By Ross Harrison
Most people are looking to improve certain parts of their body. Common concerns are excess flab around the stomach, under the arms, or in any number of other areas. There is a general belief that performing specific exercises will help people lose more fat in certain areas of the body. This is typically known as spot reduction and it is a popular concept, but does it really work?
The simple answer to this question is no, spot reduction is a myth. However, no matter how often this is said, people still want to believe they can lose fat in a particular area by exercising specific muscles. As a result, people often end up doing many exercises to isolate specific muscles, especially the abdominals and arms, hoping to burn fat in those specific areas.
Unfortunately, this is not the way the human body loses fat. You will lose fat throughout your entire body with any type of exercise, regardless of the muscles being used. Exercising specific muscles will however make them stronger, firmer, and improve their appearance, which can create an illusion that more fat is being lost in those areas.
Believe it or not, performing excess exercises for the abs and arms at the expense of other muscles will ultimately decrease your overall fat loss. Exercises that isolate the abdominals, biceps, or triceps have a smaller impact on the body than exercises that use larger muscles or incorporate many different muscles at one time. Exercises such as squats, lunges, chest/shoulder presses, and back rows/pulldowns have much greater physiological effects on calorie burning, hormonal adaptations, overall fitness, and of course fat loss.
While it is true that exercising any muscle causes fat loss throughout the body, it does not mean that fat will be lost evenly. There is one factor that does have a significant impact on where you lose fat and that is your genetics. Most people have specific areas where they easily accumulate fat or store a proportionally larger amount of fat compared to the rest of their body. These are commonly referred to as problem areas and they will vary from person to person.
Problem areas are typically the first to gain fat and the last to lose it, so they are often significant obstacles to long-term fat loss. Luckily there is one approach that is generally successful in dealing with problem areas, but it may not what you want to hear. The key is dedication and consistency with your nutrition, as well as variety and progression with your exercise. Initially you may not lose fat from the areas you want, but if you stick with it, you will start losing fat from those problem areas.
If on the other hand, you have good eating and workout habits some or even most of the time, you may experience some positive fat loss, but once you stop exercising or start eating poorly, the fat you lost from your problem areas will be the first to return. If you are serious about long-term fat loss, you have to make exercise and nutrition a priority throughout your life.
Ross Harrison, CSCS, NSCA-CPT is a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning specialist, and nutritional consultant who teaches people how to lose weight, get in shape, and improve their quality of life with exercise and nutrition. For more information or to sign up for his free health and fitness newsletter, visit precisionhealth-fitness.com.
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