In an Instagram post I shared what I called “Some Truths of Training” a long time ago and it generated a stir, bordering on 400 comments.
As always when you try to simplify something, nuances and contexts are lost. Given all the doubts that arose, I write this article to try to delve into each point.
1. You can’t tone
Many people claim that they do not really want to increase their muscle mass, but simply tone up. But the concept of tone up it doesn’t really mean anything. The visual aspect they want to achieve when they talk about toning is simply achieved gaining muscle Y losing fat.
2. You can’t lose fat wherever you want
Not by doing a lot of sit-ups will you lose more belly fat (study, study, study), nor by training your legs will you burn more fat in that area (study, study). Tennis players, for example, work one arm much more than the other, but they have the same percentage of fat in both (study).
The area where you lose fat will depend mainly on your genetics and hormonal environment. That is why fat accumulation patterns tend to vary between men and women (detail).
Having said that, every rule has its exceptions. Recent studies seem to confirm that it is possible to attack fat in a particular location with a special protocol: high intensity with subsequent aerobic exercise.
By contracting the muscles, nearby fat is mobilized to a greater extent, especially when using high intensity. To maximize the probability of burning that mobilized fat it seems interesting to add some light cardio afterwards, such as running or jumping rope if you are at home.
This is precisely what they did in this study, showing that we can (to some extent) influence where we burn fat with this combination: localized strength first and general cardio second. The effect is small, but it helps.
3. Doing a lot of cardio is not effective for losing fat
As I explain in this summary, cardio is not one of the key factors you need to lose fat in a healthy way.
An excess of cardio can make it difficult, for example, to recover from your workouts (study). This will subtract energy in strength training, the most important to minimize muscle loss during caloric deficit (study). If you like it and you want to add a couple of weekly sessions, go ahead, with a high probability it will help you (and allow you to eat a little more). But more is not better.
And as we saw in the previous point, the combination of strength with light cardio could help select where you lose some more body fat. As a summary: doing cardio during deficit is optional, strength training is essential.
4. Women don’t get like males for strength training
Fortunately, more and more women understand the importance of building muscle mass. Strength training is the best antidote to osteoporosis, as well as preventing many other problems that accompany aging.
Although the mentality is changing, many still believe that gaining muscle will masculinize their figure, reducing physical attractiveness. It is not true. In practice, just the opposite occurs. Muscle highlights curves and also facilitates fat loss. The end result is precisely that look toned that many are looking for (more detail).
5. 1Kg pink weights are useless
To grow, the muscle needs tension. You can gain muscle with moderate loads, of course, but you need to exceed a minimum threshold. Pink weights do not offer enough stimulus to most women, being ineffective in improving muscle strength or quality.
6. You don’t have to end up wrecked to progress
Some measure the quality of their training by fatigue the next day. They enjoy the stiffness for assuming it is a reflection of a good workout (the weakness coming out of their body) but this is not necessarily true.
Anyone can design a strenuous workout, but you need more knowledge to design one that allows you to progress for a long time. Good training should stimulate, not annihilate. It should produce a positive adaptation but at the same time leaving enough energy. If it hinders your recovery and causes you to lose the rhythm of your workouts, that session will have subtracted from your progress.
7. Without progressive overload you will not improve
Whatever quality you want to improve, you should practice it with gradual intensity. If we talk about improving physical capacities, you will need to apply the call progressive overload, doing each time a little more.
Progressive overload is not just about raising the weights you use. You can add more difficult exercises, more series, more repetitions, more weekly volume … Hence the importance of having a good program.
The main message is that if you always do the same you will not progress. Also remember that your body becomes more efficient by repeating the same movements, so incorporating some variability over time will help you avoid stagnation (detail).
8. You can build muscle using only your body
As we saw, pink weights are inefficient for building muscle mass, but don’t think that you need big weights to improve your strength either.
Whether you are a man or a woman, you can achieve very good results by training with your own body, even in the comfort of your home. Well used, your body will give you more intensity than all those pink weights.
9. If you are sedentary, you are not healthy
Many studies use the term “healthy sedentary subject”, assimilating health to absence of disease. However, this definition of health is very limited. The WHO itself defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not only as an absence of affections or diseases».
Y without a minimum of movement it is impossible to achieve a state of complete physical well-being. Our ancestors did not do physical activity to burn calories or tone up, but to survive. Physical activity was unavoidable, and our physiology became dependent on a certain level of movement to function properly.
For example, the venous return system or the lymphatic system do not have their own heart to circulate their contents, but rather depend on the action of the muscles, that with each contraction they make it advance. As we become sedentary, these systems do not work well. The return of blood to the heart is made difficult and the elimination of waste by the lymphatic system becomes less efficient.
Our own genes are regulated by physical activity, and they need a minimal dose to express yourself in a healthy way (detail). A sedentary lifestyle produces a pathological genetic programming. If you don’t move, you are not healthy.
10. Stretching before training is overrated
Stretching before training does not reduce the risk of injury or soreness, and in fact can impair performance– Excess static stretching reduces force application (review) and impairs running speed (study).
Flexibility has its place, but the concept of mobility. To some extent, flexibility depends on your brain. What appears to be a lack of flexibility is often a mental protection. Your brain detects little motor control in that range of motion and tenses your muscles to avoid injury. And those controls are for something. An excess of flexibility can generate a lack of stability, increasing the risk of injury. Improving mobility, however, will increase your flexibility in a more functional way. In this podcast I delve deeper into the differences between flexibility and mobility.
As always, there are nuances, and different types of stretching generate different adaptations and responses, as I explain in this article.