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What You Thought You Knew About Fitness is Wrong

May 10, 2016 3 Comments
Confused Woman Scratching Her Head

Confused Woman Scratching Her Head

In today’s day and age of social media, it seems everyone becomes an expert: political, financial, spiritual, technical, nutritional, and of course, physical. Behind the shroud of computers, tablets, and smart phones, the “experts” offer and voice their views and opinions on everything and anything and sadly have many believing in what they’re saying (selling) without little proof of their claims. Furthermore, what’s reported in the media is usually more attention grabbing than evidence worthy. Through my years as a fitness professional, I’ve seen thousands of gurus and media morsels leaving bits of useless wisdom that many have taken as gospel becoming fitness “experts” themselves. Every time I head to the gym to work out I often struggle and bite my tongue as I witness the result of what sheep following sheep looks like. After a recent visit to the gym, I was inspired to write about what so many are doing or saying wrong, most likely unbeknownst to them in the hopes that it helps you.

Cardio is a very inefficient method of burning fat. Aerobic (cardio) exercise is a great and critical component of fitness. It strengthens and improves the cardiovascular system responsible for delivering oxygenated blood to all working organs and muscles in addition to lowering blood pressure and hundreds more of key physiological processes. Doesn’t sound too exciting, huh? I would guess most people doing “cardio” are of the mindset that they’re working off the pounds (fat) more than the other benefits. The reality is you burn little to no fat at low to medium intensities (most of what I witness people doing); the longer you go doesn’t equate to more fat being burned; the amount of calories burned while exercising equals energy spent during the activity, not the amount of fat burned. To efficiently burn fat requires you to “torch” it – work at higher intensities for shorter bursts of time, a level most have to work up to over time.

You don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. You cannot ignore enough the value of adding strength training to your routine. It’s the only “anti-gravity” exercise we can do. The result: strengthening of muscles and skeletal structures; the ONLY way to change the shape of the body; a much more efficient fat burner as it increases the body’s energy requirements during AND after the work out. The good news is if the weight room still “scares” you, you don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. Balls, bands, bodyweight, etc. are some of the many other tools available to build muscle. The most important concept to understand is that in order to build muscle you need these three components: mechanical tension on the muscle (resistance), muscle damage (stress at the cellular level that spurns new growth), and metabolic stress (intensity).

Stretching before a workout is unnecessary and could be counterproductive. Perhaps that school gym teacher from back in the day left his/her mark with you but we’ve come a long way since then. Number one, stretching a cold, tight muscle could create a bigger problem. Number two, stretching a muscle creates more joint laxity that may not be beneficial to movement. Your best bet? Warm up the muscles and the body with light activity or soft tissue manipulation (i.e. self-myofascial release) in tight spots. Still like to stretch? Be my guest but there’s a better, more effective way.

It’s not necessary to train like a bodybuilder. No disrespect to those who train to be a bodybuilder or figure competitor. It’s very hard, dedicated work that involves more than just the weight room. But for many more than not, bodybuilding is not something they’re training for and no amount of weight training is going to make them look like a body builder without all of the other components. Train for your goal, not your aspiration.

It’s physically impossible to lengthen and/or tone muscles. Two of the biggest buzz words in fitness that I’m sure sell tons of programs and magazines. Here’s a sobering anatomical fact: your muscles are the length they’re always going to be without of course cutting muscle origin and insertion points or lengthening bones! Muscles always have “tone” (tonality) otherwise they wouldn’t work. Muscles can get leaner (translation: stronger, tighter, shapelier) and more defined (translation: less body fat between them and the skin).

There’s no magic to your exercise order. Variety is key with your workouts, particularly when it comes to what and when you do it. Most stick to a pattern that they’ve mirrored for years and wonder why they’re not getting anywhere when it may have worked for them initially. Change it up – the order of the exercises, the type, the sets, the reps, etc. Don’t be married to what you think is the perfect program. The perfect program is one that evolves and progresses over time.

You don’t need to use EVERY piece of exercise equipment in the gym. One of the few advantages I see to belonging to a gym or health club aside from the social aspect is the variety of options. But to the novice or pseudo-expert, that really doesn’t make a difference. It can be overwhelming and intimidating but most of the stuff is duplicates or multiple versions of achieving the same goal. It’s like knowing the difference between two high-end sports cars – if you don’t know the difference in their engine and driving capabilities, your decision might be influenced only by the color of the car.

Sweat/post exercise soreness is not good indicators of workout success. It’s a known physiological fact: some people just sweat more than others. It’s not a badge of honor – it’s a very efficient cooling mechanism that some have. For those that don’t sweat much, it’s not always indicative of workout intensity but a less than efficient cooling mechanism. Regardless, it’s not a score card to even be concerned with. As far as muscle soreness goes, it sometimes happens when a new exercise/muscle pattern is learned, or more mechanical stress/tension was introduced. Some get sore 24-48 hours after a workout, some longer. Again, it depends on the amount and type of stress that was introduced to the body and how YOUR body responds. But comparing it to others is like comparing apples to oranges.

The longer the workout, the less efficient it becomes. More is not necessarily better; it’s just more. Those who claim to be at the gym for an hour or two are physically in the building for that time but I would challenge just how much real work is done during that time. Intensities dwindle; fuel supplies diminish at the muscles, anabolic hormones decrease, etc. as time moves on. Time is never an excuse to get in a quality workout. Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to fitness.


Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

Comments (3)

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  1. Nancy T. says:

    Great article. Very well written.

  2. Michele D. says:


  3. Andrea V. says:

    Thanks!! Some of this I knew. I need some motivation!!

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