Myths & Misinformation About Exercise
Excerpts from the book “What’s Really Wrong With You” By Dr. Thomas Griner
Warning: This booklet may contain information that may seriously challenge your current beliefs about exercise.
When we look back in history, it’s easy to see that many ideas and practices, although widely accepted in their time, were actually quite bizarre and even dangerous. During the 19th century, for instance, physicians still treated fevers with bloodletting-opening veins to allow demons to escape from the body. Less than one hundred years ago, in the name of beauty, women bound themselves into corsets with iron stays that were so tight, they sometimes damaged internal organs.
We may feel superior to the follies of our ancestors, but can we see our own? What I want to do now is examine some contemporary notions about health that most of us hold unquestioningly----ideas and practices that are not only wrong, but harmful. I’ll cover a wide range of subjects---from aerobics to emotions---and take a look at the myths and misinformation that keep us from seeing some basic scientific truths.
People everywhere are working out because they believe it’s making them healthy and fit. However, as you’ll soon see, some of the most widely recommended type of exercise---aerobics, bodybuilding, even yoga---can be quite damaging to the body. These exercises may make you feel good because they force the body to produce endorphins, but later in this section you’ll also learn why this endorphin “high” is not a healthy one.
One of the most popular forms of exercise is aerobics---high and low impact aerobics, step aerobics, stairclimbers, stationary bikes, jogging, running, and more.
What’s wrong with aerobics? For a start, even the name is misleading. It’s based on the idea that when we do “aerobics” our muscles are using oxygen to generate energy. But in reality, the opposite is true. “Aerobics” is predominantly anaerobic. You may be breathing hard, but most of the oxygen cannot reach the muscle, and lactic acid is produced.
Another misconception about “aerobics” is that when your heart races it’s good for you. It’s not. Your heart beats harder because you are in a state of toxicity. The circulatory and respiratory systems automatically respond in this way when something harmful is happening to the body.
One of the main reasons people do “aerobic” exercise is that it’s supposed to strengthen the heart. It is true that “aerobics” won’t damage the heart itself, because it is the only muscle in the body that can metabolize lactic acid. Unfortunately, your arteries-including the coronary artery to your heart and the pulmonary artery to your lungs-cannot. Lactic acid is irritating to them and may, over time, cause serious problems. That’s why you so often hear of joggers needing bypass surgery. It’s one of the clues that “aerobic” exercise is harmful, but we are ignoring it.
Influenced by new standards of physical attractiveness, both men and women are working out with weights to increase the size and definition of their muscles. But do you know what you are really looking at when you see that “cut” or bulging biceps. It’s actually hypertonic muscle, muscle in chronic spasm. It is not in any way, shape, or form, a healthy muscle.
Bodybuilders are afflicted with muscle so tense, their circulation and nerve function are impaired. And once the muscle is in spasm, whether you stretch it, soak it, or have it massaged, it will stay in spasm. It will remain in spasm even when you think you are relaxed.
And each time you pump iron, you add to the damage and make the spasm worse. Sooner or later, bodybuilding can lead to back, knee, shoulder and joint injuries, pinched nerves, even serious illnesses.
Poor circulation is another major side effect of bodybuilding. That’s why bodybuilders’ veins pop to the surface. The blood in the deep muscle vessels can no longer work its way through the hard, permanently contracted muscle. In recent months, two film stars, both known for their muscularity, had to top work in the middle of production because of pain, swelling, and circulation problems.
Just as a fat person needs extra capillaries to feed his fat, a bodybuilder needs them to feed his muscle. But the bodybuilder is actually in much worse trouble. Fat gives no resistance to capillaries---muscle does. So a bodybuilder is actually putting a greater burden n his heart then someone who is overweight.
Because extreme physical regimens like bodybuilding are so unhealthy, a completely new medical specialty---sports medicine-has been developed in recent years. The question is, how can sports doctors heal a condition if they don’t know what really causes it?
Most people think of yoga as a harmless, soothing, and beneficial form of exercise, but it really puts an enormous amount of stress on the muscles. That’s because the stretching involved in yoga immediately activates a response called the stretch reflex, which causes the muscles to contract. As a result, blood circulation becomes strangled and lactic acid accumulates rapidly. By now you know that this will eventually cause spasm.
