5 overrated fitness 'rules'
Fitness often follows ironclad rules meant to maintain world order and prevent jerks from sweating on the equipment and curling in the squat rack. But there are some fitness rules that, when broken, lead to more muscle gain, more fat loss, and faster results. Although they are great guidelines for beginners, once you reach the next level of fitness, you can pass them by.
Read on for five "holy" fitness guidelines you should feel free to ignore. After all, history is full of innovators—the Wright brothers, Roger Bannister, the Patriots—who broke the rules.
Never Train to Failure
If you're a beginner, yes: Never train to failure. There's no reason to wreck yourself when you can't do three pullups.
Once you have a solid base of strength, however, your body needs much more stimulus for muscle growth. That's when pushing yourself to failure can reap massive rewards—like breaking through workout plateaus, shattering mental limits, and generating more muscle-building hormones.
Use a rule of thumb called AMAP, or "as many as possible": On your last set of an exercise, go for as many reps as you can while maintaining good technique. Do it for three to four weeks at most to prevent overtraining.
If you have high blood pressure or heart problems, lowering salt intake does help. But for healthy, active people, adding an extra pinch of sea salt on your veggies won't kill you.
Here's what the science says: In an eight-year prospective study, researchers discovered that low sodium levels actually predicted higher cardiovascular disease mortality. The data also refuted inflexible sodium recommendations—to summarize, eat less salt no matter what—for healthy people. Another study in the American Journal of Hypertension showed "no strong evidence" of any effect of salt reduction on cardiovascular disease morbidity for people with normal blood pressure.
Also, if you cook healthy meals at home, drink lots of water, and exercise four times a week, you might actually need more salt. One liter of sweat has roughly three grams of sodium—so after hours of basketball on a hot day, for example, you should consume more electrolytes to replenish what you lost. Just make sure you get your salt while eating healthy foods.
Eating More Meals Increases Metabolism
If it were a "fact," the evidence would be far more consistent, which it isn't. Eating frequent meals doesn't curb your appetite or boost your metabolism. One study even found frequent eating made participants hungrier.
If you want to burn fat and get lean, replace this rule with intermittent fasting (which I explain here). You will only eat twice a day, but you will get great results if you stick with it—without having to prepare five to six meals every day.
You Should Push Yourself with Every Workout
I admit I used to believe this too, but that's not how the body works. Think of your body as a stress magnet: If there's stress in your life—physical or mental—your body will wear down; going to the gym for a soul-crushing WOD won't help.
Instead, when you feel fatigued or banged up, harness the magic of a "recovery" workout. Do a short, light circuit and keep your heart rate under 150 bpm. This will promote blood flow to speed up muscle repair and function as aerobic exercise to further enhance recovery without draining your nervous system. That way, you will feel awesome the next day.
No Cardio While Bulking
Here's the belief: Cardio burns calories and muscle, which makes it harder to gain size and strength.
Here's the truth: Uh, no.
Slow, aerobic cardio is beneficial even while bulking. It will improve your heart health and recovery between workouts, help you avoid fat gain, and increase your work capacity. Just make sure to go slow and easy—heart rate in the 130- to 150-bpm range—to avoid tapping into your anaerobic system.
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Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert and founder of groombuilder.com