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Examining The Rules Of Fitness.

Find out what the rules of fitness are by debunking the myths! Learn the truth. Don't be mislead!

Myth Number One
Maximum Heart Rate and Cardiovascular Fitness

The following are standard and generally accepted formulas.

Maximum heart rate = 220-age
Training heart rate = 60-80% of max heart rate

According to these formulas everyone of the same age has the same maximum heart rate. That is like saying everyone is the same height and weighs the same. The traditional maximum heart rate formula is of little value for fitness professionals. It is actually only a guideline, a general starting off point (something to write on cardio exercise equipment). It does make fitness professionals sound extremely intelligent, however. Peter Janssen proposes a more reliable formula for determining maximum heart rate in his book Lactate Threshold Training.

The method described for determining Hrmax in Janssen's book is conducted as follows:

  • The athlete starts with a warm-up, a period of light running or riding to raise the body temperature.
  • Next, the athlete performs and intensive ride or run of 4 to 5 minutes.
  • The last 20-30 seconds an all out sprint is performed.
  • Hrmax now can be read with a HR monitor.
  • The pulse is taken 10-20 seconds after the movement is terminated.
  • HR max will be based on several readings taken over a few weeks.
  • The highest value attained is the real Hrmax.

The prescribed training heart rate of 60-80% that is often prescribed is nothing more than a generalized theory. Advanced athletes usually require higher levels of intensity to provide adequate training to the cardiovascular system, while novice trainees may require significantly lower intensity levels. Motorcycle racing drivers have been shown to reach 110% of their maximum heart rate for significant periods of time during their race. Their heart rates are beyond 90% of maximum heart rate for hours.

    (Note: How can you have 110% of maximum heart rate? Simply because this was not the maximum heart rate. One hundred percent of anything means you have reached full capacity. Think about this statement for a while. When you take a test with 20 questions and you answered all of them correctly you scored 100%. You reached your maximum scoring range. The same holds true for heart rate if you go beyond the supposed 100% this implies that the maximum heart rate prescribed was false.)

Summing this up: While standard formulas proposed above were meant to provide trainers and athletes with effective safe guidelines they have created enormous confusion as well. Individuals vary tremendously with regards to intensity levels required to tax the cardiovascular system.

Myth Number Two
Massive muscles are stronger than smaller muscles.

The Truth: Massive muscles are not necessarily stronger than smaller muscles.

In general, Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters are much stronger than massive bodybuilders. It is important to distinguish between two types of hypertrophy:

  • Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy
  • Sarcomere hypertrophy.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to enlargement of non-contractile elements of muscle common among bodybuilders.

Sarcomere hypertrophy refers to the enlargement of the contractile actin-myosin structures common among weightlifters.

The force produced by a muscle depends on the number and pattern of nerve impulses exciting the muscle. It is also largely dependent on intermuscular coordination (the ability to utilize multiple muscles in synergist fashion to carry out a movement).

Myth Number Three
Heavy weight training reduces flexibility and speed.

You have probably heard that weight training reduces flexibility and speed numerous times. This is a ridiculous statement. The top sprinters, Olympic weightlifters, and numerous other successful athletes train against heavy resistance. After all, a monumental element of speed production is fast twitch fiber recruitment, which is enhanced greatly with proper weight training.

European research has shown that full range resistance training is the best way of developing functional flexibility (Siff 2000). Olympic weightlifters have been shown to equal or outperform top sprinters in sprints of up to 30 meters. They have also been shown to be second only to gymnasts in overall flexibility (Siff 2000).

Myth Number Four
Heavy weight training makes you bulky.

You have often heard people say: I do not want to train with heavy weights because I might get too big.

Bodybuilders wish getting massively muscular were this simple. In fact training with very heavy weights in the 1-5 rep range has been shown to contribute little to muscular hypertrophy. Training with sub-maximal loads have been proven to be more effective for gaining muscle mass.

Massive hypertrophy is a result of great genetics, an appropriate training regimen, a surplus of calories and often supplementation with illegal drugs. Big musles don't just happen.

Part 2: Myths and Truths.

About Coach Hale

Coach Hale is the owner of Total Body Fitness, Winchester Golden Gloves Boxing and MaxCondition Sports Conditioning. He designs comprehensive training programs for coaches and athletes worldwide. He is the author of Optimum Physique and contributor to numerous exercise and sports publications. Coach Hale is an official member of The World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in recognition of his strength and conditioning work with martial artists. He also serves as vice-chairman for the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. To learn more about coach Hale visit his website.


Janssen, P. MD (2001) Lactate Threshold Training. Human Kinetics.
Siff, M C (2000) Facts and Fallacies of Fitness.