Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

Common Exercise Myths - Part Two, by Matthew Romans

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about some of the common exercise myths that have been perpetuated by the mainstream fitness industry. Some of those myths have been around since the late 1960's (especially in the case of the "cardio" myth), while subcultures and certification programs have been built around other pseudoscientific falsehoods (much of what can be colloquially referred to as the "personal training" industry probably wouldn't exist without them). Since we at Total Results believe so strongly in continuing education (and because I didn't want to make the last blog post too long), I'd like to discuss a few other myths I have encountered in my journey as an exercise instructor.

Myth: You must perform multiple sets of an exercise to achieve maximum muscular benefit. This is a theory espoused by many bodybuilders, gym enthusiasts, and professional strength coaches. Unfortunately, there is very little (if any) scientific evidence to support this theory; in fact, a study done many years ago by Wayne Westcott, PhD, shows virtually no difference between results obtained by performing one set of an exercise versus performing multiple sets of the same exercise. When you look below the surface, this makes perfect sense. The purpose of performing a set of an exercise to momentary muscular failure is to stimulate an adaptive response from the body. If you do two additional sets of that exercise in this fashion, you're simply reintroducing the same stimulus two more times, but not providing anything more effective from what you did the first time. Not only is this not an effective strategy, the risk for overtraining, illness, and injury increase significantly as a result of digging deeper into your recovery ability and increasing the volume of work performed. In my experience, most people who train using the multiple-set approach take breaks between sets and are not working all that intensely. Performing one set of an exercise, using a proper slow speed of movement and working to momentary muscular failure, is more than enough to stimulate the body to adapt.

Myth: Lower back discomfort and injuries are caused by weak abdominal muscles. While on the surface this statement seems to make sense, in reality the abdominal and lower back muscles perform opposing functions. The abdominal muscles' primary function is to flex the trunk, while the lower back muscles extend the trunk. It is certainly important to strengthen ALL your muscles, but in order to remedy a lower back malady you need to specifically target the lower back muscles. Our Med-X Lumbar Extension machine does just that. Strengthening the spinal erectors helps to increase functionality, relieve pain, and improve posture. Performing this exercise can also help to open up the spaces between the vertebrae and relieve the compression often experienced by those with disc problems (impingement, herniation, etc.) While it is important to exercise all the muscles of the body (including the abdominals), in order to see improvement in the lower back you need to go right to the source.

Myth: Sweating is a necessary part of intense exercise. This is false. The skeletal muscles are often referred to as "the engines of the body", and are capable of producing a tremendous amount of heat. During intense exercise (a Total Results workout) your body has three ways to dissipate heat: conduction (transfer of heat from your skin surface to the cooler padding of the equipment), convection (transfer of heat from your labored breathing into the surrounding atmosphere, in conjunction with the use of fans to keep you properly ventilated), and evaporation (sweat being brought to the surface of your skin and then evaporating into the surrounding air). While we have been conditioned to believe that sweating is healthy during intense exercise, in reality it is an indication of a failure of your body's evaporative mechanism. If sweat collects on your skin, you can overheat and your workout performance will suffer. This is why we keep our workout studio cool (65-70 degrees Fahrenheit), dry (less than 50 percent humidity), and well-ventilated (with fans stationed at every machine). We encourage our clients to "dress cool" (t shirt, shorts, non-heavy workout pants) to allow them to get their best workout possible.

Myth: In order to be fast, you need to train fast. This is the convoluted thinking that permeates the Olympic weightlifting subculture (and subsequently spawned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's philosophy), as well as the isokinetics philosophy that led to the development of Cybex exercise and testing equipment. Olympic weightlifting enthusiasts believe that the best way to achieve muscular growth is to specifically target the fast-twitch muscle fibers (the largest of the three muscle fiber types) by moving explosively and throwing weights around. While throwing large weights around (despite its inherent danger) looks impressive, it is a biological impossibility to only target one group of muscle fibers. There is what is known as the size principle of recruitment, which means that fibers are recruited sequentially in terms of size (first slow-twitch, then intermediate-twitch, and finally fast-twitch). The most effective way to gain size and strength is to work to momentary muscular failure, because when exercise becomes most intense, the fast-twitch muscle fibers are most heavily involved. The Isokinetics philosophy involves only performing positive muscular work; it is a house of cards that is built on two research studies, one of which (the 1969 Moffroid/Whipple study) got its data and stated conclusions backward, and the other (the 1975 Pipes/Wilmore study) was faked. Both Pipes and Wilmore later denied being involved in the study; unfortunately these facts are not widely publicized in the mainstream exercise industry.

In order maximize athletic performance, you need to work to perfect the specific skills required for that particular sport, and strength train once or twice per week in a manner that we instruct at Total Results. Even if you are not an athlete (and most of us are not), ours is the safest and most effective exercise protocol available. We will have you perform one set of each exercise with a slow and controlled speed of movement and work to momentary muscular failure. We will give equal attention to upper body and lower body muscles, and balance the number of pushing and pulling exercises. We will also target the abdominal muscles as well as the postural muscles (lower back and neck), and we'll do so in an ideal and climate-controlled environment, so that you finish each workout without a drop of sweat on you. Ignore the myths and misinformation and put your trust in the private exercise studio that has served Northern Virginia since 2001: Total Results!

Posted April 16, 2019 by Tim Rankin