Why does yoga enable people to increase their range of motion, touch their toes, sit in the lotus position, and appear much more flexible? Because it is their tendons---not their muscle---that are being stretched.
When you do yoga, the muscle itself actually grows shorter and more tense. If you stop stretching for any length of time, your range of motion will decrease rapidly and you’ll see how tight the muscles really are.
While many forms of exercise, even weight training, can be redesigned to become beneficial yoga cannot.
“But yoga makes me feel so relaxed,” people say. “It gives me such a great sense of well being.” Like “aerobics” and bodybuilding, yoga causes enough irritation to produce an endorphin high.
EXERCISE AND ENDORPHINS
Everyone I know who exercises love the high produced by endorphins…the body’s own painkillers. Two hundred times more powerful than morphine, endorphins certainly can make you feel good!
The common belief is that endorphins are nature’s reward for exercising. They most emphatically are not. Endorphins are part of your body’s fight or flight mechanisms. The purpose of endorphins is to enable you to take action when you are injured---to run when you’re hurt and an 800 pound gorilla is chasing you. Endorphins are your body’s normal response to stress and pain. In order for the body to manufacture endorphins, you have to harm yourself first! The endorphin high that exercisers love is actually an indication of excessive irritation to the body.
All of us suffer from some degree of muscle spasticity, whether we know it or not. Endorphins often keep us from feeling the pain of spasm. If you want to known the kind of pain you would feel without endorphins, consider the withdrawal experienced by a heroin addict. When heroin enters the body, it uses the same receptors as endorphins. When the addict stops taking heroin, the agonizing pain of withdrawal is simply the pain of the body without endorphins---the pain that has always been there. That pain is what you would feel right now if your body were not producing endorphins.
Many types of exercise can be addictive, but it is not a “health” addiction, as some have called it. Every time you feel that endorphin “high,” remember, you are harming your body to get it. Jogging is getting your drugs on the street the hard way. The “fitness” trend is creating a nation of addicts---endorphin junkies who are killing themselves for a fix.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS TOO MUCH?
People drastically overestimate the amount of physical stress a body can withstand without adverse reaction. We seem to believe that physical stress always has a positive effect on the body. One fitness guru, who circulation is so strangled buy muscle that his complexion is ash gray, has been telling us form more than forty years, “There’s no such thing as too much exercise.” That’s dangerous misinformation. So is the idea that it is healthy to gradually work up to very strenuous exercise. Both of these concepts are false
You get two warnings when you have pushed your body too far---fatigue and pain. But fitness “experts” encourage you to ignore them. They advise “running through the pain,” and going beyond the wall,” to “have a breakthrough.” Doing this is supposed to make you stronger. But what’s really happening is you are battering your body into producing enough endorphins to numb the pain. It reminds me of the saying: “Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.” Unfortunately, some people get so numb from excessive exercise, the only message that gets through to them is death.
IF STRENOUS EXERCISE IS BAD….MAYBE I SHOULDN’T EXERCISE AT ALL
Moderation is a dull word. In a world that values speed, excitement, and extremes, it’s not a very popular concept. Yet, moderation may well be the most important idea I can impart to you.
So if you’re thinking that lying in bed all day might be healthier than performing heavy exercise, I’m afraid that’s just as bad. Inactivity also causes lactic acid to accumulate just as bad. Inactivity also causes lactic acid to accumulate in your muscles, leading to spasm. Your body can endure neither too much activity, nor too much rest.
Moderation in exercise is crucial. The problem is that most people’s idea of a moderate workout actually involves extreme exertion. Nevertheless, it is possible to exercise and achieve fitness without killing yourself in the process.
How To Exercise
There is so much misinformation about exercise, it would take a book to resolve all the confusion. So please trust that the information I’m about to present here is based on a mountain of other information. So before we talk about body-friendly exercise, let’s do a little recap of what you don’t want to do and why.
The following exercises make muscles spastic or aggravate existing ailments.
