Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fighting the Battle of the Bulge

Having done this for almost four months now, and being a woman, and having spoken to people of both genders, it seems that there are a few overarching similarities that everyone seems to struggle with. When it comes to fitness, that sentiment is doubly true, and there are just as many myths out there as people who are willing to try them. After having done a little research on this and tried a few things out myself, I decided to separate the wheat from the chaff in regard to working out and fitness.

Myth #1: Crunches make good abs. This is only half true. If you do hundreds of crunches a day, your abdominal muscles will get very toned, but the reason that even the most toned abs don't look like a six pack is because there's a layer of insulation there. This is also true for your other muscles - you won't see the definition you've built until you eliminate the fat. So, as much as some people hate to hear this, you're going to have to do the cardio. That means 30 minutes three times a week, at least, and make sure you warm up and cool down for five minutes or so, which does not count toward your thirty minutes. Really, it will be at least 40 minutes of being on the machine. Now, if you hate the idea of being a hamster on a wheel, there are plenty of other activities besides the treadmill that will give you a cardio workout. There are elliptical machines like the one at left, which are aerobically effective, but low impact if you don't have the knees to run. There are also, of course, aerobics classes, swimming, cycling - getting out is not a bad idea. Make sure, though, that you monitor your heart rate to ensure that you are working out at an appropriate pace.

Myth #2: I don't want to be muscular, so I'm not going to do any strength training. A lot of people conjure images of bodybuilders when they consider lifting weights, so they decide not to do it. It would take an awful lot of weightlifting for you to get there, however, and there are so many other benefits to strength training. For example, leaner muscles burn more fat, so all your other workouts and activities will be more effective. Also, it will save you plenty of problems down the line when you get older. Yes, it's never too soon to start thinking about those kinds of things. If you want to add a little strength training for those fringe benefits, do only one set of 8-12 repetitions, so you can tone your muscles but not end up looking like a steroid freak.

Myth #3: I hate going to the gym because I just know people are looking at me and judging me. First of all, I can tell you from personal experience that they're not, especially the real gym nuts. Trust me, they're only focusing on two things - their workout and how they look while doing their workout. Seriously, most people are busy monitoring the things they need to watch while they're exercising, so they generally pay very little attention to other people. Secondly, who really cares what any of these people may or may not be thinking of you? You can't hear it, anyway. Let them think what they want - you are doing a good thing by making a commitment to your health. It does get easier over time. The first time I went to the gym I was terrified, especially with all those hardcore gymgoers walking around with their perfect bodies. Now that I've been going for quite some time without incident, it's become a place where I can actually relax and destress, and I know it can become that for you, too.

Myth #4: I don't really need to stretch after a workout. Yes you do! Stretching not only helps to give you more flexibility, but it will help you to preserve that flexibility into your golden years. Also, if you're short like me, it will really help you to reach onto that high shelf. If you're a mom, it will help you to keep up with your kids. It only takes five or ten minutes after your workout (while your muscles are warm) and you'll feel so much better. Not only that, but I've found that stretching reduces the likelihood of cramping, as well as a little (just a little!) extra salt in the diet.

Myth #5: Some diets work better for me than others. I hate to break it to you, but there is no special food formula that will help you lose weight. The bottom line, no matter what diet you are on, be it the Zone, Atkins or what have you, is that you need to burn more calories than you take in. The only real solution to having the body you want is to eat right and exercise. That said, diets like the Zone are great because they help you to keep a balanced diet, but that alone will not ensure you'll look like a model by next summer. You have to add exercise to it in order to see real, lasting results. After all, there will come a point where you will go off your diet, like the winter holidays, and you'll eat what you shouldn't. With a well-rounded plan, you won't wreck your entire program.