12 Health and Fitness Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making is a best seller on Amazon. Written by Michael Matthews, this is just one of the many books where he shares his fitness expertise. What I personally like about Matthews and this book is it is rooted in science, which is where I believe we should always turn to for the truth about what works and what doesn’t. Matthews believes that if you are willing to exercise for 30-45 minutes per day, 3-5 days per week, and follow a sensible eating plan, then you can have a great body that you can be proud of. He also wants you to be cautious of “broscience”, you know, fake science about workouts that come from the amateurs who seem to only know the word “bro”. Matthews breaks down 12 myths using science and gives great explanations of why things we believed were correct are actually not true.
Myth 1: I can’t build muscle / lose weight because I have bad genetics. While genetics do play a role in which muscle groups tend to be the strongest, hormone levels, and fat storage, so long as you don’t have a disease (such as an abnormal thyroid) that directly impairs your body’s fat loss functions, you can get into amazing shape. Genetics may prevent you from having the exact same body type as your favorite fitness model, but this is not a limitation when it comes to being able to look and feel great. Even if you believe you have “bad genetics” and it takes you more effort to gain muscle or lose fat than one of your friends, you should continue exercising, and regardless of who you are, within a year or two you can have a body you are happy with.
Myth 2: You have to work your abs more to get a six pack. Something I like saying in 2 Weeks to Health is abs are made in the kitchen, and Matthews agrees. The key to great abs is visibility, not strength. Even if you work your abs every day, if they are hiding under a layer of fat nobody will ever see them. To get a six pack, you should strive for under 12% body fat if you are a male, and under 20% body fat if you are a female.
Myth 3: Lifting light weights for many reps gets you toned. Studies have shown that lifting light weights for 15 + reps will increase your muscle’s aerobic capacity and not really affect overall strength. This means if you are trying to gain muscle and get toned, you should lift heavier weights. So if you’re going for looks, quantity, and tone of muscle, lift heavy. If you want to be able to increase your ability to perform prolonged exercises, lift light, but don’t expect it to tone your muscles. Another benefit of lifting heavy over lifting light is heavy lifting has shown to have a greater effect of improving your metabolism over lifting lighter weights.
Myth 4: Women should train differently than men. Women often don’t want to lift heavy weights because they think they will become too bulky. It turns out that since women have only 5-10% of the testosterone levels of a man, and testosterone drives muscle growth, that it’s much harder for a woman to become bulky even with extensive heavy lifting. Still unsure? Studies have shown that building some extra muscle from heavy lifting can reduce your risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cancer. Also, your bones will become stronger, your metabolism will speed up, and your immune system will strengthen.
Myth 5: You don’t have to lift weights if you just want to be healthy and fit. We saw in the last myth the benefits of lifting heavy, and there are even more. Starting in your 20s, your body begins losing a small amount of muscle each year. This gradual loss of muscle has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and an overall shorter life span. Building muscle mass throughout your adult years can reduce this loss of muscle. By keeping your muscle mass, you can live a longer healthier life!
Myth 6: When doing cardio, you want to get your heart rate into the “fat burning zone”. This “fat burning zone” isn’t the necessary zone to be in to burn the most fat, it’s just a lower threshold of when your body will begin burning fat. It turns out that high-intensity training has proved to burn more fat. If you want to burn fat, try doing High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). While doing your chosen form of cardio, try to use 100% effort and get your heart rate near max for a minute, and then slow it down and catch your breath for a minute. Repeat the intervals until time is complete.
Myth 7: Fasting puts your body into “starvation mode”. Studies have shown that your metabolic rate doesn’t begin to decline until about 60 hours into fasting. Starvation mode doesn’t begin until about 72 hours into fasting. Shorter fasting periods (up to 24 hours) have shown to have health benefits such as increasing your insulin sensitivity, stress resistance, and fat oxidation.
Myth 8: If you eat a lot of carbs, you will always be fat. When a group of 63 obese adults were split up to test the difference between high protein and high carb diets when trying to lose weight, the difference after 12 months was insignificant. The low carb diet helps in the short term, but it is not a long term solution. Reducing your carb intake decreases the amount of glycogen stored in our body. Glycogen holds a lot of water, so by reducing glycogen, you’re reducing the water stored in your body. So the rapid loss of weight in your first month of beginning a low carb diet is actually water loss and not weight loss.
Myth 9: Eat many small meals per day to stoke the metabolism and control hunger. Researchers looked at the thermic effects of foods ranging from meal patterns from 1 to 17 meals per day and found no difference in metabolic rate changes across all the meal patterns. This means that no matter how many meals you eat per day, you are no more or less likely to lose weight. However, some people prefer to eat multiple meals because it makes them feel fuller. This myth all comes down to personal preference, your metabolic rate will not be affected either way.
Myth 10: You can’t drink alcohol if you want to look good. As long as you incorporate your alcohol consumption into your calories values alcohol is fine, but there is something to be aware of. Alcohol can block fat oxidation, thus making fats easier to store. This means it’s not the alcohol that makes you fat, but the food you eat with it that’s getting stored. So go easy on the drunk food.
Myth 11: Don’t eat at night if you want to lose weight. Meal timing doesn’t matter, it’s all about calories in, calories out. Enough said.
Myth 12: I’m overweight because I have a slow metabolism. Even if your metabolism is naturally slow, the chances are it won’t be any more than 20% worse than the average metabolic rate. That means if the average is a 2000 calorie diet, you would only need to eat 1600 calories to maintain weight. That 400 calorie a day difference due to your very slow metabolism is definitely manageable by eating less food or exercising more. This is not an excuse for being overweight.