When you have precious few resources to dedicate to your health routine, you want to make sure everything you do, counts. What a bummer to find out you've been following a routine that's a waste of time or spending your hard earned cash on a practice that will never work.
Here, we give you the low down on seven diet and fitness practices you may think are beneficial but alas -- they aren't.
The first electronic cardio machines that appeared in gyms in the 1970s featured low intensity, long duration "fat burning" programs. Many still do today, even though Neal Pire, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, says this slow-and-steady approach to working out can be a real time waster.
"You do burn a higher percentage of fat during a long, slow workout but you burn more fat and calories overall when you push the intensity," he says. Pire recommends doing interval training where you alternate periods of hard and easy cardio. According to Pire, this helps ratchet up the calorie burn while helping you avoid injury and burnout.
For many exercisers, the pre-workout toe touch is still a ritual -- but Pire says this one is a real no-no.
"Numerous studies show that stretching a cold muscle decreases its endurance and power and makes you feel like you're working harder," Pire cautions. "More importantly, it ups your risk of injury."
Instead, he advises saving your stretching for the end of your workout when your muscles are at their most supple. "The average person only needs about five minutes of stretching. All it takes is one move for each major muscle and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds."
Developing "long, lean" muscles or "strength without bulk" are promises you'll often see advertised by studios and trainers who teach yoga, Pilates and dance -- even though Pire says it's impossible to change the length of your muscles.
"You are born with a certain body type, and no matter how much or what kind of exercise you do, your muscles will develop into their natural length and shape," he says.
Pire thinks this myth got started (and is still perpetuated) by instructors in the Pilates and yoga world who are naturally predisposed to willowy physiques. "They may have the mistaken impression that this is the result of their training but don't realize it won't translate for many of their clients."
Who doesn't think that succumbing to the temptations of a KFC Double Down -- 540 calories, if you were curious -- can be fixed by taking a kickboxing class?
Katy Bowman, director of the Restorative Exercise Institute in Ventura, Calif. refers to this as the "burn to earn" mentality and speculates that it's one of the reasons so many of us no longer fit into our jeans. "When you believe that a bout of exercise grants you "permission" to eat an extra portion of food, the extra caloric intake is less about hunger and more about the mind's desire to eat."
You do need to exercise for long-term weight maintenance, but it's nearly impossible to burn off a full day's worth of eating -- especially if you overindulge. Bowman advices keeping an exercise and diet log so you can't escape the fact that one extra doughnut is equivalent to an hour's jog.
Heeding the advice to be more active is wise but doesn't require a special drink.