Exercises we call “aerobic”--- jogging, running, stair climbing, bicycling, using treadmills, and taking classes that push your heart rate up---are actually examples of anaerobic exercise. That is, they leave your muscles with an inadequate supply of oxygen, producing lactic acid and muscle spasm.
Popular exercise experts advise maintaining an exercise heart rate between 65 and 80 percent of maximum exertion for a minimum of twelve minutes. This is commonly thought to be an effective way to ensure true aerobic benefit from a workout. But the truth is, when your heart rate rises and you begin to pant for a sustained period of time, your muscles produce too much lactic acid. Although the exertion oxygenates the blood, it is not enough to prevent the high production of lactic acid. As a result, the muscles become spastic.
That’s why joggers and other athletes often succumb to heart attacks. Exercise that increases your heart rate for extended periods of time is sheer trauma to the arterial muscles. An elevated heart rate is the
result of increased levels of lactic acid in the bloodstream. This irritates the muscular walls of the coronary arteries, and can lead to arterial blockage, a major cause of heart attacks.
Bulging, defined, “cut” muscle is not healthy muscle. Lifting weights repetitively ensures that plenty of lactic acid gets trapped in the muscles, sickening the feedback nerves and causing permanent spastic contraction. You may look good, but sooner or later you’ll stop feeling good.
Exercise For back Problems
Some people think that exercising your abdominal muscles helps to strengthen your back. But this is physiologically impossible. The abdominals attached to the ribs and, for the most part, have no association with the muscles of the back. The only back muscle associated with abdominal movement is the psoas, but in bending your knees to perform most abdominal exercises, you tally avoid using the psoas.
It is also a mistake to advise people with problems to perform repetitive exercises to strengthen the back muscles. Those problem back muscles are not really weak. They only seem weak because they are overly contracted. Exercises may relieve pain for a while, but they will only make the spasm worse.
What should you do instead? That’s like someone who’s hitting himself in the head with hammer asking what else he might do. Take a walk, have your muscles massaged by a NeuroSoma therapist. Just don’t do those exercises.
Since your muscles work twenty-four hours a day to maintain tone, they always produce some lactic acid. Therefore, if you engage in little or no physical activity, your blood circulation becomes less efficient in flushing lactic acid from muscles. So you lie around and do nothing, you’re going to end up with spastic muscles.
HOW MUSCLES WORK
You’ve got to exercise. But how? Before we talk about the most effective ways to work out, there’s a little more muscle physiology you’ll have to learn.
Every muscle is composed to two types of muscle fiber, fast-twitch and slow-twitch, which play an important role in understanding exercise and metabolism.
Only your slow-twitch muscle fibers can metabolize fatty acids. This is highly desirable for two reasons: Fat metabolism is always aerobic, burns cleanly, and does not produce lactic acid; in addition, it can draw directly on your stored body fat and help to reduce it.
Fast-twitch muscle fiber can only metabolize glucose. During heavy exercise, some of this process will be aerobic, but most of it will be anaerobic and produce lactic acid.
The faster or more vigorous the exercise, the more you engage the fast-twitch fibers and leave the slow-twitch fibers behind---burning less fat and producing more lactic acid. Believe it or not, when you are at rest, your body is burning four times more fat than glucose. (But this doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight if you lie around and do nothing. We’re talking ratio not quantity of fat burned.)
When I talk about moderate exercises that use slow-twitch fibers, many people thinks of marathon running. Are they ever wrong! On level ground you begin to leave the slow-twitch fibers behind at 8 or 9 miles an hour-but the average speed for a marathon runner is 11.5 an hour. That’s why they stock up on carbohydrates before race-it’s the only fuel for fast-twitch muscles.
Some fitness experts claim that unless you are exercising so vigorous that you can’t talk, you are burning fat. This is absolutely untrue. The change over from fat to glucose happens gradually from the moment you begin to move, and by the time you are doing “moderate” aerobics, you are burning no fat at all.
There’s one more reason why fast vigorous exercise doesn’t accomplish what it’s supposed to. If you are using only fast-twitch fibers---you are using only half your muscle. The benefit of slow movement is that it uses both fast---and slow-twitch fibers, in other words, all of your muscle.
