Spot reduction is the idea that by training a certain area of the body (ie. stomach), you will burn fat in that spot and appear more “toned”. This idea of spot reduction formed in part due to the principle of specificity. This principle states that if you want to excel at a skill or sport you need to train specifically for it. For example, if I want to get better at push-ups, I need to practice doing push-ups and other “pushing” exercises. Or if I want to squat 250lbs, I need to train my legs and build stronger leg muscles to be able to reach that goal.
The principle of specificity has proven itself to be true, which is why spot reduction “makes sense” to so many. Yes, you should exercise your arms if you want to have stronger arms, but doing a triceps specific workout won’t make a much of a difference to the body fat stored in that area. Imagine if spot reduction actually worked. In the summer we would see overweight men and women strolling the beach with chiseled 6-packs, but flabby arms and legs. Weird, right? The reality is that your body is designed to lose weight all over, not one specific area. When you begin a fat-loss program some areas of your body will lose inches faster than others, and everyone’s body is going to be different.
Here’s how you CAN lose fat and tone your muscles…
Nutrition can make or break any fat loss program. Losing inches is achieved through creating a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you use in a day). Aim to eat nutritious foods that fuel your body, and help to maintain metabolically active tissue and avoid nutrient deficiencies.
Protein – poultry, fish, edamame, beef, greek yogurt, etc.
Vegetables – carrots, spinach, broccoli, cucumbers, onions, etc.
Fruits – blueberries, mangos, watermelon, bananas, apples, etc.
Unprocessed Carbohydrates – potatoes, rice, beans, oats, squash, etc.
Healthy Fats – avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds, cheese, etc.
There is no doubt that crunches make your abdominal muscles stronger, but your body won’t reveal it unless you put in a total body effort. A balanced, total body exercise program is a key to living a healthy, pain-free life that will let you achieve and maintain your goals.
The best method to losing inches is a combination of strength training and cardiovascular training. When done correctly, strength training will give you a whole body workout that will boost your resting metabolic rate (how many calories you burn while sitting at rest) and build stronger muscles. Following a strength day, your muscles need time to recover, but that’s no excuse to skip a workout. Cardiovascular work (ie. jogging, interval training, walking), doesn’t put the same stress on your muscles that strength training does, so if you’re up for it you could train 6 days a week.
When most people start working out they tend to “go for it” working out 5, 6, 7 times a week and following a strict diet. What usually ends up happening is they burn themselves out and quit OR they get to where they want to be, but rebound because it wasn’t sustainable.
I would rather see you workout 3x a week and be 100% consistent with it, than have you workout 7x week and risk a burnout. Same goes for nutrition. Follow the 80/20 principle of moderation, that allows you to eat foods you enjoy while still striving for your goals 80% of the time.
Click here to learn more about the 80/20 eating principle.
Be patient and understand that reaching your goals will take time and effort, but you WILL get there. Some weeks you will feel like you’re making more progress than others, it’s going to go slower than you want, but do not let yourself quit. Never stop working towards your goals because as long as you don’t quit you WILL succeed.
Bottom Line: Spot reduction is a myth and exercising a specific part of your body will not cause fat-loss to a specific area. A combination of exercise, nutrition, and consistency are the keys to seeing a fast and sustainable change in your body composition.