There’s No Such Thing as “Spot Fat Loss”

Have you ever been tempted buy fitness products that promise to help you lose stubborn belly fat, burn away your upper arms, or melt your muffin top?

If your answer is “yes,” then you’re not alone. For over a decade, the home fitness equipment industry has flourished. So much so, that it’s forecasted to sell over 56 million gadgets this year! [1]

Many products are sold on the promise that, by targeting specific parts of your body through exercise, you can laser-focus where your body burns fat. This popular assumption is called “spot reduction”—and it’s a myth. [2]

That’s right, contrary to what the infomercials suggest, there is no such thing as spot reduction.

Where you lose fat—or gain it—is completely dependent upon your genetics, gender, and age. While fat patterns are totally unique for every person, one thing isn’t: To lose fat in any particular area, you must lower your overall body fat percentage.

Gaining Specific Muscle vs. Spot-Reducing Fat

Navigating spot reduction claims can be confusing for fitness newbies because it’s possible to strengthen particular muscles with focused training. For example, crunches will primarily train the abdominal area. However, doing enough crunches won’t get you washboard abs without first reducing your body fat.

Why do fat and muscle react differently to focused fitness efforts? Because fat and muscle are designed to do totally different things.

Muscle is an active, living tissue designed to contract our bones, enabling us to move our bodies. Since strength and endurance are important for any muscle to perform, it’s vital that this tissue is able to adapt to meet the demands of your daily life—including regular exercise.

Fat is considered a "storage" tissue. Used to provide energy that isn’t needed right away, extra fat is stored inside cells. However, fat storage is a lot like an emergency savings fund: Only used as a last resort.

A recent scientific study compared the body fat percentage of the left and right arms of tennis players to combat the misconception about targeted fat loss. [3]

If spot reduction were possible, then the arm each player used to hold and swing their racket would have less fat than the other.

The results? There was no difference whatsoever between either arm.

Then Why Can I See A Difference?

Considering a Thigh Perfect or 2 Minute Booty purchase? These are just two of the popular products reviewed on Highya that promise to tone and sculpt your specific trouble spots.

It’s important to distinguish that these brands aren’t completely bluffing: If you do a lot of squats to battle a widening booty, the exercise burns overall calories. Additionally, because that specific muscle group is growing—and becoming firmer—the area will appear to be losing fat.

This means that even though you can’t target fat loss, you can gear your workout towards shaping the muscle in your problem areas as well as burning blubber.

But it’s going to take more than just leg raises. Working on problem spots may be fine for defining muscles in those respective areas. However, focusing only on small muscle groups yields relatively insignificant results in terms of enhancing your overall fitness, strength, and metabolism.

That’s because for every pound of muscle you build, your metabolism amps up to burn an additional 30-50 calories a day. But there are only so many pounds of muscle you can pack onto those smaller muscle groups, such as lower abs or shoulders! That’s why it’s more efficient to work out multiple muscle groups at once—making both your workouts and metabolism more effective.

What If I Can Really “Feel The Burn?”

Phrases like “feel the burn” are common in fitness settings, but are they meaningful?

Much like spot reduction, feeling the burn isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That burning sensation sometimes felt during workouts is simply a chemical reaction that takes place during some types of training intensities—not fat being literally burned, as some claims would have you believe.

When doing squats or other strength-training moves, your muscles begin to fatigue as you complete more and more reps. Your body responds by producing lactic acid. The lactic acid causes that tingling, heavy, or burning sensation to let you know when your muscles have had enough. [4]

So, “the burn” essentially means that your muscles are being challenged, which makes them stronger! It’s understandable how “the burn” gets its reputation. While uncomfortable, it is often viewed as immediate gratification and positive feedback that an exercise has been effective.

However, the feeling of exhausting in your muscles can be misleading and should not be the primary focus of any workout routine. Instead, a good rule of thumb is to do as many reps as you can until you experience that slight burning, and then give that muscle a break.

The Real Trouble With Trouble Spots

Fitness myths such as spot reduction and burning fat are tempting to believe. Even more so because both men and women struggle with a very narrow definition of what’s considered the “ideal” body shape in popular culture.

But not only do very few people possess those idea traits, everybody’s body is different! And with those differences, we all face unique and diverse fitness woes.

Trying to achieve washboard abs or Beyonce’s backside alone often distract heath-hopefuls from more important aspects of fitness—distorting our understanding of the most effective, efficient ways to reach our goals.

Bottom Line On Shaping Your Bottom Line?

The whole of your body is greater than the sum of its parts. In fitness terms, that means that if you want to burn more fat and sculpt more muscle, your overall fitness level has to be increased.

But that doesn’t mean training for a triathlon! Instead, focus on moderate goals that can be accomplished through a comprehensive strength and cardio program. Not only is it more effective in the long term to work towards bettering your overall health, focusing on larger muscle groups through bigger movements actually allows you to accomplish more in less time.

A comprehensive strength program should include:

  • Pushing-motion movements, such as squats, lunges, and push-ups combined with exercises that make a pulling motion, such as pull-ups or rows.
  • Combination movements, such as dumbbell lunges, curls, and shoulder presses. These movements incorporate large and small muscles, giving you far more bang for the buck.
  • Don’t forget your cardio! Focus on progressive intervals or bursts of high-intensity activity, such as two minutes at your top pace, followed by one minute of slower movement. If your cardio ever seems too easy, or you feel like you’re just going through the motions, try to challenge yourself a little more.

So, where does this leave you if you want to lean out through the middle?

First off, we just saved you anywhere from $19 to $199—because now you won't be tempted to go out and get the latest "fat-burning" abs gizmo! And that's only the beginning of the good news.

By focusing your fitness efforts on a complete, comprehensive plan, not only will you eventually reach your goal, you’ll experience higher energy levels, increased bone density, and even reduced stress. Equaling an overall better looking, and feeling, you.

References:

  1. Statista Forecast: Fitness Gadgets
  2. Wikipedia: Spot Reduction
  3. Effects of training frequency on physical fitness in male …
  4. Burn Baby Burn: The Truth About Lactic Acid and Exercise

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.


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