Fitness: still many – too many – myths to debunk.

Would you rather trust some piece of advice from your cousin’s friend in America, or what the Science of Exercise says?

Assumptions, beliefs and word of mouth.

These are crucial and conditioning concepts that need to be analyzed whenever a person makes a decision or expresses an opinion about a topic.

 A person’s idea of something, the judgment that arises about a particular topic, the association of ideas that stems from seeing an image can be completely different, or even opposite, from one person to the next.

 Why this happens and how it relates to Fitness.

This happens because the mind of each individual – since birth, or even since when they were just an embryo – has been “storing” a set of experiences, no doubt personal, to which many important and unique sensations are often linked. Most of these are “saved” and kept in a part of the brain that acts as a hard disk: the hippocampus.

Many of these “files” cannot be remembered “on command”, because perhaps they are part of experiences of childhood, and part of a person’s unconscious, and unconsciously determine their actions. That is why a song, a film, a photograph, a place can give rise to different emotions in different people, depending on the experience of each of them. The same piece of music, for example, can move, irritate, make people smile or cry depending on who is listening to it.

Word of mouth and habits are unfortunately linked to the concepts above: if repeated or heard several times – even if the source is not the most reliable and the truthfulness is doubtful – in the long run a concept can implant itself in the mind, involuntarily becoming a conviction.

In a nutshell: a belief whose origin or scientific foundation is ignored is believed to be true.

Media techniques in this case come in handy: why do we choose to buy a product rather than another one?!

I thought this premise would be appropriate, since the same ideas can be found, relentless, when we talk about fitness and training, so about muscles, exercises, anatomy and nutrition.

Unfortunately, it is still common practice to do a certain exercise because “it’s always been done this way!”, or because someone says “do it like this”, or follow a training protocol read in a magazine or because the “senior” of the gym does it.

These are essentially the anecdotes that have encouraged me to write this article; in all modesty, I only consider these to be thoughts on the subject which, however, are reflected in the technical-scientific literature.

When I see people training, I cannot but notice some who, after going to the gym for YEARS, have not yet managed to gain even an ounce of lean mass, even though that was their main objective.

We also really need to talk about the beliefs that loom heavily over the female universe approaching Fitness. We go from cantaloupe-based diets to buttocks-shaping shoes! Hard to believe, but those shoes sold like hot cakes… a honey trap, especially for those who have little desire to accept that they need to TRAIN.

In the following pages, I will try to disprove some of the main beliefs and clichés with no pretension to convince anyone – I just want to make people think and consider physical exercise in a scientific rather than a trend-related way. Perhaps this way, along with avoiding injuries, more people will better understand the importance of training, also considering that for someone physical exercise proves essential along with a pharmacological therapy.

Following is my unforgiving list of all those beliefs that in my opinion are die-hard and BLATANTLY FALSE. For each false belief there will be a brief explanation, dealt with in as comprehensible a way as possible, easily understandable by people with less experience in this sector, but endorsed by scientific evidence.

 The TOP 10 list of die-hard myths

As in any top-ten list you might have seen, I will go from number 10 to number 1, which I consider by far the most unfounded belief rooted in the gym environment.

Number 10:

Gym equipment is better than free weights because it allows you to perform the exercises correctly.

You really need to pay attention to this statement, and not give hasty responses, be superficial or leave out important details. So, which do you prefer, free weights or equipment? The most appropriate answer is “that depends”.

The right choice depends on what you are looking for by exercising at the gym – in short, what goals you want to achieve.

Physical training in a specific sport? Body Building? Functional recovery? Functional training? Weight Loss?

By way of example, we can quote and analyze two exercises.

For instance, comparing a leg extension, thus an analytical movement, with a Squat, what emerges is:

– In the analytical movement (using equipment), the muscle is solicited in its “district” portion.

– Generally, one joint of the body is involved (monoarticular).

– The analytical movement does not require special coordination skills.

– The analytical movement does not involve functional kinetic chains.

