17 Exercise Rules to Break

Take everything you thought you knew about getting fit and forget it. New research shows there are smarter ways to stay in shape.

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Old Rule: Skip late exercise
New Rule: Do it when you can


Finnish researchers found that the majority of people who exercise after 8 pm say they fall asleep faster, sleep deeper and wake up fresher than when they work out earlier in the day. Exercise raises your body temperature, so by the time you crawl into bed, it has started to drop, which helps induce sleep. If late at night is the only time you can squeeze in some exercise and it doesn’t seem to disrupt your sleep, there is no reason not to do it then. Just be sure not to sacrifice a full-night’s sleep.

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Old Rule: Strengthen abs with crunches
New Rule: Stand up to work your core


If you really want to strengthen your midsection, get off your back: Training your core while standing may be more effective, according to a presentation at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 14th-Annual Health and Fitness Summit. Vertical training challenges your body in more realistic ways, says presenter Dixie Stanforth, PhD, professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin. “What do you have to do during the day that has you lie on your back and flex your spine?,” asks Stanforth. “Not much! But you use your core to be able to bend, twist and move in all planes of motion. Training vertical teaches you to turn on the deep stabilizing muscles of the core (both abs and back) so that you can move freely, with a reduced risk of injury.” For a routine that attacks your core from every angle, try this resistance workout

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Old Rule: Lift weights for better bones
New Rule: Jump, too


A study from Oregon State University found women who did both lower and upper body resistance training along with jumping exercises three times a week for a year had higher bone density levels in their hips and spine compared to those who didn’t exercise. Jumping generates the quick, intense strain that bones need to become stronger. If you don’t have a history of knee injuries, fractures or a family history of osteoporosis, doing 40 to 50 vertical jumps or skipping rope for a few minutes can be one of the quickest and most effective ways to increase bone density, especially in premenopausal women.

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Old Rule: Get fitted for running shoes
New Rule: Avoid overtraining


In a recent study, Marine Corps recruits had their foot shape analyzed and were then assigned to one of two groups. The first group received running shoes tailored to their type of pronation, or how much their foot rolls left or right when it hits the ground during their running stride. The second received stability shoes regardless of whether they were an over, under or normal pronator. After 12 weeks of training both groups had sustained the same amount of injuries. In fact, the study showed that overtraining may actually be what causes injuries, says study author Bruce Jones, MPH, MD, injury prevention program manger at the U.S. Army Public Health Command in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. To stay healthy, Jones suggests changing your running regimen to fit your body’s needs. For example, if you’re relatively new to a running or are returning to the sport after a hiatus, alternate between walking and running. Also, listen to your body and don’t be afraid to back off if you feel aches and pains, he says.

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Old Rule: Know why you need exercise
New Rule: Plan how to get it done


Adults who use behavior-oriented interventions—such as goal setting and self-monitoring—significantly increase their activity levels compared to adults who use cognitive approaches, which try to change knowledge and attitudes, according to a review published in the American Journal of Public Health. Hearing information about why you need to exercise isn’t motivating, says Vicki Conn, PhD, RN, associate dean of research and Potter-Brinton professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing at the University of Missouri. “We can’t ‘think’ ourselves more active.” Instead, try scheduling appointments with a personal trainer, setting exercise alerts on your phone or placing your pedometer on your work clothes the night before.

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Old Rule: Subtract your age from 220 to get your peak heart rate
New Rule: Use 206 minus 88 percent of your age


Reaching your target heart rate, which is typically between 60 to 70 percent of your max to burn fat and within 75 to 80 percent to increase endurance, is recognized as the best way to achieve an effective aerobic workout. However, the way to calculate your maximum heart rate (and thus your target heart rate) has changed. According to a recent report in Circulation, the previous formula (220 minus your age) was derived from research on men and results in a max heart rate that’s too high for women. The new calculation (206 minus 88 percent of your age) would lower a 40-year-old woman’s peak rate about nine beats a minute, making it easier for her to reach and maintain her target heart rate, say researchers.

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Old Rule: Warm up before exercising
New Rule: Chill out first


To perform better in the heat, cool down before you warm up. Research shows that lowering your body temperature prior to exercise increases the amount of heat your body can tolerate, which delays fatigue. The best way: Slowly sip a flavored ice slushie starting 30 minutes before you exercise. Athletes who did this before running on a treadmill in hot room ran an average of 10 minutes longer than those who drank cold, flavored water, according to a 2010 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Because the runners’ bodies had to convert the slushies from ice to water, they may have transferred more heat to the drink rather than store it internally where it would have raised their core temperatures, say researchers.

