A little while back, I told you guys about some of the questions I’ve been asked as a personal trainer by people who are overwhelmed by the conflicting information out there about fitness and exercise. Some readers and friends contacted me with even more questions they had but never felt comfortable asking at the gym.
So, I decided to write a 'Round Two' of workout questions you’ve been too afraid to ask at the gym!
1. What’s the best way to target trouble spots?
This was a question I had from several different people, essentially asking the same thing. Thighs, hips, and butt seem to be the areas most women want to work on in the gym. First, the cold, hard truth: You cannot just work out target areas or spot reduce. It's a myth that sit-ups and crunches will make you lose weight in your stomach, for example.
If your goal is body fat reduction, then your best approach is to lift heavier weights for 8 to 10 repetitions in order to build lean muscle mass. While your scale may reflect a gain at first, remember that lean muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so it will help you burn more calories in the long run. Couple your strength-training with cardio to burn calories, and use a journal (online or old-school pen and paper) to ensure you’re eating a healthy amount of calories. Healthy doesn’t mean as low as possible! Healthy means enough to sustain you, taking into account your activity level -- you can use an online calorie calculator to work out the best range for you.
2. What’s the best exercise for abs when you don’t have much time?
One word: plank! If you only have a few minutes to spare for abs during your workout, spend it doing some form of plank. Why? When you’re holding the plank position, your abdominals are working hard as stabilizers to keep you in a perfect postural alignment. As well as your abs working, the plank is also working your shoulders, quads, and butt! There are lots of variations of the plank and the side plank, so regardless of your current strength level, everyone can start somewhere.
3. Why has my friend lost more weight than me when we started working out at the same time?
Everyone’s metabolism and body make-up are different, which is why some people lose weight more quickly than others or have muscle definition and strength before others. It’s tough when you know you’re working hard to see someone getting results before you do. Take a deep breath, remind yourself of the reasons you’re getting fit and healthy, and try not to compare yourself to anyone else. This is your body and your journey.
4. Do I really need to stretch?
Before your workout, no, you don’t really need to stretch. Actually, stretching before a workout can be detrimental, if it’s the static stretching most people do. When you stretch and hold your muscles, your body understands that the work is already done, and gets ready to relax ... not exactly how you want to prime yourself to go work out. A great way to warm up is to either do some cardio or use a foam roller or rolling stick. These warm-ups will increase blood flow to your muscles and make you less susceptible to injury. How long should you warm up? It totally depends on the person and the environment, but your best rule of thumb is to keep moving until you actually feel warm.
After your workout, there’s a surprising amount of contradictory research as to whether static stretching actually helps with muscle recovery or offsetting soreness following exercise. I tell my clients the jury is out, but it feels good, it’s a nice way to get your heart rate back down after a tough workout, and it certainly doesn’t hurt. Other ways to alleviate any post-workout muscle pain include getting a massage, foam rolling, and cardio. All of these will help with blood flow to the sore muscles, which in turn will help with recovery of the damaged tissue.
5. I don’t want to lift weights because if my muscles get bigger, then I will look bigger, right?
A pound of muscle actually takes up less space in your body than a pound of fat. So, theoretically if you are gaining muscle, then you will look leaner, not bigger. If you feel like your added muscle is making you look bigger, try increasing your cardio or taking a closer look at how you’re eating in order to decrease your body fat percentage.
Images via Carly Pizzani