– The general involvement of metabolism is low.

– The heart rate does not undergo particular stress.

All these variations and physiological reactions are reversed when you analyze a polyarticular movement such as the Squat; so, depending on the needs and the target, while training you may need to opt for one of the two exercises, or even do them both.

There is essentially no exercise that is better or worse, but there is the right exercise, both for the characteristics of the person training and for the purpose that they are pursuing by training at the gym.

Naturally, the Personal Trainer’s job is to know how to identify and advise on the training protocol, the execution and, specifically, the most appropriate tool or exercise.

Number 9:

During work out, sweat is an indication of weight loss and is, therefore, directly proportional to it.

The belief that sweat is “fat that melts” is unfortunately still all too rooted in gyms, although the technical-scientific literature available leaves no doubt as to this statement having no grounds.

It is not unusual to see people on the treadmill or running outdoors wearing jerseys or rain jackets that prevent the skin from perspiring, thus causing a high amount of sweating. Nothing could be more absurd.

By analyzing the cause that leads our body to sweat, we can already understand how unfounded the belief is; having to maintain a constant temperature, if there is an increase in internal temperature (e.g. a stroke), our body reacts by dissipating heat; one of the ways to do that is by sweat.

When the temperature increases due to natural causes, to work-out or an effort, sweat – rich in water – evaporates, cooling the skin and the entire body. It is important to underline that the main cause for cooling is evaporation, so – along with being useless – the habit of covering up can be extremely harmful: the materials used for this often prevent perspiration and sweat, thus hindering our body’s physiological reaction.

Another remark to be made: sweat is mainly composed of sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium.

It contains no fat, so this is NOT part of the droplets that come down from your forehead after a good run! To optimize lipolysis (a.k.a. weight loss) there are some specific techniques that will be discussed in another article.

Number 8:

If you have back problems, you should opt for swimming.

Since the dawn of time, it has always been said that swimming is the best cure for lower back pain, regardless of the causes and the severity of this pathology.

Back pain usually manifests itself triggering an acute pain that almost always regresses after being treated with painkillers if it is not caused by major traumas; for this reason, patients are often inclined to take medication whenever the pain occurs; however, this does not solve the actual problem but only “anesthetizes” the painful body part. This way, patients avoid facing the problem and ignore the triggering causes. Back pain can be caused by reasons attributable to a multitude of factors that most often originate in parts of the body that are “far” from the actual back.

At this point, it would perhaps be more appropriate to deal with the back pain by first investigating the origin of the pathology, then carry out the appropriate diagnostic tests, undergo a postural examination that can highlight any postural defects, dysmorphisms or paramorphisms to be treated with specific dryland exercises, where gravity will prove helpful to the instructor: his/her task will be to correct any asymmetries or loosen tensions.

So, NO to taking up swimming regardless, for the above reasons and also because this sport is done in water, where, due to the absence of gravity, the paravertebral muscles, the core and the dorsal muscles are only partially stimulated. The activity in the water could therefore be unnecessary if the patient only needed stretching of some body compartments, just to make an example.

 Number 7:

No drinking during training.

 Strictly connected to the belief that sweating “makes you lose weight”, the issue of hydration is very interesting. Physiology teaches us that a certain balance (homeostasis) must be maintained in the body, so it is easy to imagine how during exercise this may not be the case due to the sweat that undermines the balance between liquid input and output.

Failure to replenish the liquids leads to a decrease in plasma volume, cardiac activity, skin-blood flow; consequently, lower resistance capacity leading to a decrease in performance, and health risks ranging from an increase in body temperature to hallucinations and cardio-circulatory collapse.

Not drinking is therefore an unproductive and somewhat harmful choice. Liquid intake is recommended before, during and after training, especially if you practice endurance sports.

 Number 6: 

Doing many exercises for the abs leads to the reduction of belly fat; the “lower” v. “upper” abs dispute.

