Body types are different. We all know that. People tend to deposit body fat in different areas. It is therefore a common and seemingly reasonable thing for people to target specific areas of the body for weight loss. It is common to see people at the gym on strangely designed exercise machines design to “target” specific trouble spots.
My favorite is the hip adductor machine. That is the machine where you sit with your hips spread out and squeeze them together for the purpose of tightening up the gluteal region. Another example is the triceps extension machine. This is a favorite of women concerned about the dangling soft tissue hanging from the back of the arms that seems to extend closer to the ground with every passing the year. It seems reasonable to assume that the fat you burn while exercising comes from the area around the muscles being exercised. The question that needs to be asked is whether focusing exercise on a specific body part is effective at decreasing fat from that body part.
So what is the evidence for this? Here at the WLCR we like to focus on the evidence. It seems better than just making stuff up. It may be common knowledge that targeted fat loss is a good idea but I once heard that the definition of common knowledge is “what everyone knows except for the people that actually know”. So what’s the evidence?
A study of tennis players was conducted at the University of California, Irvine. Tennis players constitute a population whose right and left arms have been consistently subjected to very different amounts of exercise. You would therefore expect the players’ dominant arms to have less fat compared to their non-dominant arms. The researchers found no significant difference.
A 2007 study at the University of Connecticut followed 104 participants for a twelve-week supervised resistance-training program in which their non-dominant arm was selectively exercised. They then did MRI assessments of subcutaneous fat before and after the program. They found that fat loss tended to be generalized rather than only occurring in the trained arm.
These 2 studies seem to refute the idea that you can target fat loss by focusing your exercise on specific areas of the body. But why is this the case?
One reason is that the fat contained in fat cells exists primarily in the form of triglycerides. Muscle cells, unfortunately, cannot directly use triglycerides as fuel. The triglycerides must be broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids, which then enter the bloodstream. As a result, the fat broken down to be used as fuel during exercise comes from all over your body, not just the part that is being exercised.
Another reason is that many of the exercises commonly associated with spot reduction do not actually burn many calories (AKA the hip adductor and triceps extension machines among others). If you are not burning enough calories, you are not going to lose much fat from anywhere in your body.
This is not to say that focusing exercise on specific body part is not a good thing. I think it is very effective to do various exercises trying to target specific areas of the body. This is good for strengthening weaker parts of your body and also for creating a more varied exercise plan overall. It’s just that this type of exercise is good for strengthening the muscles that are being worked out but not for losing the fat specifically on top of those muscles.
So how do we choose an exercise plan that is ideal for fat loss? High-intensity interval training (alternating between brief periods of high-intensity and low-intensity exercise) can be particularly effective, due to the phenomenon of after-burn – i.e. an increase in resting metabolic rate that occurs for up to 24 hours post-exercise (For more on HIIT click here). Strength training is also very important. It is important to build and increase muscle mass because muscle is the main source of the variability in metabolism. The main source of fuel for muscle is fat. If you have more muscle your body needs to burn more fat to maintain that muscle.
The moral of the story is that if you want to lose fat in specific part severe body you need to have a diet and exercise plan for overall weight loss. Eventually the fat will come away from the trouble areas as well.
Here are a few HIIT workouts you can do at home. Click here for more like these.