Your Top 10 Fitness Questions Answered

Should I workout when injured?  How soon will I see results? Why do I need to stretch?  How do I know how much weight to lift?  These, and many more, are questions I get a lot, and since they've been answered so well by Steve Edwards, I figured I'd let him take the wheel and share with you what's been shared with me.  If you'd like any more information on any of these questions, and possible resources, please feel free to email me (melanieb@personalfitnessathome.com).

Top 10 Fitness Questions Answered

By Steve Edwards

I've been asked a lot of questions over the course of my career, on topics as broad as a "before" picture on The Biggest Loser®. These vary from the most rudimentary, "Why should I work out?" to highly scientific, "What's the best knee angle to activate my gluteus medius during a heel slide?" Without further ado, here are the top 10 fitness questions of all time (cue drum roll):

  1. I've got a slight injury. Should I do my scheduled workout anyway?
    If you can do your workout without stressing the injury (in other words, so that it doesn't hurt), then yes. However, that is very rarely the case. The vast majority of injuries, especially those we don't see a doctor for, are soft tissue, which means you have a problem in a muscle, tendon, or ligament. Since most workouts utilize the body as a single unit, the answer is probably no.Training on an injury, at best, does not allow it to heal. More than likely, it makes an injury worse. In both instances, you've got a scenario where your hard work is likely going to all be for nothing. So, why would you roll those dice?

    Pain is your guide for soft tissue injuries. Basically, as long as you can train pain-free you've got a green light. As soon as an injury starts to hurt, even in the slightest, further engagement will likely make the situation worse. If you don't know the difference between good pain (muscle soreness/cardiovascular toil) and bad pain (injury), please consult your doctor. It will make your fitness journey so much easier.

  1. Why should I do yoga?
    This used to be higher on the list but people are starting to get the message: yoga is incredibly good for you. There's a good reason it's been around for thousands of years. Yoga trains all of the muscles in the body to work in harmony. This does not just include voluntary muscles (prime mover and stabilizer) but involuntary muscles (smooth and cardiac) as well, resulting in a workout that's more like a full-body tonic than a sweat or pump fest. A regular yoga practice almost ensures that you'll age gracefully.
  1. Why do I need to stretch?
    This one is a little more controversial than yoga, which is mainly because stretching has a lot of variations and some seem to offer little benefit. In a holistic sense, however, stretching has similar benefits of yoga if you're following some type of exercise program. Most exercise causes the muscles to contract over and over. After exercise, stretching elongates muscle fibers, essentially resetting the muscle so that it's supple and ready for further bouts of contraction. This is not disputed. The only controversy about stretching is how much you need to stay healthy, which becomes a sub-category as diverse as how to best exercise or eat. The bottom line, and all you need to know at this stage, is that some stretching after exercise will help you recover faster and lessen the likelihood of getting injured.
  1. Do I need to warm up and cool down?
    Cooling down is mainly covered in number 8, as stretching out your contracted muscle fibers is a part of it. There are a few more factors, like helping your body slow its heart rate and circulatory processes to thwart blood pooling, but most of this is accomplished without trying, as long as, say, you don't finish repeated 100-meter sprints by sitting at a desk for hours. Luckily your desk and the track aren't next to each other, forcing a cooldown. With that in mind, you might not want to skip to cooldown of [a home fitness DVD] because your desk might, in fact, be next to your living room.As far as warming up, it gets your blood circulating and increases the viscosity of other bodily fluids (known as thixotropy), all of which works as a defense system against injury as your workout hits its intensity stride.

    Warming up and cooling down, while not absolutely essential, are simply smart things to do.

  1. How do I put on mass?
    This question used to be a blip on our radar. Over the years, so many fit bodies [have been created] that individual sculpting has become a very popular subject. I guess once you're thin and fit the obvious evolution is to look like Hercules. It's harder than it sounds.Losing weight seems hard but it's technically quite easy. If you change your habits and become healthy, weight will naturally fall off because living in gravity is easier if you're smaller. Being large is the opposite. Not only do you have to train like an Olympian, but you also need to eat like a lumberjack.

