Maybe you want to feel better, look better in a bathing suit, or just improve your game. Whatever your goal for working out, you might be doing something wrong. According to Ashley Herda, a lecturer in the Exercise Science undergraduate program at the KU Edwards Campus, some popular misconceptions about exercise have many people feeling more pain for less gain.
Time to burn
“Too many people think they have to spend hours in the gym or on the treadmill to get results,” Herda says. “So they try too hard, get too sore, and they quit.” A better approach, she says, is short bursts of high intensity exercise – a combination of cardiovascular and resistance training, followed by brief rests. That may sound familiar to anyone who has tried the “P90X” program, or seen the infomercials for Insanity®.
“Thirty to 60 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise is recommended for a good workout, but with brief bursts of high intensity and rest intervals, you can condense that 60 minutes into 30,” Herda says. She does caution that even short burst of high-intensity exercise are easy to over-do, so ease into any program you are unfamiliar with.
Walk, don’t run
The morning jog may not be all it’s cracked up to be. If you’re trying to shed pounds, a brisk two-mile walk (not a lazy stroll) is actually more beneficial than running the same distance. It has to do with exertion and heart rate, Herda says, and it applies to workouts in general. “If you exercise at 50 percent of your max, you’re burning fat as your energy source. But when you reach 60 to 70 percent, carbohydrates become that fuel source. Yes, running will burn more calories, but you’re burning carbs, not fat."
Similarly, people always ask Herda how much cardio they have to do to lose fat. Her answer: The best way to lose fat is to gain muscle! “Cardiovascular exercise is great for the heart, but your heart doesn’t burn fat; your muscles do. And they burn more energy through loaded, repetitive contractions,” she says. “With resistance training, calories continue to burn while your muscles are recovering (during rest),” she explains. “With cardio, the calorie burn ends once you catch your breath.”
Don’t stretch it
Regardless of the workout routine, the first thing you want to do is stretch those muscles a little, right? Wrong! Stretching before exercise actually impairs performance, Herda says: “A stretched muscle is an elongated muscle. Things like turnover and foot speed will be slower because the muscle has to contract further. ” In other words, you won’t be able to lift as much or run as fast. Not only that, but injury risk increases because the muscles that surround the joints are less stable.
Herda recommends “dynamic” stretching, using movement to warm up the muscles, as opposed to prolonged “static” stretching. The latter does have its place, but after the workout. “Muscles often incur micro-tears during an intense workout, and stretching will help ease tension in the muscle fibers, break up metabolic buildup, and increase blood flow to the muscles,” Herda says. That makes for less soreness the next day. Keep this unconventional wisdom in mind for your workout, and you’ll enjoy more gain from less pain.