Step by Step: Q&A to separate fitness fact from fiction

Whether you are a gym rat or someone who's a more casual exerciser, you may wonder what's most effective. Here are some fitness promises and long-held fitness beliefs, along with some clarifications, to help you in your fitness journey.

Why do I lose inches but not pounds?

Strange as it may sound, you can slim and trim without seeing any changes in weight. Put aside the misunderstanding that muscle weighs more than fat. A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat. But because muscle tissue is more dense than fat, it takes up less space than an equal amount of fat tissue. You are on the right track when you begin to notice clothes are fitting a little looser. Losing inches means you are losing body fat while gaining muscle. When you strength-train, you will be improving your muscle-to-fat ratio, building that very important lean muscle tissue.

Are "toning shoes" as effective as they say?

"Unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle-toning benefits they claim," said Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

"Our findings demonstrate that toning shoes are not the magic solution consumers were hoping they would be, and simply do not offer any benefits that people cannot reap through walking, running or exercising in traditional athletic shoes."

What is the most effective way to build muscle strength?

For general conditioning, select a weight that you feel you can lift 8 to 12 times without forcing the movement; build up to 2 to 3 sets. When that becomes too easy, make slight increases in weight and reduce repetitions; gradually increasing to 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. Train with slow, controlled movements instead of allowing momentum to do all the work.

How often and how much exercise is recommended?

To maintain your endurance, strength and flexibility, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity five days per week or 20 minutes of vigorous activity combined with strength training three days a week.

What causes muscle soreness?

Contrary to the original belief, lactic acid does not cause muscle to "burn" several days after a workout. Muscle and blood lactate return to normal levels approximately 30 to 60 minutes after exercise and muscle soreness does not usually occur until 24 to 48 hours later. Although the exact cause of delayed muscle soreness is unknown, it is thought the soreness you feel is caused by microscopic tears in muscle fiber — a normal occurrence — which rebuilds and makes muscles stronger.

Where are the major muscle groups?

For general fitness, to prevent injuries and muscle imbalances, it is important to include all 10 major muscle groups in your workout sessions: buttocks, front thighs (quadriceps), back thighs (hamstrings), calves, chest, back, shoulders (deltoids), front of upper arms (biceps), back of upper arms (triceps) and abdominals. You do not have to work all muscle groups within the same day, but do try to work each group two to three times a week.

Will stretching prevent muscle soreness?

Current research tells us that stretching before or after exercising has little to no effect on muscle soreness after a workout. The major benefit for stretching is to increase flexibility, which increases your range of motion.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at slafit@tampabay.rr.com.

Toni Farkas, 55, of St. Petersburg demonstrates some exercises suitable for improved cardiovascular health. Sally Anderson

Speed skating

Stand tall with arms at sides. Leading with left leg, jump to left, knee bent, right leg crossing behind left leg. At the same time, reach opposite arm across body as if trying to touch knee, left arm behind back. Repeat on other side and continue alternating jumps as quickly as you can. Modification: Step out instead of jumping out.

High knee jogs

Run in place as fast as you can, lifting knees to about hip height, swinging arms at sides. Modification: Continue to lift alternating knees hip height, without running in place.

Cross-country skiing

Begin with legs in a staggered position. Place left foot in front, extending right arm to the front and other arm down to the side, slightly to the back. Alternate shifting feet and arms as though skiing. Vary the tempo for intensity, slowing down to modify.

Step-ups

Using the bottom step of your stairs or a stable low bench, step up and down, chest lifted, abs contracted. After 30 seconds to a minute of stepping, change lead foot. To add variety, try two wide steps up and down. For more intensity, pump arms.

Step by Step: Q&A to separate fitness fact from fiction 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 5:30am]

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