The below was taken directly from my book, How to Improve at Fitness and Beat the Competition: Sport and Exercise Science for Athletes in Search of Excellence. The book is available on Amazon.
Let’s start with some quick questions and answers. I want to begin by clarifying the ten most commonly occurring fitness questions I hear on a regular basis. Below are what I think those questions are as well as my opinions on them.
1. How often should I exercise?
How often you should exercise depends on several factors. The major factors being goals, age, training age (how long you have been training), and medical history. The basic recommendations I give my clients can be found on the PROformance Training Systems Exercise Recommendation Chart. This chart is in the chapter “Why You’re not Improving.”
2. How do I get a flat stomach?
You can spend all day doing crunches at the gym trying to get a flat stomach, with the only result being frustration because nothing has changed. Having a flat stomach is more about body composition (the ratio of body fat to lean mass) than it is about the size of your abdominal muscles. If you want to have good abs, then increase your aerobic steady state (think jog through the park); high-intensity interval training, a.k.a. HIIT; and strength training to burn more fat. Strength training, especially lower-body strength training has been shown to increase testosterone and growth hormone post-exercise. Both hormones are essential for burning fat. Also, it has been said that weight loss is 80 percent what you eat and 20 percent exercise, so keep that in mind next time you think it’s OKto have extra ice cream because you worked out. It’s easier to not consume a calorie than burn one.
3. How do I get rid of these flabby arms?
When it comes to getting rid of flabby triceps on the posterior (back) side of your arm when waving, you cannot just isolate the muscle and wish the fat away. There is no such thing as spot reduction, otherwise known as isolating one area to burn fat at that location. However, if you eat a healthy diet aimed toward weight loss while also performing upper-body compound movements that include your triceps such as overhead shoulder press and chest press, you will lose weight and build up the muscles in your arms, so they look more defined. And females, although building strong muscles is essential for athletic excellence, if building big muscles is not your goal, don’t worry as only about 1 percent of the female population have the genetic potential to be as big as a natural, competitive bodybuilder. Moreover, professional body building is its own discipline with unique goals, meaning if you are properly training for soccer or lacrosse, you will not look like a body builder. Males, you have roughly a 10 percent genetic potential to sculpt the build of a professional natural body builder.
4. Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day, and what’s all this about several small meals throughout the day?
Breakfast is called that for a reason; you are “breaking fasting.” With that said, fasting puts your body in a state of catabolism (breaking down muscle). Within thirty minutes of waking up, have a three-hundred- to five-hundred-calorie meal consisting of 30 percent protein. This will turn your body anabolic (build muscle and burn fat) again for roughly three to four hours. It is important to continue eating small meals throughout the day every three to four hours to remain anabolic. Two of your meals should be slightly larger than the rest. One of the two larger meals should be right before or after exercise.
5. Why are my muscles sore after a workout?
Your muscles are sore after a workout due to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It’s not during the workout that your muscles become bigger and stronger but after the workout when they are adapting to the stress they just underwent—remodeling, rebuilding, and hence hurting. DOMS can take twenty-four to seventy-two hours before you start to feel the aching and burning sensation that can accompany skeletal-muscle tissue remodeling, and it can last a couple of days after it begins. Your muscles will also hurt more when you are new to a certain exercise, deconditioned, or performing eccentric (emphasis on lengthening or “negative” movement) exercises.
6. Does muscle turn into fat?
No, a muscle turning into fat is a popular myth, but it holds no truth. What is happening when you think your muscles are turning into fat is as you become less active, your muscles atrophy (shrink). When muscles atrophy, your body’s metabolism slows down, so you do not burn as many calories. At the same time, the excess calories you are consuming are stored as fat. It’s not muscle turning into fat, rather muscle wasting and being replaced with fat.
7. What is the difference between free weights and weight machines?
Free weights are exercise tools such as dumbbells or barbells, whereas weight machines are more restrictive and used mostly for isolation exercises such as the pec deck or leg-extension machine. I personally believe free weights are the best way to functionally train people of all experience levels because they teach your body how to properly move through functional movement patterns by activating synergist muscles, enhancing firing rate, and ordering of muscle recruitment. This will produce better performance in athletes and boost metabolism in non-athletes by recruiting more muscle fibers. Free weights also enhance proprioception, improving bodily control. If I am working with an athlete who is too weak to handle the load of external weight, then I have them perform the movement with no weight until they are strong enough to handle free weights rather than load them up on a weight machine.
8. Why should I rest my muscles after a workout?
You should rest your muscles after a workout because it is after the workout that the adaptations occur causing you to become stronger and bigger. During the workout, you are causing micro tears to your myofibrils (contractile filament of a muscle) that during rest adapt to the new stress, so you are stronger and ready for your next workout or competition. Remember, your muscles need plenty of food to provide them with the nutrients they need to grow and water to stay hydrated.
9. What is my target heart rate?
There are a few formulas for estimating target heart rate. The most common one, the Karvonen formula, is as follows: Target Heart Rate = ([max HR − resting HR] × %Intensity) + resting HR. To find your max heart rate, it’s 220 – your age.
Note: There can be some error when using this formula because people are so adaptable and varying to exercise.
10. What should I eat after a workout and why?
After you are done working out, you should eat a 3–4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. This meal should be consumed within the first thirty minutes post-exercise while your body is still in an anabolic environment and should be mostly simple sugars and protein with a high-biological value (most similar to the form our body needs). This will speed up absorption and enhance the recovery process. The quicker we begin refueling empty glycogen (energy) stores and rebuilding broken down muscle tissue, the more we can get out of our next workout. It is also important to consume a 3–4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein before a workout because it takes roughly sixty to ninety minutes for the food to digest and enter the bloodstream. By having a small meal before your workout, it allows the nutrients to be prepared for absorption when your workout is finished. If you are in dietary distress from this small meal, adjust accordingly. Remember, it’s not a single food’s chemical composition that matters, rather the composition of the entire meal. Keep this in mind when planning your diet.