5 Fitness Buzzwords That Make Me Want to Punch a Hole in the Wall

It’s not secret that I’m not a fan of conventional wisdom, overhyped programs, and fake fitness products.

These products and services are designed to prey on people’s insecurities, trick them to expect quick results as long as they pay four payments of $39.99, and then get them to buy the next product in the series.  They’re built to line the pockets of their creators with money, not to help people reach their goals.

On top of that, these products help make us feel inferior when we don’t succeed with them!

This makes me furious.

Fortunately, there is hope!

Despite what you may have read on Nerd Fitness on April 1st, Nerd Fitness did not sell out to the Empire.

Instead, we’re fighting against these ridiculous companies and their ridiculous buzz words.

Let’s recognize them for what they really are and take these violators down.

“Muscle tone”

Toned

If I could eliminate one word from the English language, it would be “tone.”

Okay, maybe I would eliminate “literally” (you’re using it wrong) first. but THEN “tone.”

Just typing that word out just makes me want to vomit.

I get at least a dozen emails a week from well-meaning ladies (and skinny dudes) who, after watching something on TV, are interested in getting healthy.  They let me know that they don’t want to get bulky though, they just want to “get toned.”  And honestly, I don’t blame them for using that term.  Because EVERY magazine, fitness product, infomercial, and anything else targeted at women uses the word “tone” or “toning.”

Here’s the truth: TONING doesn’t really mean anything.  We all know what people mean when they say they want to look “toned”: words like thin, lean, strong, and firm and come to mind, right?

The problem with these programs is that they teach you to get toned using techniques that DON’T WORK. Any of this sound familiar?

  • “Grab those five-pound dumbbells, and start toning those muscles!” Lots of high reps to make sure you get toned!  Don’t pick up anything heavy, as that’s how you get bulky. Gwyneth Paltrow pays her trainer thousands of dollars to get told she’s not allowed to pick up anything over five pounds.  Not even kidding. Looks like Gwyneth shouldn’t pick up her kids, the groceries, her luggage, etc etc etc. Ugh.    
  • “Simply target the areas you want to tighten up and you’ll end up with that toned look we’re all after! ” Just do a hundred bicep curls and tricep extensions to tone those arms. Want toned thighs?  Do lots of reps on those thigh toning machines.  And don’t even get me started on “toned stomachs.”

Want to REALLY get that “toned” look?  Combine strength training (with the heaviest weight you can manage) with healthy eating.  It’s how NF team member Staci got that ‘toned look’ – by picking up really heavy things:

staci screenshot

Staci is deadlifting 380 pounds these days.  You CANNOT GET BULKY if you are eating right and lifting heavy.

In fact, by lifting heavy weights for low reps, you build tight, dense muscle – the exact “toned” look that everybody wants.  Want to know how bodybuilders train to get BIGGER muscles? Lighter weight for higher reps – what most women think they need to do to get toned!).  Don’t be afraid to get started with Strength Training 101 and pick up something heavy!

It worked for moms like Veronica and Bronwyn as well!

“Muscle Confusion!”

Confusion

“Use our patented, scientifically proven “muscle confusion” system to get the best workout possible.  You’ll get shredded in no time!”

This is the same reason personal trainers have people doing lunges while doing bicep curls and balancing on a bosu ball.  The more confusion, the harder your body has to work, the better the results, right?

Sounds great in theory, but the truth is actually much more simple.

Your muscles grow when you push them to their limits. When we pick up a weight or do an exercise that’s strenuous, our muscles are getting pushed outside of their comfort zone; they get broken down and then rebuilt stronger. You don’t need to switch your workout every day or every week in order to be successful. Instead, stick to simple compound movements and aim to do one more set, rep, or pound each time you work out. THAT’S how muscle is built, by increasing the load you place on your body and forcing it to adapt, not by confusing it.

Sure, some programs that utilize “muscle confusion” can work for people. These programs often require a six day a week commitment for 90 minutes a day, in addition to drastic dietary changes. OF COURSE you will have success when you work out that much AND change your diet.  I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be that way, so don’t feel bad if the idea of working out six days of week for hours each day seems daunting.

I certainly don’t exercise that much, and I do this stuff for a living.

In this nerd’s humble opinion, proper programs are designed to help you accomplish one important goal: to get stronger.  As a result of getting stronger, your appearance will follow suit.

