Fitness – March 2013


3 indoor exercise misconceptions exposed

Even if Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring is true, we’ll still be performing our workouts indoors this month and part of next, if not all. Because I want your exercise to be the most effective for your personal goals, I am going to clear up three mistaken beliefs and myths that I see and hear time and time again.

Myth #1:
“I must be working really hard and burning tons of calories because I sweat so much I am soaked right through my workout clothes when I am done!”

I hear this comment most commonly regarding indoor cycle workouts, but it is also applies to hot yoga classes, indoor cardio workouts (both in your own home and in the gyms) and group exercise classes in general.

The underlying assumption leads to the mistaken belief that the more you sweat the harder the workout.  Although this is true, there are some basic principles about sweat that you need to know before assuming that it was harder work and higher calorie burning that caused the excess sweat.
Sweat is a natural method of the body that results in a cooling effect when the internal temperature climbs above the homeostatic condition of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  The body produces sweat which appears on the skin in order to cool.  So it is true that the harder the exercise, the higher the internal temperature of the body, the more sweat will be produced. 

But, it is not sweat in and of itself that cools the body. What cools the body is the evaporation of the sweat from the skin which then cools the surface and allows the heat to be disseminated. The evaporation of sweat during indoor exercise is affected by several factors including air circulation, temperature of the room and humidity level. 

If a room has little ventilation, even at a lower level of exercise, you will sweat more than outside or in a room with fans.  If the room is at a high temperature, you will sweat more, not because you are working harder, but because the room temperature makes it harder to cool your internal temperature.  And when the room is filled with a group of sweating bodies or you are alone in a small room in your house, respiration and sweat evaporating into the air makes the humidity rise.  When the room air becomes increasingly saturated, the sweat cannot evaporate into the air so there is reduced evaporation, which means more need to sweat, but not because of harder work.

For these reasons, it is not always true that the more you sweat the harder you worked. However, knowing how sweat works you can evaluate whether it is harder work or room conditions that is causing the excess sweat. 

I might suggest that by changing the room conditions (such as adding a fan to your indoor cycle bike) may actually make you work harder because you are more efficiently cooling your body and can therefore work at an even higher output.

Myth #2
“When I do weight training in the gym, I know which body part I am working based on where I am feeling the most sensation.”

It is true that many times when doing specific body exercises in the weight room or during body strengthening classes, the muscle group that you are targeting is where you are feeling the most sensation. But frequently my clients report feeling the most sensation in a completely different muscle group that is NOT the targeted area.

All body strengthening exercises involve contracting certain muscle groups while others lengthen, thereby allowing the movement to occur.  Often times, due to tightness in opposing muscle groups, the most intense sensation is coming not from the muscle that is being worked, but from the muscle that is being lengthened during the exercise.  For instance, when performing a front lunge using proper form, the most intense sensation usually comes from the front of the back leg where the hip flexors (front of hip and thigh) are lengthening.  The actual target muscles in a front lunge are the front quads and gluteals.

Be careful to avoid pushing harder thinking you are working the area where you are feeling the most sensation because often it is the stretching muscles you are feeling and pushing harder will lead to a strain or tear. Instead, increase your own awareness of where your body is tight so that you can position yourself in a way that allows you to modify for tight muscles while maximally targeting the muscles you are trying to strengthen.

Myth #3
“I am getting the best cardiovascular benefits when: A) my cadence is really high, but my resistance is really low or B) my resistance is really high, but my cadence is really low, during indoor cardio workouts (including cycle classes).”

I often look around the cardio area of a gym or in an indoor cycle class and see people moving at killer high cadence rates.  The exerciser usually believes that the higher the cadence the better the cardiovascular workout.  Unfortunately, the best cardiovascular benefits (which include increased fat burning, higher respiratory function, and increased heart strength) can only be achieved through a delicate balance of cadence WITH resistance. High cadence alone often results in injury before it results in better cardiovascular benefits.

Similarly, setting a high resistance but using a very low cadence will not result in an improved cardiovascular system. When the resistance is high you are improving muscle strength, but if the cadence drops below a minimum, the cardiovascular benefits are sacrificed to muscle loading.

Similarly, on cardiovascular machines that have an incline option, I often see exercisers using the ramp or elevation as the variable they manipulate to try to achieve a better cardio workout.  For instance, people often raise the ramp on elliptical machines without finding the right balance between the resistance and the strides thinking the ramp is the most effective of the three.  In reality, the elevation is the least effective variable on ellipticals and arc trainers.

In order to achieve the most effective workout, finding the balance of enough resistance combined with a high enough, but not too high, cadence is the way to go.  The combination that increases the work load so that you are breathing heavy but rhythmically will result in the best workout.  The elevation is the least important on the ellipticals and arc trainers and should be adjusted only after the resistance and cadence have been established.

These three misconceptions result in many hours of workouts that are less than ideal.  By recognizing them and knowing how to correct them, you can get the most out of the last month of indoor exercise.

Judy Torel is a USAT certified coach, has a Master’s degree as a psychotherapist/life coach, is a certified metabolic nutrition coach, 200 RYT yoga instructor, and ACSM certified fitness specialist. She is an ultra-distance runner and 6 time Ironman competitor. She can be reached at and her office is located at 116 Everett Road, Albany.


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