This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune
It’s funny how some messages keep circulating in the fitness world, no matter how much science and common sense assert otherwise. If you’ve let any of the following fake news influence your efforts to be fit and healthy, now is the time to stop.
I realize I may be disrupting your lifelong beliefs, so please don’t hesitate to challenge me on any of these points if you disagree. I’d be happy to have a conversation!
1. To engage your lower abs, draw your navel to your spine.
Let’s start with a little anatomy lesson. First, unless by “lower” you mean “deeper,” there is no such thing as your lower abs. Your deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis, spans from just above your pubic bone all the way up to your sternum. Sucking in your belly button does not ensure that you activate this muscle. Nor does flattening out your spine and doing a crunch. So how do you engage your “deep abs?” Try this: Place your hands on your abdomen, just inside your hip bones, then inhale, noticing your belly soften. Now, exhale and engage your pelvic floor (imagine you are stopping the flow of urine). You should feel your abdomen tighten. That’s because you’ve just engaged your “deep abs.” You’re welcome.
2. For better posture, pull your shoulders back and stick out your chest.
More accurately, you might say, “For low back pain, pull your shoulders back and stick out your chest.” There is nothing wrong with pulling your shoulders back. The problem comes when we pop out our ribs. When you walk around with your ribs flared, you’re not only putting an additional load on your spine; you’re preventing your deep core muscles (yes, the ones you just learned how to engage in No. 1) from doing their job effectively.
3. If your hips/back/knees/feet hurt, you need more supportive shoes.
There are some people that do need more supportive shoes (like diabetics and the elderly), but for many of us, more support is just a Band-Aid to cover up any number of biomechanical problems. Many people’s feet have become so dependent on shoes that their foot muscles are weak and stiff, contributing to issues elsewhere in the body. Don’t ditch your shoes altogether, but instead, make an effort to regain some of the strength and mobility in your feet; see a physical therapist to assess any dysfunction further up your kinetic chain; and see if you can gradually move toward a more minimalist shoe.
4. You have an anterior pelvic tilt from sitting in a chair so much.
There are plenty of things wrong with sitting in a chair all day, but one thing chair-sitting does not do is put you in an anterior pelvic tilt. Some of you may be wondering, what on earth is that anyway? Anterior pelvic tilt is when the pelvis is tilted forward, creating an excessive arch at your low back. Most of us who sit all day tend to have the opposite problem: Because of how we sit – with our tailbone tucked – when we stand up, we continue to have chair butt (AKA no butt) and are stuck in a posterior pelvic tilt. If you’re thinking, “But hey, I know I have too much of a curve in my back,” I urge you to check where this curve is. In many people, it’s higher up on their back and has nothing to do with their pelvis – it’s because they’ve been sticking out their chest (a la No. 2).
5. Lifting heavy weights will make you bulky.
It seems we’ve moved past the myth of “lifting weights will make you bulky,” but plenty of women have settled for “lifting light weights” because they don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Muscle is muscle. There is more muscle and less muscle; there are lean people with muscle and not-so-lean people with muscle. But there is no such thing as “bulky muscle” or “toned muscle.” Lifting heavy will help you gain muscle; whether you look “bulky” or “toned” is subjective and has more to do with your genetics than how much you can deadlift. Lifting light weights – the kind that you can hoist over your head 20 times in a row – just means you are choosing the less efficient approach toward building muscle.