6 Fitness Tips Everyone's Heard (That Don't Work at All)
So this last year, I've been trying to do the old lose-weight-get-strong thing, so I can fit into a bikini and smash through walls. You know, the same thing millions of other Americans are striving for.
Deep down, we all want to be She-Hulk.
When I started out, I thought, naively, that different things work for different people and I should look around and try different ideas to see what works for me. I was a fool to have thought that. According to countless self-proclaimed fitness experts, there is only one way to avoid obesity and early death: their way. Among the tips you'll have screamed at -- from website and magazine headlines -- are ...
You MUST Eat Breakfast
This advice comes with one or more all-capped words most of the time, for some reason, as if implying that if you DON'T eat BREAKFAST you might DIE.
Why is breakfast so LIFE and DEATH? Well, for one thing, breakfast supposedly will "jump-start your metabolism" and make you burn calories at a faster rate throughout the day. This is silly and jump starting your metabolism by eating is not a real thing. In fact, for one group (male athletes), not eating breakfast really jump-starts their system.
The other reason given for the supreme importance of breakfast is that if you wait until lunch, you'll be so hungry you'll eat the entire buffet, heat lamps and all, and end up taking in more total calories over the course of the day than if you'd just eaten your crappy toast and fruit at breakfast.
The trays aren't bad, if crunchy. I wouldn't recommend the tongs though.
Unfortunately, studies show that's not the case. When subjects were asked to skip breakfast, and even both breakfast and lunch, they actually ended up eating the same or fewer calories than when they'd been eating breakfast.
My point isn't that you should skip breakfast. Maybe you are starving at 7 a.m. and feel like crap if you don't eat something. Maybe you do shove your face into the salad bar at lunch and suck everything up like a vacuum if you don't get your morning cereal. Maybe you can't eat when you get up, but you like a snack at 9 a.m. when you get to work. Whatever. All I'm saying is science has proven breakfast will not solve all or any of your major life problems.
You Must Get Your BMI Down
If you've ever tried to get fit, you've probably been introduced to the concept of BMI, or Body Mass Index. The concept is over 100-years old, and is totally showing it. BMI is more or less weight divided by height. If it's above a certain number, you're obese.
You can probably already see what the problem with that is. By that extremely oversimplified metric, Reggie Bush (pictured here) ...
... is a big old fatty. You could be 200 pounds of muscle or 200 pounds of fat (give or take some bones and blood or something) and BMI wouldn't know the difference.
That would be bad enough if BMI was just like an astrological sign or penis measurement that you use to brag groundlessly to other people. But it's not just a frivolous vanity stat, it's something that's being used to judge pretty important things, like whether you can apply for a job as a cop or firefighter, certain military jobs, or whether you can undergo surgery.
It might not be exactly the same as evaluating job applicants by reading the length of their lifeline on their palm, but it's pretty close. And do you really want anything to do with a system that has no place for guys like this?
Barefoot Running is Best
One of the hot trends nowadays is barefoot running, which is exactly what it sounds like. (Although some people do it with super-thin sandals or goofy-looking foot protectors.)
The reasoning goes that we evolved to run without shoes. Some dude won the 1960 Olympic marathon barefoot, and there's a tribe in Mexico that's been running hundreds of miles for years wearing only simple thin sandals.
So the theory goes that shoes are just a clunky modern invention that cage the mysterious physics tricks our feet are capable of.
But first of all, not everyone's feet are the magical mechanical machines evolution built. About 20 percent of adults have flat feet, so we don't even have that bio-mechanical springy arch that our athletic shoes are allegedly repressing.
My feet, more or less.
You'd think people would go, "OK, I'm not talking about you then," but barefoot running advocates are extremely preachy, or to be fair, the ones you hear the most from are extremely preachy and (ironically) inflexible. So if you have normal feet? Barefoot running is the answer. Flat feet? Barefoot running is also the answer because it will "strengthen the muscles" that support your arch. That you don't have.
Other things they'll tell you is that everyone against barefoot running has a "vested interest" so you shouldn't listen to your podiatrist because they just want to sell you foot products, and top professional runners only wear shoes because they are in bed with dirty shoe company money.
Look at those money-grubbing sellouts.
Could you overdo it and get hurt? Nonsense. It's impossible to over-train or over-stride because "your feet will stop you."
That's interesting because sports injury clinics claim to be seeing a lot of injuries you can only get by barefoot running.
It can get filtered out in the enthusiasm, because a lot of barefoot runners tend to excuse barefoot running pain as "getting used to it" after years of running wrong, or even see it as a good sign that they're really working out their foot muscles while framing any pain from running in shoes as signs of damage and wrong running.
How can people be so stubbornly sure that barefoot running is the only way for humans to run? There must be a lot of really good research on it, I guess. Except there isn't. Even one of the biggest researchers of barefoot running has this to say at the bottom of his website dedicated to barefoot running:
"Please note that we present no data on how people should run, whether shoes cause some injuries, or whether barefoot running causes other kinds of injuries. We believe there is a strong need for controlled, prospective studies on these issues."
Seems like a really weird basis for people to base a "this will work for everybody" level of faith in.
Oh, that guy that won the 1960 Olympic marathon barefoot? He ran it again in 1964 and set a new record ... while totally wearing shoes.
P90X/Muscle Confusion is a Revolutionary Way to Get in Shape
One of the hottest and trendiest fitness fads now is P90X, a 90-day program with a hook that its varied exercises will "confuse your muscles" and stop them from becoming complacent and allowing your fitness level to plateau.
