Donald Trump hammered the term “fake news” into our consciousness in 2017. But in the world of health and fitness tips — the line between what’s fiction and non-fiction has always been complicated.
So, in the proper spirit of “New Year, New You” (cue collective groans and those Robert Downey Jr. eye roll gifs) — let’s get to the bottom of some common exercise myths.
STRETCHING THE TRUTH
Stretching before a workout prevents injuries. This is a classic piece of wisdom which a lot people — including me — have believed their whole adult life.
It started innocently enough. Your P.E. teacher probably made you stretch at the start of every class.
And he or she told you that doing things like reaching for your toes and holding the stretch would help prevent injuries.
You believed it.
In reality, putting ‘cold’ muscles through a round of static stretching before a workout or physical activity can lead to muscle tear as well as tendon and ligament strain.
“Imagine, cold steel snaps easily. But when heated, it’s flexible and easier to manipulate,” says Mas Idris, co-owner of Get Fit CrossFit in Brunei.
CrossFit — a global branded fitness regime known for its high intensity — incorporates aerobic exercise, calisthenics and weightlifting.
“We usually have a general warm up to get the body moving and increasing circulation to the body parts. Light stretching may be incorporated at this stage,” Mas explains.
“We then usually warm up for the specific movement we are going to do that session with lighter weights and build up.”
This more dynamic type of stretching takes your body through ranges of motion to better prepare your it for the activity ahead.
“When you are stretching your muscles, you are telling them to relax and when you are training or using them you are telling them to contract and be strong — these are conflicting messages to send to the muscles so of course you can assume that you will not get the best effect from either by doing this,” says Alex Betts, President of the Singapore Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (SFBF).
“Dynamic Stretching can be an effective method of warming up and stretching the muscles at the same time before embarking on any type of physical activity.”
Alex recommends doing things like walking lunges, heel kicks, and running with high knees.
“Often sports teams do dynamic stretching drills during warm ups for training and matches,” he says.
NO PAIN NO GAIN
Big pains equal big gains for your muscles.
An old school exercise myth dripping with cheesy macho sweat.
“More is not better. I’ve spent many years training and Ive learnt to be able to stop and listen to my body,” Mas says.
“People have the misconception that if they aren’t sore they aren’t making progress. Well if you’re constantly sore your body doesn’t have a chance to recover it means you’re just breaking down the body even further.”
You need to know the difference between good and bad pain.
“Training must not only be hard but also smart,” Alex says.
“Pain during training should be there to a certain extent depending on what you are trying to achieve but it should not be severe to the point of injuring yourself or over stressing your joints and connective tissues.”
But Alex, who sought out bodybuilding as a refuge from school bullies, admits in the past he has been guilty of using delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to gauge the effectiveness of a workout.
“I have come to learn that intense DOMS will only be present if you do something drastically different to what your body is accustomed to, and [if] you are not recovering properly, which will be due to insufficient nutrition, rest or sleep,” he explains.
If lifting weights to the point where you struggle to even open a jar of jam the next morning at breakfast is not an indicator — then how do we know we are on our way to bulging biceps?
The number of protein shakes you drink is not the answer.
“Nonsense! It’s all about the food,” exclaims Alex.
“You must have a diet consisting of quality whole foods if you want to build any significant amount of muscle tissue,” he says.
Alex discloses that he does down a Protein Shake immediately after a workout — but is quick to point out the vast majority of his protein comes from real food.
“On a daily basis I consume protein from whole eggs, smoked salmon, avocadoes, chicken breast, lean cuts of beef steak, white fish or prawns, Greek yoghurt and almond butter.”
WORKING OUT ON AN EMPTY STOMACH
Exercising on an empty stomach burns more fat. The rationale is, if carbohydrate stores and insulin levels in the body are low then you’ll end up burning more fat when you exercise.
The goal is to turn your body into a fat burning machine.
According to Get Fit’s Mas: “Although it sounds like a great idea, it might not suit everybody and some people may not deal well with the restricted carb intake.”
SFBF’s Alex goes further by adding that “it’s all about creating a consistent caloric deficit throughout the course of the day” which means it should’t really matter when you do activities designed to burn fat such as cardiovascular-based exercises.
“However that being said, I and many other bodybuilders have found that we get the best fat loss results when we have done our cardio in a fasted state in the morning, and then done our resistance based training later in the day — with the majority of our carbohydrate intake being around the workout in the form of fast absorbing carb powers such as highly branched cyclic dextrin,” he says.
By “around the workout” Alex means the carb intake should be before, during and/or after the resistance workout.
But if all that sounds a little too intense for your liking — don’t force it.
If there’s a clear takeaway from this article, it should be this: Needlessly suffering is a pointless exercise.
Don’t stretch if you’re not really sure what to do. Get the facts first.
Don’t fast if it makes you quit halfway through your workout. Know your body.
Don’t do a hundred sets of bicep curls in one day if it means you can barely lift your arm up for the rest of the week.
Don’t drown yourself in protein shakes. Enjoy food but know what kinds to eat for muscle generation.
Push yourself but be smart.
At the end of the day — being happy is also part of healthy living.
“Figuring out the balance is key and everyone has different requirements because each is in a unique and different place in their fitness journey and lifestyle,” says Mas.