Art of Fitness: Explaining the myths about muscle and fat
Just about every time you turn around these days, there is a "revolutionary" new scientific or medical development that will help you lose weight, gain weight, or simply and easily give you the body of a god or goddess. Recently, I read a report on a pill that you can actually use in place of exercise. WOW. That’s amazing … or is it? The simple truth is that most of what you see or hear as being "too good to be true" really is just that. Besides advertisements in the media, there are also many half or untruths passed down from person to person over the years, like wives tales. Many are propagated through hearsay and sadly, even by fitness trainers who fail to keep up with their continuing fitness education.
The majority of misinformation revolves around fat loss and developing a toned and tight midsection of the body. Indeed, there is such an abundance of misinformation by exaggerated product claims, faulty or misleading research studies and marketing exuberance, that it creates an elevated level of confusion among consumers as to what works and what does not. To help you along your fitness journey, I have selected two popular myths and correct methods for handling each one. Until a few years ago, there was never any talk of something called belly fat. Now, we hear it used all the time, as though it were a specific kind of fat that was different from other forms of body fat.
By connecting it to a particular part of the body, the myth was formed that you could reduce it as you would scrub out a spot on an article of clothing. Hence, ‘spot reduction’ entered into fitness terminology. Many doctors and other members of the medical profession have even added it to their vocabulary. The truth is, you cannot "spot" reduce belly fat or any other kind of body fat; that’s not how the body works. Body fat and your body have a very unique relationship. Your genetic make up will determine when, where and how much body fat you will develop. It will also dictate the manner in which you will drop the fat. In over 30 years of experience, I can safely say that the "first place fat comes on, will be the last place it comes off." Imagine body fat as air in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. The analogy is that the first area that is filled with air (the midsection) is the last place it will exit when deflated. Body fat addition and reduction is exactly the same.
If you want to drop body fat, you must do two things. First, you must execute an exercise program designed to burn body fat and second, you must adjust your meals to take in a few less calories than you burn. DO NOT drastically lower your daily caloric intakes, as your body will perceive that as "starvation" and will block the burning of body fat. The reason that happens is that stored body fat holds twice the calories as carbs or proteins and is therefore part of your "survival" mechanism for emergencies. Generally speaking, that’s what the endless stream of popular diets do. Instead, use your chosen form of exercise to burn off the stored body fat while feeding the body a few less calories via controlled portions, on a regular basis.
Another myth that can be found circulating the weight room floor at a lot of gyms is in regard to gaining muscle. An example can be seen in this email from a regular reader in the Midwest: Question: Coach, I heard a comment in the gym the other day that didn't make sense but, then again, I'm still kind of new to all this. This guy said cardio/aerobic work slows muscle growth. Is that true or is he off base ?” Answer: If the person you overheard is a bodybuilder or a bodybuilder 'want-to-be', then he is probably trying to gain as much muscle and or mass as the Hulk ... maybe even doing some steroids. Since gaining weight (be it fat or muscle mass) requires eating more calories than you burn off, then he would more than likely not want to expend any additional energy other than working out to build muscle and bulk up.
However, the flaw with that kind of thinking is that you really need aerobic, cardio-vascular and cardio-respiratory work to open blood vessels, strengthen the heart and build flexibility as well as endurance. I hear a lot of guys say what you heard. But, my personal feeling (as a bodybuilder myself) is simply that you just up your calorie intake to accommodate the aerobic work. That way you will still gain the muscle you want AND stay trim with a strong heart and overall agility. That's the true meaning of the word "Fitness." There's nothing more ridiculous than a huge, bodybuilder who has no endurance to even take a simple jog around the block without huffing and puffing to exhaustion. Simply put, you don’t have to make fat loss or muscular gain so complicated that it becomes a new science altogether. All you need to do is pay attention to what you eat and drink. For example, like many other folks in town I frequent one of our local coffee houses, Koffi a few times a week. They have a selection of low calorie, fat-free, sugar-free drinks and snacks that satisfy the palate without adding a huge number of calories to your daily intake.
This is just one example of finding ways to eliminate unwanted and unnecessary calories from the selections at your favorite establishment. It’s a good first step when trying for more control over your dietary intake. Portion size at each meal becomes another way to gain control. Remember, the size of your stomach is about the size of your clenched fist. So, it only makes sense to eat smaller meals more often than one or two very large meals each day. You’ll find you feel better, have more energy and better control over your fitness program, whether you are training for weight loss or muscular gain or both. If you are not sure of where to begin, what to do, how to correct a problem area, or have any other questions pertaining to this column or relating to your fitness goals, please feel free to contact me at the e-mail address below. Many of the questions you may have are the same questions others may have. I will answer all inquires by email or phone and include the most common ones in this column. Also, if you are interested in regular group fitness seminars, exercise classes such as water fitness, cycling or fit camps for weight loss or gain, please let me hear from you. Set a personal goal for yourself: Live healthier, live longer: Get fit for life.