August 25, 2010

Is Yoga Making You Soft?

Part I – Skinny Fat: Not Just Hollywood’s Problem | Part III: Scale Subterfuge: Does Body Weight Matter?

Yesterday, I recounted the sad tale of how Gwyneth Paltrow’s diet and exercise program has contributed to her skinny-fatness, which ultimately has led to her osteopenic condition.

Today, I’m going to highlight some of the more common body transformation mistakes made by women everywhere.

P.S. – Guys, your critique will come at a later date, don’t you worry.

Every day, the mainstream media and a host of pseudo-gurus (there they are cropping up again) are telling women that:

  • Exercises like yoga and spinning are a great way to lose weight and tone your body.
  • To “tone” you should do low weight/high rep weight training.
  • That the hip ab- and adduction machines are perfect for shaping the buns.
  • Eating snacks like 100 calorie Thinsations is a great way to cut calories.

And so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, in reality each of these messages is diametrically opposed to what women really need to be doing if fat loss is the primary goal.

Since the flaws in the fitness industry are numerous, I’ll limit my critique to just the following three areas:

Yoga and the Myth of Better Body Composition

Let’s be clear on one issue: I have nothing against yoga. In fact, I have counseled a number of my clients to start taking yoga because it is a phenomenal activity for flexibility and stress reduction/improving mental state.

And although yoga can be a high risk activity for lower-back issues (AHEM, the lower back is designed for stability NOT for flexibility), overall, yoga is great for improving one’s core strength.

Looks like exercise physiology is not a prerequisite for becoming an editor at Women’s Health

That being said, yoga is at or near the bottom of the list when it comes to activities that actually change your body composition. Now before anyone pipes up that gymnasts or their yoga instructor looks phenomenal, remember these individuals are doing said activities for 3-5 hours a day, not the 2-3 hours of exercise A WEEK you are currently devoting to the gym.

I suppose if you were willing to spend 5-6 hours a day on physical activity, then yes, exclusively doing yoga could get you ripped.

If I had to classify exercise in terms of usefulness for improving body composition, it would look like this:

Again, this hierarchy isn’t an endorsement that circuit training trumps all other forms of exercise for everything. But when the primary goal is fat loss, the bulk of your exercise time should be devoted to the three approaches at the base of this pyramid.

In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that if you are exercising for three or fewer hours every week, there is little to no body composition benefit to be derived from activities at the top of the pyramid.

Thigh Master DOES NOT Equal Better Buns

Back when I did a lot of personal training, nothing would infuriate me more than walking into the women’s only section of the gym I worked at and seeing the steady stream of females waiting to use the hip adduction and abduction machine.

Incidentally, it blows my mind how in the year 2010 we still feel it’s appropriate to segregate sexes at the gym. I can just imagine the hoopla if you built a gym and labeled it “whites only” or “heterosexuals only”; yet somehow no one questions the validity of a women’s only area of a gym.

Unflattering AND useless… a killer combo!

The love these machine received never made sense to me. How many times do people need to be told that weight training results in muscle hypertrophy (i.e. bigger muscles) and NOT localized fat loss (i.e. spot reduction)?

Therefore, if spending time on these machines isn’t going to make a lick of difference for the amount of fat you are carrying in your butt, the only real possible outcome is that all the time spent ab- and adducting will make your glute muscles bigger.

Hmm… bigger glute muscles AND the same amount of fat covering the area? Somehow I don’t imagine increasing hip girth while remaining as unshapely as ever is really the look most women were going for.

Thankfully, most females who use these machines actually lift such a trifling amount of weight that these exercises don’t contribute to either fat loss or muscle gain. So while using them doesn’t make their butts look bigger, these machines still remain a colossal waste of time.

Remember, a muscle only looks “toned” once you remove a large amount of fat off your body. And when it comes to fat loss, most seated exercises don’t do much good (p.s. this includes spinning).

Therefore, if you really wanted to improve the appearance of your butt, instead of wasting time on the thigh master, leg press, and donkey kick machines, markedly better results would be achieved by squatting, deadlifting and lunging.

These activities, when performed with a sufficiently heavy load, all contribute to a little bit of muscle growth AND a large amount of fat loss, which is the real secret to looking “toned”.

P.S. Don’t worry about weight training making you too bulky. Women don’t have anywhere near enough testosterone to develop “man muscles”, unless your idea of post-workout nutrition comes in the form of a syringe.

P.P.S. If you want to know what constitutes heavy for the general populace, aim for weights you can lift at least 6 times, but an absolute max of 12 repetitions at the high end.

P.P.P.S. Stopping at 12 simply because that is what is written in your program and not because that’s actually where muscle fatigue occurs does not count as a heavy set.

P.P.P.P.S. All activities performed while standing on a BOSU are by default, NOT HEAVY.

Now imagine how amazing it would be if you walked into the women’s only section and saw a long line of females waiting to use the squat rack. Alas, this will never happen because you won’t find a squat rack within 100 miles of a women’s only area of a gym.

Sad, so very sad.

Diet Food Debacle

I know this comes as a surprise for many people, but the food industry does not have your best interests in mind when they design products. No matter what kind of “health” claims the food industry slaps on the label, their primary concern is always to make a healthy profit.

And what’s the best way to sell more product? Design foods in such a fashion that consumers (i.e. you) are compelled to eat more of them.

This is why products like 100 Calorie Thinsations are such a phenomenal scam.

Let’s take a look at what goes into a 100 kcal package of Oreo Thin Crisp Cookies:

Enriched wheat flour, sugar, glucose-fructose, canola oil with TBHQ and citric acid, cocoa, corn starch, sodium bicarbonate, salt, ammonium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate, colour, artificial flavour.

An impressive list to say the least. Four of the first six ingredients are various forms of simple sugar and ingredient #4 is a highly processed (aka garbage) fat.

Now with only 1/2 the logic!

Obviously, no one would argue that eating Oreos is conducive to improving someone’s health. Yet I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “gurus” recommending these snacks when they are packaged in their 100 calorie form.

Am I missing something here?

Telling dieters that these snacks are ok makes about as much sense as telling someone to avoid regular Oreos, but that if they break that Oreo in half, they can eat all the “half Oreos” they want.

Sometimes I wonder if food manufacturers have a competition to see who can come up with the most ridiculous products and actually get them to market. But when I go grocery shopping and look into the carts of my fellow shoppers, I realize the joke is on me.

Obviously this is but a small sampling of the many diet and exercise mistakes I see people make on a regular basis, but they are among the biggest errors. Just to remind you what those mistakes were, here they are again:

Major Fat Loss Mistakes Women Make

  1. An over-reliance on low-intensity physical activities.
  2. Terrible exercise selection when they do resistance train.
  3. Eating too many highly processed “diet” foods.

Hopefully none of you reading this article find yourself making any of these mistakes but if you are, do yourself a favour and make a change today for the better.

Tomorrow I’ll be tying this mini series together by walking you through exactly what that number on the scale does and doesn’t tell you. I’ll also be making some suggestions for what numbers you really need to be paying attention to… and let me tell you, it’s not what you think!

Till next time, train hard and eat clean!


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