(Note: This is Part II of a series. Read Part I here.)
As a yoga instructor and self-proclaimed health nut, I have spent countless hours in studios and gyms.
Over the years, I have encountered a number of people who either injured themselves in while working out or were recovering from injuries that were the result of years of chronic misuse of the body. The irony that these people hurt themselves while trying to get healthier was not lost on me or them.
Unfortunately, just like when it comes to diet and nutrition, there are a lot of myths and outright out lies about so-called healthy habits that may actually do more harm than good.
While the following list is in no way complete, here are five popular ones that come up time and again:
1. Feeling the burn or equating hurt with a good workout.
Much like acid wash jeans, mall hair, and junk bonds, “feel the burn” is one of those 80s relics that should remain forever in the 1980s. Despite the fact that this has been debunked by numerous health and exercise experts many who weren’t even born in the 1980s feel that they haven’t really had a workout unless they are in pain.
There is a difference between feeling like you’ve gotten a good workout and being in pain. Despite what anyone says, it isn’t healthy or normal to feel the latter even for a first timer.
When we’ve pushed ourselves too hard, it’s best to do the body a favor and take a break. This closely ties in with #2.
2. Working out every day.
I confess that generally speaking, I like to exercise every day or close to it. As humans, we actually should engage in some form of movement every day. However, strenuously working out every day may do more harm than good.
For one thing, muscles need time to rest and repair themselves. This can only happen when the body has time to rest.
Also, overdoing it can lead to insomnia, an irregular menstrual cycle, crankiness, and a host of other maladies.
Remember that every now and then, we all need a break from things. This includes working out.
3. Exercising in extreme heat or cold.
It seems that everyone wants to turn up the heat these days. It’s not just Bikram yoga that is cranking it up. I’ve personally seen ads for “hot Pilates” and “hot step classes”.
While most people are aware of the risks of dehydration, there are others reasons to use caution while exercising in extreme heat. Many like to workout in the heat because it causes the muscles to relax and allows one to go deeper in stretches, yoga poses, etc. However, going past your limits make it much more likely that you’ll injure a muscle, plus it can lead to something known as heat cramps.
Likewise, working out in extreme cold is not without its risks at well. While it may not be as popular as working out in the heat, I know people who love to run, bike, or even swim in Arctic-like temperatures saying that the discomfort of the cold presents another “challenge” for them to overcome thus resulting in a more complete workout. This is simply not true. Not only are muscles are much more likely to cramp in cold conditions but just working out in extreme heat, there is a much higher chance of dehydration to occur.
Bottom line: use common sense and think like Goldilocks: aim for not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
4. Running several miles a week.
Running can be an excellent way to get in shape. I’ve known several runners who would rather die than skip their morning or evening run.
However, running is not without its risks. For instance, running on hard surfaces-like concrete or on a treadmill- can do a number on the knees. It can also lead to ultra-tight hips and hamstrings. (As a yoga instructor, I see a lot of these in former and current runners.)
Also, running may not be right for everyone. Speaking as someone with extremely flat feet, I am one of those people who is not cut out for regular running.
If you are a runner and it works for you, then great. However, be sure to use caution even if you have been running for years. Be careful to notice any changes in your body that suggest you may need to cut down on running.
5. Wearing workout clothing hours after a strenuous workout.
We’ve all done this before. I’ve justified this by saying that I might might want to go for a class later in the day or take a walk but the fact is, this not a good habit. While high tech performance fabric found in many workout clothes can cut down on odor and wick away moisture, there is still an “ick” factor.
Plus, no mater how high tech your workout clothes are, they can still trap the sweat and oil generated from a workout which can lead to the dread “bacne” or breakouts else where on the body.
Plus, to the ladies, there is no delicate way to put this, put the crotch area tends to perspire more than any other area of the body and wearing damp wet, underwear plus tight workout pants or leggings can create a perfect breeding ground for a yeast infection.
Whenever possible, shower immediately after a strenuous workout or at least within an hour maximum. If you know it’s going to be some time before you can shower, at least take a sponge bath if possible or change into clean, dry clothing.
Sometimes what we engage in what we believe are healthy fitness habits that actually end up harming or potentially harming our health.
Myths and outright truths abound. Sometimes it can be confusing to know what is actually good for us and what is not. A good rule in general is to ask an actual doctor, physiologist, or expert in health and exercise science.
Unfortunately, most exercise and yoga instructors do not have that level of expertise that you are looking for.
Working out should make you make healthier and happier. When done correctly, it can do exactly that.
However, be aware that these things do not come without risks and like many things in life, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives