7 Fitness Rules You Should Break By Lisa Collier Cool
Jul 02, 2012
Here are 7 fitness rules that are meant to flouted—and new ones backed by solid science to help optimize your workout.
Old rule: Avoid exercising in the heat.
New rule: Acclimatize slowly and cool your neck.
A series of experiments shows that cooling the neck before working out in hot, humid weather can significantly boost athletic performance. Volunteers wearing ice-cold, strap-on neck collars could run faster on a treadmill in 87-degree heat than when they weren’t wearing the collars. You can get similar results by dipping a handkerchief in ice water and draping it around your neck.
Stay safe by gradually increasing the length and intensity of hot-weather exercise over two weeks, drinking ample fluids, and taking frequent breaks.
Old rule: Drink before you’re thirsty.
New rule: Drink up, but avoid fluid overload.
For years, sports nutritionists recommended “drinking ahead of thirst” to avoid dehydration. However, recent studies show that slight dehydration doesn’t hurt athletic performance or health.
A study by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa compared runners who did three two-hour workouts, in which they either quaffed a sports beverage according to thirst (about 13 oz. per hour), at a moderate timed rate (about 4 oz. every 15 to 20 minutes) and at a high rate (about 10 oz every 15 to 20 minutes). There were no significant differences in core body temperature or finishing time.
“The idea that thirst comes too late is a marketing ploy of the sports-drink industry," says Tim Noakes, M.D., professor of sport and exercise science at University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Old rule: Cardio burns the most calories.
New rule: Weight training is a better fat-burner.
A recent University of Southern Maine study found that 30 minutes of weight training torches as many calories as running at a blistering six-minute-mile pace. Along with boosting strength and chiseling muscles, weight training revs up your metabolism for up to 36 hours.
High-intensity training is another excellent fat-burner, with a recent review in Journal of Obesityreporting that it’s more effective than other forms of exercise for flattening the belly, while also improving aerobic fitness.
Old rule: Work out longer and faster to boost your health.
New rule: Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise daily.
A new study found that people who jogged 10 to 15 miles per week, at a pace of six or seven miles per hour, significantly outlived those who ran further and faster. The low-mileage group had 27 percent lower risk of death, compared to non-runners, while people who logged more than 25 miles weekly at higher speeds had no significant drop in mortality. The study analyzed the medical records of nearly 53,000 adults over an average of 15 years.
Another study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceeding in June, found that extreme endurance training may cause long-term heart damage in some marathoners, professional cyclists, and ultra-marathon runners. The researchers say that moderate exercise or interval training (mini-bursts of high-intensity exercise) is healthier for the heart.
Old rule: Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
New rule: Women should use 206 minus 88 percent of their age.
To burn fat and improve endurance, typically, your target heart rate should be 60 to 80 percent of your max. However, the traditional formula is based on research in men and can result in a max that’s too high for women, according to a study published in Circulation.
The researchers developed the new gender-specific formula based on an analysis of about 6,000 healthy women ages 35 and older. And while the math is a little tricky, you only need to run the numbers once a year—on your birthday.
Old rule: Stretch before your workout to prevent injuries.
New rule: Do a 10-minute dynamic warm-up.
A study published in British Medical Journal found no scientific evidence to back up the notion that stretching before a workout reduces injuries or that stretching before and after prevents muscle soreness.
Other studies show that static stretching can actually impair athletic performance, while dynamic warm-ups—such as pairing calisthenics (like squatting and lunging) with running drills—improve it. Dynamic warm-ups also reduce injuries, a 2006 study found.
Old rule: Prevent or treat overuse injuries with custom foot orthotics.
New rule: Cheaper prefab inserts are just as good.
Custom orthotics are a billion-dollar industry, but there’s little evidence that they deliver more benefit. A study of military recruits found no difference in rates of stress fractures, ankle sprains, or foot problems in those given custom orthotics versus those who wore prefabricated inserts.
Another study found that prefabricated heel cups for plantar fasciitis (heel pain syndrome) actually provided better pain relief than custom orthotics, at far lower cost.