You’ve heard all the rumours in the gym! They’re probably nonsense. In this article, you’ll find the best fitness facts from the best fitness professionals.
At Human Kinetics we are lucky to work with some of the most respected authorities from the world of sport science. I’ve managed to catch up with a few of them to share some important fitness facts and debunk some common myths.
The Best Fitness Facts
As the fitness industry is booming so is the people who want to work in the industry and make a quick buck. Many of these are not industry experts but profess to be. We know the industry is evolving and the science base is growing, particularly when it comes to subjects like strength and conditioning. This article will help you separate the fact from the fiction. And ultimately we’d like to share some awesome fitness facts with you.
What The Experts Say
I’ve spoken to some of the leaders in the field from fitness coaches, S&C coaches, running coaches, nutritional experts. Most of whom are professors and doctors of sport science. They have shared some of their latest research, promoting fitness facts and debunking some myths from the industry. Here is what they had to say.
Professor Greg Haff
Dr Greg Haff is the author of Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th Edition, which is one of Human Kinetics best selling academic textbooks. Dr Haff has worked with many elite athletes from the world of weightlifting and cycling. He is a former UKSCA Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year and NSCA Sport Scientist of the Year Award Winner, he was also the NSCA Vice President.
Strength Improves Wellness – Muscle Weakness is a Comorbidity for Many Diseases
Developing muscle strength is important for sports performance and also for health and wellness. If we look at data from the United Kingdom total health care costs per year for those who display muscle weakness is ~£4,592, whilst those who do not have muscle weakness is £1,885 (Pinedo-Villanueva et al. 2019). We know that muscle weakness is a comorbidity for many diseases. As such from a fitness perspective improving muscle strength is very important. The best approach is via the use of ground-based multi-joint free weight activities such as squatting.
Dr Martin Buchheit, PhD
Martin is one of the most acclaimed sport scientists and strength and conditioning coaches in the world. He developed the widely adopted 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test. Dr Buchheit is also an adjunct associate professor of exercise science for Victoria University in Australia.
HIIT is Time Efficient and Effective
HIIT is an abbreviation for high-intensity interval training. It’s the repetition of some high-intensity intervals interspersed with lower intensity recovery periods.
If you want to improve your fitness and ultimately your health, you can see the same benefits from HIIT as a sub-maximal exercise for much longer. In fact, you could get the same metabolic (e.g, cardiopulmonary, muscle enzymes…) benefits in a fifth of the time. Buchheit, says elite athletes should do both HIIT and some long-distance aerobic exercises as they can’t just do one. However, for a grassroots athlete who works full-time and only has a few hours a week to train, then HIIT could be most effective. Or if you only have 30 minutes on your lunch break or between finishing work and getting home to your chores, then a quick HIIT session is the best option for your fitness.
HIIT Doesn’t Have to be Painful
The perception is that HIIT has to be strenuous and painful. But you can get benefits from doing speed/power training close to the power or the speed associated with your V02 max (measured with some easy to do types of step/incremental tests on a bike, treadmill or on the field) for approximately 10-20 seconds, followed by a low-intensity period. This can be repeated several times.
HIIT can improve your V02 max, especially important for endurance athletes. More detail can be found in our bestselling book of 2019 – Science and Application of High-Intensity Interval Training.
I also caught up with Martin at Newman University where he was giving a guest lecture earlier this year. Check out the interview here Your HIIT questions answered by Martin Buchheit.
Dr Brad Schoenfeld, PhD
Brad Schoenfeld is an internationally renowned fitness expert. He is widely regarded as the leading authority on the application of resistance training variables for muscle hypertrophy. Another bestselling author, his most recent book Science and Application of Muscle Hypertrophy compiles and reviews virtually every study ever published on hypertrophy.
Don’t Chase Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Fact is, excessive soreness can impair your ability to train over the next several days – and you’re not going to make gains if you can’t train optimally. At best, mild soreness tends to indicate that you have provided a novel stimulus to muscles, which generally would be a positive for development. However, even this should be taken with a big grain of salt as certain muscles are more prone to DOMS than others. There is a genetic component whereby some experience persistent soreness while others rarely get sore at all.