More strength = more muscle = more “tone” = that ripped look you’re after.   

Trying to “confuse” your muscles by never doing the same exercise can actually make things more difficult for you.  How are you supposed to progress if you never have any benchmark to compare yourself against?

This is the reason Mark Rippetoe, father of Starting Strength, loathes programs like P90X - just focus on getting stronger, and clean up your diet, and the rest takes care of itself. It might be boring, but boring is great.  The world’s best athletes and strongest people out there get really really good and strong at a few key movements and have the body to prove it.  You’ll make faster progress, get burned out less quickly, and get more motivated as you can actually see your progress.

“Targets your belly fat!”

As seen on tv

Every ab machine the Empire sells is based on the premise that they help you lose belly fat.

Every fitness magazine tells you about the “8 steps to abs!”

Every fitness articles tells you about the “killer ab workouts to flatten that stomach!”

Which is great. Nobody wants belly fat, right?  

These magazines, articles, and programs are designed to sell ads and programs, not actually get you to abs.  If you did, then you’d stop reading their articles and buying their products, which is why they change up their wording every month to make you feel like you need the newest workout for the best results.

This is also why you see most folks in the gym spending 20 minutes on an elliptical, 20 minutes on ab machines, and then another 20 minutes doing 30 variations of crunches and side bends: they’re desperately trying to remove that fat from their bellies because that’s how they think it’s done.

Here’s the truth: You can’t target your belly fat, no matter how hard you try. You cannot spot reduce fat from anywhere on your body.  The ONLY way to target your belly fat is to target ALL of your fat through burning more calories than you consume and cleaning up the quality of your food.  As you lose fat, it sheds off your body in a specific order: maybe it comes off your thighs first and stomach last, or butt first and then your arms and THEN your stomach – it all depends on your genetics!

Want to know the best path to a flat stomach?  Squats, deadlifts, pullups, and pushups – exercises that work your whole body.  And then clean up your diet.  How you eat will be responsible for 90% of your success or failure when it comes to diet – the workout simply helps strengthen your core, which gets revealed when you lose enough fat on top of it!

So, stop doing sit ups. In fact, if you never did another sit up again IN YOUR LIFE, it would already be too soon!  Stop targeting your obliques and abs.  Start focusing on getting stronger and eating better, and your stomach will flatten out as you shed fat.

“Fat burning zone!”

Treadmill

I love this one.

Every cardio machine (which is already a big face-palm in my book) tells you that you need to run at a certain speed to get your heart rate to the “optimal fat burning zone.”  Run too slow and you won’t burn enough calories; run too fast, and it takes you outside of the “optimal fat burning zone” and you start burning sugar/carbohydrates for fuel and not fat…or so they say.

Here’s the truth - regardless of where you’re running on the “fat burning” scale, you will burn calories. That’s the nature of exercise.

While you may burn a higher percentage of calories from fat with low impact cardio, you’ll burn far less overall calories compared to doing a higher intensity workout. Without strength training, your body starts to lose the muscle it has, and just reduces your weight (without necessarily reducing your bodyfat percentage, which happened to Saint).

Compare this to the alternatives (which, GASP! might not be in the “fat burning” zone):

  • Interval training - speeding up and slowing down, forcing your heart to constantly adapt to a new speed.  This can burn calories even after you’ve finished running.
  • Sprinting – taking interval training to the extreme. Sprinting all out, then walking, sprinting, and walking again.  Think of this like powerlifting for your running muscles, promoting strength and muscle growth. Ever seen a sprinter without strong muscles and minimal body fat? Me neither!
  • Strength training – the mother of all calorie burners.  When you strength train (especially in a circuit), you burn calories, your heart works harder, and your muscles get pushed to their limits. Your body then has to burn extra calories to manage all of these processes

Long story short: don’t concern yourself with the fat burning zone.  If your goal is to reduce your bodyfat percentage (a far greater indicator of good health than just the scale), get strong. Mix in some fun exercise, and focus on eating better!

If you enjoy running (hopefully outside rather than like a hamster on a wheel in the gym), keep it up and more power to ya!  However, if you are just running to burn calories to lose weight, there are better alternatives.

