“Untangling the twisted messages about health, fitness, and happiness”.
Recently this book, written by Timothy Caulfield was recommended to me, and I was delightful surprised by the clarity and value of it’s content! The author is a Canadian professor who shares his research and personal exploration of battling through all the contradictions that the health and fitness industry present. Most of the book is targeted towards making aesthetic changes in the body (losing body fat, looking lean etc,). He is talking mostly to people who are achieving a very extreme look, rather than just an average weight and body fat. If you are looking to maintain a healthy weight and body fat and aren’t looking for an extreme regimen to be as lean and fit looking as possible then you won’t connect with his message. If you are looking to be very lean, chasing society’s elusive ‘ideal’ body- then read on.
The author takes us through his journey of exploring fitness, diet, genetics, and remedies, among other health topics. The author acts as a guinea pig as he puts his already healthy, active, fit body through the journey of achieving optimal health, decreasing body fat, and chasing that elusive “6 pack”.
What I liked about this book is that Timothy has compiled a variety of topics that we as fitness professionals are already aware of, and yet he compiles them in a way that is clear and effective in getting the points across! Most of all he reiterates how INCREDIBLY HARD It was for him to have the willpower to follow his healthy diet and lifestyle regime to achieve a decrease in body fat, as well as how hard it was to exercise at the level that would create a dramatic aesthetically pleasing physical change in the body.
I would definitely recommend you have a read of his book on your own, but for the sake of this blog I wanted to share with you a few of his key concepts. Today I want to unfold some of his ideas on fitness.
Fitness Idea #1: Exercise Should Not Be Used as THE Method For Weight Loss.
Quoted from page 15:
Physical activity appears to reduce the risk of more than 25 chronic conditions including:
- coronary heart disease
- breast cancer
- colon cancer
- type 2 Diabetes
It can also benefit your pregnancy, your sex drive, your quality of life, your psychological self, and stress related illnesses.
What we can’t say without a doubt is that EXERCISE LEADS TO WEIGHT LOSS. The simple reason is that:
In North America we eat too much. As a result as a population our weight increases each year and each decade of life. This is a natural trend based on our culture.
EXERCISING MODERATELY IS SIMPLY GOING TO KEEP YOU FROM GAINING WEIGHT.
Exercise is only going to help you battle what your body naturally wants to do as you grow older, the metabolism slows, and we lead more naturally sedentary lives.
Therefore, as Timothy suggests, and I agree, exercise is a great tool for weight maintenance, building muscle, looking better, and feeling better, but MODERATE EXERCISE ON IT’S OWN IS NOT A METHOD FOR WEIGHT LOSS.
To lose weight via exercise you have to do A LOT of exercise to counteract your slowing metabolism and desire to overeat, or you need to watch your diet VERY CLOSELY. They are the facts 🙂
- See the rest of his Chapter for more reading on this topic
Fitness Idea #2: Stretching is BAD for you.
As Timothy suggests stretching is shown to not be beneficial, and does not prevent injuries, and can actually be harmful for performance. I have to agree with some of his statements. For example,
Instead of stretching after a workout I personally believe you should continue to do light movement or ‘cardio’ to flush out the muscles. We usually stretch after a workout to cool the body down and release muscles. My theory is that muscles don’t need to be released (you just spent the whole workout trying to contract them and make them stronger!!). So unless you want to stretch for psychological well being, don’t stretch afterwards. Instead hop on the bike for 5 minutes or do some dynamic movement (even better). ** Disclaimer, some people have movement imbalances and certain muscles might need a stretch after, you can work with your Kinesiologist to figure that out.
Stretching before a workout? No! Instead, do a dynamic warm up. This basically means moving your body in a manner that increases range of motion and gets the body warm and ready to go. Stretching before exercise has been shown to decrease physical performance.
Now, if you are a client of mine you are probably wondering why the heck you have stretching in your program! Let me preface that by saying NOT ALL STRETCHING IS BAD. Based on our lifestyle choices and movement patterns we develop areas of our body that get unnaturally tight, what this means is you have lost range of motion from that joint and movement of your body. Lack of range of motion is dangerous and can cause injury, and does need to be addressed. These muscles do need to be stretched to avoid compensation and injury. For example, for me, my right hip flexors are chronically tight due to a rotation in my hip, so I stretch/roll those out quite regularly. Also, I like to read a lot, which means I spend too much time in a rounded shoulder hunched over position. As a result I stretch/roll out my chest and front body a lot! If I didn’t do these stretches I would end up injured. So each person needs to know exactly what they need to stretch for their own individual body, but shouldn’t waste time with over stretching everything. Also along with some targeted stretching for your specific body you should also do some movement practices (yoga, dance, freestyle whole body movement) that focuses on maintaining your range of motion. Activities that improve range of motion should be considered instead of just randomly stretching out all parts of your body. There is nothing magical that happens when you are super flexible, and in fact all we really need to achieve is a good balance of range of motion and strength in order to prevent injury and have a physically healthy body.
