10 Secrets Gyms & Fitness Experts Don’t Want You to Know

“How do you know it’s early January in Los Angeles?” I asked my friend the other day as we waited in line at Starbucks.

He looked at me perplexed and replied, “Surely not the weather?”

Nope, we don’t get much snow or other winter weather here. What we do get in early January is an influx of gym newbies.

Look around at your gym on, say, January 5: Lots of new, determined, eager faces. As a personal trainer, I love that fierce, take-no-prisoners look. These folks have a mission. Maybe a killer beach body by June or to reduce their risk for diabetes.

But because they’re going at it on their own, you’ll
also see improper form, lifting too heavy (or not heavy enough), and downright dangerous moves on the gym floor. Just as bad are those newbies who use their gym as a newly discovered social club that helps them transition from the office to a bar.

By March, it’s crickets around most gyms. Where did everyone go?

Fitness Myth-busting

Listen, I’m not picking on gym newbies. I applaud any kind of physical effort. I know how difficult even walking into a gym can be for many people, and I understand how badly they want to meet their goals.

Trouble is, these folks have been turned loose with lots of equipment but with no instruction manual. Worse yet, they’ve believed the long-prevailing myth that you need a gym to get lean and muscular, even if you take an 11-month “vacation” after your January gym visits.

If you go the gym route, really commit. Don’t max out your credit card for something you’re not going to use. I can’t recommend a trainer highly enough for optimal form and technique. Make the time and effort, and your workouts will aptly reward you.

Here’s the deal though. You don’t need a gym to get in great shape. Gyms and fitness experts have done a great job convincing you otherwise. I’m here to bust that and nine other prevalent fitness myths so you can get optimal workout results without unnecessary time, money, or hassle. Before you sign your gym membership for 2014, consider these myths:

1. More isn’t Better. In high school we would ask my English teacher how many pages our papers should be. “As many as it takes to say what you need to, but no more,” she always replied. Same with working out: Over-exercise can raise cortisol levels, leading to muscle breakdown and fat storage. When I have clients complain that “nothing is working” to break a plateau, I don’t tell them to work harder. I encourage them to do less exercise and more relaxation, since recovery is a crucial but overlooked aspect of training. I know a massage isn’t realistic every day, but you can always do an Epsom salt bath, sauna, meditation, yoga, or whatever helps you unwind. Love, don’t punish, yourself with physical activity.

2. Weight training should be your central focus. I’ve got nothing against yoga, Pilates, running, or whatever floats your boat physically. Just look at these as complementing your heavy lifting: Weight resistance is your fountain of youth that keeps you toned, vibrant, and young. Lift as heavy as you can with good form. (Worth mentioning again: a trainer can come in handy here.)

3. Cardio is dead. The only exercise I adamantly oppose is moderate- or long-duration cardio, which is outdated and wreaks your metabolism. Just say no to elliptical machines and hour-long aerobics classes. (I don’t care how hot your instructor is. Ogle him outside of class!) There’s an exception to every rule: Cardio burst training is the only cardio you need. Period.

4. Walking is not exercise. It is mandatory. Your Paleolithic ancestors did it every day, and you should too. Just stop labeling it cardio and then think you can hit up the new fro-yo store that opened because your pedometer said you “burned” 500 calories on that vigorous four-mile trek. Whereas high-speed vigorous exercise can raise stress levels, leisurely strolling will do the opposite, creating calm and balancing cortisol. Make a fab “walking mix” on your iPod or listen to your favorite book and move!

5. You’re not sitting correctly. I don’t mean to sound like one of those “you’re doing everything wrong” types, but – you’re most likely sitting incorrectly. Even if you rigorously exercise, you’re probably sitting most of the day. I’ll spare you the lecture that we weren’t meant to sit staring at a computer screen all day. The reality is, you probably do, so “seat hygiene” becomes critical. Forget stability balls: too difficult for long periods of time. Instead, consider a Disc-O-sit, which forces your knees downward, creating a 60-degree angle at the hip (versus the common 90 degree angle, a position your body wasn’t designed to hold for long periods of time). This “forces” the spine to stay aligned using your natural lumbar curve.

6. Spot burning doesn’t work. Unless you find you’re rarely sitting – and let’s face it, you’re probably sitting more than you think – stay away from abs exercises that involve “crunching.” Your body is already living in constant flexion (bending). Crunching is like sitting in flexion but with additional compressive forces – on your back, for instance – that you don’t need. Focus instead on kettlebell swings and other exercises that work your abs along with other body parts.

7. Most supplements won’t give you a beach body. Like gyms, supplements are big business. Even us professionals occasionally fall victim to manufacturers’ claims that a “specially formulated” powder or capsule can give you ripped abs or super-toned biceps. I’ve worked for supplement companies, yet I can honestly say most supplements are useless. One exception is branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which studies show can boost muscle protein synthesis.

8. Start your workout with the most metabolically demanding moves. After you’ve warmed up, of course. Get the heavy lifting (pun fully intended) out of the way first with jumping, sprinting, Olympic lifts, or power lifts. Follow this routine with strength and then body weight exercises.

9. Your fitness improves when you’re out of the gym. I mentioned earlier recovery is a crucial but undervalued aspect of working out. What you do outside your workout ultimately affects muscle synthesis and repair more than gym time. Give your body the raw materials to come back stronger. If mass is what you’re looking for, go for 1.5 grams of protein for every pound of body weight, spread throughout the day. If you want to lean out, aim for one gram of protein for every pound of lean body (fat-free) mass.

10. You don’t need a gym to get fit. I love my gym, but you can transform your body at home without a lot of bells and whistles. My favorite at-home workout includes squats, lunges, deadlifts, planks, chest press, push-ups, rowing exercises, and pull-ups. Rather than focus on individual body parts, organize workouts, such as push/pull or, upper body/lower body or, full body workouts. Again, consider training to establish proper form.

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