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Don't feel the burn! Your core and the enduring myth of spot reduction

‘There is no magical exercise that will result in the elusive six pack,’ writes personal trainer Sarah Cremen.

fitness Source: Pinterest.


IT’S a pretty common occurrence for a new client to ask me what the best exercise is to get rid of ‘this’, while pointing at their belly, grabbing their love handles or jiggling their bingo wings.

While many fitness professionals and exercise enthusiasts are (hopefully) aware that research shows abdominal exercises do not preferentially reduce adipose cell size or subcutaneous fat thickness in the abdominal region, the enduring myth of spot reduction rages on and continues to distort our understanding of the most effective and efficient ways to reach our goals.

What is spot reduction?

The theory that training one specific muscle will result in fat loss in that one area of the body. Basically, localised fat loss through specific exercise.

Science sends its sincerest apologies… but it just doesn’t work that way.

The spot reduction myth isn’t a new concept, but despite this, mainstream magazines and social media is still awash with ways to ‘tone up your abs’ or ‘burn that belly fat’. It’s simply click bait and unfortunately, not only will the fat simply not melt away, the misconception won’t either.

shutterstock_241815814 Source: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

Frustratingly, training with a view to targeting these ‘trouble areas’ through isolation exercises seems to be as popular as ever, but for your average gym goer, this approach is all but guaranteed to leave you unsuccessful in your endeavors.

Let me clear something up. Fat doesn’t melt. It doesn’t burn off either.

Fat does get released from fat cells for energy, but unfortunately for us, the systems responsible for this process do not take into account where you would most like the fat to be drawn from.

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If you are already lean, a sensible core program may improve the appearance through improved muscle tone and posture, but it will not simply remove unwanted fat from your ‘problem area’.

Prioritising the smaller muscles that are insignificant in terms of enhancing overall fitness, strength and energy expenditure, without addressing the bigger ones, is a penny wise and pound foolish way to train.

An excessive emphasis on abdominal crunches, leg raises and side bends is simply a waste of valuable training time.

Local fatigue or ‘feeling the burn’ may give the illusion of a highly effective exercise, but if your goal is to get leaner (i.e. build muscle and reduce fat), chances are you’re barking up the wrong tree.

shutterstock_269886119 Source: Shutterstock/Undrey

There is no magical exercise that will result in the elusive six pack. In order to have a lean midsection, your overall body fat must be reduced to respectable levels.

How does one go about this? By prioritising a comprehensive strength and cardio training program and adhering to sound and sensible nutrition protocols.

I take no issue with incorporating accessory or isolation exercises into your training… if you have the time and energy, and enjoy them.

But perhaps it’s worth questioning if that time and energy would be better spent doing a few more deadlifts, getting out and walking more or prepping a few extra veggies!

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