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Three Common Exercise Myths

Being active and pursuing fitness can be a challenge on many levels.  Bad weather, hectic schedules, and traffic congestion unavoidably get in the way of our best intentions and efforts.  On the other hand, setbacks from injuries and overtraining are often avoidable, if armed with  the right information.  So whether you’re training to walk a 5K or race an ultra-marathon, don’t sabotage your fitness by falling prey to these three common exercise myths:

Myth #1 – Carb load to have more energy.

Athletes and sports nutritionist have known for decades that muscles store long-term energy as glycogen.  And, the best way to replenish glycogen is by eating carbohydrates/ starches.  Unfortunately, many have misapplied this physiological principle and pursued high starch, high grain diets with every meal.  This form of dietary trauma actually hinders muscle repair and excludes important trace nutrients.  The key is glycogen replenishment.  Muscles replenish glycogen most effectively when we ingest carbohydrates within the first 30 minutes following exercise.  Recovery drinks that include glucose, or even simple fruit juice, are best because they are easily absorbed and are rehydrating.

Outside of the first 30 minutes following exercise, we need to enjoy massive amounts of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats with berries, seeds, and nuts.  Fruits and vegetables neutralize the acid formed in exercise.  Lean meats provide protein for muscle recovery.  Together, these foods supply the body with far greater amounts of nutrients than a diet based on carbohydrates.  So skip the pre-race pasta feast and stick to the healthy (fruit, vegetable, lean meat) diet that supported you through training.

Myth #2 – Jog 2 laps and stretch to warm-up.

These classic instructions, barked across high school ball fields for years, are entrenched in our athletic culture.  Unfortunately, this strategy neglects the most important features of a proper warm-up.
A warm-up should gradually increase:

  1. body temperature
  2. heart rate
  3. muscle and tendon extensibility
  4. neurological control over movement

This process takes a body from resting and fully prepares it for a more demanding task.  First, start a movement (rowing, walking, jogging, etc.) at low intensity.  Over the course of 5-10 minutes you should gradually increase intensity to the lower limit of your prescribed target heart rate.  There is a general rule based on age that has been applied to determine target heart rate for cardiovascular training (220-your age= HRmax; Target HR= 70% to 90% HRmax).  Unfortunately, this generalization fails to include an individual’s specific training needs.  The best plan is to consult a doctor or therapist to determine your cardiovascular capacity.

Finish the warm-up with dynamic stretching or active movements in lieu of static stretches where the end position is held.  Static stretching (ie. reaching for your toes for 20 seconds) can be useful for developing body awareness and revealing asymmetry between right and left muscles, yet that is not the purpose of the warm-up.  Instead, active movements reinforce neurological control over the given movement, waking up the muscles that you are about to need.  One should never perform a dynamic stretching in a ballistic or bouncy manner.  Mild tension may be felt in the middle of a lengthening muscle, but tension felt across a joint is cause for examination by a qualified health professional.  If you are unfamiliar with dynamic stretching, consult a certified personal trainer, instructor, or coach to get started.  Look for certification from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Myth #3 – Buy supportive inserts and motion control shoes if you have a foot problem.

Most people have heard that running or even standing on problematic feet can cause shin, knee, hip, and back pain.  And most people identify a “flat foot” as a problematic foot that needs correction with arch supports and/or a motion control (stability) type shoe.  This is an oversimplification of foot function.  In fact, an overcorrected foot results in more problems, because the overcorrection prohibits the impact dampening function of the foot and ankle.

There are 3 main types of foot structures: rigid, supple, and unstable
1) rigid foot has a stiff, high arch at all times.  If symptomatic, this type may require manipulation and rehabilitation, but almost never a hard arch support (orthotic).  If you have a rigid foot and no problems, avoid a motion control shoe.
2) supple foot is both structurally and functionally optimal, yet may appear to be “flat”.  If you have a flat foot that has always been flat, an attempt to correct it by adding arch support will cause problems.  A neutral type shoe is a good choice.
3) unstable foot is the only type that may need orthotic support.  If you had an arch at one time, but now have a flat foot or a foot that flattens when you stand on it, then your foot is unstable.  The flattening of the foot arch, referred to as overpronation, affects the ankle, knee, hip, and low back.  The best management of this type of foot is a custom arch support and rehabilitation to strengthen the stability of the foot.  A motion control shoe may be a good idea for those who overpronate and have a large body frame.  Smaller individuals, even with an unstable foot, can be overcorrecting with a motion control shoe if the foot is not being properly rehabilitated.  A good athletic shoe store can help you sort through which shoes are best for your foot.  Just remember to avoid overcorrection and seek evaluation by a doctor or therapist if your feet are problematic.

In conclusion, pursuing fitness is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and those you love.  Aches, pains and abnormal fatigue can usually be avoided, not by skipping exercise altogether, but by following a good plan and appropriately seeking the advice of professionals.  If you are just beginning a life of better health, a proper evaluation and customized exercise plan will get you started in the right direction, preparing you for success.  If you have been enjoying an active life for a while now, you may be able to make small changes that will ultimately compliment your efforts.

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