You may have to sit down for what we’re about to tell you. Are you ready? Here it comes… We don’t know everything.
I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Over the years we have actually been wrong about things.
Here are four things we’ve changed our minds on.
Zero Carb – Remember the nineties? Fresh Prince of Bel Air, smoking in pubs and the Atkins Diet. Yeah not eating carbs was all the rage back then, and it still is for many people looking to drop fat fast. Like much of this list, there is a time and place for this rule. The problem is that carbs came to be seen as evil in every situation, as though they had some kind of magical fat gaining property. They don’t, they’re just energy.
It’s like this: Weight loss requires a calorie deficit. Those calories have to come from somewhere, and the options are fat, protein. You could get them from protein, but protein is very important for building and maintaining muscle, which is vital during fat loss. You could get it from fat, but most people’s diets contain less fat than you might thing. Carbs are quite simply the cheapest, most abundant and freely available macronutrient so they’re the one most people overeat. So yes, a fat loss diet will probably involve reducing carbs, but zero carb diets are never going to be part of our long term approach to fat loss.
Neutral Spine – People used to think that to get abs they needed to do thousands of crunches. Then we got smart, and realised that fat loss was largely down to diet. Around that time, research was emerging about the role of the abs (or “core”, which became a catch-all term for the muscles around the mid section). This research claimed that the true role of the core is to brace the spine while the hips produce movement. And so the emphasis shifted away from spinal flexion exercises like crunches, and towards anti-extension/anti-rotation exercises like the plank, ab wheel rollout or Pallof press. Which are fine exercises, but there was an element of throwing the baby out with the bath water to this new found phobia of spinal flexion.
The thing is, provided body fat is sufficiently low, crunches and weighted variations like hanging leg raises actually will improve abdominal definition. The abs are muscles. If you build them they will be more prominent. So now we will include crunch variations. You might claim they’re not “functional”, but if your desired function is to look good with your shirt of, we disagree.
Sets and Reps – The old rules say it’s 3-5 reps for strength, 8-12 for muscle gain, and 15 plus for endurance. There’s nothing wrong with these as guidelines, but that’s all they are. Muscle research is an odd area. When you read the studies you’ll often conclude that all we can really say is what worked on a small group of college aged males in America, many of whom dropped out over the course of the study. When it comes to muscle gain, the truth is everything works. What we can say is that you need to reach a point in a set where you want to stop due to discomfort, but continue anyway. Beyond that everything is educated guess work.
Bad news? Not really, it just means you should use a range of set and rep schemes in your workout. Start with a heavy exercise, then move on to something more moderate in the 8-12 range, and finish with high reps.
Aerobics vs HIIT – Go back just a few years and aerobic training was about as well-liked as Josef Fritzel farting in a lift. High Intensity Interval Training was the only way to do cardio. The argument went; long duration steady state aerobics will eat into muscle mass, which in the end will slow down your metabolism. Also, it only burns calories while you’re actually training, which is pretty minimal.
HIIT however, produces an “afterburn” effect, meaning you’ll be burning fat for the rest of the day. Well, turns out there was never much evidence for the much touted afterburn effect. And the thing about HIIT is, when done correctly it’s bloody knackering. If you’re focussing your efforts on weight training (which you definitely should be) HIIT can be pretty exhausting to add on top, and possibly detract from your muscle gain. So when and how should you use aerobic training? When you’re already doing 3-4 weight training sessions per week. They’re always going to be your priority. At that point, and if you have time, and if fat loss is your priority, add a couple of cardio sessions in on your off days or on the morning of the days you lift weights. Use any piece of cardio equipment you like. Keep your heart rate up so that you’re slightly out of breath, and maintain that for 45 minutes.
Ultimately, cardio is like ketchup: it’s not the whole meal, but it makes it a lot better.
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