    When you break down muscle tissue—the goal of any bodybuilder—you need to eat to repair it. The catch-22 is that your body, in anticipation, raises its metabolism in order to repair the damage and keep you at an efficient weight for fighting gravity. Being big takes extra effort because you've got to outeat your body's natural response. You need to train hard, eat a ton, and most of all stay consistent when your body start to rebel.

  1. How often do I need to work out?
    I've gotten a lot of iterations of this question, including this one: "At what point can you stop working out? You can't tell me that Tony Horton and Steve Edwards still need to work out in order to look like that!"How often we need to work out depends on how hard and how long we work out, as well as what our goals are. These are huge variables since, obviously, if you want to win the Tour de France® you're going to need more exercise than if you just want to participate in the company softball game without getting injured. The only rule is that, aside from what the questioner above believes, we need to exercise in order to keep our bodies healthy and running well.

    There is no set time. There is no set volume or intensity everyone must follow. Diet matters too. The better you eat, the less you need to exercise in order to stay thin. A person who is not overweight and eats well can probably do as little as 30 minutes of exercise a day, including just being mobile, to stay healthy. However, more and more scientific evidence shows that some amount of high-intensity exercise keeps us healthy and offsets aging. I would say, for optimal health, people should get at least 15 minutes of intense daily exercise in addition to plenty of easy day-to-day tasks like walking, chores, etc.

  1. How do I know how much weight to lift?
    Failure is your friend. If you go through an entire workout and never fail on a set, then you're not using enough weight. Conversely you also don't want to fail on every set. This requires some explanation.We use repetitions as an easy way to execute what's called "time under tension." Monitoring time under tension is how we gauge how a workout trains your body. The number of repetitions you do should be gauged by the point at which you fail. Few repetitions (using heavier weights) train strength. Many repetitions train endurance. In between lies the sweet spot for what most of us are targeting, muscle growth (known as hypertrophy). Muscle growth, as you'll see later, is the key for both getting smaller and bigger because it increases your metabolism and burns calories.

    Once you can do, say, 20 repetitions of an exercise (or whatever is the peak of your target range) with a given weight, add more weight so that you can only do 8 to 10 (or the bottom of your target range) before you fail. Once you reach the top of your target range again, it's time to add more. This is called progressive overload and it is the key to getting great results out of your exercise program.

  1. How often do I need to train my abs to get a six-pack?
    This is a two-part answer. The first is that your six-pack has very little to do with how much you train your abs. A visual six pack come from having a low body fat percentage and the best way to do that is to train your entire body, not just your abs—in fact, it's nearly impossible to get a six-pack only training your abs. This is why we create full body exercise programs, even if "abs" is a part of the title.The second is that you don't need to, nor should you, train your ab muscles every day. The muscles in your core have a higher percentage of red or slow twitch muscle fibers, meaning you can train them more often than many areas of your body, but they still respond best by having high-intensity training days followed by rest days. There is no good reason to do ab work more than 3 or 4 times per week.
  1. Is weight training or cardio better for weight loss?
    Both are great. If I could only choose one it would be circuit weight training (which also trains your cardiovascular system), but thankfully we don't have to choose one. The best training programs address every system of your body. Not just by lifting weights and doing "cardio," but by systematically using resistance and cardio workouts to train the various sub areas under those two modalities (power, endurance, hypertrophy, aerobic efficiency, anaerobic threshold, and so forth). The more systems of the body you train simultaneously, the easier it is to force adaptations and, thus, body composition changes.
  1. When will I begin to see results?
    While there is no accurate timetable to seeing results you can generally feel results happening on day one. Are you sore? Results are coming. Are you hungry? Ditto. As your body adapts to exercise, you are making internal changes, meaning results are on the way. Your body will resist the change. That's because its natural defense (law of homeostasis) is to protect the state it's in, even if that state is unhealthy. Its response to this is to fight it with hormonal releases. How well it adapts varies with every single individual, which is why we are constantly advising people not to look at their scale all the time and, instead, trust measurements and pictures. Some people start seeing results in a few days. Others may take many weeks. And none of that matters because the healthy lifestyle will always win in the end. If you keep at it, train hard, and eat well, your body will—absolutely, as it has no choice—change over time. Stay consistent for long enough and you'll look like a Greek statue. It's a physiological law.

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