There is no Must-Do Exercise for Building Muscle
The truth is, some exercises simply “feel” better to perform than others. This will to some extent depend on your individual body proportions, but other intrinsic factors are at play as well. You want to be able to get a good mind-muscle connection that allows for maximum force directed to the target muscle. If an exercise doesn’t feel right, discard it and find a suitable alternative. A wide variety of viable possibilities are available for each major muscle group.
Ultimately, your best results will come from finding the proper movements specific to your individual needs. This requires some experimentation, but over time you’ll figure out what works best and what doesn’t. Importantly, you must have a good understanding of applied anatomy/biomechanical concepts and use the knowledge to employ combinations of exercises that work muscles in a manner that promotes their complete development. Within this context, your exercise options are vast.
Brad also states there is no must do split for hypertrophy. His book looks at numerous cycles. I gave the Linear Periodised Programme from his book a go and made some good gains.
Having spoken to Brad he has three myths in particular which he’d like to debunk.
Myth – Heavy Loads Are Needed to Build Muscle
The fact is that hypertrophy can be achieved across a wide spectrum of loading ranges, with intensities as low as 30% of a 1 rep max.
Myth – BCAAs Are Beneficial for Maximising Anabolism
Brad states that provided a physically active person consumes adequate daily protein (>1.6 g/kg), there is no added benefit to consuming BCAAs. Save your money on BCAAs a better investment is to buy Science and Application of Muscle Hypertrophy if you haven’t already.
Myth – Fasted Cardio is Beneficial for Getting Lean
The evidence does not show that performing an aerobic activity in a fasted state enhances fat loss.
You can also follow Brad on social media, I’d recommend his Instagram page, he is constantly doing research and he shares some great fitness facts and myths are regularly debunked on his Insta.
Aurélien is a strength and conditioning coach, who is trusted by some of the worlds elite athletes. These include numerous Olympic medalists and professional athletes. To name a few; the French Olympic weightlifting team, the French boxing teams, the British and Russian judo teams. Today he is head of French Weightlifting Coaches Development. He is the author of The Modern Art and Science of Mobility and The Modern Art of High-Intensity Training.
Myth – Balance Training is Useless
Many people from elite athletes to weekend warriors think that only lifting heavy weights will get improvements. Aurélien told me that people in Europe generally think balance training is overrated and it’s almost totally forgotten in the U.S. Poor balance can negatively affect performance, decrease movement efficiency and increase the risk of injury.
Mobility Training is Essential for Everyone
We must incorporate lots of mobility training into our schedule. Mobility training will reduce the likelihood of injury and assist in improving our posture. Mobility training can also alleviate everyday aches and pains.
Check out this video for a few exercises.
Myth – Proprioceptive Workouts are Enough to Improve Strength & Power
Aurélien added proprioceptive workouts (squat jumps, crossover walks etc) are not enough. Strength workouts should also be part of a training programme.
You Can Improve Functionality With Multiaxial Approach to Training
While many training exercises happen in a single plane, human movement is expressed across three planes and on three axes. To be effective you must be aware of these. A multiaxial approach to training will improve functionality and mobility. Aurélien isn’t saying neglect single muscle exercises especially if you have a weak part of the chain but he wants people to be aware of their three planes. He goes into detail about this in The Modern Art and Science of Mobility
Dr Amy Ashmore
The author of our new book Timing Resistance Training is Amy Ashmore. Amy is quickly building an excellent reputation as one of the best in the business within the fitness industry, in particular, S&C and periodisation.
Resistance Training Helps Lose Fat
Amy was keen on addressing the value of resistance training for weight loss and body composition over cardiovascular exercise. People tend to think doing a ton of cardio is the best way to lose weight. But Resistance training is great for building muscle and thus increasing metabolism and actually changing the body appearance.
It was a pleasure to catch up with one of the most well-known names from the world of running, Hal Higdon. Hal has contributed to Runner’s World magazine longer than any other writer (since 1966). He has authored numerous Human Kineties books, including Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training, which is one of our best-selling running books.
Spring Is The Best Time of the Year to Run Hard
As Hal put it – Spring up to Train Tough. The best time of year to run fast and build fitness is Spring. Most runners tend to do a lot of endurance training, long-slow runs over the winter. As the temperature starts to rise through Spring you can switch to speedwork, maybe even head to the track for some interval training. Hal states that Autumn is a good time to train tough too.
