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Common Exercise Myths by Matthew Romans

The mainstream exercise industry has peddled half-truths and outright falsehoods for years, probably going back to the beginning of the Aerobics craze of the late 1960s. Some of the people perpetuating these myths are well-intentioned but ignorant, while others have more sinister motives (taking your money). With so much information available, it can be difficult to distinguish truth from fiction, especially when the fiction is put forth in an exciting package by a charismatic personality. One of our goals at Total Results is to educate our clients about the true nature of exercise, and while there are a great number of exercise myths floating around out there, I'd like to discuss a few of them in particular and set the record straight.

Myth: Injuries during weight training occur because you're lifting too much weight. While on the surface this seems to make sense, it's untrue. The primary cause of injury is excessive force. We do not know what the breaking point of a tendon, ligament, or muscle is, but the greater the amount of force applied, the greater the risk of injury. Force is equal to mass times acceleration (F=MA); it is possible to lift a relatively heavy resistance safely, just as it is possible to lift a relatively light resistance unsafely. The primary consideration is force. Total Results exercise protocol involves lifting and lowering the weight in about ten seconds each, which keeps the dangerous forces to a minimum. Exercising with us is safer than stepping off a curb.

Myth: Working to momentary muscular failure is dangerous. I remember hearing this myth almost twenty years ago, when I was preparing to take my first fitness certification (the American Council on Exercise). The people in this organization seemed to equate intensity (degree of momentary effort) and exertional discomfort with danger. We know that this is false. Working to momentary muscular failure, while uncomfortable and often unpleasant, is perfectly safe when using the ideal exercise protocol (Total Results). Arthur Jones (founder of Nautilus and Med-X exercise machines) often used the phrase "the harder it seems, the easier it is" to describe the level of safety as muscular failure approaches. As an exercise becomes more challenging, those repetitions become safer, since your muscles have fatigued to the point that their force output decreases. If you're capable of producing less force, the risk of injury goes down significantly, so those last couple repetitions become safer. While it seems counterintuitive, the repetitions performed at the beginning of the exercise are more dangerous, as you still possess enough strength to suddenly increase force and cause injury. Not only is working to momentary muscular failure safe, it is incredibly beneficial and necessary for achieving the optimal exercise stimulus and maintaining your insulin sensitivity.

Myth: Doing "cardio" is essential for improving your cardiovascular system and promoting fat loss. Both of these notions are false. First, we need to understand how the cardiovascular system functions. It functions to serve the muscles, not the other way around. The heart is certainly an important muscle, but it contracts involuntarily and can only be trained by performing mechanical work with the skeletal muscles. Of the three types of muscle tissue (cardiac, skeletal, and smooth), only skeletal muscle can contract volitionally. We have been led to believe that in order to achieve optimal cardiovascular fitness, we need get into a "target heart rate zone" based on a percentage of 220 minus your age for a set amount of time. There is no solid scientific evidence to support this; in fact, the Aerobics industry's academic reputation in the field of exercise physiology has been built on bad science. By exercising the skeletal muscle intensely (as we do in a Total Results workout) and moving quickly between exercises, the cardiovascular system has to function more efficiently to keep up with the increased demands of the muscles. This is a far more efficient means of stimulating the cardiovascular system than performing traditional steady-state activity that has minimal involvement of the skeletal muscles. As far as fat loss is concerned, it is almost entirely a dietary issue. Eating an ancestrally-appropriate diet consisting largely of single-ingredient whole foods, with an adequate amount of protein and healthy fats (while minimizing grains and sugars) is the best way to reprogram your body to use fat as its primary fuel source. Performing steady-state activity is ineffective for two reasons. One reason is that the activity itself burns very few calories, another is that steady-state activity promotes sarcopenia (loss of muscle). Working to build muscle through high-intensity weight training is an important ally in fat loss; every pound of muscle you build can burn between 50 and 100 calories per day.

Myth: It's okay to strength train different muscle groups on different days of the week. I once subscribed to this concept, made popular by the bodybuilding subculture. In my teens and early twenties I often trained four days per week, utilizing a regimen that included exercises for chest and triceps on Mondays, back and biceps on Tuesdays, legs on Thursdays, and so-called "accessory exercises" on Fridays. While it sounded impressive, the problem was that beyond the initial week or two on this routine, I didn't seem to get much stronger and was prone to getting upper respiratory infections. If you are a genetically gifted bodybuilder or professional athlete (some of whom use performance-enhancing drugs) you can probably make progress in spite of training in this fashion, but that likely encapsulates less than one percent of the population. I was severely overtrained and very fortunate that I didn't get an overuse injury. The human body functions as a unit; it is far more than just the sum of its parts. Therefore it should be exercised as a unit, and that is why we perform full-body workouts at Total Results. Our clients perform five to seven exercises no more than twice per week, with at least three days between workouts to allow for proper recovery. We utilize compound exercises (which involve multiple muscle groups in the course of that exercise) to enable us to keep the exercise volume relatively low. We want to stimulate the body to adapt without overtaxing its recovery ability in the process. This prevents overuse injury and keeps the risk of overtraining to a minimum.

These are just a few of the many myths that the mainstream fitness industry has promoted over the years. In a future post, I will discuss a few other wrong-headed notions I have come across in the course of interacting with clients and attending other exercise-related events in my professional life. Let Total Results help you separate exercise truth from fiction. We are here to serve you!

Posted March 18, 2019 by Tim Rankin