“Organic! No sugar added! Fat free!”

processed Foods

I’m combining all of my favorite diet marketing tips into one, because they’re all equally evil in my book.  

Let’s rapid fire these suckers:

Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It might be healthier for you than the alternative (avoiding high fructose corn syrup is smart), but there are things out there like organic donuts, organic pasta, organic cookies, organic ice cream.  Make sure you pay attention to what you’re eating, and don’t assume it’s good for you because it’s organic. “Organic evaporated cane juice” is still sugar. And sugar is making us fat :(

No sugar added.  This one might be the most dubious of all labels. You’ll see this generally on the boxes for unhealthy foods, promoting the fact that its healthier for you than alternatives.  What they really mean is that they didn’t add any extra sugar…beyond the sugar that’s already in the product.  So, a glass of cranberry juice with “no sugar added” can still have more sugar in it than a can of Coca Cola.  Ooops.

Fat free! Fail!  Fat is not the enemy. Did you know that low-fat Oreos are worse for you than regular Oreos? More sugar and more calories.  Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish even have “no fat!” plastered on them.

Made with whole grains - Everything these days is labeled with “heart healthy” whole grains.  Would you believe that LUCKY CHARMS are made with heart healthy whole grains!?  Regardless of how you feel about grains in general (personally, I’m not a fan of most), it’s no surprise that companies are simply jumping on the “whole grain” train by making some of their ingredients whole grain to label them healthy, as they pump them full of sugar and other preservatives.

What to do instead: Read the labels and the ingredients, not just the front of the box.  In fact, try to minimize the number of things you buy from a box at all!  Think twice before eating a “diet” cookie or low-fat brownie, it may not be helping.  Instead, focus on eating real food most of the time, and when you are going to OCCASIONALLY have an “unhealthy” treat – eat the real thing. Just make it every once in a while.

The boring, rebellious truth

Rebellion_Wide

It turns out, almost everything we think we know about Fitness is a lie.

This Men’s Journal article, which I linked to a few years back, is definitely worth a read.

Here’s the truth:

  • There’s no perfect routine that gets better results than others.  What does work? Consistent persistence
  • You don’t need supplements to reach your goals.  Get your nutrients from actual food, add supplements only when you can’t.
  • You don’t need a gym membership to get strong.  I got stronger while living out of a backpack 
  • Most buzzwords in fitness are made up to sell products, not help you get healthy.
  • 9 times out of 10, boring works better than flashy.

I’ve done everything I can to provide you with every resource you need here on Nerd Fitness. No gym required, no supplements needed, no marketing or buzz words, no hype.  Just routines that are easy to follow, diet advice easy to swallow, and results that speak for themselves.  

Thanks for being a part of this Rebellion, and thanks for helping me fight the Empire.  Slowly but surely, this movement is gaining incredible traction! With over 50,000 subscribers and a million monthly visitors, I think they hear us loud and clear :)

What are YOUR least favorite fitness buzz words?

Are you confused about any?  

Let me know and I’ll do my best to qualify or debunk them!

-Steve

PS: Apologies for the random article schedule this week!  We’ll be back to normal on Monday.  I’ve been in California for the past 10 days working hard on a few big projects that we should be announcing within the next few weeks.  I am so fired up for the next few months of Nerd Fitness, and I can’t wait to share this stuff with you :)

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photo source: punch, tone, belly, food, treadmill, confused

 

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  • Trent

    Fat Burning Zone is a good tool for building aerobic endurance (See Phil Maffetone). It helps your body metabolize fat for fuel instead of sugar. The reason the advertising is so deceptive is that this “zone” needs to be developed. Just because you’ve slowed down doesn’t mean you’re burning fat. It could mean you’re burning sugar and less of it. Heart rate monitors are nice.

  • Pingback: How to measure your body fat percentage | Nerd Fitness

  • pitbullgirl1965

    Add the term “sculpt” to most hated terms. I don’t know if I hate tone or sculpt more.

  • pitbullgirl1965

    *high fives you* Agree

  • Neil

    Hi, I’m med student and I agree with 70% of what you wrote here. I love that you don’t like the word tone, and I agree that strength training is the best way to exercise (becoming stronger) and that diet is the best way to cut excess body fat.

