Debunking the Spot Training Myth

It’s not uncommon to have stubborn problem areas on your body that you’d just like to areas. Hips, arms, backs, and bellies all tend to stubbornly cling to fat. But if you think that “spot training” is the way to go to correct these problem areas, you should know that it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding about how your body uses energy and stores fat.

What is Spot Training?

Have you ever seen somebody do crunches to try to get rid of their belly fat? That’s spot training. It’s the idea that by working a particular area of the body, you’ll burn the fat off of that area of the body. It seems to make sense, right? To get rid of belly fat, you have to work your abdomen muscles. It turns out, however, that this is a myth. Spot training doesn’t work because your body doesn’t just use whatever energy is available in nearby fat when you use a muscle. Your muscles doesn’t even necessarily burn fat first when you exercise–it uses a combination of the macronutrients, including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates for different things at different times depending on a long list of factors. (Click on each of those macronutrients for our articles about how your body uses them during a workout.)

Weight loss is a result of total body metabolism. In other words, when fat is burned, it is burned from all over your whole body. Often, factors that are beyond your control, such as genetics, determine where on your body you will lose weight first.

Gaining Muscle Definition

While it is true that you can make a particular muscle bigger and stronger by focusing on working just that muscle, that doesn’t mean that you will get actual muscle definition, and it isn’t a productive or healthy way to gain strength. If you do a lot of abdominal workouts, it is true that you will make your abdominal muscle bigger and stronger, but you’ll never get “six pack abs” if you don’t burn off the layer of fat that is sitting on top of them. And the only way to do that, we’re afraid, is with a sensible diet bolstered by a safe, effective strength training program.

It’s also not a good idea to work just one muscle or group of muscles and let your other muscles atrophy. For one thing, you could actually cause yourself injury, like back pain, by strengthening your muscles in an uneven way. The best course of action for your health is to begin a strength training regimen guided by an experienced, qualified trainer.


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