Family health

4 fitness myths

Sit-ups won't give you a washboard stomach. Fats won't make you fat. Kristin discusses a few of the more common fitness myths.

By Kristin Auger
4 fitness myths

Photo courtesy of Kristin Auger.

We're driving to the morning water taxi with the volume jacked up extra loud to cover the wails of our baby, who has recently decided that car rides are as much fun as having his ears lopped off. The side benefits of an extra-loud radio include an over-familiarity with absurd (yet stick-in-your-brain-all-day) pop music lyrics and a plethora of new, largely useless information via the morning DJs.

"Coming up," the DJ teases before the impending Tim Horton's commercial. "The best foods you can eat before a workout."

I glance at Corey.

"This should be interesting," I say.

The baby's shrieks reach a new tempo and we turn up the volume more to hear what the radio says we should be scarfing down before a workout.

"Fresh-pressed fruit juice," proclaims the announcer. "Half a sandwich, yogurt

Hmm, I think. That sounds kind of awful. 

I can understand the fresh-pressed juice, perhaps, but the bread in a sandwich would wreak havoc on me if I tried to eat it before an intense workout — and dairy just bloats me like crazy. If either Corey or I eat a snack before we workout, it's something like a small handful of almonds or a piece of fruit — something that was plucked out of the earth, and not messed around with.

I'm just a house-lady with a bit of a fitness hobby, and have had no training in physiology or nutrition whatsoever. I mostly have no idea what I'm talking about — it's true!

I do, however, know what's worked for me over the last few years and I've learned a few things the hard way.

Here are four fitness proclamations that I keep hearing that have proven to be totally false for me. They might be false for you too.

1. Do absurd amounts of sit-ups to get that six-pack for summer
Every year around this time, the commercials start for ab blasters and boot camps and fitness routines focused around sit-ups, bicycles and crunches. We've been taught for years that these movements will help us shrink our gut and gain tight abs so that we can rock a bikini with confidence. The first problem is: If your diet is not totally dialed in, you're never going to see those abs. You could do 100 crunches six times a day and still have a flabby belly. The second problem is: If you're a new mom, you probably shouldn't be doing sit-ups at all. If you're like most women who had some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy, you're going to make the problem worse, and give yourself a perma-pooch.

The way to sleek abs is a diet free of carbs, dairy, refined sugar and excessive salt. Transverse abdominal exercises can also help new moms to regain their "inner girdle."

2. Fats will make you fat
For years, I stocked my fridge with low-fat sour cream and fat-free yogurt. I'm admittedly a slow learner, but it  took me a really long time to finally understand that fat isn't the devil. This infographic does the best job I've seen of explaining why it's pasta, and not bacon, that makes us fat.

I now include avocados, pecans and cashews among the high-fat foods that I love, and that have contributed to the best shape I've ever been in. It hurt a bit to understand that I had to stop eating cereal and spaghetti in order to really firm up, but now I'm just as happy with spaghetti squash or faux oatmeal made with butternut squash, coconut and dried fruit.

3. If you want to "tone" than lift small weights repeatedly. Heavy weights will make you bulky
We cut ourselves off from our cable TV a few months ago (we spend too much time on our computers as it is), and so I watch infomercials with rabid fascination every time I'm at my parent's house.  The other weekend I caught a showing of Tracy Anderson's extended commercial promising to spot train women and make them smaller. I have no doubt that Tracy's methods help women get skinnier, but I was kind of horrified by the sheer volume of repetitive motions with teeny tiny weights. First, it doesn't look like very much fun. Second, why is skinny good. Especially as you exit your 20s and get older, skinniness just makes you look haggard. I don't want to be smaller, I want to be stronger, and I regret that I spent so many years wanting to look like an unhealthy pubescent girl. 

Women often use the word "tone" when describing what they want to do in the gym. The word brings to mind sleek shapes and sculpted muscles but you don't need to do millions of tiny movements with mini-weights to tone. The best way to get in overall shape is to do a bunch of different movements, preferably some with weight, and to eat a clean diet.

Through Crossfit, I lift a lot of heavy weights and it's only served to lean me out and give me nice shoulder muscles. Embrace the heavy weights! They're actually a lot of fun, and I promise they won't turn you into The Hulk.

4. It's not a diet if you're not a little hungry
I am always amazed by the number of diet websites, commercials and other materials that populate the Internet, airwaves and bookshelves year after year. Experts put new spins on old news year after year, and diet fads get gobbled up greedily and then spit up remorsefully months later when the masses realize: This is yet another diet that totally doesn't work.

What works sounds really hard: Avoid sugar, bread, salt and all processed foods. It sounds drastic and mean and perhaps that's why people keep coming up with new ways to avoid it. But it's really not that hard once you get used to it, and the best part about eating real food is that you never really have to feel hungry. I'd much rather eat a plate of scrambled eggs, tuna in a portobello mushroom or a grape and avocado salad than one piece of low-fat sugar-free cheesecake. I don't like to feel hungry or deprived; inevitably that leads to a late-night binge eat and a morning remorse hangover for me. 

If you're eating real, whole foods, you shouldn't feel hungry like you might on a low-fat or low-portion diet.

Those are the four big fitness myths for me — do you have any more?

This article was originally published on May 29, 2012

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