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The spot-reduction myth

Nearly everyone has a trouble spot, maybe a flabby tummy or large thighs. Nothing a sincere devotion to crunches or leg lifts won’t cure, right? Wrong. The idea of performing exercises to lose weight in a specific area is a fitness fallacy. The cold, hard truth? Doing 100 abdominal crunches a day is not going to get you a flat stomach.

Why spot reducing doesn’t work

While exercises that isolate certain muscles can improve their strength, they don’t burn fat, and it’s excess fat causing those saddlebags. To burn fat, you need to do aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging or cycling. So, no matter how many exercises you do that target specific body parts, you’re not going to see your results until you lose the layer of fat covering your problem areas.

Target your whole body

Changing your body’s shape takes a three-way effort that incorporates aerobic exercise, strength training and a low-fat diet. Here’s what to do (be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program):

  1. Pump up your heart rate. To lose fat in any area, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Aerobic activity burns calories faster than other types of exercise. Ideally, for long-term weight control, you should get 45 minutes of aerobic exercise four times a week. Some great fat-burning activities include in-line skating, walking, jogging, country line dancing, hiking, martial arts, boxing, skiing and water sports.
  2. Hit the weights. By adding strength training to your routine, you’ll increase your muscle mass, which helps burn more calories even when you’re resting. To achieve a fit look, you need to develop significant levels of muscle mass while reducing the amount of fat under the skin.

    While exercising specific muscles won’t achieve spot reduction, that doesn’t mean that adding weight to your aerobic routine isn’t beneficial. Strengthening your abdominals, for example, can help protect your back and improve your posture. Working out with weight machines or dumbbells will make your muscles stronger, thereby improving tone and firmness, which you’ll be able to see as the fat disappears.

  3. Eat a fat-sensible diet. Experts advise keeping your fat intake to no more than 25 percent to 35 percent of your total calories and your saturated fat intake to no more than 7 percent. Limit your foods from animal sources and eat a variety of whole foods from plant sources—fruits and vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins such as legumes. Cook with monounsaturated oils such as olive, canola or peanut.

Keep in mind that genetics play a role in your physique and most of us won’t ever look as buff as a fitness cover model, no matter what we do. Nevertheless, aim for good overall fitness, strength and tone.