Seven Fitness Myths, Lies, distortions and fabrications
Featured Gym Equipment: treadmill, free weights, indian clubs, dumbbells, barbells
A myth is a fabrication; at best an exaggeration of a truth, at worst a purposeful lie told for financial gain or ego gratification. Myths are propagated and perpetuated by believers. Telling an untruth over and over does not make it a truth. I was asked the other day to describe the horror of living under the Nautilus craze. This got me thinking about other fallacious fabrications that were at one time taken as gospel. I relate them to you, in no order, and could list many more myths if pressed.
Stretching: I could write a large book entitled ‘pompous stretchers I have encountered.’ I used to get a kick out of getting through my entire back workout of deadlifts, rows and chins in less time than it took for a handsome personal trainer (he trained clients at a gym I belonged to) to ‘stretch out’ his out-of-shape, high paying clientele. He would put students and clients through elaborate stretching routines prior to lifting, this ‘to avoid injuries.’ They would then sit on a resistance machine (with seats as plush as a Cadillac) and halfheartedly push or pull on the machine handles. Worse yet were the personal trainers that forcibly stretched their clients, often to the point of injury. Warm muscles are looser and more pliable so logic would dictate some sort of blood-pumping exercise (a treadmill for 10 minutes would do nicely) prior to stretching would raise core muscle temperature. I remember as if it were yesterday the pained screams of clients as personal trainers forcibly stretched ice-cold hamstrings and stiff-as-a-board lower backs. More injuries occurred from stretching than from weightlifting. How stupidly ironic from stretching routines designed to prevent injury cause injury.
Nautilus training philosophy: In the 1970’s this pompous, arrogant philosophy was invented by Art Jones and for a decade they had everyone in the academic and coaching community alternatively enthralled or bullied into stupefied silence. In the end, the Emperor had no clothes, and the whole Nautilus training philosophy spun down the toilet bowl, never to be heard of or spoken about again. While they were on top, it was a reign of terror. Art Jones wrote ‘revolutionary’ articles about a revolutionary new way to build muscle, power and strength. He constructed a methodology and the myth needed be actualized using monstrous exercise machines he built and sold. Jones called anyone that didn’t bow to his genius or hail his approach “idiots.” He made sweeping pronouncements about free weights and how they would be relegated to the fitness garbage pile along with Indian clubs and jiggle belts. In fact, it was Jones’ machines and philosophy that ended up in the garbage.
The Arnold Press: busting this myth won’t take a lot of ink. Dave Draper once said, “I trained with Arnold for ten years and I never saw him do the “Arnold Press.” Hardly surprising. The Arnold press features a corkscrew motion used on both the upward press and the negative. Somehow this strange arm action supposedly stimulates extra shoulder fiber and, since it was used by Arnold and named after Arnold, its effectiveness went unchallenged. About the only thing this strange dumbbell exercise stimulates is aggravating the rotator cuffs in the shoulders. Not just an urban bodybuilding myth, this exercise could hurt you if done too heavy and too often. Stick to the basic shoulder presses, seated and standing presses done in front and behind the neck with dumbbells and barbells.
The fat burning zone: there is an old saying, “paralysis through over analysis” and nowhere did this cliché seem more appropriate than when applied to the myth of the fat burning zone. To me, the fat burning zone was feverishly embraced because it was a call to do less. It was stated that by chugging along at 55% to 65% of aerobic capacity (think mall walking as exercise) the trainee burned a larger percentage of body fat. Which might well be, but who cares if you burn a greater % of fat if you are only oxidizing a grand total of 135 calories during a training session? What real athletes knew was that in the same amount of time it takes a 60% speed walker to burn 150 calories, the serious athlete engaged in a ferocious cardio session of identical duration will burn 750 calories. While lounging around in the fat-burning zone might make you more efficient, you are King of a tiny kingdom. Better to sweat, huff, puff, pant and strain: does a person even break a sweat speed walking at 60%? Better burn a slightly lesser % of 1,000 calories than a slightly better % of 200 calories.
You need to starve to get ripped: you would be surprised how much food a competitive bodybuilder eats even prior to a competition. Six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates never let his calories dip below 3,500. Which, when you think about it, is a LOT of food for someone attaining a 4% body fat percentile. The bodybuilder eats “clean” food, natural protein, fiber carbs and quality fat. Starch carbs are modulated. Those that use starvation dieting end up “shutting down” the metabolism. The human body, sensing starvation, will preserve its body fat at all cost. Fat is the last line of defense against starvation. If starvation is sensed, he body will eat its own muscle tissue, sparing the fat. Muscle cannibalism, bought on by starvation diet tactics, is exactly what the elite bodybuilder seeks to avoid.
Protein consumption: generalizations are always wrong and if I hear “the body can only digest 30 grams of protein at a time” one more time my head is going to explode. Really? So, my buddy Brad Gillingham, 6-5 and 340-pounds, has the same protein assimilation rate and my 4-11, 95-pound super trim daughter? You would be surprised at the number of highly educated nutrition experts that still mindlessly mouth this myth. So how much protein does a person need? That depends on if you are an athlete or a couch potato. It also depends on the physical and performance goals (a strength athlete needs more protein than a golf pro) and the quality of the protein and soundness of the overall nutritional and training template. Most elite athletes will take in 1-2 grams of quality protein per pound bodyweight per day.
The overemphasis on water intake: I once interviewed a bodybuilder that had just placed 2nd at the Olympia. It was a back-training article in Muscle & Fitness magazine. My editor at the time, Bob Wolff, was obsessed with water intake. Every month I would interview an IFBB superstar and Weider contract bodybuilder and every month Bob would predictably tell me, “And be sure and ask how much water they drink!” I asked the Olympia place winner how much water he drank and he slyly said, “Let’s f@3k with my opponents that will read this…I drink four gallons of water a day.” Oh my god. I said. Why would you say that? “Because guys coming after me will read it, do it and it will mess them up.” He said he might drink a gallon of water per day. Sure enough, a year later I interviewed a very earnest, very green, brand new IFBB pro bodybuilder, a man that would (much later) eventually win numerous Olympias. I asked how much water the up-and-comer drank. “Five gallons a day Marty!” Five gallons?? I said. “Mr. 2nd place winner at the Olympia “only” drank four.” He paused and said, “I know Marty – but I want to beat him!” Water intake is highly overrated.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.