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Old Rule: Rest when you’re weary
New Rule: Exercise


It seems counterintuitive, but if you’re feeling sluggish, low-key workouts can restart your stamina. In a 2008 study of sedentary but healthy adults suffering from persistent fatigue, University of Georgia researchers found that those who did low-intensity biking for 20 minutes three times a week felt 65 percent less fatigued after six weeks than those who did no exercise at all. The result was 16 percent better than that of the moderate-intensity group and comparable to results using prescription drugs such as amphetamines. Exercise may affect the levels of energy-regulating neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, but maintaining a moderate intensity may be too draining for previously sedentary people suffering from fatigue, says Patrick J. O’Connor, PhD, study author and professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia. Commit to at least 20 minutes of low-intensity cardio, such as walking or biking, three times a week.

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Old Rule: Avoid exercising in heat
New Rule: Allow your body to acclimate


If you want to boost your cold-weather performance, train in hot weather: Cyclists who rode spin bikes in a lab heated to 104 degrees they were able to ride four to eight percent faster in a cooler room at the end of the study than cyclists who trained in the cold all along, according to a University of Oregon study. Adapting to heat allows the body to sweat earlier and heavier and expedites blood flow to the skin, all of which can positively affect performance, say researchers. Just be sure to start slow: Researchers recommend gradually increasing the time and intensity of hot workouts over multiple sessions in the sun.

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Old Rule: Do static stretching pre-workout
New Rule: Do a dynamic warmup


A crop of new research studies finds that not only does static stretching not prevent injuries when done before exercise, but it may actually hinder your performance. "There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching," says Malachy McHugh PhD, director of Research Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, which makes stretched muscles less reponsive for about 30 minutes afterward. What's better? A five to 10-minute dynamic warmup that consists of continuous movements—such as walking lunges, straight-leg marches and arm windmills—will increase body temperature, heart rate and blood flow and gradually prepare muscles for action. When golfers did this type of warmup, they had greater swing speeds and their balls flew faster, and soccer players sprinted 20 meters faster, according to studies published in The International Journal of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, respectively.

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Old Rule: Build strength with heavy weights

New Rule: Lighten up


In a 2010 study, McMaster University researchers found that lifting lighter weights results in a 25 percent greater rate of muscle protein synthesis, which is essential to building muscle, than hoisting heavy loads as long as you do repetitions until fatigue. “We call this the high-effort routine,” says study author Stuart Phillips, PhD, associate chair of graduate studies at McMaster University. It also burns more calories. To incorporate this type of training, choose a weight that is about 30 percent lighter than the most you could lift and perform the exercise until fatigue. For most people, that entails at least 24 reps.

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Old Rule: Get fitted for custom orthotics
New Rule: Save money, buy a premade shoe insert


When researchers gave study participants both custom made foot orthoses and prefabricated devices, they found no difference in the number of incidences of stress fractures, ankle sprains, or other foot problems based on the type of orthotics used, according to a study in the Foot and Ankle International. “This cost is high without advantages,” said Charles Milgrom, MD, chief investigator of the study. If you’re experiencing foot pain, ask your doctor about trying an over-the-counter insert before springing for custom orthotics, which can cost up to four times as much.

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Old Rule: Run hard to get faster
New Rule: Slow down


Stuck at your current speed? You may be training too hard, posits a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning. According to the researchers, spending too much time doing tempo runs just above your lactate threshold—a moderate-intensity pace at which the body starts producing lactic acid—can have detrimental effects on performance. To test their theory, the researchers divided well-trained runners into two groups. One did 25 percent of their training at this moderate intensity. The other only did 12 percent of their runs at this effort level and used the time saved to do more low-intensity running. After five months the latter group improved their 6.5-mile race time by an average of 36 seconds more than the former group. It’s possible that doing too much moderate-intensity running places more stress on the body than it can adequately recover from. “If the runner can dedicate more time to daily training sessions, it seems better to design an ‘easy-hard’ distribution load (increasing the amount of low-intensity training), than a ‘moderate high-hard’ training approach,” says study author Jonathan Esteve-Lanao, an exercise physiologist at the European University of Madrid in Spain.


To avoid short changing yourself, devote 80 percent of your training to low-intensity running, 12 percent to moderate-intensity (ie: a heart rate that’s 75 to 80 percent of your max) and 8 percent to high-intensity work, such as sprints. Calculate your max heart rate using this women’s-specific formula: 206 - (0.88 x age).

