We have all seen advertisements on television or in magazines pertaining to some fitness machine or device that pledges to melt fat from your midsection, thighs or butt.
Familiar infomercials promise that fat will be burned in the abdomen by performing a certain amount of crunches on this specialized exercise device. Some of the exercises that are commonly represented by these products are abdominal crunches, assisted sit-ups, hip adduction and abduction for inner and outer thighs, as well as hip flexion and extension motions for hip flexors and gluteus muscles. Selectively targeting certain body parts for fat burn through exercise is called spot reduction, and it is a myth.
This myth aligns with people’s tendency to find quicker ways to meet their fitness goals. Many people are busy and cannot devote enough time to properly exercise. Companies exploit this concept in order to encourage the marketability of its product. Who wouldn’t want to do a set number of crunches each day and burn stomach fat with ease? Not only is this idea attractive, but it also believable. For many people, it seems plausible that the fat burn occurs in the region of the specific muscle contraction. Exercise and fat burn do not work this way, however. These machines encourage strength training of these target areas. Strength training results in hypertrophy, or muscle growth, below the layers of fat. Therefore, the same amount of fat tissue remains.
For instance, in one study, the circumference and fat composition of tennis players’ dominant arms were compared with that of their non-playing arms, in order to test the validity of spot reduction. While the individuals’ playing arms grew in circumference due to muscular hypertrophy, the skinfold thickness did not differ significantly between the active and inactive arms. Thus, there was no evidence supporting that spot reduction occurred.
Certain factors that influence fat loss are gender, genetics, hormones and age. Typically, the last area to get lean on the body is the first area to gain fat. In women, body fat is usually deposited in the chest, hip, thigh and buttock regions. During menopause, females may also be more likely to develop fat in the abdomen. This is commonly due to hormonal and lifestyle changes. Men are more prone to gain fat in the abdomen because they are born with increased fat deposits in this location. As males grow older, metabolism slows down and testosterone decreases, which makes the body more susceptible to gaining fat.
Genetically, it’s evident that everyone is different. One major variance between people is body type. Some individuals are predisposed to having increased fat in one area of the body, while others are born with leaner features. In turn, it is more difficult to change a person’s predetermined shape. These are the regions of the body where it is a challenge to shed fatty tissue. Despite this challenge, a leaner, healthier physique can be attained through proper fitness.
So, if a person cannot spot-reduce fat, how does he or she decrease fat in these areas? Overall body fat must be reduced in order to lose fat in a specific region. In general, in order for a person to lose fat, more calories must be expended than consumed. For example, if a person’s basal metabolism burns 2,500 calories per day and that person consumes only 2,000 calories, then there will be a 500-calorie deficit that day. This means that the body will look for other non-food sources, such as body fat, in order to make up for those 500 calories. Of course, if cardio and strength training are incorporated into the mix, even more calories will be expended.
Do not be fooled by advertisements claiming that you can burn fat in a target region just by using their product. Overall body fat and lean-muscle composition can be altered through a combination of weight training, cardio and a sensible diet. In addition, proper knowledge, determination and hard work are the real tools used in shedding fat in those trouble areas.
John Vasile, NSCA, holds a bachelor’s degree and is a certified personal trainer at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.