    However, you’re statements about the Fat Burning Zone are false. You said not to worry about the zone because either way you are burning calories. However, you also said that 90% of results come from the diet. So which is it? Do you want to burn calories or eat less calories? The current research on burning calories and metabolism is pretty clear. If you work out, you increase your metabolism. If you increase your metabolism then you EAT MORE. If you eat more, you’re going to gain weight.

    Burning calories is not the goal. The goal is to lose weight. Losing weight is achieved by EATING LESS. The old school process of thought was that if you counted your calories in and subtracted your calories out and somehow you had more out than in, then you would win and lose weight. However, the biochemistry of the human body is more complex than that. Here is an hour long video by Robert H. Lustig, Medical Doctor, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. He will walk you through why when you exercise you can NEVER WIN the calorie battle. (You still should exercise for many other reasons. But burning calories isn’t one of them.)

    If you want a child level summary here’s the best I have for you. You body has redundant pathways that are triggered by fructose. So that means the calories from different substances trigger different responses. Calories from fructose for example trigger your body to store lots of extra fat.

    Additionally, when you exercise you should strive to increase your strength WITHOUT increasing your metabolism. (Because increased metabolism inevitably leads to eating more calories than you burned.)

    Finally, we should aim for that Fat Burning Zone on the treadmill so that we can burn fatty acids instead of glycogen. (Fat stores instead of muscle sugar storage.) But even though we are aiming to burn fatty acids it’s still only going to help us break even. To lose excess body fat, we really need to bring the focus back to the diet.

    Putting the Nerd back into Nerdfitness.com

  • Neil

    So true! I commented on this as well!

  • Neil

    I think while “tone” is used wrong, it’s still can be used correctly. Like the difference between a man who lifts and eats well, and a man who lifts and doesn’t eat well can be seen in how tone they are.

    However, “sculpt” is a pretty good word to hate. I’m sad to admit that I like to hear people say it because that lets me know not to take any tips from them anytime soon. I also like to think that people who use isolation lifts are “sculpting” and people who use strong lifts are “coordinating.” Tools and meatheads can “sculpt” all the want, but I’m going to “coordinate” my muscles.

  • Neil

    While I agree with most of what you said Nova, p90x, and other programs like it do work, but they don’t work because they’re confusing your muscles. They work because they’re persuading you to be consistent.

    I do p90x and it works for me to retain muscle. I love the program. But I get more results doing heavy lifts: squats, cleans, dead lifts, etc.

    The real flaw in the article is in the Fat Burning Zone.

  • Neil

    women in general? most* women.

    Hasty generalisation, probably accidental, but the key is to be specific. The majority of women prefer men who are cut. But the majority of women also prefer a man who can protect them.

    It’s a dangerous game trying to please a creature that doesn’t really know what it wants. Rather than trying to please woman, maybe we should focus on filling the measure of our being. In other words being the best we can. We all know exactly what kind of woman every guy wants, and we also know it’s not super realistic. So we should all just do our best to be what we want our selves to be and find a mate who wants those same things.

  • Neil

    I very much agree. Unfortunately, I have trouble correcting the phrase on my own tongue so I let it slide when others make the same mistake. I know what they mean. And at least in this one case, we all pretty much mean the same thing. Lose fat, gain muscle.

  • Logan

    I may catch a lot of flak for this, but I really HATE six pack abs. To me they look disgusting and unnatural. Any time I see a beautiful girl at the gym with a six pack, it automatically runs her looks. I don’t know if I’m the only one who thinks this, but I for one hope that I can avoid getting one.

  • Mncdk

    I’m getting sick of the labels “clean” food and “healthy” food.

  • Tim Green

    I’m not a child, but I do recognise a half-understood lecture notes-based pile of nonsense when I see it, especially “Because increased metabolism inevitably leads to eating more calories than you burned.” Inevitably? Really? I find that calories in < calories out gets A LOT easier when I exercise. Anyone who insists on focusing on one side of that equation is extremely likely to be wrong.
    The only people who will believe your post are those who work out more and get fatter as a result. Good luck with that. The obesity epidemic is down to increased dietary sugar and sedentary lifestyles, NOT because people just work out too much!
    Plus, doctors are rubbish at health, they're only really good at sickness. From your post, it's obvious that the problems start right at med school.

  • Guest

    You DO realize that gluten free was formulated with people allergic to gluten in mind???? You know, allergies that can potentially KILL people????