by Brett Warren
Training with a buddy is one of the best ways to make and stick to a habit of exercising regularly. What otherwise might feel like a chore suddenly becomes girls’ night (or lunch hour) out! Chatting while you train is a great way to while away the time, especially if you have kids at home and are looking for adult conversation, as long as you don’t believe quite everything you hear.
Below are four exercise myths you may hear at the gym — and the realities you should keep in mind when you hear them.
Myth 1: To stay fit, you need to train every single day for at least an hour
Reality: Your muscles need time to recover.
You can train every day if you want to, but alternate different kinds of training on different days. For example, you could do aerobics on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and strength training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or if you are determined to include aerobic exercise every day, change it up regularly: running one day, rowing the next, spinning the next, and maybe even belly dancing on the next day.
Myth 2: Strength training will make you bulk up
Reality: Strength training tones and shapes your muscles; it doesn’t necessarily have to increase their size.
There is a limit to the size a woman’s muscles will reach no matter how much she trains, because women don’t have as much testosterone in their systems as men do. That doesn’t mean there is no point in women lifting weights, however! Strength training can help a woman to develop her muscles to their capacity, making her muscles toned, sculpted, and gorgeous, but unless you’re on steroids, not gigantic.
If you’re still worried that strength training will cause you to bulk up too much, try it and find out. If your muscles do start to get bigger than you want them to be, change your training regimen, but beware of denial. Sometimes women mistake ordinary weight gain, especially around the midsection, for “bulking up” stemming from strength training.
Myth 3: To trim down your midsection, you need to do crunches!
Reality: Crunches are not always the best ab exercise for women, and especially for women who have ever given birth.
You may be able to develop strong abs doing ab exercises, but be careful to do the right ones (more about that in a second), but strong abs won’t decrease internal fat that may be snuggled around your internal organs. For that you need to decrease your overall body fat with a cardio program and a balanced diet.
Crunches target the rectus abdominus (or “six-pack”) muscles, but are not good at targeting the transverse abdominus, which is one of the deep core muscles, the one some trainers refer to as the “internal girdle.”
Believe it or not, the best way to target the transverse abdominus is to do what some people call ‘elevator’ exercises. Imagine an elevator that moves sideways from your belly button to your spine. Slowly draw your belly in, trying to bring the elevator as close as possible to the spine. Hold the elevator in place. Then slowly let the elevator move out again. If this exercise reminds you of the breathing exercise called “belly breathing,” that’s because it is essentially the same thing. Yes, belly breathing, which is often billed as a meditation exercise to help reduce stress, is awesome for building transverse abdominal strength.
If you have ever had a baby, working the transverse is incredibly important, because childbirth may have left you with a diastasis — a separation of the abdominal muscles. If so, crunches may make the diastasis worse, particularly if you don’t do them properly. For more on this, including instructions explaining how to do crunches safely, see BeFit-Mom’s article, “Postpartum Abdominal Reconditioning.”
Since you probably still want to work the rectus abdominus muscles, try exercises that target a variety of abdominal muscles all at once, such as these alternatives: yoga plank pose or side plank, balance ball planks or pikes and roll-ups (for a video of pikes and roll-ups, which can be extremely effective at targeting a range of ab muscles, click here), yoga boat pose, or even good old-fashioned push-ups.
Myth 4: With enough exercise, you CAN turn fat into muscle
Reality: Fat can’t turn directly into muscle. What can happen is that you can lose fat and you can gain muscle, but often the two processes don’t occur at the same time. That’s because losing fat requires you to consume fewer calories than you burn, but gaining muscle often requires the opposite to happen. However, sometimes you may indirectly seem to do both at once because muscle tissue, at rest, burns more calories than fat does at rest. That means that as you build muscle, you are setting up your body to have an easier time losing fat. You’re also boosting your metabolism so that you burn more calories in general, and that helps with losing fat.
Good luck with your training regimen, and remember, don’t believe everything you hear at the gym.
Brett Warren is a biochemical engineer from Boston, Massachusetts who develops sports supplements for Force Factor. He has done extensive research on nutrition and is an expert on nutraceutical science. He also has a passion for fitness and health. Brett’s work at Force Factor is supplemented by an active family life with plenty of gym time and outdoor recreation.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Steve and Jemma Copley