5 Fitness Myths You Believe (That Don't Work At All)
We're all interested in fitness, or at least in maintaining the idea that we might start getting fit any day now; man, get off our back. As such, there are tons and tons of advice out there on how to tone your body into a veritable machine made of health and sexiness. And a ton of said advice is outright bullshit.
So beware when you hear claims like ...
Six-Pack Abs Are the Pinnacle of Fitness
Give anyone a pencil and ask them to draw what a perfect male abdomen looks like, and they'll all draw it the same: bulging, perfectly visible "six-pack" abs -- just like every action star and pro athlete (well, other than offensive linemen and sumo wrestlers). It makes every bit of sense to use the elusive six-pack as a marker for demigod-level health -- after all, it shows you've finally gotten rid of every last bit of that gut flab and replaced it with beautiful, lean muscle.
See, this is what a male body is supposed to look like. In a perfect world, shirts would be illegal, baby.
But Actually ...
As awesome as a stomach you can open beer bottles with may seem, six-pack abs mean precisely jack shit when it comes to health. In fact, they can be downright hazardous.
Many people think that sculpted abs are acquired with years of painstaking situp sessions (which are actually dangerous). In reality, a huge part of the trick is to get rid of your body fat until your abdominal muscles stick out from the dried-up wreckage like tombstones of the hamburgers of yesteryear. The problem is that your body doesn't exactly hate fat. In fact, it fucking loves and needs the stuff, and if it can't get its fix, it'll start messing with you. Yes, we're saying a six-pack can be less healthy than your average cushion for the pushin', and we've got the science to back us up.
Pictured: A sad, sickly man.
The healthy range for a 20- to 40-year-old man's body fat is between 8 to 19 percent. Unfortunately, the majority of guys need to dip below that 8-percent mark to actually get that washboard stomach they've always wanted, which means they enter a situation where their body actually has too little fat. Not only is this condition extremely difficult to attain and maintain, but trying too hard can break your body pretty easily and terrifyingly. If you don't know what you're doing and/or forget to pay a shitload of attention to your every step, the ailments your fat-reducing ab quest might start throwing at you include (but are by no means limited to): a messed-up immune system, a wide and storied amount of genital problems, issues with your heart and nervous system, shrinkage of internal organs, and, of course, death.
"Genitals!?! Holy shit dude, we have to stop!"
But hey, at least what's left of you will look great on the beach next summer!
You Need to Work Out at Least 30 Minutes to See Any Results
No one likes to work out any longer than they absolutely have to, which is why we have long ago figured out the minimum time we need to sport in order to see positive change in our body. This time is commonly accepted to be 30 minutes. Anything under that, and you might as well play hopscotch with the other pigtailed little girls. You make us sick.
But Actually ...
Provided you're just trying to keep regular-person fit and not become a Schwarzeneggerian muscle god, time is like a dong -- it's how you use it that counts. In fact, for the past decade or so, researchers have been touting the benefits of progressively shorter workouts in an attempt to keep us from completely devolving into a population of wobbling turdsacks. All you need is a few minutes here and another there, as long as you know what you're doing and do it on a somewhat regular basis.
More regular than whatever number you just thought of, though.
Consider running. The 5-mile laps of yesteryear are just plain unfeasible for most people with a job and a life (or, failing those, Netflix and a decent Cheetos stash), so we've found plenty of ways to do things more efficiently. Training with high-intensity intervals -- running really super-hard for a while, then resting a bit, then repeating -- can squeeze a good circuit at just around 20 minutes. And that's just the beginning: Researchers from McMaster University in Ontario have looked into the absolute minimum effort a person can do while still being able to tell people they work out, and the answer is one minute.
Yes, one goddamn minute.
"Sweet, we just had one and a half workouts!"
Granted, it's divided into three aggressive, 20-second sprints on a stationary bike, and you have to do a warmup and cooldown, and there's a two-minute period of easy pedaling between each sprint so the total time winds up being around 10 minutes, but still -- one fucking minute of actual work is all it takes. The study found that a regular dose of this exercise caused beneficial adaptations throughout the body, including a significant 12 percent improvement in endurance capacity and an improved blood pressure.
More working out is better, obviously, but that psychological barrier most people have -- that it's not worth bothering unless you make it a significant portion of your day -- is based on a filthy fucking lie.
Grunting While Lifting Is Just Something Bros Do to Look Tough
There's nothing quite like hitting the gym and finding out that the guy bench-pressing next to your treadmill accompanies his every move with a caveman-like grunt. Each lift, swing, and bend is accompanied by a unique, little man-growl, which they probably think accentuates their masculinity.
"THE ONLY MALE HORMONE IS ANGER!"
That grunting is obviously just a bit of pointless bro bravado (brovado!) meant to tell the world that this particular person is lifting. It's like those kung fu movies where they yell every time they throw a kick. It's just some kind of cheesy intimidation tactic, right?
But Actually ...
So, if it's all for show, who do Olympian weightlifters seem to be doing it, too? Why are even the most feminine, tennis-playin' ladies grunting with each hit?
Cracked fact: Venus Williams actual shouts "Hadoken!" while training to give serves that extra umph.
The answer is that grunting can totally make you stronger. In fact, research has found that letting out a noise while straining yourself can increase your strength by a good 10 percent. The reason behind the phenomenon is apparently inconclusive, but one hypothesis suggests that the noise might activate your flight or fight response, thus giving you a nice rush of adrenaline just when you need it. Basically, it's a form of natural doping.
But results are consistent across a number of other sports and activities in which yelping and shrieking are commonplace. The aforementioned tennis players can significantly increase the velocity of their serves and shots with their grunts and huffs, which are in fact such a natural reaction that they don't even increase the player's oxygen cost. Of course, this is not exactly a new invention. Connoisseurs of physical activity have known the trick for a pretty long time -- those kung fu guys are actually practicing a centuries-old martial arts shouting technique called kiap that enables you to hit harder.
