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Urban Legends (of Fitness)

Posted Mar 20 2008 3:38pm

According to Wikipedia (the best thing ever invented) an urban legend or an urban myth is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories thought to be factual by those circulating them. The term is often used to mean something akin to an “apocryphal story”. Like all folklore, urban legends are not necessarily false, but they are often distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized over time.

A few prime examples include:

1. Boycotting the major gasoline corporations for a day (like Mobil) to bring down gas prices. [False]
2. Bill Gates sending out a chain letter saying he’ll pay you “x” amount to pass it along to your friends. [False]
3. Young man discovers pharmacist who sold him condoms was his date’s father. [True……and he totally didn’t appreciate the high five I gave him afterwards].

Borat

Needless to say, I thought it would be fun to discuss some urban legends in the fitness world. Lets start with this one; bench pressing with your back arched is bad.

Your lumbar spine (lower back) has a natural curve to it anyways, also called a lordotic curve. How is it that this “curve” is considered optimal while standing, but all of a sudden bad while laying down on a bench? You would think I told someone to go home and kill some kittens based upon some of the reactions I get from other trainers and trainees when I tell them that arching their back while benching is perfectly fine.

As Craig Rasmussen stated in his article, “Common Exercise Misconceptions,” many people are under the impression that keeping their back flat on the bench will keep their back “safer.” Firstly I, like Craig, will challenge anyone to prove to me that maintaining an arch while benching places any added stress on the lumbar spine in healthy individuals. Secondly, as Craig noted in his article, “I believe that many people simply confuse the (correct) advice of keeping your butt on the bench with the bogus advice of keeping the lumbar spine on the bench. You need to keep your spinal column locked and your shoulder blades retracted and depressed.” I couldn’t agree more with this assertion.

If you’re one of those people who brings his/her butt off the bench then all you’re doing is turning the movement into an unsupported decline bench press (ouch) while at the same taking away most of your stability, which will hamper how much weight you’ll be able to lift anyways. Not to mention it looks dumb.

Bench Pressing

Bonus Section: I was talking with an athlete yesterday as he was warming up and our conversation is what really spurned today’s blog post. I don’t know how we got on the topic, but he asked whether or not it was true that gum stays in your digestive track for seven years when you swallow it.

From Snopes.com:

Although chewing gum is designed to be chewed and not swallowed, it isn’t harmful if swallowed. An old wives’ tale suggests that swallowed gum sits in your stomach for seven years before it can be digested. But this isn’t true. If you swallow gum, it’s true that your body can’t digest it. But the gum doesn’t sit in your stomach. It progresses relatively intact through your digestive system and is excreted in your stool.

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