We as a human race are gullible. Even with modern technology, satellite photos, history books, the internet, etc., there exists a contingent of human beings (click here) who are convinced that Earth is flat. While I don’t possess the expertise to get into an astronomy debate with anyone with even a rudimentary education of the solar system, I can look at a globe and see it’s round. I would love to expose such an asinine claim for the complete BS that it is, but the problem is I’m not an astronomer, I’m just a personal trainer who picks things up and puts them down. Instead, I decided to debunk some claims related to health and fitness that every fitness professional would like to bury 6 feet underground.
1) A diet high in protein destroys the kidneys- In my experience, insufficient protein intake is one of the most common errors those looking to improve body composition are making with their diets. This common myth has been a road block on several occasions when discussing the amount of protein optimal for fat loss or muscle gain. Protein is a macronutrient along with fat and carbohydrates. We have been consuming protein in excess since we were hunter gatherers who would spear a wild animal and feast over an open flame with the entire village. Today, I think we can handle a couple chicken breasts and a shake without our kidneys or livers shutting down. But please, don’t take my word for it. Just this month, a study was published (click here) where a group of well-trained men were consuming at least 1 g of protein per lb. of bodyweight for a full 2 years to see what kind of effect this had on liver and kidney function, the answer: ZIPPY! Both the liver and kidney were unaffected (1).
This myth stems from a study published in 1982 in the New England Journal of Medicine (click here) that reported loss of kidney function in high protein diets (2). The kicker is that the subjects of the study were either rats or human patients with pre-existing kidney disease. So, if you have kidney disease and eat a high protein diet, you’ll still have kidney disease, umm ok, got it. Somehow, this report turned into the demonization of high protein intake even for the healthy individual who just wants to look jacked in their birthday suit. This myth is a product of poor reading comprehension, not protein intake.
Still don’t buy it? Click for this article and check out all the cited studies supporting the safety of a high protein diet.
2) If you want to tone muscle or get cut, you should lift high reps with low weight- Lifting weights allows you to do 2 things with muscle tissue; make it bigger or stronger, sometimes both. You can’t cut it, tone it, slice it, dice it, fillet it, or anything else unless you have the assistance of a surgeon (if you are inherently lazy this might be the better way to go). To make a muscle stronger, your best bet is to frequently lift heavy things (think 1-6 reps). To make the muscle bigger (hypertrophy) lift for more reps but go to failure from time to time. Sure, that may be an oversimplification, but that’s the basic concept of one’s ability to change a muscle’s look or performance. When lifting for strength there will be a fair amount of carryover to hypertrophy and vice versa, especially if you are new to lifting. Your muscles are either getting bigger, smaller, or staying the same size based on the stimulus you provide them. If you starve yourself and do tons of cardio without lifting weights, you WILL lose weight, but your muscles are in getting smaller mode, leaving you a smaller yet just as flabby version of yourself. If “toning” is the goal, lifting weights with a combination of heavy lifting and higher reps for added volume for those muscles you want to show would be a good start. Add in a diet that supports fat loss and you have a magical concoction to get “toned” or “cut”.
A special shout out to women: Telling a female she would be better off increasing muscle size instead of losing another 20lbs can be a tough conversation to navigate. Most women think they just need to be skinnier to get the body they want, but there comes a point where the only way to improve aesthetics and look healthy becomes to pump the brakes on the cardio and hit the weight room. Lifting weights will not make you bulky unless you are in a calorie surplus (taking in more calories than you are burning) or stealing your man’s testosterone supplement. Sure, if you lift weights and eat a ton of crappy food, drink wine every night, and get a venti mocha latte every morning you are going to bulk up, but don’t blame the weights, blame what you are shoving in your face. Fat gain + muscle gain= bulky. Muscle gain + fat loss = sexy. Lifting weights and eating a sensible diet high in protein will increase that sexy. You can do cardio, you can lower your calories, but lifting weights with the required intensity is an ABSOLUTE NEED if you want to look better and feel stronger!
3) The treadmill is bad for your knees: I recently started working with someone who is 3 months removed from a heart attack and bypass surgery. Her cardiologist instructed her to exercise frequently to improve her cardiovascular strength and she was ready to get cranking. A major obstacle however is that she has a partially torn meniscus that she refuses to get repaired due to the trauma of her heart event, I can’t blame her, that sucks. I have never met or spoken to her orthopedist, so this is second hand intel, but he made a huge generalization by telling her the “treadmill is bad for your knees”. We tried the bike: knee pain. We tried walking the track: knee pain. We tried an elliptical: excruciating. Instead of telling her to pack it up and go home, sit on your ass and wait for your next heart attack, I tried the dreaded knee grinding treadmill. Using a slow pace (2.5mph) and a high incline (9%) she was able to walk at a high intensity and elevate her HR without any knee pain. Slowing the pace of the treadmill and raising the incline places a lot less stress on the knees than a higher pace at a low incline does. I’ve had more success incline walking with clients that have knee pain than on the elliptical, and it’s not even close. Does that mean the treadmill is for everyone? Absolutely not. But generalizing that an exercise, especially as basic as walking on a treadmill, is BAD for you is a good way to make people sedentary.
4) Traditional pull-ups are always a better option than kipping pull-ups: Wait, this one is true, ditch the kip and get stronger.
1) Antonio J., Ellerbroek, A et. Al. Journal of Exercise Phys. 2/2018 vol. 21 number 1
2) Brenner B., et. al. N Engl J Med 1982; 307:652-659