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Rethinking Treadmills, Calories & Crunches

Rethinking Treadmills, Calories & Crunches

By Shane Sauer

In the spirit of opposite day, here are three concepts floating around the fitness world that warrant rethinking and some ideas for what you can do differently...

  • Get moving, use the treadmill
    It’s true, if you want to lead a more healthful lifestyle, then exercise is something you should start incorporating into your life.  One of the simplest ways is to hop on a treadmill and start moving.  Before you do, however, there is something about the treadmill that you should know.  While walking, your joints and muscles are telling your brain that your body is moving.  Your inner ear is doing the same due to the up and down motion walking creates.  Your eyes, however, are telling your brain the exact opposite! They don’t perceive movement because everything around you is stationary.

    This might not sound like a big deal, but when your senses are sending your brain different signals, it can have repercussions.  Have you stepped off the treadmill before are felt the “time warp”, the sensation of moving faster than you actually are?  That’s your brain trying to readjust.  It can take some time and could impact what you do after using the treadmill.

    Now, the treadmill is certainly better than not moving at all, so if it’s the only option, go for it!  But if you can get outside for a walk or run that would be even better (for so many reasons).  If the weather doesn’t allow it, maybe you have access to an indoor track or could try a stationary bike.  Either way, just recognize that there might be better options.
  • Eat less, keep the calories down
    If you think that to lose weight you have to eat fewer calories than you burn, then you’d be correct. However, there are limits to this process. If you currently over eat and decide to limit yourself to a more moderate amount of food, this can work well.  However, as you cut more and more calories, your body begins to identify this as a threat.  It responds by slowing down your metabolism to conserve its now limited resources. If you’re exercising, you’ll have less energy to do so and your body will be less capable of recovering from your workout. In other words, you can hinder your weight loss.

    For most people, a better approach is to not worry about calories.  Food labels are notoriously inaccurate, calorie burning from exercise and metabolism are estimates.  Consider adopting new habits around food.  First, eat slowly.  Your body’s natural signals of satiety are slow and as a society, we tend to slam the food in before they have a chance to let us know we’ve had too much.  Secondly, don’t eat to complete fullness; stop before that feeling.  Doing so is dependent on eating slowly enough to feel fullness coming.  If you can create these habits you will naturally provide your body with enough food to stay metabolically active, without any excess.
  • More crunches, your core is weak
    Yes, many of us spend too much time sitting in the car, at work or in front of the TV.  Doing so allows our core muscles to relax and then weaken from limited use.  In this case, exercising the core can be beneficial and help us prevent injury.  For the most part, though, the core is used to stabilize our trunk so that our arms and legs can transfer force and motion between themselves.  In other words, the legs and arms do the work and the core is the foundation that they work from.  Doing crunches is not a stabilizing exercise but one of creating movement in the spine.  They serve a purpose, but should not be your primary focus.  Additionally, crunches only work on the abdominals and do not provide strength improvements for the rest of the core (back and side body).  And if you believe they might help you get rid of your belly, chances are you’ll just develop the muscles under your belly, making your belly appear bigger.  (To really lose the belly, refer to #2 above.)

    A different approach would be to try things that require you to hold your midsection stable.  One example is the plank (see abvove).  Another option is resisting rotation.  Resisting rotation is done by holding a band connected to something solid at an angle where the band is pulling you off balance.  You could also hold something heavy at arm’s length and work to keep yourself upright (until your arm gets tired that is).  These exercises require the core muscles to stabilize the spine.  They also recruit muscles from all parts of the core in a coordinated fashion.  This is really what you need to have properly functioning core musculature.

Hopefully, this provided you with some food for thought.  It’s always good to question certain habits and possibly considering doing the opposite!  Or at least something different.