Vary Your Training
Build Your Body: Don’t be a one-dimensional runner. Seek variety in your training. You don’t need to be a triathlete to bike or swim. Head to the gym also. Strength training may or may not make you a faster runner, but it will make you a fitter runner.
Don’t Get Caught by Numbers – Do Your Own Thing
Forget about cutting footsteps. Some experts suggest that a cadence of 180 steps a minute will yield the perfect stride in speed and distance. Well, maybe it will, but don’t get trapped by numbers. Everybody has a perfect stride that works for their particular body build. Hal states that trying to match some cadence number you spotted on the Internet is a very bad idea. Everyone is different.
Consistency is the Key
The secret word that breeds success is consistency. In designing programmes for the fastest (advanced) runners, Hal often suggests that they run sprints and strides and head to the track to do interval training. Consider also tempo runs, pace runs and “fartlek,” a Swedish word that means speed play. All these training programmes are good as long as you practice consistency.
Professor Tim Nokes
Tim is a very controversial figure. He is a South African sports scientist and an emeritus professor in the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town. He is also a member of the National Research Foundation.
I think these fitness facts should come with a warning sign! He has been through court trials and even some of his PhD students have turned against him.
Whether you buy into his research or not his book Lore of Running is a very interesting read.
High Carb Diets Aren’t Essential for Athletes
I told you he was controversial. This fitness fact is not what many of the other nutritionists, coaches and athletes will agree with. In fact even some of the other experts I’ve spoken to in this article may not agree.
Tim states that humans do not need carbohydrates. This perhaps goes against what a lot of us are taught and have previously read. We even found that the vegan diet (which is a high carb diet) is followed by some of the worlds best athletes. But Tim states this is not healthy and they should be eating a high fat & protein diet.
Some world-class athletes may need a small number of carbs but only if their sport lasts over an hour. Tim says that you’re healthier burning fat than carbohydrate.
As soon as you wake up, you should eat a high-fat and protein-rich breakfast. Think eggs and bacon, not porridge and cereal. Carbs make you hungry again in a few hours and you’ll probably snack on sugary snacks.
It’s not just sugary snacks like sweets and chocolate bars he has an issue with. Nor is it just carb-heavy food like potatoes and pasta but he even states that we should cut out vegetables from our diet
Tim says everyone should be eating high fat/protein diet. Some are more insulin sensitive than others but we are not all as uniquely different as you may think according to Prof Nokes. However, personalised nutrition is a trend which is growing.
As Tim is based in South Africa I haven’t been lucky enough to meet him face to face yet. However, Gemma from healthHackers caught up with him in October 2018. Check out her interview below, he debunks a few myths such as red meat causes heart disease.
You Cannot Outrun a Bad Diet
Let’s not forget Prof Tim Nokes is an excellent runner, he has completed over 70 marathons/ultramarathons. He knows running! If you think you can get away with eating a poor diet because you go for a run or to the gym a few times a week then you’d be wrong. Nutrition is key to all sports performance, exercise improvement and health. Training does not change this.
Perhaps less controversial than his previous statement but still not something many of us want to hear!
Bret the ‘glute guy’ is probably the world’s foremost expert on glute training. However, he is actually well-versed in most things sports science and fitness related. He authored Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy for Human Kinetics. With just short of 800k followers on Instagram, he is one of our most popular mainstream authors.
Strong Glutes are Vital for Functional Movement
Most of us are aware that strong glutes help sports performance such as sprinting. And a strong backside continues to get more popular, just look at all the people in gyms doing glute trusts and bridges these days. But strong gluteals are also critical for a properly functioning body as weak glutes have been associated with myriad dysfunctional movement patterns.
Bret states that it is important that the knees track properly over the toes when climbing, stepping, jumping, landing and squatting. The glutes contract during hip movement to prevent the knees from caving in (i.e. valgus collapse). Weak glutes will lead to knee pain due to excessive stress in the patellofemoral region due to this repetitive dysfunctional pattern. Furthermore, possessing strong glutes will shift movement patterns to absorb and produce more force at the hips and less at the knee joint. For example, those with strong hips will sit back more in a squat, whereas those who are quad dominant or simply have weak hip extensors will stay more upright and bend more forward at the knees, which over time can lead to knee pain.
It is also important to keep the spine in a relatively neutral position during bending and lifting tasks. Those with strong glutes are more apt to keep a rigid neutral spine when lifting and move mostly about the hip joint, whereas those with weak glutes are more likely to round excessively at the lower back (i.e. lumbar compensation), which over time can lead to lower back pain.
