What You Really Need to Know About Spot Reduction

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Let’s cut to the chase: Sadly, spot reduction is a myth. Splashy magazine spreads will continue to peddle “quick-fix” ways to “spot-reduce” your thighs, hips, butt or gut, but unfortunately, it ain’t gonna work. No matter how many side bends or sit-ups you do, your back side or tummy will not shrink in direct proportion to the number of reps you force yourself to do. Typically, these areas that we wish would tighten up, tone up, firm up, or otherwise disappear are simply the places where your body tends to deposit extra body fat. Therefore, if you want to enhance the appearance of these areas, you must lose the fat. And there’s only one way to reduce fat. You must burn more calories than you ingest (to put it simply). The clincher is you can’t decide where that fat loss occurs, however.

The best way to reduce fat is through a combination of solid nutrition (not restricted eating), strength training, metabolic conditioning, and sleep. And while we wish the systems responsible for releasing fat would hear our pleas and go directly to the areas we want, it doesn’t work that way! Fat is released from fat cells to create energy; but it’s more of a universal process than a local one. Fat-loss takes time, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. But there are a few things you can do to speed up progress and get the results you desire. So don’t lose hope! Try these tactics to focus on full-body fat-loss.

Fat-Loss Tactic #1: HIIT Cardio

Cardio is a great way to burn calories. But if you’re serious about fat loss, you will want to include HIIT workouts when you can. HIIT (high intensity interval training) requires you to alternate between short, intense bouts of effort and recovery periods. Much like the effect stop-and-go traffic has on your car, HIIT training requires more “gas” than steady state cardio (or cruise control). HIIT training can burn tons of calories in a shorter period of time and it increases the effect of EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which helps burn calories after you finish your workout. In the fat loss game, that’s exactly what you’re looking for—more calories burned!

Fat-Loss Tactic #2: Lift Heavier Weights

Lifting weights can boost your bottom line (both figuratively and literally). Because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, you will expend more calories before, during, and after exercise as your lean muscle mass increases. It’s important to note, however, that lifting heavy weights is what you need to do to increase your muscle mass. Lifting light weights for a high number of repetition will not tone your muscles. It will burn calories, but this approach is not nearly as beneficial as simply lifting heavier weights.

Fat-Loss Tactic #3: Flex from Head to Toe

You can also kill two birds with one stone by choosing strength training exercises that require multiple muscle groups. Full-body movements are perfect for elevating the heart rate and building strength, simultaneously. Because the exercises require multiple muscle groups working together, you get a better return on your effort! Not to mention, full-body movements are typically functional as well. Functional movements help enhance your day-to-day activities, which is an added bonus.

The Last Word on Fat (Loss)

Finally, if belly fat is the final frontier and it just won’t budge, it may be necessary to take a closer look at your nutrition. Belly fat is stubborn and typically responds best to clean eating. Don’t forget to consider the role sleep can play in weight-loss. Sleep helps your body recover and synthesize the work you are doing. Lack of sleep leads to higher levels of cortisol, which increases your appetite. Combine that with decreased willpower (and your fat cells being 30% less able to deal with insulin, according Annals of Internal Medicine 2012) and you can see the problem!

While spot-reducing might seem like the logical answer to a firmer midsection and wiggle-free arms, a more well-rounded approach to health and wellness is a better option. Ditch the small, laser-focused exercises for higher intensity cardio, heavier weights, and full-body movements. Keep an eye on your nutrition, sleep, and stress. You might be surprised how much quicker you see results.

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the VP of Fitness Programming for the FIT4MOM® franchise. For more than two decades, she has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, Silver Sneakers, and BOSU® as a fitness business and programming consultant. An experienced educator, freelance writer, and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable serves as Vice Chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the founder and co-owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool.