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We all have those problem spots on our body and unfortunately more often than not those are the hardest places to lose the weight.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pick and choose where the extra pounds came off? That’s exactly what spot reduction claims to do, but is it possible?

Unfortunately it is not that easy.

The theory behind spot reduction is that when you exercise a set of muscles, fat is lost in that area. For example, if you perform crunches or sit ups, you’ll drop stomach fat. While spot reduction might seem like simple common sense, the reality is different. 

In a 2007 study led by the University of Connecticut, 104 participants completed a twelve-week supervised resistance-training program in which their non-dominant arm was selectively exercised. MRI assessments of subcutaneous fat before and after the program revealed that fat loss tended to be generalized, rather than only occurring in the trained arm.

It turns out that there are a few basic physiological reasons why targeted fat loss does not work. The fat contained in fat cells exists in a form known as triglycerides. Muscle cells, however, cannot directly use triglycerides as fuel; it would be analogous to trying to run a car on crude oil. Instead, the fat 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 prolonged exercise can come from anywhere in your body, not just the part that is being worked the most.

But what does that mean?  It means when you work out, the body breaks down fat and uses it as fuel.  The fat broken down in the body can come and will come from anywhere in the body, not just from the body part at work. 

Health science established long ago that targeting specific areas of fat was impossible. The myth has persisted largely because of the efforts of unscrupulous advertisers. Turn on a TV and you’ll probably find an infomercial selling a dubious, scientifically unsound weight-loss product. Many such products claim to spot reduce fat. Certain devices try to eliminate fat by electrically stimulating muscles. Don’t believe the hype. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, especially when someone is trying to sell you something.

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Unlike spot reduction, spot toning is realistic. Often the terms are used interchangeably, but they aren’t actually the same. The former refers to losing fat in the spot of your choosing. The latter refers to strengthening a certain muscle, or group of muscles. Think weightlifters with large arms, or dancers with pronounced legs.

When it comes to defining muscle or reducing fat in a certain area, working the whole body is key, combined with a healthy diet of course.  Keeping this in mind will also ensure that you’re using your time wisely. For instance, if you’ve got limited time to workout, separating it into body-part specific workouts can be difficult. If you focus on total body workouts instead, you’ll be getting the most out of your time. This, too, will lead to building more muscle overall which burns more calories.

In fact, you are more likely to shed your love handles by taking up a running program than by doing crunches and sit-ups every day, simply because cardiovascular exercise is a much more efficient calorie-burner. 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.  An increase in resting metabolic rate that occurs for up to 24 hours post-exercise. Weight training can also help to achieve optimal results. It is important to maintain your muscle mass because you will not achieve a toned look if you lose lean tissue along with fat.

In short, you can focus on a certain muscle all you want. However, unless you include some form of cardio or whole-body workout, you may never lose the fat that’s covering it. To see the results of “spot toning” you’ll need to reduce fat throughout the body.  

So ditch the shake weight and instant abs and focus on becoming a healthier overall you.  If you just can’t imagine not having that backside curve then start squatting now!

 - Rachel