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September 1999

p. 40

10 Rules to Break for a Better Body

What's standing between you and buff-dom?  It could be something as simple as following outdated advice.

The quickest, most effective way to shape up your body is to start with your mind. Blindly following outmoded fitness rules can make your routine a big waste of your precious time. Here, the latest research findings to put you back on the shape-up track.

Old rule #1: The machine says I burned 300 calories— time for a treat.  Just be­cause the treadmill readout indicates you burned 300 calories doesn’t mean you can eat a bacon double cheeseburger or a slice of cheese­cake.    Why? “Some ma­chines over­estimate the calories burned by 20 to 30 per­cent,” says Michele S. Olson, Ph.D., associate professor of exercise science at Auburn University Mont­gomery in Alabama. The most inaccurate machines are the ones that don’t require you to enter your weight; those readouts are usually based on the calories that would be burned by a 155-pound man.

New rule: Don’t swap exercise for food. “It’s defeatist and dissatisfying,” says Susan M. Kleiner Ph.D., owner of High Performance Nutrition in Mercer Island, Washington. “Exercise for health and because you enjoy it, not because it allows you to be bad.” if you’ve eaten well all day and have gotten all the nutrients you need, go ahead, have a treat. “But don’t eat like that every day,” says Kleiner. “Exercise can’t protect your body from the long-term damaging effects of unhealthy foods.” And if you’re not sure how accurate a machine readout is, you might try exercising longer or entering a slightly lower weight to compensate.


Old rule #2: Beginners get fewer fitness benefits than advanced exercisers.  Get this: Beginners experience greater gains in fitness than advanced exercisers. If you can do only one sit-up when you start an exercise pro­gram, it won’t take long be­fore you’ll be able to perform ten. Compare that with an advanced exerciser who may be doing 50 sit-ups and adds just two more after a month.

New rule: Be a perpetual be­ginner Exploit the benefits of newness by changing your routine at least every two to three months, says Timothy Moore, Ph.D., a fitness con­sultant and exercise physi­ologist in Santa Monica, California. Try out a new machine, check out a different class, or mix up the order of your routine.


Old rule #3: No pain, no gain “You should feel a little tired, but that should go away within an hour,” says James S. Skinner, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at Indiana University in Bloomington. The same with soreness—if you feel it at all, it should be mild and appear about 24 to 48 hours after a workout. If, on the other hand, you experience pain during or immediately after a session, it could be a sign of injury or that you’re pushing your­self too hard.

New rule: Think “no strain, no gain” To make steady progress without overdoing it, change one variable in your routine (time, duration, or intensity) by no more than 10 percent per week. If you’re running or walking for 20 minutes, your body won’t have much trouble with 22 minutes the next week.


Old rule #4: In weight training, the more reps, the better.  Fewer, slower, and more controlled repetitions provide more effective results during weight training because you’re using muscle, not momentum. “The slower the movement, the more force and tension the  muscle fibers can generate, which results in greater strength,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.

New rule: Aim low, go slow “Doing the standard 10 to 15 reps with perfect form and an ap­propriate weight should properly fatigue the muscle. In fact, if you can do more reps, either your  form is off or the weights are not heavy enough,” says Westcott.


Old rule #5: The harder the workout, the better it is for your health. You can achieve just as many health benefits from much lower levels of exercise. “Vigorous exercise will make you more fit, but you won’t necessarily be healthier than with moderate exercise,” says Bryant Stam­ford, Ph.D., director of the Health Promotion Center at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. In fact, other things like smoking, drinking, and eating a lot of saturated fat dictate your overall health status more than exercise does.

New rule: Get regular, moderate exercise “If your goal is better health, spend each day doing some kind of moderate activity- 30 to 45 minutes of golfing, cycling, brisk walking, gardening, or washing the car,” says Stamford.


Old rule #6: Sweats are best for exercise.  What you wear can have an impact on your workout performance,  according to studies done  over a five-year period with more than 100 athletes at Pennsylvania State University.  William J. Kraemer,  Ph.D., now at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, found that when exercisers wore form-fitting shorts, their endurance and power increased an average of 12 to 30 percent. “Stretchy compression fabric exerts pressure on muscles,” he says. That pressure increases blood flow and helps flush away fatigue causing waste products, such as lactic acid. Pressure from the garment also reduces muscle vibration, another major cause of fatigue.

New rule: Wear Lycra.  Pull on the stretch gear and strut your stuff.


Old rule #7: For best results, work out daily.   Rest is just as important as activity when it comes to shaping up your body. “Studies show that work­ing out seven days a week is no better than working out four times a week, so why waste your time?” says David Pearson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State Uni­versity.  In fact, if you take some time off, you’ll work out harder at your next session because your body and muscles have fully recovered. But rest, explains Pearson, does not mean bed rest. “You just shouldn’t be doing the same activity more than four times a week. On your off days, you should still be active  - taking walks, playing with your children, raking leaves.”

New rule: Give yourself a break.  Aim to work out for 30 to 45 minutes four times a week. On the other three days, just play.


Old rule #8: Stick to swimming—it protects your joints and bones from injuries.   “Swimming is effective for cardiovascular conditioning, but it’s not ideal in terms of bone health,” says Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. In fact, one study revealed that competitive swimmers actually had lower bone density than sedentary college students and other athletes.

New rule:  Swim for your heart, but for healthy bones, exercise on dry land Walk, hike up hills, climb stairs—at least three times a week. Strength training can also cut your gradual loss of bone:  “When you create tension on a muscle by lifting weights, the bone adapts by becoming more dense,” explains Sternlicht.


Old rule #9: A strict diet plus exercise is what really pares off pounds. Cutting back calories as you increase exercise may backfire on you: Your body won’t be able to exercise at its full capacity, so you’ll actually burn fewer calories, but you’ll think you’ve gotten a good workout because you feel fatigued.

New rule: Be sure you’re eating enough Tally your daily intake—it should be at least 1,600 calories. “When you have enough calories to keep your meta­bolic rate working at faster levels, you exercise at a greater intensity, maintain muscle, and burn more calories,” says Kleiner.


Old rule #10: To blast belly bulge, you’ve got to do lots and lots of crunches.   Although it may seem that way, abdominals are not more resistant to exercise. “They are identical to every other muscle in your body, so they don’t require more sets,” says Sternlicht.

New rule: Do ab exercises along with aerobics. To whittle your middle, you need to pair abdominal exercises (which tone) with cardiovascular activities (which burn body fat, including your belly).