The Great Fitness Fraud Continues
If you have noticed the infomercials for fitness and weight control lately, especially the promotions for abdominal machines, it is obvious that after all these years the message of Fitness and Fallacies is still very relevant and very important.
Exercise is big business in the United States. Exercise products, services, facilities, publications and infomercials are prevalent nationwide. Millions of Americans buy products and services from this multi-billion dollar industry. Unfortunately, much time and money are wasted on ineffective products and services.
Competition for the exercise dollar has resulted in a variety of creative marketing programs, most of which promote the image of physical attractiveness that Americans value. While many benefits may be obtained from regular physical activity, the desire to improve appearance is probably the major force behind the start of many exercise programs as well as the major force behind the purchase of many exercise related products. The public is repeatedly presented with inaccurate or unsupported statements regarding matters of exercise. Such statements are made frequently for the purpose of selling an exercise product, magazine or health club membership. As these fallacies are repeated, they are frequently accepted as truths and then become traditions.
Infomercials and magazines are often major contributors to fallacies regarding body shaping, one of the most misunderstood concepts of exercise. Promotions and headlines promising an attractive body with little effort tend to result in strong sales of gadgets and magazines. As all of us have seen, new products are being brought to the marketplace all the time. They offer solutions to problems such as unflattering waste lines, flabby thighs, sagging fannies and soft upper arms. These promotions and articles have deceived millions.
The purpose of this site is to identify the myths associated with exercise and to present established principles of exercise science which are important in the development of an exercise program.
The Greatest Misunderstanding
Many advertisements for fitness products lead the public to believe that it is possible to quickly and easily have a more attractive body. Simply purchase the product and use it a few minutes each day. The abdominal region seems to be getting the most attention lately. Promotions for several nationally advertised abdominal exercisers show its users loosing weight, especially around the abdominal region, and having a more slender waistline. Can you think of ANY abdominal exercise devices that have remained on the market for more than a few months? They come on the market, run their course and are gone rather quickly. Why don't they stay? Maybe it is because they are ineffective.
It is generally accepted in the field of exercise physiology that training the abdominal muscles has nothing to do with the body fat lying over those muscles. The fat is just along for the ride. The "spare tire" and "love handles" are caused by excess body fat, not sagging muscle or poorly toned muscle.
Training the abdominal region (with no other intervention) is not likely to change the amount of body fat stored there and not likely to reduce the size of the waistline. Abdominal exercise involves a relatively small muscle mass and is not weight bearing (like walking or stair stepping). Therefore, the caloric expenditure of abdominal exercise is relatively low and contributes minimally (if at all) to weight loss.
Please understand that training the muscles of any particular body region has little or nothing to do with weight loss or inch loss in that region. Spot reduction is a fallacy.
Regarding the pattern of weight gain and weight loss, if you were to gain ten pounds, you probably know enough about yourself to know where the weight would go. If you were to lose ten pounds, you also know where the weight would be lost. EXERCISE CAN NOT CHANGE THIS PATTERN.
THE PATTERN BY WHICH SOMEONE GAINS OR LOSES WEIGHT IS NOT CHANGED BY EXERCISE. HOWEVER, LIFETIME AEROBIC EXERCISE IS A CRITICAL FACTOR IN WEIGHT CONTROL.
If you want to slenderize a particular body region, you must have a general reduction of body fat and hope that the fat comes from the area you wish to reduce. There is no way to cause fat to be reduced from some preferred body region. Also remember that training a muscle does not tend to make it smaller. Atrophy or disuse makes a muscle smaller. (Have you ever had a cast on a broken arm or leg for six weeks?)
With this in mind, is there a reason to train the abdominal muscles? YES, YES, YES! A well designed exercise program includes strength training of all major muscle groups. Among other things, well trained abdominal muscles contribute to spinal health and reduced likelihood of back pain.
What is the most effective use of time in training the abdominal muscles?
Generally speaking, effective muscular conditioning should involve exercises that cause muscles to contract and to shorten. This type of muscular contraction is called isotonic contraction. When the abdominal muscles contract and shorten, the spine (your back) flexes (or curls up). The abdominal "crunch" is an exercise which involves this kind of contraction. Isometric contraction is the kind of contraction by which muscles contract but do not shorten. The "leg lift", which is used to train the abdominal region, is an example of isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles. They contract but do not shorten as the spine does not flex.