Endurance Versus Stamina
The low pulse rate that develops with vigorous exercise is not always a sign of fitness. To understand why, you must grasp the distinction between stamina and endurance. When you have stamina, you have achieved a low pulse rate by increasing your muscle capillaries and strengthening your diaphragm.
When you exercise vigorously for sustained periods of time, the low pulse you eventually achieve is only partly stamina. The rest is endurance, which means you are enduring---but not happily---lactic acid toxicity. Your liver has become desensitized to the level of lactic acid in your blood stream and stops demanding enough oxygen to keep the level down. That’s why your pulse rate slows. But lactic acid is still pouring through your blood stream, as toxic as ever. That‘s why a trained athlete can take as long as an hour to recover from vigorous exercise, when it might take a neophyte only fifteen minutes.
Real fitness is stamina, not endurance. To achieve it your body must efficiently eliminate lactic acid from the muscles as you work out.
Summing up all we have learned so far, body-riendly exercise should:
- Produce a minimum of lactic acid.
- Increase circulation to help flush lactic acid out of the muscle
- Use all your muscle-both fast-and slow-twitch fibers.
- Burn a greater proportion of fat than glucose.
-And build stamina rather than endurance
Let’s see what fits the bill.
Walking at a rate of about 3 miles an hour on level ground is one of the very best exercises you can do.
This pace allows your muscles to work with a minimum of anaerobically produced lactic acid. All of your muscle fibers, both the slow-twitch fat burners and the fast-twitch fat burners and the fast-twitch glucose burners are working. And the veins in your calves, which pump blood back up to the heart, have adequate time to fully refill between contractions. This promotes circulation and flushes your body clean. When you walk at this easy pace, blood moves through the body faster than needed to keep up with the lactic acid being produced.
Walking will burn calories much more cleanly than running, and you will be burning a higher ratio of fat to glucose.
The Best Way to Walk
The Europeans have a much better way of walking than we Americans do, and we could benefit from copying them.
We have a jaunty walk. We lift one leg, push it out ahead, the spring off from the balls and toes. This extra bounce puts unnecessary stress on your muscles-and going up and down instead of forward is wasted motion.
When you walk any distance at all, your feet get tired, because the metatarsal arch of your toes was not made to support so much weight. Not only that, but when you throw all your weight forward, your body tips backward for counterbalance, so it’s almost like climbing up hill.
The bounce in your walk also blocks circulation, by causing prolonged tightening of the soleus muscle of the calf, restricting the flow of blood back up to your heart. The Europeans plant their feet flat and push their bodies along in a walk that’s driven by the heel, not the toes. This walk puts the larger muscle to work, helping circulation and minimizing lactic acid.
Here’s how to do it. Let your trailing leg extend out far enough behind to feel a slight stretch in the calf muscle. Then lift your hip-not your thigh-slightly, and allow the leg to swing freely forward. The foot should land flat, with the weight evenly distributed between the heel and toes.
For most of us, walking is an unconscious habit, so it’s a little awkward when you tamper with it. But with practice this walk can become second nature, and the benefits it brings will be well worth the effort.
Before doing any type of exercise, you should warm up your muscle by walking at a brisk pace (about 4 ½ miles an hour) for three to five minutes. It is not necessary to stretch before you exercise, but if you feel you must, do it as described below.
Athletes used to stretch as a warm-up before exercise. Most now realize that it’s not good to stretch cold muscle, yet still think that as long as you warm up first, it’s fine to hold a stretch. It’s not. Whether your muscles are warm or cold, holding a stretch causes a powerful reflex contraction.
A stretch and hold exercise will temporarily lengthen the tendon, while shortening the muscle.
Stretching will benefit the muscles if you use the following technique to avoid turning on the stretch reflex. First, take a brisk warm-up walk. Then stretch to the point of strain…but do not pause there…and return to neutral posture in one smooth movement. You can repeat this as many times as you like. Your range will increase slightly with each repetition, up to a point. Don’t make a heroic effort to pass that point. You may get a short-term result, but eventually you’ll pay for it with even tighter muscles.
If you are attracted to Eastern forms of exercise, avoid yoga postures, because they involve prolonged stretching and holding. T’ai chi, with its slow, flowing movement, is a far better practice for the health of your body.