 Performing too many abs exercises can lead to retroversion of the pelvis which, in turn, can lead to the straightening of the lumbar spine. This paramorphism significantly increases the load in that part of the spine: considering the law of resistance “R” eliminating a curve (lumbar), the intradiscal pressure of the lumbar vertebrae is doubled, with significant consequences. In summary, exercising the abs too much can be counterproductive and harmful, and the “six pack” may only remain a beautiful dream.

If you want to eliminate the fat deposits in the belly, first of all you need to pay attention to what you eat, have a balanced nutrition and adopt some specific workout techniques to increase lipolysis.

So, specific nutrition and workout is the “secret”… which is really not so secret.

From an anatomical and biomechanical point of view, the rectus abdominis originates from the 5th-6th-7th ribs, costal cartilages and xiphoid process, to insert itself (mainly) distally on the pubic crest and on the symphysis. Having said that, from a biomechanical point of view, the function of the rectus femuris is essentially that of flexor of the torso towards the pelvis and pelvis towards the torso.

These muscles act together with the oblique muscles, so it is almost impossible to isolate the action, as indeed with other muscle districts. From what we’ve described and from what can be seen, the rectus abdominis is unique, so it is incorrect to speak of upper and lower abdominals.

 Number 5:

If you want to lose weight, the best thing to do is eat just three times a day.

The habit of eating three times a day leads people to eat large amounts of food at dinner: as they have not eaten since lunch, they will get very hungry in the evening.

As a “defense”, the body will trigger an “energy saving” mechanism by slowing metabolism down by as much as 20%; if food is only available three times a day, everything that is ingested is stored due to scarce resources. – That’s what the body thinks –

The basal metabolic rate can be defined as the amount of energy that the body needs to stay alive in a state of absolute rest – the energy that is essential to make the vital organs function in a state of physical and mental relaxation.

This parameter changes over the course of people’s lives, with a tendency to gradually decrease as years go by.

However, these changes are by no means the main cause of weight gain, attributable more to an incorrect lifestyle coupled with incorrect eating habits.

In fact, a balanced diet throughout the day will trigger an optimum metabolic response which, on its own, will force the body to burn calories with digestion itself: this is already in itself a “job”!

Thus, in order to stimulate the metabolism it is necessary to constantly supply food to the body, so it doesn’t “fall asleep” and is forced to always be active.

Of course, working out plays a fundamental role, as it directly contributes to stimulating metabolism, which remains active even after exercising.

A person with a low percentage of fat will usually have a higher metabolism, since lean mass is directly related to it: every Kilo gained will speed it up by about 1.5%.

Last but not least: having two snacks a day allows you to keep your blood sugar levels constant and to consequently control your insulin levels, directly responsible for hunger, along with glucagon.

Number 4:

Squats are harmful for your back and are not suitable for girls.

As a first remark, it should be pointed out that there is no exercise that should NOT be done; it is important to understand that there are exercises that are better suited for each of us.

Defining Squats as harmful by default is a huge mistake we should not make or believe in.

If done correctly, Squats – the “king of exercises”, as it is defined – allow to activate the muscles of the trunk (core) and the lower limbs together, then gluteus, quadriceps, hamstring, also acting on the erector spinae and the erector abdominis, which stabilize the upper body.

So even for those girls looking to reinforce and stimulate the gluteus, Squats are an essential exercise. As already mentioned previously, however, pay attention to how you execute them!

 Number 3:

Dried fruit is extremely caloric and fattening, so it should be eliminated from your diet.

Dry lipid fruit is rich in fats, therefore in calories; I don’t really like to think in terms of kilo-calories but, just to give you a piece of information, they contain 500 every 100 grams.

For these reasons, we should not demonize it because, if eaten in the right quantities, not only does dried fruit not make you gain weight, but it lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides; eating nuts, peanuts and almonds every week reduces the risk of heart diseases linked to cholesterol by 37% as it raises HDL levels (British Journal of Nutrition).