The "sit up" has two parts. The first is the abdominal portion which begins by lying flat on the back with knees elevated and feet flat on the floor. This first part, the crunch, causes the trunk to flex as the trunk and shoulders rise to full flexion of the spine. This is the limit of the shortening of the abdominal muscles. The second part is the hip flexor portion in which the trunk rises to vertical or beyond. This portion of the exercise is caused by the hip flexors not the abdominal muscles and begins when the lower back begins to leave the floor. The abdominal muscles remain contracted to keep the spine flexed but do not cause the movement of the trunk to the vertical position (the completion of the sit up). The first part of the sit up, only the crunch, the is more effective in the training of the abdominal muscles. For many individuals, the short, tight hip flexors overpower the weaker abdominal muscles causing poor support and alignment of the spine (sway back).
The crunch causes effective contraction of all portions of the abdominal region and, for most fitness programs, is quite adequate for abdominal conditioning.
It is a fallacy that the upper and lower portions of the abdominal region should be trained separately. The upper and lower abdominal muscle cells are contiguous and contract together. The protrusion of the lower abdominal region is almost always caused by excess body fat, not by a sagging rectus abdominis.
Generally speaking, a good fitness program should include three sets of crunches done on the floor or, when muscular conditioning has improved considerably, done on a mild incline board. The number of repetitions per set should be determined by the perception of exertion that would feel moderate or somewhat difficult.
More is nat necessarily better. Discomfort is your body's way of telling you to slow down or stop. Muscular discomfort that developes a day or two following exercise further suggests that the exercise was too strenuous. The development of sore muscles is not necessary in a well-designed program of fitness and muscular conditioning.
"NO PAIN, NO GAIN" is a fitness fallacy.
Leg lifts of any kind are not recommended as an abdominal conditioning exercise.
Why? The primary movers in leg lifts, as they are commonly done in ab work, are the hip flexors. The abs serve only to stabilize the spine and contract only isometrically. This means that the abs contract but do not shorten. This kind of contraction is less productive than isotonic contraction in which the muscles contract and shorten as in the spinal flexion of crunches.
So why do the abs burn in leg lifts? It is not because the abs are getting a better work out! "Feel the burn" is a fallacy. The burn does not necessarily mean that anything good is happening.
During leg lifts and other regional exercises, especially when muscles remain continuously contracted, insufficient amounts of oxygen are able to get to the muscles. This is because the continuous contraction of the muscles inhibits blood flow. Whenever blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles are insufficient, the muscles are forced to perform the work through anaerobic metabolism. The muscles are able to do the work (for a while) but build up by-products of anaerobic metabolism, including lactic acid. It is this build up that causes the discomfort in the muscles. As lactic acid builds up, the increasingly acidic environment causes the muscles to fatigue and work must soon stop. The build up of lactic acid is not necessarily a beneficial occurrence of exercise. It does no particular good in a program of fitness exercise.
However it is NOT lactic acid that causes the sore muscles that are felt a day or two following a workout. This soreness is caused by damage that occurs in the contractile units of the muscles when a workout is too hard. A well designed exercise program should not cause sore muscles. Sore muscles are an indication that the workout was excessive, given the condition of the subject.
What about the electronic muscle stimulators that come and go in the market place?
Save your money!! These devices cause very minimal contraction of muscles, not enough work to cause any meaningful change or training of muscle. And, of course, there is NO effect on the body fat that covers the muscles. Many highly misleading claims are made about these electronic gadgets. They should not be part of any fitness or weight loss program.
Most people would like to lose some weight (actually, body fat). What is the most effective method? What about the herbal products and what about the pills, powders and liquids that are heavily advertised these days. The ads and the testimonials make these products sound so effective.
Again, save your money!! If even one of these products was as effective as the ads claim, the product would make national news headlines for weeks!!
In fact, let that be one of your tests for an effective weight loss product. Assume that it is nothing but hype until the national broadcast news companies start paying huge attention by having the real experts, the academicians, do interviews about a wonderful new breakthrough in weight control.
You are NOT likely to first learn of a real breakthrough in fitness or weight control by means of an infomercial or a magazine ad.
Until then, the only method likely to reduce body fat, reshape the body and look better is to make permanent changes in habits of nutrition and exercise.
Most Americans are overweight. And as the years go by, the average amount of body fat carried by each of us continues to increase. Americans are getting fatter and fatter. It would seem that if any of the weight loss plans were really effective, we would at least level off. Not so. Not so because loosing weight is difficult. You can accurately assume that any product which is advertised to make weight loss or fitness easy is actually complete fraud.
Let that be one of your tests for a good weight loss program. If it is advertised to be easy and if there are any "before and after" pictures (you know the kind I mean) then don't bother. Such a plan is more likely to be a good scam, NOT a good weight loss plan.