How do I lose my belly fat? How can I tone up my arms? Which exercise will shrink my thighs?
These questions, or variations thereof, clog up my inbox on a daily basis. And this is fair enough - there are so many ridiculous products on the market claiming to magically achieve just these things, who can blame the poor folk led to believe a targeted solution exists? But here's the thing...it doesn't.
The sad truth of the matter is, whether you want to get rid of that annoying lower ab pudge, firm up those pesky bingo wings or attain the elusive 'thigh gap', the answer is always the same:
1. A solid nutrition plan (i.e. one that involves fewer calories than you burn, within which you're getting enough protein, healthy fats and fibre) combined with a smart training plan (i.e. one that prioritises heavy, full-body resistance training and includes sufficient rest/recovery time) is the only way to sustainably reduce body fat.
2. You can't choose where the fat comes off first, but you can pretty much guarantee it's not going to be in the areas that you want it to.
Now we've cleared that up, let's tackle the two myths responsible for these misguided questions...
The Spot Reduction Myth
Fat loss, in short, comes down to eating less and moving more. And that goes for fat loss anywhere on your body. Crunches will NOT burn your belly fat. Tricep kickbacks won't melt off bingo wings, nor will the abductor machine slim your inner thighs. Losing fat, be it belly fat, upper arm fat or any other sort of fat, comes down to burning calories.
- An effective training programme is one that works all the major muscle groups of both the upper and lower body.
- The more muscles you employ in your workout, the more calories you'll burn.
- The larger the muscles you're working are, the more calories you'll burn.
- The more muscles used in a specific exercise, the more calories that exercise will burn.
See where I'm going with this?
Achieving the lean body part you want means getting all those muscles moving and accepting that you'll need to be in it for the long haul to start seeing improvements in 'stubborn' areas.
The 'T' Word
Scientifically, muscle tone actually refers to the degree of tension in a muscle, which is part of the way it functions. Whether or not you like the way you look, you already have muscle tone.
When people say they want "toned" muscles, they mean they want to see the shape of the muscle more so than they do now. You can't change the shape of a muscle, but you can give definition to the shape.
Definition or 'tone' is created by:
1. Building or preserving muscle.
2. Lowering body fat.
Lowering body fat comes down to diet and being in a calorie deficit. Building or preserving muscle, is down to a good training routine of heavy resistance. (NB: when you get really lean - usually <8% bodyfat for males and <17% for females - hormone manipulation comes into play as well, but that's for another article!)
High reps - generally categorised as anything more than 12 - do not encourage your body to hold on to muscle, let alone make the muscle bigger, stronger or more defined. If you are doing high reps, the weight is too light to challenge your muscles. Sure, you may 'feel the burn', but that is not a sign of burning fat. You're feeling the burn because of lactic acid building up inside the muscle.
Don't get me wrong - high reps have their place. They are excellent for muscular endurance, cardio circuit training and sports performance. However, in terms of looking lean, defined and promoting fat loss over muscle loss, soley doing high reps is completely counter-productive to 'toning up'.
So there we have it - you CAN lose fat anywhere you like, you just can't choose the sequence in which your body leans out. Don't get discouraged because it's not happening as quickly as you'd like - when you have the right nutrition and training plan in place, patience, perseverence and consistancy will get you those all-important results as quickly as they can possibly happen!
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