Strong glutes exert a posterior pull on the pelvis to help maintain proper posture. Weak glutes can lead to what’s been coined lower-crossed syndrome. This postural distortion is characterised by imbalanced muscle pairs called force-couples across the lumbopelvic region. Essentially the pull of the spinal erectors and hip flexors, which anteriorly tilt the pelvis, exceeds the pull of the glutes and abdominals, which posteriorly tilt the pelvis, causing a gradual anterior pelvic tilt adaptation over time accompanied by hyperlordosis (overarching) of the lumbar spine, thereby predisposing the body to lower back pain.
Professor Costas Karageorghis
Dr Karageorghis is a sport psychologist, internationally renowned for his research on the effects of music in the realm of exercise and sport. He has worked with numerous international athletes and sport organisations as well as international corporations such as Nike, Red Bull and Speedo. His latest book Applying Music in Exercise and Sport is groundbreaking with its creation of effective playlists.
Music Can Aid Greater Running Efficiency
The basic principle is that the coordination of stride rate with a musical beat promotes greater neuro-mechanical efficiency and more even pacing when compared to regular training.
Dr Karageorghis has recently completed an applied study. He used two independent groups of physically fit, young adults – six women and six men – who were randomly assigned to one of two groups: Group 1 were administered regular sprint training and Group 2 were administered sprint training with auditory-motor synchronisation (facilitated by contemporary pop hits). Both groups underwent a standard sprint training programme for 2 days each week over a 5-week period. Their 400-metre times were measured at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the training period. Filming of stride rate was used to match music optimally and small upward adjustments were made to music tempo week-by-week (i.e., by 1–3 bpm). The experimental group participants executed the 400m time trials 5% faster than control group participants at the end of the training period.
It is likely that over longer distances (e.g. 800 m), the effect would be more pronounced, particularly among recreationally active participants.
Portia Page has been in the fitness industry for over 28 years as a teacher, programme and fitness director, international presenter and author. She is the author of Pilates Illustrated. Portia is currently touring the world talking about the benefits of Pilates to large vast audiences of fitness fanatics. You can follow her on her Instagram page.
Pilates Makes You Taller!
Looking to add an extra inch to your height? This fitness fact from Portia is rather surprising.
By developing the muscles that support the spine, Pilates can help you with decompressing the lower back and adding length to the trunk. This will make you look and feel taller. Awareness of how to breath correctly and using breath to literally lift the ribs off of the pelvis, along with strengthening the muscles that support the spine and lift it up (i.e. the back extensors and abdominals) – Pilates creates a “sandwiching” effect that helps to pull up and in from the lower belly and lengthening down from the lower back to the tailbone.
Daily activities (such as checking our social media every 5 minutes or sitting at a desk all day) bring the head and chin forward which rounds the shoulders and shortens us by flexing the trunk slightly forward. Pilates inherently lengthens and strengthens the body, lifting up the torso and making us taller!
Matthew Crampton & Dr Paul Barratt
Last year I interviewed former GB athlete and cycling sprint coach Matt Crampton. Matt now works in Australia as the Head Cycling Coach for the West Australian Institute of Sport.
Strength Training Improves Cycling Performance
I asked Matt for one tip to become a better sprint cyclist he answered simply ‘Get strong’. This was backed up by Dr Paul Barratt who is the Head of Performance at British Cycling, he stated in his webinar which I hosted in December 2018 that leg girth has a huge impact on sprint cycling, especially for acceleration. Dr Barratt also contributed to Cycling Science a truly groundbreaking book from some of the leading authorities from the world of cycling.
The Best Fitness Facts From The Experts
- Strength Improves Wellness and Muscle Weakness is a Comorbidity for Many Diseases.
In the UK total health care costs per year for those who display muscle weakness is ~£4,592, whilst those who do not have muscle weakness is £1,885.
- HIIT is Time Efficient and Effective
You could get the same cardio benefits from HIIT in a fifth of the time of steady-state cardio.
- HIIT Doesn’t Have to be Painful
You can get benefits from doing speed/power training close to V02 max for approximately 10 seconds, followed a low-intensity period.
- Don’t Chase DOMS
Excessive soreness can impair your ability to train over the next several days – leading to regression.
