We have all read and heard it repeatedly. In flashy magazines, from steroid-induced gym junkies, overheard snatches of conversations of casual runners or from some local fitness guru who claims to know the ‘real reason’ why you’re still not losing more weight. And we grew frustrated and disillusioned as ever.
In a sea of information, it’s hard to sift between facts and fiction.
At a time when everyone is scurrying after the ‘fastest way to eye-popping six-pack abs’ or ‘the fastest way to become a pro-runner’, the fitness guide to doing things the right way has been emphasised, but not practised as much. Fitness experts around the globe believe that some of the most common fitness fads are riddled with risk of chronic injuries and based on half-truths. “First let’s get this clear. A rippling set of six-pack abdominals is no indicator of optimum health and wellness,” says Deckline Leitão CSCS, Exercise Science specialist and fitness expert.
Every now and then short-sighted fitness trends flood the marketplace and go mainstream. While most won’t help, they won’t hurt either. Deckline looks at four of the most common fitness trends in India and debunks some oft-repeated myths around it:
Men and the six-pack craze
A great looking body with a six pack could still be suffering from lower back pain, hip joint dysfunction, etc. Also the strict dieting that is followed to achieve a low level of body fat can influence the immune system in a negative manner.
It is common knowledge that male models readying for a photo shoot and bodybuilders preparing for a competition where they have to look their best often reduce their water consumption to a very unhealthy level. This is done so that the dehydrated body is able to display the abdominals and other muscles better to the camera or judges. Even salt intake is cut down to unhealthy levels so that there is no water retention in the body which will increase the ‘shredded’ appearance, but the sodium in salt is vital for many bodily functions. A teaspoon of sodium is believed to hold around two litres of water in the body. But the accompanying water loss to achieve the cut look will also makes one lose vital minerals from the body.
Also what most people need to realise is that a certain amount of body fat is healthy for humans and the urge to shed off fat excessively isn’t a great health initiative in the first place especially amongst young men bombarded with images of ripped bodies and abdominals.
– Focus on building a strong body that is healthy and useful in your day to day life. If you wish to train for building muscles then focus on building a realistic physique built by eating natural food like an Indian Pehalwan rather than the artificial, unrealistic, steroid-inflated and short-lived body of a professional bodybuilder.
– Rather than judging your fitness by seeing how much fat you have lost around the mid-section, make sure that you undergo regular health assessments to check your cholesterol, blood pressure, uric acid levels, etc.
-If you are training naturally without ‘artificial aids’ and are not genetically inclined then it is unlikely that you will ever achieve the ripped six-pack look. Rather focus on building a good base of functional fitness which will help you to play sport, work around your house or even playing with the kids.
Women and the Size-Zero obsession
The size-zero figure obsession amongst women, especially younger women, can lead to a lot of stress, excessive exercise and extreme dieting in order to try to achieve this look. The truth is that our genetics decide 50 per cent how your body will look. Therefore, some of your friends will look and stay slim no matter what they eat and you might put on weight even at the slightest food misadventure.
The quest for a size-zero figure can give rise in the use of eating disorder behaviours such as obsessive dieting, calorie counting, over-exercising, self-induced vomiting, diet pill usage and laxative abuse. The low levels of iron in such diets often leads to anaemia in women and the low levels of calcium can lead to fragile bones.
A side effect of such obsessive behaviour can also lead to Anorexia Nervosa which is a serious mental health condition, which can mainly affect a lot of young women and girls. It is an eating disorder in which people keep their body weight as low as possible by any means.
-Seek medical expertise if your quest for the size-zero figure is causing you weakness, injuries and stress. Though it might sound extreme, seeking help from a psychiatrist for Anorexia Nervosa is the right thing to do.
-Instead of assuming that simply losing fat and weight will make you look more attractive ask the opinion of those around you and also look at the various successful women in the world who achieved greatness without having a thin body.
The running culture has arrived now in India and more and more companies, organizations, cities, etc are coming up with marathons. Though running is a great form of cardiovascular exercise and is beneficial for the heart and lungs, overdoing it can increase the risk of injuries sustained to the knee, lower back, etc. This is due to the repetitive action of running especially on concrete or tar roads.
The constant pounding on a hard surface can place strain on the body, and this gets magnified especially when wearing worn out shoes. Changing shoes is recommended every 500 miles. Running in hot weather can place a serious challenge of heat stroke as well, and running in highly polluted areas can also affect your health.
What most people deciding to run marathons don’t realize is that it is a strenuous sport and the whole aim of sport is to either beat your own performance or an opponent. So simply buying a pair of running shoes and running for a cause is not the best approach to run a marathon. Any activity such as marathon running where you regularly push your body to its extreme can have an adverse effect on your body and reduce your immunity if your body is not conditioned.
-Treat running a marathon like how you would work on an important project and be prepared for it. Physical conditioning for running is very important so that your muscles, tendons and ligaments are able to better absorb the impact and stress.
-Follow a performance diet aimed for marathoners so that you possess optimum energy.
-Don’t push your body beyond its capacity and risk injury. Many people get caught in the ‘running for a cause’ mindset and end up pushing themselves thinking that even if they risk their health they’re still doing it for a greater good. You can still do your charity without putting your health at risk by running a marathon that you might not have prepared for optimally.
Crossfit and Bootcamps
Though group activities can be great for the mind because of training with other like-minded people it is important that certain safety guidelines are followed. Though some of the workouts might look cool and it might even sound great to tell your friends that you are doing a certain ‘tough’ workout it is important to know why you are doing it.
When I work with elite sportsperson from badminton, boxing or swimming there is a clear goal that is set out – because to compete in such physically demanding sports at international level one needs to supremely fit. Most regular people need to realize that elite sportsperson train in an intense manner because their whole approach is directed towards improving fitness to win. Also, most elite sportspersons train hard and then rest, recover and eat to sufficiently recover for the next session with help from a coach, fitness specialist, physiotherapist, nutritionist, masseur, etc. Regular people pushing themselves with intense training through group exercises should realize that they would not have the same support system at their disposal.
-Make sure that you train under a qualified trainer and tell him or her if you suffer from any pre-existing medical problems or past injuries.
-Learn to execute the exercises using the correct technique and don’t push yourself simply because others around you appear to do so. Progress gradually and recover between exercises. Remember that most people get injured when they push themselves even when they’re tired because this is when your balance, strength and concentration are at their lowest. Remind yourself that you are training to improve your health and fitness and not to take part in the next Olympics or to join the army.
-It is always a good idea to first build at least a basic level of fitness before attempting rigorous group exercises as then you will be able to better cope with the demands and you also won’t feel as out of shape when you train in a group.
About the expert
(Deckline Leitão is one of the most qualified and experienced fitness specialists in the country. His columns have appeared in publications such as Men’s Health, Economic Times Panache and Bodylife magazine)