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Old Rule: Push through fatigue
New Rule: Stop your run short


Knowing when to stop your daily run might help to reduce the risk of getting overuse injuries, reports a new Indiana University study. When researchers analyzed the biomechanics of 20 healthy runners, they found that their form started to deteriorate when the runners reached either 85 percent of their maximum heart rate or a rating of perceived exertion of 17 (out of 20), both of which are markers of exertion at the end of a typical run. According to the study, ankle eversion increased, as did internal rotation of the lower leg, knee and hip to a lesser extent. “If you continue to run beyond normal exertion, it becomes more difficult to control motion at these joints,” says study author Tracy Dierks, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy at Indiana University. The muscles that control these movements are all relatively smaller and the increased motion makes it harder for them, as well as the tendons and ligaments, to handle the stresses and strains related to running.”


To stay pain free, talk to your doctor about ways to strengthen the muscles that support your hips, knees and ankles and consider ending your run when you hit 85 percent of your heart rate or you feel like you’re at level 17 in terms of exertion.

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Old Rule: Gradually lift more weight
New Rule: Adjust expectations day by day


Linear periodization (LP)—in which you increase how much weight you lift in pre-set increments—may not be the best way to built strength. When researchers had a group of athletes use this approach and autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise (ARPRE)—in which you adjust how much you’re lifting according to how you feel and how you’re perfoming—they found that athletes training by the ARPRE approach increased their max squat by 193 pounds, compared to 37 pounds in the LP group and their max bench press by 93 pounds compared to virtually no change in the LP group, according to a six-week study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning. The constant adjustment of repetition that is characteristic of LP may prevent the body from adapting to the training, says study author J. Bryan Mann, MEd. To implement ARPRE in your own training, adjust your routine based on how you feel and are performing on that day. For instance, if the weight you’re hoisting feels too heavy (despite the fact that it felt easy last week), grab a smaller dumbbell. If it feels too easy, go up a few pounds.

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Old Rule: Get PT for heel pain
New Rule: Stretch


If you have stabbing pain in your heel, especially in the mornings, try an at-home stretch before limping to the physical therapist. In a recent study, 102 patients with newly-developed plantar fasciitis—an inflammation of the ligament connecting the heel bone to the toes—were randomly assigned to one of two treatments: a stretching program or shockwave therapy. After four months, 36 percent more stretchers reported less pain, more mobility and higher overall satisfaction compared to those getting the shock-wave therapy. Stretching is a better first-line treatment for acute plantar fasciitis because it helps correct any shortening or thickening in the gastrocnemius calf muscle, Achilles tendon, and the plantar fascia itself, which all contribute to heel pain, says study author John P. Furia, MD, a Pennsylvania-based orthopedic surgeon. "Shock-wave therapy is a better initial treatment for chronic (more than 3 months) cases."


If you’ve had heel pain for less than six weeks, ask your doctor if this stretch could help you: Sitting down, cross your affected foot over your other leg and gently pull the toes of that foot towards your shin until you feel a stretch in the arch. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Perform the stretch three times a day, with the first stretching session taking place before you even step out of bed.

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Old Rule: Eat breakfast before you exercise
New Rule: Postpone your morning meal


If you’re trying to lose weight, do cardio before your morning meal, suggests a new study published in The Journal of Physiology. Researchers put a group of healthy, active adults on a hyper-caloric, high-fat diet and then assigned them to one of three experimental groups. The first did no exercise. The second and third groups did identical, strenuous, 60- and 90-minute running and cycling workouts four times a week but followed different dietary protocols around the time of training: The second group ate a carbohydrate heavy breakfast an hour and a half before exercising and then continued to take in carbs during their workout with a sports drink-like mixture, while the third group exercised on an empty stomach, drank only water during the workout and then ate the carb-rich breakfast mid-afternoon.


After six weeks the non-exercisers gained about six pounds and developed insulin resistance, an early sign of type 2 diabetes, and began storing fat in their muscles. The pre-exercise breakfast eaters gained about half as much weight but also became more insulin resistant and started to store more fat. Only the group that exercised before breakfast gained virtually no weight and burned the extra fat they were eating more efficiently. Exercising in a fasted state may cause metabolic changes in muscle that causes them to burn fat, instead of carbs, for fuel, say researchers.


If you want to try exercising on an empty stomach but are worried your performance will suffer, there is good evidence that swishing—but not swallowing—a carbohydrate solution, such as Gatorade, can significantly enhance performance in the fasted state, says study author Peter Hespel, PhD, professor in the Research Center for Exercise and Health at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium. "A simple mouth rinse just before starting the exercise certainly would delay the perception of fatigue during the exercise, and thus enhance the ‘quality’ of the training."


Next: 10 Summer Workout Mistakes That Stall Results


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First Published March 1, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Trey Junkin04.26.2011

I agree, that it is good to do any activity that feels good to you when you can. Movement is key. Try doing natural fitness routines that work with your body and your body will respond quickly. http://naturalfitnessblog.com

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