This represents your muscle on one of those "other plans."
Does it work? Of course it works. If you're working out strenuously for 60 to 90 minutes every day for 90 days straight while sticking to a strict diet, of course you are going to get more fit. How could you not?
But the same can be said for countless other fitness plans. The "muscle confusion" bit that supposedly makes P90X unique is just a marketing phrase -- one that's absolutely necessary to the whole business model as it explains why, in this world of hundreds of fitness programs, you need their exact program and not someone else's. It's like Chevron reminding you that they have "Techron" in their gasoline, except I think Techron actually does something.
I believe it makes your cars come alive.
But no, muscles are not people, and they don't get bored. If you're squatting 40 pounds (yes that's me, I'm a weakling) for three sets of 15 reps every single time, then sure, they'll become accustomed to that exact exercise and you'll stop seeing gains after a while. But all you have to do to fix that is lift more weight or change the number of reps or sets, as seen in every single workout program ever. To your muscles, that's new and exciting enough. You don't have to do an entirely different new kind of squat to entertain/shock your jaded muscles. They're muscles, not the Internet.
You don't need to show your muscles 2girls1cup.
And make no mistake: If you have the time, energy and motivation for P90X, you can get ripped on any plan. You're talking about workouts that are 60 to 90 minutes, every day, not counting the time you'd put into setting up, getting dressed, putting things away, as well as accounting for some rest time afterward where you won't be too productive, considering how strenuous the workouts are. If you want to stick to the meal plan, you'd have to put time into preparing the food, which could cost up to $400 of groceries a week, according to some who've tried it.
You might also want to account for time making spreadsheets.
In other words, the magic of P90X isn't "muscle confusion" or any other revolutionary discovery in how your body works. It's that it's specifically for people who are willing to put huge chunks of their life and cash aside to devote to nothing but getting fit. If you are one of those people, you've pretty much already got it made.
Want a Snack? Eat Carrots or Celery Instead of a Candy Bar!
Snack cravings are any diet's natural enemy, and every good weight-loss plan has to have a method for dealing with them.
For instance, health-tip sites everywhere suggest that you fulfill this craving with a "healthy snack" instead, like fruit or nuts, or celery and carrot sticks.
If you like eating those things, then good for you, you weirdo! I don't, probably because I'm a spoiled, lazy American who grew up on processed foods. But we can't undo the past, and it is how it is. Fruit and celery are like medicine to me. Eating them feels like work, like something unpleasant you do because it's good for you. It doesn't feel like I'm satisfying a craving, it actually feels like I'm doing a chore and I want a treat even more badly afterward, for having endured the fruit.
The end result is, I probably eat even more chips than I would have.
This is if I had to eat a broccoli rabe salad.
And that's my problem; it misunderstands what snacks do for you. This advice depends on the assumption that everyone would psychologically accept the celery as a treat when they crave treats. The dirty truth is that sometimes when people want chips, they want goddamn chips. I don't want no carrot sticks or lightly salted fat-free popcorn.
And if that's you, the best way I've found to deal with it is to eat some chips -- carefully controlled amount of chips. I usually go with a small bag of Pop Chips, which is 100 calories. It's not healthy or nutritional in any way, but at least this way I can limit the damage and get on with my day instead of becoming frustrated with a shitty apple and diving into a big bag of greasy kettle chips afterward.
Relax! They're eating chips made out of ... paper. Really.
And if you actually enjoy healthy snacks, well, how did you even get fat in the first place? Why are you even reading this? I hate you.
Shed Pounds By Drinking Lots of Water!
If you make the rounds of health websites or actually read your mom's email forwards before deleting them, you'll probably have been told that you need to be drinking at least eight cups of water a day, even if you are not thirsty and have a hard time getting it down.
Just chug that shit.
As common sense might tell you, though, no, you do not need to force feed yourself water when you're not thirsty in order to be healthy. As Scientific American reports the whole idea seems to stem from a misunderstanding of a 1945 study which recommended that amount of water for the average person. What researchers in that study understood, and people parroting their conclusions don't, is that unless your diet consists wholly of dehydrated biscuits, food also contains water.
Or unless you are an astronaut.
Steak, pasta, fruit (bleh), bread, haggis, live bats, you name it -- most of what you eat has water in it. They were recommending eight cups total, not eight cups of pure water in addition to your fairly waterlogged food.
The other claim is that drinking water (especially cold water) helps you lose weight, saying that "cold water is absorbed more quickly into the system," or that it burns calories somehow. This is bullshit. Drinking eight cups (64 ounces) of ice cold water would burn 70 calories total. Congratulations, you can now eat half a banana more.
Mmm, totally worth drinking a half-gallon of ice water for.
People also claim that water can fill you up so you won't be as hungry. Actually, thirst and hunger are separate systems, and studies have shown that drinking water before or during a meal doesn't affect appetite at all. You know what can fill you up though? Water-filled foods. So have some pasta salad or grapes instead of forcing water down your throat. But, you know, it's your choice whether you want to feel full or just go to the bathroom 10 times a day.
Seriously, it is your choice. Because like I've said, there is no one-size-fits-all fitness panacea. And if you're a frequent peeing fetishist who finds a bathroom trip a welcome reward for eating a lunchtime salad, then more power to you, you sicko.
For more from Christina, check out 5 Reasons Riding a Bike Is The Most Humiliating Exercise and 5 Weight Loss Tips for Cynical Bastards.