- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

Doug Hatten, director of fitness education with the Washington Sports Club, can dispel the notion that strength training guarantees big muscles with a simple photo show.

Mr. Hatten will hold up a picture of a bodybuilder heaving weights next to an elderly woman with a walker lifting herself out of a chair to hammer home the point to the fitness chain’s personal trainers.

They are both lifting weight, Mr. Hatten says, but the woman won’t look anything like the bodybuilder the next day.

It sounds obvious, but too many women still think any kind of weight training will add unwanted bulk.

“Every day we are lifting weights … but it doesn’t mean everybody who does those things will get as big as a house,” Mr. Hatten says. “It’s all a matter of how you apply the resistance training and how your body reacts to it.”

Some fitness myths refuse to die. The barbell-begets-bulk theory is just one exercise myth that personal trainers and fitness experts alike hope to debunk.

Mr. Hatten says some fitness myths stare us in the face.

“If you’re working out on any [cardio] equipment, those fat-burning zones … they’re always misleading,” he says. Exercisers will burn calories in these so-called “zones,” but a higher-intensity workout will yield better results.

Mr. Hatten says the enormous amount of information

available is to blame for our myth-filled culture.

“The average consumer has access to too much information, and it swirls it around in a circle. They grab something from it and apply it,” he says.

Jay Blahnik, a member of the Vancouver, Wash.-based Nautilus Institute’s advisory board, says the biggest misconception he hears concerns burning calories.

“A lot people have an overinflated sense of how many calories they’re burning,” says Mr. Blahnik, whose institute is a health and fitness research arm of the Nautilus fitness company.

The misinformation might come from an infomercial, a magazine or even an elliptical machine’s readout, Mr. Blahnik says, adding that some elliptical devices are programmed to tell the exerciser that roughly 1,000 calories will be burned in less than an hour.

One would have to run at the equivalent of a six-minute-mile pace for a full hour to burn that amount, he says.

“That’s really hard. Very few people can do that,” he says.

In general, people who put themselves through a “pretty good workout” will burn between 200 and 300 calories.

While Mr. Hatten bemoans how many women avoid weight training for fear of developing unwanted muscle mass, he also says too many children are heeding their parents’ fears that working out will stunt their growth.

The latest research indicates that children, particularly overweight children, can develop strong young bodies and lose weight with resistance training, he says.

“If you’re the fat kid, so to speak, you can’t play sports; you get tired from running, but he’ll be able to do a strength-training program,” he says. “It’s very motivating.”

Yaz Boyum, a District-based professional trainer, says it’s crucial for people to look past the exercise gimmicks and go back to basics.

“Doing one set per body part is as effective as doing three sets,” Ms. Boyum says. “The bottom line is, if you address all the body parts in some fashion and focus on muscle balance — don’t train the chest and arms and neglect the back — that’s the way to go.”

Some fitness information isn’t necessarily wrong, Ms. Boyum says. It’s just not right for everyone.

“[People] tend to read one or two articles in a fitness magazine and then say, ‘I saw this exercise in Men’s Health.’ But the article has a guy doing this oblique isolated abdominal crunch that’s geared to someone who doesn’t have any limitations,” she says. “The information is not always appropriate for each person.”

Fitness mythology may be a generational matter.

Fitness expert and author Leisa Hart says younger fitness enthusiasts are getting the message that some exercise information deserves to be retired.

“I would say if I have [women] students who are 45 to 50 plus years old, they are fearful of weights. Students in their 20s or 30s are more savvy,” says Ms. Hart, a Dallas-based instructor whose latest “Sexy” video series targets the arms, legs, buttocks and abdominal muscles.

Work still needs to be done, she reports, because a few fitness myths “keep hanging on for dear life.” One even comes with a catchy slogan — “no pain, no gain.”

“This can be a problem for many reasons,” she says, ticking off potential injuries, poor results and discouragement as just three of the many side effects from such a plan.

“We’ve seen a philosophy change from all or nothing to … adding more parts of the puzzle — warm-ups and cool downs, proper stretching, yoga and Pilates,” she says.

A key fitness myth has little to do with the gym but everything to do with what’s in the refrigerator.

“I see people who still think they need to starve themselves,” she says. “It’s difficult for me to drive home to many people you’ve got to eat to win.”

That’s particularly true following a final set or repetition.

“After the workout is when the muscles are ripe and ready and open to take in good sources of carbohydrates,” she says, such as fruit, rice, pasta or cereal.

Workout enthusiasts should choose wisely among the available information before hitting the gym.

Mr. Blahnik says trustworthy sources for consumers include not only his institute’s Web site (www.nautilusinstitute.org) but also that of the American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.org) and Shape magazine (www.shape.com).

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