"See, if you'd followed through with a yell, you'd be playing Xbox right now instead of finishing this algebra."
Hell, you can even kill two birds with one stone by replacing the grunts with swearing, thus increasing your tolerance for pain. Try it! And send us the video. Quickly, before they kick you out of the gym.
Aerobic Exercise Is a Completely Separate Thing
One of the first things a workout beginner learns is that the Kingdom of Fitness is ruled by two kings: anaerobic and aerobic exercise. The former builds your strength, the latter builds your endurance, and neither is in speaking terms with the other. No mortal man has ever managed to combine the two, and you better heed this lesson, lest your body be rendered to turkey bacon strips by the sheer impossibility of what you're attempting.
Plus, you just look dumb trying to do deadlifts on the treadmill.
But Actually ...
Aerobic and anaerobic exercise can totally be combined. It's just, uh, not very nice.
For example, one method is known as Tabata training, and although it's extremely quick and simple, it manages to suck absolutely every available kind of rodent ass. Some background: While working with the Japanese speedskating team in the early 1990s, Dr. Izumi Tabata accidentally created one of the world's most torturous exercise protocols. Speedskaters' training includes clusters of short, scrotum-tearingly intense sprints, which are generally strictly anaerobic in nature. However, this method of training wasn't making athletes just totally shredded; they also showed a marked improvement in their cardiorespiratory function, which is a benefit of aerobic exercise. In fact, the skaters seemed to receive the benefit of hours of conventional cardio through short, four-minute bouts of intervals. They had effectively concentrated a large chunk of running into a tiny package, and were left with loads of free time for any number of acceptable leisure activities endorsed by the Japanese Olympic speedskating team.
So, so much banging.
So Tabata devised a training program that was essentially condensed hell. Each training session consists of up to eight 20-second bike sprints separated by 10 seconds of rest -- every motion performed with the kind of intensity normally reserved for fighting off a gang of starry-eyed prison rapists. A session is over in just four minutes or so, but they're described as the longest minutes you can encounter. Tabata training can also be done with moves like situps, pushups, squats and rows, none of which is any less hellish than the other. The experience is said to leave you "dead" and "meeting God," and first-timers should not attempt it without supervision.
"You're going to need more towels."
"For the sweat?"
"Among other things ..."
To test the efficiency of Tabata training, Tabata subjected a group of students to his punishing regime four times a week (though he later found out that even twice a week is great, if you're a slacker), capped off with one conventional, 30-minute cardio session per week. A second group was enlisted to perform steady, hour-long, normal bike sessions five times a week. Overall, the Tabata group would exercise for 88 minutes weekly, while the steady-state group would endure 300 minutes of swamp-assed cycling. After just six weeks, the first group saw better results and significant improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Dr. Tabata's villainous exercise regimen blessed the volunteers with a 28 percent increase in anaerobic capacity as well as a 15 percent increase in VO2 max (which indicates your cardiovascular health and aerobic power). Meanwhile, the second group's mere 10 percent increase in VO2 max and zero increase in anaerobic capacity means they might as well have stayed home with a tae bo tape and a bag of kale chips.
Yoga Is a Relaxing, Safe Way to Get Fit
Did you know "yoga" isn't just a brand of incredibly tight, ass-displaying pants? It's true! Its various slow poses and stretches and relaxing atmosphere are great for someone who can't (or won't) handle more rigorous aerobic exercise. There are many ailments that can hold your average person back from traditional workouts: bad backs, aching knees, a bad case of a comfortable lounge chair, and a crate of beer, for instance. With its safety, relatively little impact on your joints, and the huge boost to your health it promises, yoga seems like the perfect answer.
You may also know it as the P90X day that you skipped and did Kenpo again instead.
But Actually ...
Look, no one is saying that yoga doesn't have its benefits. However, to reap said benefits you need to know what you're doing. The problem is that yoga is an unregulated industry, and even if your "master" does have what passes for a yoga-teaching license, there's a good chance they gained it through dubious means such as online courses.
While there certainly are some capable and professional yoga teachers out there, this obviously leaves a huge chunk of the yoga community swimming in a sea of bullshit, attempting moves they half-remember from that time they browsed through Kama Sutra when they were 14 and passing them off as super-safe in order to get paid. And a lot of the things they come up with are extremely dangerous. One influential teacher advises that, the head should arch back "as far as possible" in one particular pose. Follow this advice, and you could be facing a stroke, paralysis-level nerve damage, or even death, because holy shit, necks are not meant to do that.
"I'm not posing; this is just how I live now."
Bending-related injuries, both acute and chronic, are commonplace, particularly on women due to their greater flexibility (and thus ability to push themselves further). Yoga preys heavily on their hips: Research by a Swiss orthopedic surgeon has concluded that female yoga practitioners between 30 and 40 have way more pelvic damage than their peers. Shit, even the teachers themselves occasionally get injured when they try too hard.
This is all because shockingly, yoga is actually pretty damn hard. Glenn Black, an actual yoga teacher with some 40 years of experience, insists yoga is far from mass entertainment, and is an art for physically fit and dedicated people instead of the general population. His response when people come to him for some easy, joint-friendly exercise after major traumas? Don't do yoga.
Try a hippity hop instead.
Said advice, incidentally, is often directed toward fellow yoga teachers.
You can follow Hoss down his street or on Twitter if you prefer to be discreet.
For more ridiculous truths about health, check out The 5 Most Terrifying Side Effects of Exercise and 5 Well-Known Tips for Healthy Eating (That Don't Work).
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