Not seeing results? Hit a plateau? Wondering why your workouts haven’t worked for you? It’s always frustrating when you’ve invested your precious time, effort and not to mention money into your workouts, only to find out that your weight, physique, strength or fitness has simply hit a plateau. If you’re stuck in this rut then you already know that something you’re doing just isn’t working. Perhaps it’s time to start looking at some of your workout habits and see if they are really beneficial for you or counterproductive instead.
Get ready for a reality check.
Here we debunk some common workout myths to help you unleash the real hercules (or aphrodite) inside of you!
“HAVING CARBS JUST BEFORE A WORKOUT GIVES ME AN ENERGY BOOST THAT ALLOWS ME TO PUSH HARDER DURING MY WORKOUT”
Surely you have come across the gym member who swears by having a banana or protein bar before, or during a workout, because that allows them to push harder, as the sugar converts into energy. In my opinion, that’s all in their mind – a placebo so to speak.
Truth is, for sugars to be converted into energy, sufficient time must be allowed for digestion of the food before it can be transported by the blood to the mitochondria (energy centers of the cell) to be used as fuel. In an average individual, digestion alone can take as long as 4 hours, depending on the efficiency of his/her digestive system. Moreover, while you’re working out, blood will be instinctively directed to the muscles to help with contraction and nutrient supply. The digestive system then becomes a secondary priority, and the food consumed tends to sit in the gut partially digested.
Large intake of sugar pre-workout also brings about an associated increase in insulin (the storage hormone) and a drop in cortisol (the stress hormone). While this may be seen as a positive response, cortisol actually plays an important part in the workout. It acts as an adrenaline to give us the “oomph” we need to push harder. In reality, the introduction of carbs pre-workout will only suppress our ability to train to our limits.
“READY-MADE PROTEIN SHAKES ARE CONVENIENT, NON-MESSY AND WILL HELP ME BUILD MUSCLE”
There is no doubt that with convenience and pretty packaging on the top of their priority list, people rush to buy pre-made shakes sold at health food counters – all at the price of feeding their bodies with a low grade protein. Protein oxidises and denatures within an hour of being emulsified in water or milk.Due to protein’s unstable nature, manufacturers often add sodium based stabilisers (like sodium benzoate) to prolong the protein’s stability. Such stabilisers have been linked to health problems such as disruptions in mitochondrial functioning (simply speaking, this makes you fat!), gut sensitivities as well as liver and DNA damage. If the protein shake is milk based (this constitutes 90% of premade shakes on the shelf), then more problems arise. Milk can often cause bloating to those who are lactose intolerant, and furthermore, cannot be digested quickly enough to facilitate the window of opportunity straight after a workout.
My suggestion is to use a high quality whey isolate powder, preferably from organic grass-fed cows or New Zealand cows. Mix the powder with water only and consume it immediately after workout to maximise the protein’s properties and the body’s post-workout anabolic window.
“CAFFEINE AFTER A WORKOUT IS NECESSARY FOR AN ENERGY BOOST”
Caffeine is a great pre-workout stimulant used to raise cortisol and adrenaline levels during a workout. It also increases the body’s pain threshold and maximal strength, thus allowing the person to work harder for longer.
The main post-workout objective however, should be aimed at reducing cortisol for an anti-catabolic (preventing muscle breakdown) response as well as increasing testosterone and insulin for an anabolic (muscle building) response. This maximises the body’s ability to build muscle. By having a coffee straight after the workout, stress levels will continue to be elevated for extended periods. This encourages muscle breakdown and increases fat storage around the abdominal region. So if you’re wondering why that six pack is still in hiding, post-workout caffeine might just be your answer.
“I NEED TO WORKOUT FOR AT LEAST AN HOUR AND A HALF PER SESSION TO SEE RESULTS!”
This statement would represent some of the most regular gym goers, and you probably see them more often than you would the trainers. I call them gym socialites, as you’ll see them chatting and resting more than they actually train!
Workouts exceeding an hour per session can be highly counterproductive to your efforts. It’s best to keep your training to no more than an hour (excluding warm-up). Here’s why – after 45 minutes into your workout, physiologically your body’s testosterone levels will start to decrease and there’s a corresponding increase in cortisol.
This unfavourable shift in the testosterone-cortisol ratio has a two-fold negative effect on the body:
- is catabolic, converting the protein in muscle into glucose and glycogen (these products tend to be stored as fat around the gut)
- is anti-anabolic, discouraging the body from using amino acids to form protein in muscle cells.
- is the hormone that regulates muscle growth in the body, and its decrease means the body’s ability to build muscle also decreases accordingly.
Furthermore, with too much resting time in-between sets, you WILL lose both concentration and strength for the proceeding sets, as well as the desired training effect the overall workout is aimed at.
“WOMEN SHOULDN’T LIFT WEIGHT BECAUSE IT ADDS TOO MUCH BULK”
Here’s one that goes through every woman’s mind. It is a common misconception that any form of weights or resistance training will lead to an overnight explosion of muscle growth, leaving you with chunky thighs and hulk-like arms.
