Perhaps the oldest myth in the fitness industry is the idea of ‘spot reduction’. This concept advocates that one can selectively target fat in a specific body part, by performing a particular exercise.
People keep asking me the same questions: men ask me what exercises they should do to lose their gut, and women ask me how they can lose fat around their thighs, hips and upper arms.
This unrealistic expectation has been spread largely by the media and advertising industry. We’ve all seen those silly TV infomercials, claiming unbelievable results by using magical machines and equipment. They all proclaim an easy and effortless short-cut to getting a fitness magazine-cover body. Most of the time, the models used in these commercials are professional athletes, or ones who’ve undergone a lot of plastic surgery, airbrushing and/or tons of supplements (both legal and illegal), to achieve this artificial look. The products being advertised supposedly work quickly on ordinary people seeking flat tummies and shapely legs.
The reality however, says otherwise. If spot reduction was possible, and there was indeed some ‘magical’ machine which could achieve such results, there wouldn’t be a single woman in the world with a big bum or any man with a big belly!
Another example is a runner. If spot reduction was possible, runners would have skinny legs because they only use their legs while running, and all the fat would be stored in their torso.
If you came to the gym and did 1000 sit ups every day, it’s unlikely you’d end up with a six pack, and all your fat still on your legs and arms.
Scientifically speaking, in order to loose weight and fat you have to create a negative energy balance between calorie intake, and calorie expenditure. If this balance is positive (you consume more calories than you burn), you will put on weight. If the calories in and calories out are the same, you remain at the same weight. It is pure maths, and if it doesn’t work for you, you might turn out to be the first person to prove science wrong!
When the body starts to mobilize these fat stockpiles, it doesn’t selectively start with one ‘spot’, before moving onto another. Rather, fat breakdown is distributed amongst all these spots simultaneously. So fat is utilised equally and evenly from all over the body, with some minor genetic differences between people. When we lose fat, the first places to show are the face and arms, though this isn’t always the case. These areas simply store less fat in the first place, making it easier to notice. Changes around your tummy for example, where the largest fat accumulation occurs, tends to be less obvious on the short-term. Thus, fat-loss should be implemented as a ‘whole-body’ strategy.
So, sit ups won’t make your abs flat and lunges won’t make your legs thin. Although these exercises will tone and define the muscles, they won’t directly burn the fat surrounding those areas. I read an interesting comparison which associates muscle with a piece of meat.. If we don’t remove the excess fat, we won’t be able to see the lean meat underneath. The fat on top of your abdominal muscles will remain, regardless of the amount of ab exercises you do, until you burn (remove) the excess fat by creating a negative calorie balance.
Squats, lunges and other compound, high-intensity exercises are better adapted at triggering this all-body fat loss, than for example crunches or leg raises. The high-intensity causes the muscles to work anaerobically (without oxygen), which leads to greater fat loss than aerobic (with oxygen) exercises. The legs employ the largest and most energy-consuming muscles in the body, thus involving all of them in an integrated, functional movement is the key to bumping up fat-burn!
Last year, Virgin Active had a campaign with the motto: “under every bop, there is a six pack waiting to be discovered.” It’s literally true, because the fat on top of your muscles prevents them from appearing defined and toned, even if they really are.
So if you want to lose weight in a specific area, don’t waste your time focusing on specific exercises.
Make sure you are burning a large amount of calories on a daily basis, and that your diet is clean and sensible. If you create a calorie deficit, the fat that surrounds your muscles will come off and you will attain a shapely and attractive body. Remember, it is consistency that will slowly melt those unsightly collections of fat.