The Heavy/Light Principle
The heavy/light principle is a way of modifying many forms of exercise so that they will be beneficial. If you exercise with maximum exertion for a short period of time, slow down or relax for a few moments, then go full-tilt again, your body will have time to deal with the lactic acid being produced.
In an aerobics class, go all out for 3 minutes, then walk for 5, then go all out again. With a stair-climber, stationary bike, or other machine that uses specific muscles intensely, work as hard as you can for one minute, then walk for two minutes. You can repeat this cycle as many times as you want.
The best kinds of sports call for intermittent, as opposed to constant, activity. Tennis, badminton, and squash are good. Racquetball and handball are far too fast because the harder ball moves at an extremely high velocity. (I’ve seen racquetball players in t-shirts that read “Harvey Wallbanger”---clearly describing another good reason these overly fast sports can be hard on your muscles.)
One of the very best ways to develop pure stamina is by doing wind sprints.
First, run as fast as you can for a block, then walk for two blocks so that the lactic acid can get flushed out of the muscles into the bloodstream. When it reaches the liver, it will be converted back into glucose, which will continue to fuel your muscles. You may sprint and walk like this for as long as you can.
You’ll be developing stamina and expending energy, while at the same time keeping your muscles healthy.
Bicycling is wonderful exercise when you do it in a nice flat area. If you can coast a little, pedal a little, coast some more, you can ride for miles and it will be very beneficial for your body. Of course, the average bicycle seat can be pretty tough on the muscles it presses against, so use a gel seat. A recumbent bike is also excellent, because it allow you to sit on your gluteus maximus muscles, which are flat and can take the pressure.
Just remember, as soon as you begin panting, go light.
Training With Weights
Training properly with weights---as power lifters do---is an ideal exercise. But as soon as you say power lifter, people usually think of grossly obese men almost as fat as sumo wrestlers. Those are the heavy weight lifters, the 250 pounds and over group, and they are one end of the spectrum.
But power lifters who weigh less than 250 pounds must stay slim, because the lower the weight class they make it into, the greater their advantage.
These power lifters have smooth, strong muscles. They do not have cut and definition the way bodybuilders do, and that’s good, because as you know, that’s hypertonic spastic muscle.
When you power lift, work with as heavy a weight as you can---but take no more than 6 seconds to lift it once and set it down. This is because your muscles have a small store of oxygen that will last for just about 6 seconds before you lift the weight again.
One slow lift for a full six seconds is far better than several repetitions in the same amount of time. First, the slow movement uses all your muscle fibers, whereas the faster repetitions use mostly the fast-twitch fibers. Second, slow movement burns fat, not just glucose.
After working one muscle group, walk around for two or three minutes before starting the next group.
Machines are better than free weights because you can completely let go after a heavy lift. With the exception of a bench press, where you can set the weight back on a holder, you can not let go of a free weight, so there is no pause that refreshes.
Power lifting builds healthy muscle, muscle that is actually much stronger than the bound-up, bulked-out spasms you see on bodybuilders.
After You Exercise
Whenever you work out, take a walk afterward to help flush out the lactic acid. I’d also recommend taking a walk after athletic sex, but I don’t think this practice will catch on soon.
How Often Should You Exercise?
You can walk every day. All other exercise should be done every other day at most.
Ideally, you should take a walk first thing in the morning to stimulate your circulation. When you wake up, you’re in a polluted condition, because inactivity has slowed your blood flow, and lactic acid has been accumulating in your muscles all night. Do not do any other type of exercise when first awakening, because it will only add to the toxicity.
Hot tubs and Showers
Extreme heat and ice cold showers will drive your muscles into spasm, but here’s what you can do to relax. It’s perfectly fine to sit in a tub that’s no hotter than 96 degrees. Have all the swirling, bubbling water you like-but no jets pounding into your muscles, making them tighten up.
A pulsating shower massager is good, because the water does not come out in a steady stream but pulses. If it’s not too hot and not too hard, this can be very relaxing for your muscles.
So there it is. You can and should keep on exercising. Just modify what you do, and you’ll not only look good, and feel good, you’ll be genuinely improving your health.