There's a lot of information out there about fitness, but many statements are not the result of scientific research. Let's see together a few of them.
WOMEN SHOULDN’T LIFT WEIGHTS BECAUSE THEY GET BIG. Just stop it. This is probably the worse myth out there. Weightlifters bulk up only when (1) they follow a program for hypertrophy, which basically increases muscle mass, and (2) they eat a lot. Cardiovascular training alone won’t strengthen your muscles; actually, you will lose some. Losing muscle means lower your metabolism, and when that happens it’s really difficult to lose body fat. To every woman afraid to bulk up: it won’t happen easily; you are working against your endocrine system. And even if you put on a little muscle mass, this will also increase your metabolism, and you will burn more fat every single second of the day. It’s the best strategy to slim down. The cardiovascular training you are already doing will be much more effective if you start lifting weights.
I SHOULD STRETCH AT THE BEGINNING OF EVERY SESSION. There is a lot of misconception about when, why and how to stretch our muscles. Even though most people still perform static stretching before a workout, this type of stretching (1) does not warm up the muscles, (2) does not decrease the chances of injury, and (3) does not improve athletic performance. Most studies now report that while dynamic stretching at the beginning will better prepare our bodies for what’s coming next during the training session, static stretching performed at this stage is a counterproductive waste of time and energy. At the end of our workouts, though, if we don’t want to lose flexibility we need to re-establish the natural elasticity of our muscles, and static stretching is one of the best ways to achieve this goal.
IF I STRETCH I WON’T BE SORE TOMORROW. Not quite. Our ability to recover after exercising doesn’t really depend on whether or not we stretched at the end of our last workout. True, by performing static stretching at the end of our training session we can work on our flexibility and surely alleviate some of the tightness due to all the strong muscle contractions we experienced. However, the soreness we endure 1-3 days after exercising is due to all the physiological micro-traumas we caused to our muscles, not lack of stretching.
FREE WEIGHTS ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN MACHINES. Not necessarily. Although free weights require more training and are more difficult to control, I don’t consider resistance training machines to be much safer than them, as most people tend to underestimate their potential dangers. When an individual is working with free weights he/she usually pays more attention to what he/she’s doing, and is forced to use less weight to maintain perfect alignment and control of all body segments. Free weights also demand a stronger involvement of the core musculature, thus facilitating a more active protection of the lumbar spine. On the other hand, machines are easy to use, and people tend to load them more than they can safely manage, potentially increasing their chances of injury. Since movements are fixed, many people don’t feel like they have to participate with their whole body to the action, and this weakens those muscles responsible to stabilize the body during repeated efforts. It’s a recipe for disaster, because weak stabilizers mean more chances of injury when we do need to perform that movement in real life, with no support of any machine. Moreover, machines often can’t mimic the natural movements of our body, and force us to move through a modified pattern that is more susceptible to injuries. When appropriately taught, a well-designed free weights training program is much more globally effective than working with machines, and it’s a wonderful investment for the future.
See you on my Part 2! :-)
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