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Is Targeted Weight Loss Real?

The skinny on "spot reduction" if it's really possible

Date February 19, 2021
Author Patrick Wong

We all start working out for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is aesthetic.

We’re all human, we all have imperfections and we all have insecurities about ourselves — oftentimes, those insecurities manifest themselves in “problem areas” on our bodies.

Maybe your midsection isn’t as flat as you’d like, your arms aren’t quite as toned as you want, or your legs aren’t as muscular as you’d dreamed. In short, for most of us it boils down to muscle tone.

Well, first things first — let’s not call them “problem areas” because they aren’t a problem! Your body is great the way it is, but really these are opportunities for you to gain more confidence and get stronger, both physically and emotionally. There’s a lot of value to be had in training hard because it makes you feel a certain way, not necessarily because you want to look different.

Spot Reduction is a Myth

Second, the notion of losing fat in just one part or region of your body or in one muscle group simply isn’t possible, so let’s get that out of the way.

And don’t forget, everything is perspective. Fat does shed from the body pretty evenly throughout, however, men and women will store a higher amount of fat in certain places (commonly the waist for men and hips and waist for women). When we start to lose fat, losing an inch around your arms when there wasn’t a lot to lose is way less noticeable then when you’ve lost an inch around your waist.

It’s largely considered a fitness myth that you can do a bajillion crunches and get a flatter tummy, or squat until you can squat no more to a less bulky bottom.

Sure, you might experience that burning feeling when you’re doing a ton of reps of an exercise, but that burning is just build-up of lactic acid and not the fat melting away. We know, we wish it were that easy, too.

In fact, some studies have shown that working out a specific muscle group will give it an appearance of being larger (arguably something you’re not looking to do if you’re curious about targeted fat reduction). And really, it does make sense. If you’re looking to shrink down your arms, doing a ton of bicep curls will help you gain muscle mass, but as scientists have found, you’ll have the same amount of fat surrounding it. Simply put, muscle growth does not equal fat loss.

That said, it’s always great to get your muscles stronger, but if you’re looking to slim down your silhouette, there are better ways.

HIIT the Go Button

So, we’ve established that our bodies just don’t burn fat in the way that we’d love for it to, but the good news is that changing your body composition is definitely within reach.

Paired with a good diet (and really that’s something that is pretty personal and something that you’ll need to decide on depending on any pre-existing health conditions, personal goals, etc.), a consistent workout routine will help you burn the calories needed to shed fat.

The general rule of the thumb is that as long as you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, you’ll lose “weight” — bearing in mind that you also don’t want to be so under-calorie-d that you’re not sustaining all of your muscle groups, either.

An added pound of muscle can increase your daily calorie burn by 15-30 calories.

If you’re on this blog, chances are you’ve heard of HIIT, and as you may already know, HIIT is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories. Periods of high-intensity total body exercise followed by a short period of rest with more high-intensity work not only save you time while you torch those calories, but some studies show that they’ll keep you burning calories even after you’ve finished working out. If you’ve got a Tempo handy, look for our Shred classes to check out our expert-designed HIIT circuits or tackle a program like our Sculpt and Shred to have weeks of HIIT.

That said, HIIT isn’t the only way (and depending on who you are, not the best choice) for you to hit that calorie deficit. Biking, jogging, and even just going for walks are great ways to get your calories to say goodbye.

Strength training, though, may be really great alternative for those who may not want to do HIIT or steady-state cardio. You can just as easily improve body fat percentage by gaining muscle — and as an added benefit, will help change your shape and size of your body by pulling in the midsection while popping your other muscle groups like with pumped up arms, trimmer legs, and a buffed chest. And here’s a handy fact: an added pound of muscle can increase your daily calorie burn by 15-30 calories.

For Tempo athletes, look for classes that are are labeled "Build" or take a deeper dive into our strength training programs designed to pack on muscle mass, like our 6-Week Build or Shape Shift programs.

Remember, you won’t see progress overnight, so don’t feel discouraged if you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. While it’s tough for us to give you personalized nutrition advice or know what will work best for you, we have a growing community of people who may have some great advice and be in a similar position as you — check out our Facebook Group and reach out.

Author Patrick Wong
Tags FitnessHealth and Wellness

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