If I see another social media exercise video with a workout titled “Love Handles!” or “Inner Thighs!” or “Tiny Waist!” in the context of saying the (apparently) magical exercises will make you lose fat there…
I’m going postal.
Seriously, these people should be ashamed.
That fitness influencer you see with the beautifully toned abs and the slim waist didn’t get her midsection that way by doing all of those cute little Russian twists on her sunny rooftop.
I can promise you this.
The idea behind exercising a certain area to make that area “more toned” or “leaner” is called “spot reduction.”
But is spot reduction possible and if so, how does it work? And what are the factors that determine why you have fat in certain places when your workout buddy who is doing the exact same exercises as you has fat in none of those places?
Okay, so let’s pretend this actually is a thing. Let me tell you how fat is broken down during exercise. Chemicals called catecholamines are responsible for “burning” your fat for energy. These chemicals do this by attaching to two types of receptors in your fat cells: alpha-2 and beta-2.
To keep this simple, the more beta receptors a fat cell has, the easier it is for a catecholamine to attach to it and burn it. The problem is, the “stubborn” fat that seems so difficult to get rid of in places (usually the butt, hips and stomach; for me it’s the lower tummy!) tend to have more alpha receptors than betas. That’s what makes it more difficult for the body to burn it off.
So, how do you get more beta cells? That’s all you gotta do to get rid of stubborn spots, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Genetics and gender play a major role in what kind of receptors you have and where.
For example, African American women tend to have more alpha cells in their butt and more beta cells in their abdominal area than Caucasian women.
For men, men tend to have more beta fat cells than women in general. This is why it seems like men can lose fat so effortlessly while women struggle to lose the same amount of weight even with the exact same amount of effort.
So, if you’re still sitting here like “phooey on your science shit, Destini, genetics don’t control me!”
Let me tell you what happens when you train with the goal of spot reducing.
The hope of hopes behind spot reduction is that, by training a certain area, you will eventually break down fat in that spot. However, training just one muscle area can actually make that area even bigger. This is because what will likely end up happening is you’ll gain muscle in that area (especially if you’re eating in a surplus) while the fat just sits on top, resulting in even bigger thighs.
Don’t let this scare you off from lifting weights, though, ladies; it still won’t make you “bulky” which is what most women are afraid of. Women don’t have enough testosterone to get big from moderate resistance training (which is what the average girl in the gym is doing).
Don’t fret, though. Your genes haven’t doomed you to an eternity of stubborn belly fat.
The solution to reducing body fat in your trouble areas is by reducing overall body fat. Despite what the magazines pledge about having the secrets to “tightening your tummy” or “slimming your thighs,” it simply doesn’t work that way. So forget all of that.
The best way to reduce overall body fat is through a sensible diet with a calorie deficit (i.e. eating less than you are burning), full bodyweight training at least 3 days a week and high-intensity interval cardio 2 days a week. By training the full body with weights, you increasing your calorie burn by working as many muscles, both big and small, as you can.
So, the girl wiggling around pre-video who promises her soon-to-come exercises are going to blast your love handles only has no love handles because she does the workouts in her video, plus dozens of others using different muscle groups, modalities and likely a healthy amount of cardio.
The bottom line? The concept of spot reduction is such a myth I can’t even believe magazines are still making money tbh.
When the body burns fat for energy during exercise or in a calorie deficit, your body doesn’t pick and choose where it wants to burn this fat. Your fat doesn’t have a mind of its own that can be trained or tricked.
The bottom line? Due to genetic and gender factors, some people lose fat in certain areas faster than others even with the same workout regimen. This is something you cannot change. What you can change, though, is your workout regimen to burn body fat all over. Once this happens, you’ll begin to see it disappear from the areas in which you want it gone the most. All you need is patience. Not magical workouts.
If you want to learn how to lose fat the right way, check out my program The Athlete's Method.