A great deal has changed in the world of fitness. With our overexposure to daily infomercials, new research and fad diets, it’s easy to be confused about what to do and who to trust. Like any profession, the arena of personal development experts is inhabited by a wide range of interesting characters who collectively bring an even wider range of qualifications, philosophies, egos, attitudes and motives to the self-help table. Some are incredibly knowledgeable while others are, to put it plainly, full of crap.
Most of us have a limited amount of time to work out, and we shouldn’t waste a second of it on outdated facts. To clear the confusion, here’s a quick primer…
Old rule: Do crunches for a strong midsection.
New rule: Get a strong core with functional full-body exercises.
Abs are only one part of your core. The full core also includes obliques, transverse abdominis and erector spinae (lower back). Some experts even consider your hips to be part of your core. A strong midsection keeps your back healthy, improves posture, allows you to move with greater control and helps with balance. So don’t just crunch; do a variety of planks, side planks, twists, rotations and balance work.
Old rule: Always rest between strength-training sets.
New rule: Circuit train to make the most of your workout.
While there’s nothing technically wrong with resting between sets, who has time? Circuit training is a method borrowed from athletes and modified for us regular folks. Traditionally, circuit training is done in stations that alternate between different muscle groups – moving from one station of exercise to the next with little to no rest. Because you keep your heart rate up throughout the workout, you not only build muscle, but also get the benefits of cardiovascular training.
Old rule: Do lots of reps with light weights to get toned and lean, not big and bulky.
New rule: Choose weights that challenge you.
For some reason it has been pounded into our heads that lifting light weights makes you tiny and toned while lifting heavy weights will make you big and bulky. Unless you spend hours upon hours at the gym, that just isn’t true. If you can lift a weight 20-25 times, it’s time to go heavier. Select a weight that is heavy enough to get you to muscle exhaustion – the point where your muscle is too tired to do another rep with proper form – during your last couple of reps in a set (I recommend 8-15 reps with 1-4 sets).
Old rule: Do yoga and Pilates to make your muscles longer and leaner.
New rule: Round out your workout routine with yoga and Pilates.
No form of exercise has the ability to lengthen your muscles. Your muscles are a certain length, and training doesn’t make them longer. Yoga and Pilates are fantastic activities that add value to any workout program – reduced stress, improved focus, core strengthening and greatly improved flexibility – but they don’t fully replace cardio or strength training unless the kind you’re doing is extremely vigorous and advanced, and for most people in group classes and utilizing workout DVDs that is not the case.
Old rule: No pain, no gain.
New rule: If you feel bad or are in pain, stop, rest and modify your workout.
While “feeling the burn” is a good thing and signals that the body and its muscles are working hard, there is absolutely no gain to real pain. It’s a sign that something is wrong with your body and it needs rest or exercise modification, like walking instead of running or front lunges instead of backward. Remember, exercise is supposed to make you feel better, not worse!
When it comes down to it, the new rules for fitness are common sense and help you to reach your goals faster. Incorporate these new “rules” into your repertoire and you’ll be amazed at what a difference such small changes can make!