Fitness Idea #3: If you aren’t lifting heavy weights you are wasting your time.
Timothy describes an experience he had working with a celebrity trainer. He prefaces it by telling us that he is a very active guy, riding his bike every where he goes and exercising regularly, so he believes that when he asks the trainer to put him through a workout that she does for Hollywood celebrities that he could handle it. He was blown out of the water by how hard this trainer was working these celebrities who are thin, low body fat, and muscular (aka toned). The trainer reiterated that these people, who society in general strives to achieve the same aesthetic look, come into her gym and WORK HARD every day doing 80-90 % INTENSE RESISTANCE TRAINING for around and hour or 2 and focus on their diet as 80-90 % of the equation. So for a second, compare that to what you are doing if you are trying to lose weight. Are you working out 6-7 days a week doing intense resistance training for an hour (working beyond your limits), are you eating a perfect diet 90 % of the time? Then let’s stop expecting to have Jennifer Aniston’s body 🙂 I hate the idea of sounding mean here, instead I am supporting us all in being realistic. If we don’t put in the work the Jennifer Aniston’s of the world are putting in, we can’t expect to have the Jennifer Aniston body.
I have to agree with Timothy that resistance training is 100 % the most overlooked part for women in the fitness industry by FAR. Lifting a challenging weight should be the central part of a fitness program that is looking for both health and aesthetic changes, especially in women. As Timothy described in his book “Strength is associated with fewer functional limitations, lower incidence of chronic disease such as diabetes, stroke, arthritis, coronary artery disease and pulmonary disorders, is positively associated with functional independence, mobility, glucose homeostasis, bone health, psychological well being and overall quality of life, and is negatively associated with the risk of falls, illness, and premature death”.
From an aesthetic perspective I believe this is also where mostly women go wrong in their fitness endeavors. Lifting lightweights is basically like doing cardio. You aren’t working hard enough to stimulate the muscle to get the hormonal, physiological, and metabolic benefits of lifting heavy weights. It is pretty well agreed upon in the research that 8-12 reps of functional movements (that work all your muscles) done in a circuit using a weight that IS CHALLENGING is the key for changing the look of your body.
CHALLENGING is the key word. A lot of people aren’t sure what vigorous weight training even feels like. They get to the 12th rep and think – oh hey- I think I’m done! Not good enough. Those last few reps should be more like – oh shit– I don’t think I can finish these two! That’s challenging, and that’s where the physical changes are!
Something to consider: Why the heck does ‘Canada’ tell us that we need a meagre 150 minutes of moderate activity and 2 strength training workouts a week? Well first of all, let’s think about if the message said this instead:
“You need to do 1 hour of cardio that makes you sweat everyday, along with 2-3 times a week doing some super hard full body weight training exercises that you don’t think you are going to finish because they are so hard” Oh and throw some ‘movement’ practices like yoga in there too”. Who is really going to see those guidelines and see them as a manageable expectation? Not many people…
At least the guidelines set out in our country and manageable and realistic, and will provide health benefits. Will they help you lose weight? Unless you are very overweight, I don’t think they will. Will they help you get the low body fat and lean body you are looking for? Absolutely not.
On that note, I am going to leave it for today. Your takeaways are:
- If you are trying to lose weight you have to start with diet. Dial it in. Stop depending on exercise to take your excess weight away.
- Stop randomly stretching. Start with a targeted range of motion practice for what your specific body needs.
- Start lifting heavy weights at least 2 times a week (functional movements, in a circuit).
- Start working harder in the gym.
- Reconsider whether you are actually doing enough intensity and volume of exercise overall.
Next week I will explore his ideas on nutrition. I hope that today was a nice reminder for you 🙂 After all the triathlon training this summer it is a nice reminder for me to hit the heavy weights in the gym again- looking forward to it.