You've heard the whispers about targeted fat loss, but is there any truth in them?
Here's the thing: It's all well and good promoting body positivity (and we're all for it!), but—unfortunately—sometimes there are insecurities that can't be instantly switched off.
You may have experienced it yourself: A nagging voice that insists your waist is too wide or your thighs much too chunky. It's this voice too that'll see you trawling through Google in the hope of finding a fast fix to lose fat from that particular spot. Ring any bells?
Well, first of all, let us remind you that that voice is talking nonsense. Our body's main responsibility is to keep us alive, therefore what's more important is how it functions, not how it looks.
Second, let us clear a little something up:
The myth: You can spot-reduce fat from individual body parts.
The reality: You cannot spot-reduce fat from individual body parts. Sorry.
The answer? An all-round approach.
Spot-reducing fat: Why it doesn't work
It's easy to understand why there's confusion when it comes to the topic of spot-reducing fat. Surely, when you move a body part you burn the fat it has stored there, right? Wrong. "Body fat is simply stored energy in our body," says Michael Ma, trainer at One Academy in Toronto. "When the body turns to fat for energy it draws from fat cells equally throughout our bodies and not just the muscles that are creating the energy demand."
We each store and burn fat differently. Where your body chooses to recruit fat cells from to use as energy depends on many factors, including gender, hormones and genetics. Therefore, smashing out hundreds of squats isn't necessarily going to torch thigh fat.
In fact, a study—published by the Physical Activity Sciences Department in Los Angeles—which saw participants training only their non-dominant leg on a leg press for 12 weeks confirmed this, as results showed no significant reduction of body fat percentage in the legs, but there was a notable reduction in the upper-body.
How do you lose fat from specific spots, then? By losing fat all over.
How to lose body fat
"A far better way to reduce fat is to maximize the number of calories burned by focusing on total body movements as opposed to the smaller muscles which are typically associated with "problem areas" for fat," says Michael.
That means including full body cardio in your workouts. Targeting your entire body can help to reduce body fat percentage on the whole, including any areas your body tends to store excess fat.
Unsure of where to start? Consider high-intensity interval training. "While any physical activity is certainly better than none, there are workouts that are better than others at reducing fat," says Michael. "One of my favourites is high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you work in short bursts doing cardio exercises such as sprints, mountain climbers or burpees, for example.
"HIIT workouts are great because they are time efficient and elevate the body's metabolism, which results in continued caloric burn for hours after the workout. But in order to really reap the rewards from this type of training, you need to be going at near maximal effort during each interval."
However, it's going to take more than a few high-intensity sessions to lose fat long term. Sufficient nutrition is crucial, as is quality sleep and setting aside time to rest and recover. HIIT training is very demanding on the body, therefore Michael recommends no more than three sessions per week.
But the key to success? Consistency. "Make sure that the changes you make to your exercise routine and eating habits are things you can live with long term, because being consistent when it comes to training and nutrition is what will help you lose the fat and keep it off," Michael says.
And as for those particular areas that play on your mind? Use strength training to sculpt them.
Strength training: The basics
While it's true that you can't spot-reduce fat, it is possible to target individual muscle groups in order to build and strengthen them.
When strength training is combined with fat-burning cardio workouts and a solid meal plan, the result is increased muscle definition, which will alter the appearance of the body part in question. Plus, more muscle mass means a more efficient metabolism, which means that your body is able to burn more calories at rest, therefore increasing fat loss potential.
"In addition to HIIT workouts, I recommend incorporating strength training exercises focusing on compound (aka, exercises that work multiple muscles), multi-joint movements such as the deadlift and squat," Michael advises. "Pairing upper and lower body exercises, or opposing muscle groups (for example, quads and hamstrings or biceps and triceps) during strength training sessions is a great way to efficiently build lean muscle mass.