Doing exercises for your muffin top and back fat should help you shed the extra weight around your back and middle, right? Well, not exactly. Here's what you need to know about the myth of spot reduction and the right way to approach weight loss.
You can’t target the different parts of your body when it comes to weight loss. If you want to lose weight from your back and middle, you need to take a comprehensive approach to fitness and weight loss, with regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Read more: The Truth About Targeted Weight Loss
The Myth of Spot Reduction
Just like doing exercises for your muffin top and back fat may not necessarily help you lose weight in those areas, doing 100 crunches every day may not necessarily help you lose belly fat. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that repeatedly training the muscles in certain parts of your body may not result in fat loss in those areas, despite what many among the fitness community would have you believe.
Methodist Health System explains that the idea that you can target the fat cells in certain parts of your body is known as spot reduction; however, as much as you may want it to, your body just doesn't work that way.
Methodist Health System describes how your body stores and burns fat. Your body has a finite number of fat cells; when you gain weight, the number remains the same, but the amount of lipid stored in each cell increases. Similarly, when you lose weight, the amount of fat stored in your cells is reduced, causing them to become smaller.
When you work out, the fat in your cells is broken down into glycerol and free fatty cells, which flow into your bloodstream and give you energy. According to Methodist Health System, this process happens all over your body, not just in any one spot, even though you may be exercising the muscles in that spot. If you want to get rid of a muffin top, you cannot tell the fat cells around your middle to start working and the fat cells in your legs to stop.
ACE says that the systems in your body responsible for the fat burning process don't really take into consideration which parts you would like to trim down. The Methodist Health System notes that genetics play a large part in deciding where fat is stored in your body and where you lose fat from. Gender and hormones also play a role; men tend to carry fat in their midsection whereas women tend to hold it in their hips and thighs.
Northwestern University explains that these factors can also affect how easy or difficult you find it to lose weight. Methodist Health System says that often the place where you gain fat first is the place where you lose it first as well. These areas may be your back and muffin top, or they may not be.
Take a Comprehensive Training Approach
You're probably wondering where that leaves you on the muffin top and back fat issue, and how you should proceed. If you've been doing exercises for muffin top and back fat, the calories you've burned doing those exercises still count toward your weight loss goal, even if they haven't necessarily helped you target fat in those areas.
However, ACE recommends that you opt for a comprehensive training approach instead. Being fit overall is a much better way to build your body's fat-burning capabilities and is certainly more effective than isolating a few muscle groups.
So, what does a comprehensive training approach involve? The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 to 150 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise per week. It is also recommended that adults do strength training exercises that target all the muscle groups at least two times per week.
The Cleveland Clinic lists walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, using an elliptical machine, doing jump rope and performing step aerobics as some examples of aerobic activities. In addition to helping you lose weight, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says that aerobic exercise also gets your heart pumping, working your cardiovascular system (which is is why it is often referred to as "cardio"). Cardio strengthens your heart and improves your cholesterol levels.
The Mayo Clinic explains that you can do strength training, or resistance training as it is also known, with free weights like dumbbells and barbells, elastic resistance bands or resistance tubing, or just your own body weight. Strength training helps you build muscle and boosts metabolism, which in turn helps you burn more calories and contributes to weight loss.
Once you find activities you like, you can start building a weekly workout routine that helps you achieve your cardio and strength training requirements. The key is to stick with it and make exercise a regular habit. An August 2015 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine examined exercise habit formation. The researchers found that you need to exercise at least four times a week for six weeks in a row to build an exercise habit that sticks.
Don’t Forget About Nutrition
While exercise can help you burn calories, it may not be enough to help you lose a significant amount of weight. When it comes to weight loss, diet and exercise usually go hand in hand. A study published in the January-February 2014 issue of the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases found that a combination of exercise and a calorie-restricted diet is the best way to ensure significant weight loss.
Harvard Health Publishing explains that 1 pound of body fat equals 3,500 calories. If you were to cut 250 calories from your daily diet by skipping that half-cup of ice cream after dinner, and burn an additional 250 calories by walking or jogging 2.5 miles every day, you would be able to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day. If you did this every day for a week, the deficit of 500 calories per day would add up to 3,500 calories, helping you lose 1 pound in a week.
Harvard Health Publishing notes that these figures are approximations; exactly how many calories you burn depends on a number of factors, including your weight and pace.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that building an ongoing lifestyle with a healthy diet and regular exercise is the best strategy to ensure weight maintenance after weight loss.
- American Council on Exercise: “Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn”
- Methodist Health System: “Spot Reduction Isn’t a Thing: How Your Body Really Lets Go of Fat”
- Northwestern University: “Why Is It Harder for Women to Lose Weight?”
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Aerobic Exercise”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Aerobic Exercise”
- Mayo Clinic: “Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier”
- Journal of Behavioral Medicine: "Exercise Habit Formation in New Gym Members: A Longitudinal Study"
- Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases: "The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Simple Math Equals Easy Weight Loss”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Losing Weight”