop, make a note of where you got to on the route, and how long it took you.  Don’t stop altogether when you run out of steam, just go from running to walking, and then restart when you get your breathy back.

The next time you run, aim to get past the place where you stopped, and keep going for an extra minute or two.

Stage 5 – Beat Your plan

Track where you’re getting to each day.  You should find that you are getting towards your target distance quicker than you might expect.  Most people find that they hit a threshold with their running at which point they can go quickly from running a shorter distance to a much longer one over night.  You might manage 2 miles one day, and then something clicks in when you next go for a run, and you can manage 3 miles no problem at all.

When you get into the zone, and your form improves and your breathing comes to you, you’ll find that running gets easier every time, and you start to be able to run further and faster each time you go out because of your improved running endurance.  That’s when you really start to enjoy things more and more.

 

What is Resistance Running

When you’re training with weights, progress is relatively simple:  as soon as you master one level, you add a few more Kilos onto the bar, and the exercise becomes harder once more.  It is possible to do the same with running too.  If you’re running on a treadmill, then managing the effort used is quite simple.  By adjusting the incline, and increasing the speed, you make the run tougher, however if you need more control, you probably want to try resistance running.

While you can make changes to your speed outdoors and run faster, you have a lot less control over the environment and less direct feedback, which is where resistance running comes in.

There are a number of different ways of making your run harder.  Resistance running can be any one of them.

Parachute Running

Running parachutes are a popular choice for people wanting to increase their speed.  Quite simply, you attach a parachute to your ankles and back, and it catches the wind as you run.  The increase in wind resistance is quite high, although it can look a bit strange.  Resistance running parachutes aren’t that expensive – you can buy a basic one for around £10 on Ebay.

Weighted Running

The number of calories you burn in exercise is governed by weight.  Every kilogram that you carry in weight adds about 10 calories per kilometer to your workout.  In addition to this, exercise weights are usually positioned to increase the effort in certain areas – ankle and wrist weights are popular.  If you wear 2.5Kg on each wrist, and 5KG on each ankle, for a 5 KM run, you make the whole run a lot tougher, and you’ll burn an additional 75 calories just from the weight, and around an additional 100 from the increased range of movement and calisthenic impact of the weights being moved – you’ll also feel amazingly light the next time you run.  Use our Running Calorie Calculator to check how much additional energy you use when running with weights.

Running Up Hill

In most areas, you should be able to find a few good inclines that you can run up and down.  If you’re really lucky, there will be a good solid steady slope over 1KM long with an average incline of 10% – that’s pretty unlikely though :).

If you can find a 100m rise that is 1KM long, it can be an amazing training tool.  An average person will burn an additional 18Cal just on the increase in altitude.  This sounds low, but it equates to about a 25% increase on the effort level you get from running.  Running up hill burns more energy, but it also increases the effort that you’re putting in through all your major muscle groups, and increases your VO2 Max significantly over time, because the faster you run up hill, the more the power used by your body increases, and you need to increase aerobic capacity.