Spot reduction is a myth in the fitness world, to target areas to lose body fat and trim stubborn areas.
This concept centres around the idea of trying to lose fat from a particular body part by doing a specific exercise, for example sit-ups to lose your tummy fat.
Even though most people say they don’t believe in spot reduction, they keep asking me these same questions.
Men ask me what exercises must they do to lose their gut and women ask me how to lose fat off their hips and thighs.
Unfortunately these misconceptions are perpetuated by the media and the general press. Then we have infomercials advertising abdominal exercises that are supposed to firm up certain areas, or even worse, we get uneducated personal trainers prescribing exercises to tone up certain body parts. This just adds to the misconception of spot reduction, toning and firming.
Just think about it. If spot reduction were possible there wouldn’t be one man in the world with a big belly or any women in the world with a big bum. We would just eat what we want, then do specific exercises before bed and our problems would be solved.
Another example is a marathon runner. If spot reduction were possible, marathon runners would just have very skinny legs, because those are the only areas that generally gets worked. All the fat would remain on their torso, giving them an alien-like image. Lets say you joined the gym and all you did was 1000s of sit-ups every day. Would you end up with flat, shapely abs, but with all the fat still on your legs and arms. Obviously not.
Physiology of fat loss
When you take in less calories than you burn you lose weight. So weight and fat loss is all about calories in versus calories out, period. That’s a scientific fact. Now, where that fat comes off can’t be controlled by any specific exercise. You burn fat when the body releases certain hormones into the blood stream. Within a few seconds these hormones achieve an even concentration throughout the entire bloodstream and adipose tissue is stimulated simultaneously to release stored fat. So fat is generally utilised evenly throughout the body, with small genetic differences. The idea of spot reduction means the hormones released would travel through the bloodstream to the fat tissue of the specific muscle being trained and act on the fat cells at that localised area, which is a preposterous idea.
Types of fat
We have adipose tissue all over the body. The main job of fat is to act as our storehouse for energy. There are two types of fat:
1.Visceral fat – surrounding organs
2.Subcutaneous fat – under the skin
About 80% of stored fat is subcutaneous.
Men and women, and even different ethnic groups store fat on different areas
Women generally store fat around their buttocks and thighs (pear shaped).
Men generally store fat around the mid section (apple shaped).
Certain ethnic groups may store fat differently. For example, we all know Jennifer Lopez is known for her large butt and petite upper body.
When we are in a caloric deficit fat loss occurs, but dictating where the fat comes off is something we can’t control. Many physiologists compare fat to the layers of an onion. Rather than coming off from one particular area, it comes off layer by layer from the whole body. The truth is that you just can’t notice it around your tummy as quickly because you have so much more to lose in that area, but you’re losing weight all over your body.
Toning and firming
To clarify, let me explain the term toning and firming. When I first heard these words I didn’t understand them. I looked through all my academic text and couldn’t find definitions for them. The only relation I found was “toness”, which means a low level of muscle contraction. So everyone is “toned” already. A muscle loses its tone when it becomes paralyzed. So when people say that want to firm and tone an area, they really mean they want to lose fat on that area and strengthen the muscle. You cant firm fat, so if you lose the fat around a certain body part it will appear firm and toned. Its the fat that gives it that soft, flabby look, so firming and toning is therefore another one of those marketing terms used to sell you fly-by-night exercise equipment and products.
So if you want to lose weight in a specific area don’t waste your time just doing specific exercises. Make sure your workout burns a lot of calories and that your diet is calorie controlled if you want to lose fat. If you’re in a caloric deficit then fat will come off. Continue in that deficit and those trouble areas will eventually improve. Just remember, because of genetic differences your body part may not look like the athlete you aspire to, but by combining adequate cardio with an effective weight training programme you can attain a shapely and attractive physique.
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.