We’ve all had that conversation with someone. Your wife, your friends, your mom (if you have neither of the former) about how you need to lose weight and get in shape. And chances are good that the person you’re talking to, who is svelte and fit, is more than happy to tell you exactly what you need to do and just how to do it. But just because one person got malaria, swallowed a tape worm and took up Martian yoga, that doesn’t mean they know anything except how to beat the odds. Unfortunately though the sheer number of things you think you know about how to lose weight and get in shape are probably wrong. For instance…
1. Sit Ups
While there really isn’t anything inherently wrong with sit ups (except that they’re uncomfortable, they can hurt your back and they won’t make your stomach any smaller), they are a representation of an urban myth called “spot exercises.” The concept is pretty simple; pick a spot you want to work on, and just work that spot. Want bigger arms? Do bicep curls. Want a flat tummy? Do sit ups. That’s the logic that has been employed for over 100 years now. And for all that time, it’s still wrong.
You see, the human body is like the engine in your car. Everything has to work together smoothly. Ever hurt your ankle and then wonder why your knee, hip and spine ached? It’s because you altered the way you walked due to your busted part. Exercise is pretty similar. You can work an individual muscle to try and strengthen it, sure, but that isn’t going to produce the Governator-like results that you probably want. Instead of simply doing a workout that focuses on one muscle, try working one muscle group. Instead of just biceps, work biceps, triceps and shoulders all at once by doing military presses. The bigger the muscle group you work the more calories you burn. And speaking of weight lifting…
2. Women Can’t Lift Weights
There has been this “no girls allowed” attitude in the weight room for so long that it’s become a line in the sand for many sexes. Girls run and swim, and boys grunt and lift heavy things, and that’s the way of the world. But not only is weight lifting great for both sexes, it’s actually one of the best ways to get your muscles working hard and burning fat. If you do it right.
The main reason that women have steered clear of real weight lifting (machines are less effective than free weights, which is being backed up by absolutely nothing in this sentence) is that there’s a mistaken belief that just lifting weights will make their muscles swell and throb, like a body builder. And when many women do finally poke a toe into the water and try some weights, they do a lot of reps with light weights. This is actually more likely to produce a swollen, Julie Bell physique though.
When you do more reps with less weight you are actually getting the pump. This is when blood and other fluids fill up your muscles and make them swell. It’s when you lift more weights with fewer reps that you build dense, hard muscle that’s sleek and smooth, without the showy, action hero look. Many trainers may not know this, and the Internet is just full of misinformation on the subject, so it pays to really know.
3. This Product Has to Work! Look at The Pictures and Testimonials!
This is probably the dirtiest trick out there, and it’s one that a lot of people have copped wise to. Pick up any diet off the shelf, or just watch commercials on television or the Internet. You’re going to see some fat slob with a half emptied bucket of KFC on one side of the screen, and that same fat slob a few hundred pounds lighter and a lot more attractive on the other side of the screen. Below him you’ll see a testimonial about how Berry Blast Beetle Dung Balls helped him lose weight, feel great, get a date and become CEO of a major multi-national corporation. But look a little closer, and you’ll start to notice a few inconsistencies. Mostly because everything you’re looking at is made up.
What really happens is that a company will hire a model to come in, and they’ll take the before and after pictures on the same day. Changes in posture, clothes, expression, hair style and a little bit of spray tan mixed in with some photoshop can work wonders. Chances are actually pretty good that the pills full of guaranteed dung beetle powder never passed the model’s lips either, and that the blurb was written by someone being paid half a cent to the word to make up a convincing sounding blurb about the product, testifying how well it works.
4. Always, Always, ALWAYS Stretch
Every gym class and workout session you’ve ever been to has had someone telling you to stretch and counting off the seconds of holding your limbs in awkward, unnatural positions. This is meant to make sure that you’re limber, ready and to help protect you from pulled muscles and sprained tendons. What you’ve actually been doing for years has been to completely sabotage yourself.
You see, when you do a static stretch (just bending over and touching your toes, pulling your ankle behind your head, whatever you do), what you’re doing is putting stress on the muscle. This will decrease the amount of strength that you get out of it, and it will also tighten up the muscle. That second one might be even more important, because it makes you more prone to injury, rather than less. What the hell?
This is not to say that stretching by itself is bad. Stretching is, in fact, great! It improves flexibility, helps you maintain your body and it can be a workout all its own. And it should be. Don’t stretch before you run or lift weights because that’s just adding insult to injury. Instead you might want to consider an easy warm up exercise like lunges or a brisk walk to get your blood pumping and to start your muscles thrumming.
5. Eat/Don’t Eat X
Nowhere is there more argument or a bigger lack of information than when it comes to your diet. Now the word diet, of course, refers to the food that you eat on a regular basis. Diets are a permanent change to your nutritional intake, not something you do three times a year to fit into your bikini and your prom dress. This should be paramount in your mind whenever you even think about dieting.
That said, the key to remember is that you can have all things in moderation. What about carbs, carbs are bad right? Carbs from processed pizza, definitely. Carbs from whole wheat toast? Not so much. What about soda, that’s really bad for you too right? Well it’s not good for you, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you think. What if I have a craving for candy/cookies/ice cream?
All right look, here’s the facts. No matter what you eat, you’re taking in calories. Those calories, if they’re not burned up, are going to be converted into fat. The greasier and more heavily processed those calories are, the worse they are for you. The more natural the food you eat is, the better it will be for you. And the more reasonable the calories you eat, based on how much exercise you do and how hard you work out, the less fat you’ll have on your body.
6. So if I Skip Breakfast, I Can Lose Weight?
No, you’re not listening. The idea of skipping meals is a common one among teen girls, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good one. You see, your body is evolved to about the time where the height of technology was the bow and arrow. Your eyes don’t tell your stomach about the fridge in the kitchen loaded up with food that you can eat any time you want, so if you miss a meal your body, like a neurotic aunt, goes into panic mode and starts hoarding everything. You burn less calories and you start converting more calories into fat. So the easiest way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to eat smaller meals regularly, and to have a snack a couple of times a day.
Also, on the subject of snacks, filling and healthy is the order of the day. Sure you can eat a cupcake every now and again, but vegetables, yogurt or fruit is a much better bet. They’ll keep you feeling full and it will allow you to make it to your next meal without taking a trip or two to the vending machine.
There are, of course, always more myths out there. It seems as if urban legends just refuse to stay buried because someone’s always convinced that the grave has something useful in it. But before you decide to do whatever thing your friend’s mother’s sister’s cousin once did to drop 20 pounds in a week and become a super model, take a look at the science. If it doesn’t play out, then don’t do it.
“5 Ways You Can Trick Your Body Into Being More Awesome,” by Sam Irwin at Cracked
“Why Women Should Lift Heavy Weights,” by Jonathan at World of Diets
“The 3 Biggest Lies in Weight Loss Advertising,” by Anonymous at Natura Legacy
“Weight Loss Urban Legends Debunked,” by Andrea at StyleCaster
“Do Sit Ups Burn Belly Fat? The Spot Reduction Myth,” by Anonymous at BellyShapeUp