The good news, ladies, is that muscle simply isn’t that easy to gain unless you’re taking additional steroids or testosterone boosters. In reality, most women have up to 15 times less testosterone than men, making it much harder for a female to build muscle.
It is also important to understand that when you lift weights, your body undergoes additional physical stress. This causes micro tears in the muscle tissue, bringing about an inflammatory response. As a result, the specific area that has been worked tends to swell – this is only temporary ladies! Reparation of the muscle in the next few days will cause the inflammation to dissipate, and produce a tighter, toner muscle.
In addition, most women also tend to experience fluid retention (particularly in the lower half) in the first 4 to 6 weeks of doing weights regularly. This is a natural child-bearing mechanism that the female body undergoes – not that you have suddenly put on muscle or weight!. For women training past that initial period, you will find that this does not occur anymore. In fact, following the initial period, the fluid tends to drain away almost instantaneously overnight, leaving you feeling leaner and more defined.
“FREQUENT AND CONTINUOUS AEROBIC EXERCISE WILL INCREASE FITNESS AND ATHLETIC ENDURANCE”
Continuous jogging for 30 to 45 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week, is commonly perceived as the best way to increase athletic endurance and stamina. However, any athletic or fitness benefits associated with the same continuous aerobic exercise has been shown to plateau after just 6 weeks!
Additionally, continuous aerobic workouts have been found to impair athletic performance. For example, if you are an athlete who competes in a sport requiring speed and explosiveness, then continuous aerobic training can detrain your system, reducing both strength and power. Studies have shown that continuous lower body aerobic work decreases vertical leap and sprint times, thus making you slower and less dynamic. Furthermore, on a hormonal level, such aerobic training reduces the body’s testosterone/cortisol ratio, effectively decreasing your ability to gain lean muscle (see myth 4 on workout duration for more information about excess cortisol and its adverse effects).
“USING THE LATEST AB-GIZMO AND DOING CRUNCHES WILL GIVE ME A RIPPED AND TONED STOMACH!”
Why is it that the most advertised fitness equipment always target your abs? You don’t see bicep or calf machines flying off the shelf, yet thousands of ab-swings, ab-kings and other ab-things are sold via infomercials all guaranteeing that 10 minutes of crunches a day will give you a lean six-pack. The reason is that abs are often the hardest muscle to achieve real success in, especially if you aren’t genetically gifted and born naturally lean and ripped.
What you have to understand firstly is that performing a specific exercise for a certain targeted area or muscle group does not make fat in that area simply vanish. As you burn more calories (doesn’t matter doing what, it can be doing crunches, weights or running) fat stores slowly burn up. However, you don’t have control over which fat stores are used up first. Adipose tissue (fatty tissue) distribution around the body is dependent on one’s genes and hormonal predisposition, so in order to reduce fat specifically (that’s right, Spot Reduce), you need to target the source – hormones. I use a technique called BioSignature Modulation which can specifically target fat loss in desired areas just by addressing the associated hormone(s) in question. Find out more about Biosignature in our Services section).
Secondly, the abdominals are fast-twitched muscles and grow with heavy loading through a full range of motion, so countless reps (or should I say half reps for those that do crunches) of ab work will increase only lactic build-up, but not contribute much to muscle growth.
“AEROBIC EXERCISE IS THE BEST WAY TO KEEP MY HEART HEALTHY AND KEEP ME LOOKING YOUNG”
A lot of people feel like they are working out more during an aerobic session, because their heart rate is kept high and sweat is continually produced. As such, aerobics often makes the workout feel more healthy and effective. However, it is a fact that continuous aerobic activity increases oxidation within the body, often leading to an excessive build-up of free radicals (especially if you are not consuming sufficient anti-oxidants). This leads to metabolic changes that have been found to accelerate aging! So really, by increasing your aerobic activity, you are forcing your body to get older.
If you are looking to increase your cardiovascular fitness, maintain your muscle and yet lose the fat, then stick with interval training. Interval training has been proven to increase the intensity of your workout, the calorie burning capacity of your body even after the workout ceases and improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. This means that you retain lean muscle whilst getting fit.
“DOING CARDIO IS THE BEST WAY TO REDUCE BODY FAT”
To prove this misconception, answer this question: Who typically has less body fat – a marathon runner or a 100m sprinter? If you picked marathon runner on the basis that they simply do more aerobic exercise, then you are mistaken. Sprinters, who hardly do any continuous aerobic exercises, on average have less body fat because of their high-intensity training which has been found to increase metabolism and calorie expenditure for as long as 24 to 48 hours after their workout!
Additionally, excessive aerobic exercise highly stresses and fatigues your adrenal glands, leading to symptoms such as tiredness, arthritis, depression and reduced concentration. Crucially, adrenal fatigue and stress also leads to hormonal imbalances, not only making it difficult for effective weight loss to occur, but could in fact increase body fat. This explains why you may be exercising regularly, yet unable to see much weight loss results!