Glance at the front of the magazines at grocery stores and you'll see a variety of "fitness" or "health" claims such as "tone," "fat-blasting," and other such nonsense as that. I find myself rolling my eyes so much that my occipital (eye) muscles are as big as a body builder's biceps. Sorry, strength coach joke.
Moving on, today I'm going to rip through debunk a few of those outrageous claims so that you too can strengthen your occipital muscles as you wait in the grocery check-out line. I can not possibly cover all the silliness out there, but I've narrowed it down to a few of the common ones (that seem to appear month after month on magazines such as "Self" or "Woman's Day"). A lot of these claims are found on women's magazines, mainly because I think we're fed more crap than the fellas, but they apply to both genders.
CLAIM: "Tone," as in "tone those jiggly arms"- First off, let me remind you that everyone's arm jiggles; that's what happens when a muscle is relaxed. The main definition of "Tone" in exercise physiology is: the normal state of elastic tension or partial contraction in resting muscles. For example, the postural are constantly contracting and relaxing to keep you upright (or slouched...stand up straight!). The fitness magazine "tone" refers to the ability to actually see the muscles' shapely form. (So really, they should say "definition" not "tone.")
In order for a muscle group to be defined, say your arms, two things must occur: 1) the muscle is big enough to be seen (so those stupid tricep kick-backs or bicep curls with 5 pound weight ain't gonna cut it when it comes to muscle growth.) and 2) there needs to be less subcutaneous (under the skin) fat. How does one accomplish bigger muscles with less body fat? Why, picking up heavy stuff and eating a vegetable and protein laden-diet! Glance through a women's magazine at those "arm toning" exercises and you tell me if you think they would actually succeed. As for eating healthy, the details look different for each person (i.e. paleo, vegan, omnivore, etc.), however it should be 90-100% REAL FOOD with minimal crap (though a Christmas cookie or two is ok.) 90% of the time.
FACT: "Tone" means: less fat, bigger muscles.
CLAIM: "Fat-blasting" food- The media makes it seems as if these foods (and it's a new one each week!) has heavy artillery and upon entrance to the body, starts blowing up fat cells left and right.
Uh, sorry, that's not how the body works. Fat cells, once formed, don't go away. They do however change size depending on how much fat is stored in them. So, in order to reduce the amount of fat in each cell, the body needs to be in a caloric deficit. This means you need to eat LESS than what you're using up, for the basic metabolic functions, exercise, and other activities. The body will burn it's excess energy, aka stored fat, to make up for the lack of energy intake. Altering body composition is a life style change; I guarantee you that just eating a serving or two of "fat blasting" foods will NOT be enough to reverse years of bad eating habits. There is a wealth of solid (and scientific) advice out there, and there are definitely more details than I plan on elaborating in this post (maybe another time...) however it boils down to this:
Stop eating crap, eat real food, and pick up heavy things. Take note that I put the nutritional advice first. You can not out-train a crappy diet, so clean that up first! There will be a blog post later on this month regarding that whole aspect of fat-loss.
FACT: Eating a whole-foods based diet, with minimal crap, and exercising regularly OVER TIME will reduce body fat levels.
CLAIM: "Target" body part, usually for fat loss- This myth just won't die! It keeps reappearing week after week on the covers of magazines and on the interwebz. People, YOU CANNOT SPOT REDUCE!!! The body doesn't say, "Oh, I see that you are doing thousands of crunches, I should reduce the body fat I store there so you can have a flat tummy." Really, it says, "For the love of all things iron, STOP CRANKING ON THE SPINE ! It HATES that!" Targeting is about as effective as trying to grow eye-stalks.
Oh, if grunting made it so!
For "targeting trouble areas" see the above two points: an overall body fat reduction will promote definition of muscles and those "problem areas" will be not so problematic. Again, it's a life-style change, not a quick fix.
*This is not to say that isolation work has no purpose. How else are you supposed to have guns for the ladies? Some isolation work thrown in to an already compound-movement heavy (lots of multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pushups, pull ups etc) work out can provide some extra stimulation to a muscle group that can lead to hypertrophy (growth).
FACT: Compound movements should be the bulk of you training program. That combined with a diet of whole foods will reduce body fat levels and thus reducing the need to "target" certain areas. (anyone picking up on a theme?)
CLAIM: This is an actual quote from a celebrity trainer, who is a disgrace to our industry:
"Oftentimes, heavy weights can tear the muscle fiber causing it to bulk, but using a lighter weight for a longer duration and allowing your body to move in many different ways to target all of the muscles will lengthen them without tearing."
Multiple other coaches and trainers have ripped into this (and other nonsensical claims that spew forth from her mouth). Sadly, she is not the ONLY trainer out there who thinks this is true, she just happens to profess this poop where more people can read it. I'm not going to touch the first half of that statement except to say, uh, that's the method by which the body grows stronger...by tearing and repair muscles. Oi!
The phrase "lengthening muscles" is also found, unfortunately, in other fitness "experts" mouths and in their writings. It is physiologically impossible to lengthen a muscle without breaking the bones and extending them or altering the attachment points of the muscle. Yes, the muscles lengthen and shorten during normal movements, however, the actual length of the muscle doesn't change. Got a problem with that? Take it up with your parents, they passed the genes along.
I think that term is really just "tone" said in a different way. Ultimately, the phrase is intended to indicate "definition" just like the word "tone." If a trainer says/writes that claim, it's a pretty solid indication that the trainer/coach has absolutely NO idea how physiology works and therefore you should turn and flee. I'd also like to note her splendid use of the buzzword, "target."
FACT: "Lengthening" a muscle is impossible, and the intended implication is "definition" which is attained via the methods described ad nauseam above.
Now, my SAPT readers, you are armed with the knowledge to see through the baloney that fitness magazines and products proudly display and you have the ability to recall the truth: a great, healthy body is created by... do I really need to say it again? Don't allow the stupidity of the outrageous claims dissuade you from thinking that anything but consistent hard work (both in the kitchen and in the gym) will accomplish your performance and/or physique goals.