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Myth Busters

  • Debunking the Fat Burning Zone Myth

    I was sifting through our website statistics today and I was really happy to see that an article I wrote entitled The Fat Burning Zone is one of the most popular pages on the entire website. This article was published in Australian Ironman Magazine and Fighting Fat Magazine. It discusses the fat burning zone myth; how it came about and why it is completely misguided.

    I have discussed this fat burning zone myth with countless clients and other individuals who are seeking to lose weight. It often comes as a surprise that this zone is a highly ineffective way to break down fat tissue. This is completely understandable, considering the amount of misguided information that is floating around the industry.

    The fat burning zone myth suggests that exercising at an intensity of between 55-65% of your maximum heart rate, you will stimulate maximal fat loss. Exercising at an easier pace will reduce the fat loss and exercising at a harder pace will also reduce fat loss, but target carbohydrate breakdown instead. This is not true.

    What is true is that fat loss is going to be a function of the intensity of your workout. The harder you exercise, the more calories you will expend and the more fat you will break down. In fact, if you exercise at a high level of intensity, you will significantly increase the amount of fat burnt AFTER your workout! Yes, you can actually turn your body into a fat burning machine.

    If you are interested in delving into this topic in more detail, then I recommend that you read my article, The Fat Burning Zone. We discuss exactly how this myth came about, why it is misunderstood and we also consider a handful of studies that have proven it to be incorrect.

    Having said all this, I am by no means implying that low to medium intensity cardiovascular work is useless. I am a firm believer that lower intensities have their place, particularly with:

    • People with injuries and/or medical concerns
    • Elderly people
    • Participants with low levels of fitness
    • People with limited exercise experience

    Whilst a lower level of exercise intensity may not maximise fat loss, there are always many other considerations to take into account apart from just "results".

  • Top Five Exercise Myths

    Let's discuss five exercise myths. These five exercise myths have got to be the most common questions I receive from clients, visitors and friends. So, why not make a list!

    Exercise Myth #1: You can focus on losing fat from a specific area through exercise.

    I know I blogged about this yesterday, but this topic is a hot one. You cannot perform a specific exercise in order to reduce fat tissue from a particular area. This myth is known as "spot reduction".

    The body breaks down fat tissue in order to provide muscles with energy for force generation and recovery. The sites at which the fat is broken down from is left completely up to your genetic makeup and not the type of exercise you are performing. For example, you may be running, yet you may lose more fat from your stomach than your thighs.

    A common implication of this myth is on many television commercials. Have you seen an ad that suggests to perform a crunching motion to flatten your stomach? Or have you seen an infomercial that advises to use a particular leg machine in order to tighten up your thighs? Now you are aware that a specific exercise does not target a specific site for fat loss.

    Exercise Myth #2: You can convert fat into muscle

    This is a big misconception. If you look at fat cells and muscle cells under a microscope, you will realise that they are completely different in structure. The properties of fat cells include energy storage and insulation, whilst muscle fibres generate force and provide mobility. Of course, there are many other functions of fat and muscle cells.

    With regards to fat and muscle mass, there are only two processes that can occur with each individually:

    • An increase in total mass
    • A decrease in total mass

    So, you can gain or lose muscle mass. You can also gain or lose fat mass. However, you cannot convert fat into muscle mass. If this were true, it would be an interesting world where personal trainers would firstly advise to gain significant fat tissue and then convert it into muscle!

    Exercise Myth #3: You can convert muscle into fat

    As above, muscle cells and fat cells are completely different.

    A classic example that I often hear is of the typical athlete who stops training and all of a sudden, all their muscle is perceived to turn into fat. Not quite - so let's analyse what is really going on here.

    An athlete is extremely active and therefore expends a high degree of calories each day. In order to fuel his/her body, they need to eat a lot of food, relative to the average person. When he/she stops training, it is not uncommon to remain on a similar diet. Because their energy expenditure is far less, yet their calorie intake is similar, they will now gain a substantial amount of fat tissue.

    With regards to muscle mass, the phrase "use it or lose it" sums up what is happening here. Muscle tissue is a burden on the body because it requires a high amount of daily energy just to sustain itself. If the athlete is no longer training and thus no longer require the same degree of muscle mass, they will experience a loss of muscle tissue.

    Exercise Myth #4: You can change the shape of a muscle

    Your muscles are the shape that they are due to your genetic make-up. There is no exercise that you can perform to change the shape of your muscles. You can increase or decrease the size of your muscles, yet you cannot change their physical shape.

    Think of your muscles as a balloon. You can inflate or deflate that balloon, yet they are going to remain the same shape.

    I have been asked a number of times if guys can change the shape of their pec muscles by changing up between dumbbell or barbell work. This isn't possible at all.

    Exercise Myth #5: Cardio is for fat loss, weights are for muscle gain

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Weight training can significantly enhance fat loss by:

    • Placing your body in a state of recovery and thus increasing calorie expenditure and fat oxidation (or breakdown)
    • Increasing the degree of muscle mass and thus increasing your daily calorie expenditure (remember, muscles burn lots of calories!)
    • Increasing your daily calorie output by the actual exercise performed

    Cardiovascular exercise can actually have some very positive effects upon muscle gain. If you are concerned about cardio impacting muscle growth, I strongly recommend that you have a read of my article, "Cardio & Bodybuilding - Good for Muscle Growth?"

    They have got to be five of the top exercise myths that I am asked regularly. I hope they provided some enlightenment!

  • Myths Under the Microscope - Fat Burning Zone

    An advanced in-depth analysis of the ineffectiveness of the low intensity fat burning zone for weight loss. Part 1 of the Myths Under the Microscope series.
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