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Bad gym floor advice: 8 commonly dished out myths

Belfast trainer and nutritionist Alan Waterman on the big problem of bad gym advice... it's everywhere.

By Alan Waterman

Bad advice can be from seasoned gym veterans, rookie PT's, or even just weekend warriors, but much of the advice dished out is thrown around without any real consideration, often based on old, outdated practices or belief systems.

Some ideas just don't seem to die, and there's an awful lot of them out there.

With bad gym advice comes injury, a lack of progress, and unnecessarily gruelling weight-loss processes, all of which we should be doing our best to avoid.

We've all no doubt heard some wisdom dished out during our time in the gym, but what advice should we take on board, and what can we write off as just more fitness BS?

Here are some of the most commonly dished-out bits of bad advice you can expect to hear on the gym floor, and why you should choose to ignore them:

1. "To tone up, use light weights and high reps."

It's often been advised that heavy weight and low reps is best for building muscle, whereas for getting slim, we should be using low loads but with high reps.

Truth is "toning up" is really just the process of dropping bodyfat to reveal the muscle shape beneath and that's mainly down to diet.

However, in order to maintain the muscle we have, our best bet is to continue to lift heavy weights as we try to get leaner. Stimulating the muscles with the higher weight loads we used to build them will help prevent losing that muscle, which should be a key consideration for any fat-loss exercise.

Ditch the light weights and keep lifting heavy.

2. "No pain, no gain!"

Yes, it's true that when we train, things will hurt a bit on occassion. A mild to moderate burning sensation is not uncommon during some sets (particularly when hitting high reps) but sharp, sudden, searing pains in our muscles can be signs of severe damage.

Similarly, pain or discomfort through any joints when performing an exercise can be a signal that it may not be an appropriate movement for us, or that our technique is off- persisting with it may put us at an increased risk of injury.

It's important to know how to distinguish between good pain and bad pain in our training, in order to keep us free from injury - if an exercise doesn't feel right, don't do it.

3. "For quick weight loss, just cut out carbs."

Although low carb diets do suit some people, this is simply because they find they can adhere to it better than any other diet approach.

Research, however, has shown that a low carb diet is no more effective than a low fat diet when it comes to weight loss.

Initial weight loss is common when carbs are cut, but as every gram of carb holds 4 grams of water, the majority of that loss is water weight- much of the weight returns once carbs are reintroduced.

As carbs are the body's preferred source of energy, training intensity can suffer without them. This puts us at risk of losing muscle, and as muscle mass keeps our metabolism revving, this is the opposite of what we want to see.

4. "These are the best fat-burning foods."

Including certain foods in your diet has long been suggested due to their ability to speed up metabolism, but in truth, there are no foods which cause our bodies to burn fat, as fat-burning is dictated by our total daily calorie intake.

In order to lose weight, the most important consideration should be to create a calorie deficit i.e. burn more calories than we consume.

Looking at one food in isolation won't determine if the body will gain or lose weight, it depends on whether or not that food fits within our daily calorie needs. If a food were to increase metabolism, it still would not help us lose weight if we continued to consume too many total calories.

When it comes to weight loss, we should really focus on the biggest, most important factors like calorie balance, as those are the ones which really matter - losing sight of them is a very easy way to see our progress stall.

5. "Fruit will make you fat - there's too much sugar in it."

Despite what you were told growing up, there's many out there who believe that eating fruit is bad for you. Fruit, after all, is pretty much entirely comprised of sugar, and with eating it, it's suggested that we risk spiking insulin levels, resulting in the storage of more bodyfat.

The problem with such advice is that it overlooks the main consideration for weight loss or gain, which is calorie balance.

Yes, fruit does have a high sugar content, but if we consider that a gram of carbs (i.e. sugar) has four calories, then provided the total number of calories an item of fruit provides falls within your own specific calorie needs, then you will not see an increase in bodyweight from it.

Fruit can make us gain weight, but only in the same way as an food can make us gain weight: by eating too much of it. It's not to say hormones (such as insulin) don't matter when looking at changes in bodyweight, but calorie balance is much more important.

6. "You have to switch it up and confuse the muscles!"

For years, many have recommended that you constantly need to shock your body by frequently training in a different style. Although yes, you do have to make changes from one training session to the next, those changes should be in the form of measurable progress, not from implementing new or different training tactics.

This idea of 'progressive overload' is the key to muscle growth and development. Muscle development doesn't come from confusing the muscles by using different exercises or training methods, it comes from improving on what you have done previously.

The body requires a new training stimulus in each training session, and again yes, performing different exercises can be a new stimulus, but constantly changing the way we train makes it very hard for us to make measurable progress - how can you keep adding weight to your squat if you only squat very infrequently?

Aiming to improve on what you have done in previous sessions should be the training goal, not working to 'confuse' the muscles.

7. "You need to be doing cardio to help you lose weight."

Although cardio can be an effective tool when it comes to losing bodyfat, it's not a necessary component of it.

As weight loss is determined by our calorie balance, this can still be achieved without cardio activity. Dietary efforts will be the number one determining factor when it comes to weight loss, and weightlifting should be also a larger consideration, as it helps maintain muscle mass, which is important for keeping our metabolism up.

Our general daily activity levels - known as NEAT - account for a huge part of our daily energy output and is much larger than a cardio session in the gym.

Keeping a high level of NEAT (by hitting 10,000 steps per day, for example) ensures our calorie output stays relatively high, before even considering the need for adding in additional cardio into our training routine.

8. "Women shouldn't lift heavy weights, it makes them look bulky."

This advice has been doing the rounds for years, yet the truth is that weight-training only contributes to making women 'bulky' if their diet dictates it.

Adding large amounts of bodyfat through eating excessive amounts of calories may lead to a more bulky appearance, but remaining in a calorie deficit will ensure weight-loss and keep measurements dropping down, leading to a slimmer frame, rather than a bulky one.

The truth is that women shouldn't train much differently to men. Heavy weight training is not only effective for building muscle, it also helps maintain muscle mass, which helps improve bodyshape as we drop bodyfat.

Want to know more about what Phoenix Health & Fitness is all about, and learn more about what the fitness businesses in Belfast have to offer?

Keep and eye on the Facebook page for details of our October fitness open-day, where you can meet and learn from members of some of the biggest fitness businesses, and see how they can help you achieve your own desired goals, as well as for keeping up to date with daily advice and tips.

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