In a dig at Napoleon and Hitler’s war tactics, Brit, Bernard Montgomery, once wittily quipped that ‘rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: “Do not march on Moscow”. Well, rule 1 on page 1 of the book of losing weight is, you cannot target fat loss with exercise. Of course, you can tone an area by increasing muscle mass, however, if your newly developed muscle is hiding behind a layer of subcutaneous fat, that is, the fat between your skin and muscle, then nobody will see it.
Women, you cannot lose weight off just your arms by doing triceps kickbacks; men, if you want washboard abs, forget doing 100 crunches every morning, if you are crunching on 100 donuts in the evening. Don’t take my word for it, lets look at the well-established science behind the claim.
Targeted fat loss, sometimes called spot reduction, is somewhat of a Frankenstein’s monster of workout myths, no matter how many studies debunk it, it gets re-animated by fad diets and workouts. This myth has been re-energized by internet culture in recent years.
In a seminal 1971 study, researchers studied the arms of tennis players. Tennis players are well-known for having disproportionate muscular development in their arms, as their playing arms get a more intense workout during tennis games. So, if targeted fat loss was possible, you would expect a tennis players main arm to have less fat than the non-dominant arm. However, this was not what the research found. The fat layer was equal in both arms. This was despite the dominant tennis arm being almost an inch larger in terms of muscle mass.
This study from 2011, studied abdominal fat loss after six weeks of abdominal exercise. The study concluded that six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat.
Lets do one more, this 2013 study on the subject concluded: ‘the training program was effective in reducing fat mass, but this reduction was not achieved in the trained body segment.’
Now, there are so many scientific studies around these days that you could accuse someone of cherry picking them to suit an argument, which people often do. However, not all scientific publications are created equally. The vast wave of evidence (backed up by logic) speaks for itself. Very few studies claim to have observed regional fat loss, the ones that do, are usually quite embarrassing.
Take this study from 2017 which claims that their results ‘may’ show evidence of targeted fat loss. If you have to write ‘may’ in your conclusion then it’s not a great start. Secondly, the study has a total sample of 16 people. This is, simply, far too small of a sample size when considering something as variable as weight loss and human genetics.
Want to lose weight off your stomach? Then jogging would be better than crunches. Want to lose fat off your arms? Then start jogging. Do not despair at learning this new revelation. Whilst humans come in all shapes and sizes, the shapes and sizes we would come in – if targeted fat loss existed – would be quite hilarious. Think about it. All cashiers or checkout operators would have ripped, skinny arms from scanning items all day, but still have fat asses. They would look like E.T. If you want an example of how ridiculous people would look if you could target fat loss, then check out Darryn Lyons circa 2011; who had ab implants during his stint on Big Brother.
Unless your job title has: ‘Teenage Mutant Turtle’ in it. then don’t get ab implants if you’re fat. For all the fad-diets and clickbait workouts we are bombarded with on a weekly basis there is one rule which remains constant. It is rule 2, on page 1 on the book of losing weight: with good dieting and exercise, burn off more calories than you consume.
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