Recently started reading a book recommended to me by a friend – The First 20 Minutes. I’ve always thought I knew a lot about health, fitness and exercise – well, more than the average Joe – but this book has been quite the eye-opener. The problem with a lot of information that we believe to be “fact” is that we learned it all so long ago that we never stop to consider whether science has changed its view on the subject. We never even questioned whether the experts had it right in the first place.
There were a few things that I had already heard about, like:
- exercise is good for your brain
- exercise protects your brain from old age
- exercise makes you smarter
- exercise can do a lot of good things for your kids
But here’s what I learned from The First 20 Minutes that was surprising:
You Don’t Need to Stretch before a Workout
The importance of stretching before exercise has no scientific basis:
- it doesn’t help you prevent injury
- it doesn’t help you perform better
Contrary to popular belief, stretching before working out can reduce your performance – studies revealed that it decreased the strength and speed in some athletes:
104 studies of people who only practiced static stretching as their warm-up found that stretching reduced muscle strength by 5.5%. In another study, fit men who completed basic squats while lifting barbells either with or without stretching beforehand revealed that those who stretched lifted 8.3% less weight than those who didn’t. – Time
You Should Warm Up before a Workout
Probably already a given but I thought I should put it out there just in case there was any confusion after that bit about not needing to stretch. Warming up before a workout is important and it does help your performance. I think anyone that regularly engages in a sport has probably already seen the effects of tanking it when you don’t warm up properly. Back when I was still climbing actively, we always knew we had to take it easy for the first few climbs just to get the blood flowing and the limbs moving. Take on a challenging route for your first climb and you’re likely to pump out faster than you can say “dirt me” (what you say to your belayer when you’re ready to be lowered).
A Few More Things About Being Stretchy
- Aside from a few sports people – like gymnasts – extra flexibility is unnecessary for enhancing sports performance
- Increasing flexibility is tough – you need hours of daily stretching over months if you want any real, long-lasting effects
I didn’t realise this, but post-workout recovery is a big thing. About the most I’ve ever done is rest, if I’m feeling particularly crappy after a workout, and a protein shake, if I’ve been particularly hard on my muscles.
After working out, your muscles will get sore – and that’s usually a good thing because it means you’re stressing your muscles and making them stronger. Many people try different things to deal with the soreness. Unfortunately, most of it does not work and can even be harmful. These are some of the methods that DO NOT work:
- “cooling down” after exercise – does squat
- take ibuprofen – this is even worse because it’s not only ineffective, but it prevents your body’s adaptation to the workout (not to mention the side effects of taking the drug)
- post-workout massages – feels good but doesn’t help beyond the psychological effects of feeling good
- ice baths – can worsen the soreness although some athletes swear by it (the placebo effect may be powerful enough to be a reason to do it)
The only thing that works is – yep, you guessed it – rest. How much rest? Well, that depends on the individual so learn to listen to your body for its cues.
We don’t need 8 cups of water a day as we were told. We don’t even need to worry that drinking coffee is dehydrating us because the diuretic effect is less than we believe. We don’t need to drink all our fluids because we also get some through the food we eat. Anyone who’s ever eaten too many slices of watermelon can certainly attest to that. You don’t have to drink before you feel thirsty, and you don’t necessarily have to worry if your urine isn’t as clear as water. Don’t forget that there is such a thing as water intoxication – when you drink too much water. Surprisingly, just listening to your body’s thirst is enough for meeting your liquid needs because your body is clever like that. The human species has not survived this long listening to internal body cues for no reason.
- Carbo-loading is unnecessary – for workouts longer than 90 minutes, carry carbs for refueling along the way
- Anything workout than 90 minutes requires no additional changes to your regular diet
- For longer workouts (i.e. more than 90 minutes):
- bananas are an excellent source of carbs before you start your workout
- target 60g of carbs per hour up to 90g of carbs per hour (if you are exercising for more than 2.5 hours) – which is like one energy bar or two power gels an hour
- The best thing to take after a workout is low-fat chocolate milk, and you should drink this within 30 to 45 minutes after your workout
- Skip the antioxidants because they’re stopping your body’s production of antioxidants and that takes away from the positive effects of exercise on your body
- Polyphenols, however, can be helpful
So there you go – lots of reasons to keep checking in with science to keep up to date on what we really should or shouldn’t be doing in the name of health and fitness.