Flax seeds have the same characteristics and hold the record as the richest food ever in Omega-3 fats.

Among the various types of nuts, we recommend walnuts as well, which contain a significant amount of mono and polyunsaturated fats that are beneficial for the health of the arteries; they are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid and a team of Spanish researchers in 2004 showed that, if permanently added to your daily diet, they lower the risk of cardiovascular pathologies thanks to their anti-atherosclerotic action of lubricating the heart.

Together with hazelnuts, they are good as a small afternoon snack; hazelnuts, in fact, are very rich in vitamin E and phytosterols, which are also important in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

So go ahead and eat dried fruit, be not afraid of gaining weight, but always keep an eye on the portions!

 Number 2:

If girls who go to the gym want to lose weight, they should not use weights and only do cardio endurance, which guarantees the greatest energy expenditure.

Weight training has always sown panic among many women who, at the thought of moving a dumbbell from one side of the gym to the other, are afraid they will “become fat”.

This belief is absolutely groundless, and it is actually advisable for girls to start loading weights on the barbell without having the phobia of “hypertrophy”.

To get good results in terms of toning (a term I don’t like very much) and to change the body composition of a person, intense training is required, executed respecting the person’s strength capacity and any variables and problems.

An experiment to estimate the increase in circumference (hypertrophy) of some women’s muscles after a force mesocycle performed with overloads showed a 0.6 cm increase in women’s muscle fiber.

Considering the “collateral” results obtained in terms of global body composition, which showed a significant decrease in total fat, the 0.6 cm of muscle gained contribute, at the most, in further enhancing the female figure, which does not lose in femininity.

In terms of lean mass increase, in training with overloads, the difference in the physiological response between men and women is significant. This difference is due to testosterone, the male hormone par excellence which is responsible, among other things, for the development of strength and muscles. As women have it in small quantities, unlike men, they do not need to be afraid of weights which, for the same training, will not produce the same result in terms of hypertrophy.

The energy expenditure obtained from an intense session of weight training is far greater than a run on the treadmill, possibly at a constant intensity. I realize that for a girl it might not be ideal to spend an hour in the weight room, but my recommendation is sessions that combine cardio and weights with interval training. This combination is still the most “profitable” in terms of calorie consumption, and lipolysis persists even after working out.

The work done in the gym lasts even after the actual exercise! The intensity of cardio activity and interval training in fitness is an interesting subject, and is directly related to this topic, so it will be covered in depth in another article.

 Number 1:

Pain the day after workout is caused by lactic acid. 

Ever heard of DOMS? Pretty different from lactic acid.

DOMS is Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness.

It is a “physiological phenomenon” that occurs 10 or 14 hours after intense workout.

Many weightlifters know and expect the onset of DOMS, especially after intense leg training sessions. This soreness is caused by damage to the myofibrils and perimuscular connective tissue with the onset of inflammation.

Unfortunately, many coaches and/or instructors, even at high levels, continue to INCORRECTLY state that this pain is caused by lactic acid. The latter remains in the muscles only for a few minutes after training, and in endurance training it is even reused as an energy source and converted back to glucose.

In particularly demanding and prolonged exercise, lactic acid increases to such an extent that the body is no longer able to dispose of it; this overproduction causes the typical burning and fatigue that lead to a reduction in the performance intensity.

Lactic acid and DOMS are therefore two very distinct and separate things, which you will now recognize during and after training!

The suggestion is: rely on certified professionals.

The Wellness Escapes® Staff is made up of well-known professionals that are extremely competent in their own sectors; it cannot be otherwise, because we are aware that working with people and their health requires having consolidated training.

At Wellness Escapes® events you are supervised very closely to ensure that your movements are performed correctly to avoid injury and maximize effectiveness.

Personal training sessions are also provided for, where you can ask for personalized advice on exercises and training for specific goals based on your body composition and structure.

Questions? Doubts? We’re at your service!

Francesco Vetri

Wellness Escapes® Co-founder