- There is No Must-do Exercise for Building Muscle
Your best results will come from finding the proper movements specific to your individual needs.
- Myth – Heavy Loads are Needed to Build Muscle
Hypertrophy can be achieved across a wide spectrum of loading ranges, with intensities as low as 30% of your 1RM.
- Myth – BCAAs are Beneficial for Maximising Anabolism
Provided a lifter consumes adequate daily protein (>1.6 g/kg), there is no added benefit to consuming BCAAs.
- Myth – Fasted Cardio is Beneficial for Getting Lean
There is no evidence to show that performing an aerobic activity in a fasted state enhances fat loss.
- Myth – Balance Training is Useless
Poor balance can negatively affect performance, decrease movement efficiency and increase the risk of injury.
- Mobility Training is Essential for Everyone
Reduce the likelihood of injury, assist in improving posture and alleviate everyday aches and pains with mobility training.
- Myth – Proprioceptive Workouts are Enough to Improve Strength & Power
Proprioceptive workouts (squat jumps, crossover walks etc) are not enough. Strength workouts should also be part of a training programme.
- You Can Improve Functionality With Multiaxial Approach to Training
Human movement is expressed across three planes and on three axes. You must be aware of this when programming.
- Resistance Training Helps Lose Fat
Resistance training is great for building muscle and thus increasing metabolism and actually changing the body appearance.
- Spring is the Best Time of The Year to Run Hard
The best time of year to run fast and build fitness is Spring. Start your sprint work in Spring. It doesn’t matter if you’re training for a marathon or 5k.
- Vary Your Training
Don’t be one-dimensional. Seek variety in your training.
- Don’t Get Caught by Numbers – Do Your Own Thing
Everybody is different. Trying to match some cadence number you spotted on the Internet is a very bad idea.
- The Key is Consistency
Try different exercises but you have to be consistent and progress slowly but surely. Don’t be too concurrent.
- High Carb Diets Aren’t Essential for Athletes
A contreversal approach but Prof Tim Nokes believes we should all eat a high fat/protein diet. He says we should all cut carbs and veg, they make us fat and unhealthy.
- You Cannot Outrun a Bad Diet
Nutrition is key to all sports performance and health. Training does not change this.
- Strong Glutes are Vital for Functional Movement
Strong glutes exert a posterior pull on the pelvis to help maintain proper posture.
- Music Can Aid Greater Running Efficiency
Coordination of stride rate with a musical beat promotes greater neuro-mechanical efficiency.
- Pilates Makes You Taller
Pilates inherently lengthens and strengthens the body, lifting up the torso and making us taller.
- Strength Training Improves Cycling Performance
Leg girth and strength has a huge impact on sprint cycling performance.
10 More Vital Fitness Facts
- Strength Training Does Not Stunt Growth – It Is Safe & Effective For Children.
- Pregnant women can & should workout (but there are some precautions). As explained in the webinar You’re Pregnant Should you Be Doing That? Yoga is also great during pregnancy. Check out these 24 poses.
- Vegans Can Make Excellent Athletes. Tim Nokes doesn’t agree but the facts are in this post.
- If You Get Less Than 7 Hours Sleep A Day You’re Not Optimising Your Health And Not Achieving Optimal Performance.
- Dynamic Stretching Trumps Static Stretching for a warm-up. RAMP has been found to be the most scientifically proven warm-up.
- Nitrate i.e. Beetroot Juice is vital for endurance athletes. It can also lower resting blood pressure, which has implications for cardiovascular health. As explained by Prof Andy Jones in this webinar.
- If you ‘heel strike’ when you run then your form can be improved. Elite runners tend to land on the mid-foot area. Learn how to improve your running foot strike.
- Foam rolling can increase flexibility and range of motion. – Complete Guide to Foam Rolling.
- Yoga, spin and HIIT classes are currently the most popular fitness classes. Step and aerobics have had their day but class attendance figures show no sign of slowing down.
- Machines are less functional than free weights but still functional. Both Should Be Used in strength and hypertrophy (muscle mass building) Programmes.
As a general rule, simply getting stronger improves functional capacity.— Brad Schoenfeld, PhD (@BradSchoenfeld) August 28, 2019
Free weights, cable pulleys, machines, and pretty much any other resistance implement will help to improve strength.
Take home: They all can be “functional”