Katie Verburg is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer who is currently studying to become a Holistic Health Coach. She has been in the health and fitness industry for a decade. Here, she dives into spot training and whether or not it’s a myth.
We’ve all heard it before (or possibly thought it before): “How do I get abs?”, “How do I get rid of my flabby arms?” or, my personal favorite, “I’ve been doing crunches every day for X number of months but still don’t see any ab muscles.” What gives? Well, no matter how many crunches one person does, a six-pack will not magically appear. Unfortunately, we can’t pick where we want to lose body fat from. Both men and women struggle with this idea, and instead of completing successful and beneficial workouts, they waste their time only doing arm workouts, or only doing core workouts, when in reality, those exercise moves alone are not going to give them the results they desire.
This is called “spot training,” which is the idea that an individual can cause weight loss or muscle definition in one area of the body without affecting other parts of the body. While this would make life much easier, it’s entirely a myth in every way possible. We see it almost daily in magazines or on television, claiming there’s a “6-minute workout” that promises the results of rock-hard abs or buns of steel. Unfortunately, those products will not work the way they are marketed to work.
Why can’t we pick where we want to lose body fat from? Why can’t we create muscle definition where we want it? Here’s why:
What Happens to Fat When We Exercise?
Fat within the body makes up a layer between the muscles and skin, and while it is used as fuel during exercise, the body doesn’t actually care where the fat it burns for fuel comes from. With that being said, the muscles don’t take fuel from the fat that is surrounding them. Knowing this now is exactly why picking where you want to lose weight from doesn’t work. Of course, we would all love to lose the fat around our midsections, but our bodies are going to burn fat from wherever they choose to burn it from, which may not be the midsection.
The men and women who dedicate themselves to solely working their arms or only working one muscle group are doing themselves a massive disservice. We all know someone who finishes each workout with 100+ crunches or sit-ups, which may possibly give them strong abdominal muscles. However, unless they consume appropriate nutrition and lose the body fat that surrounds those muscles, the six-pack will never be visible.
While learning why “spot training” will not provide desired results, other effective methods should be considered instead. Circuit training is a type of workout that involves fast-moving strength exercises incorporating every muscle group with not much rest in between. This style of workout keeps your heart rate up, challenges your cardiovascular system and incorporates total body strength.
Nutrition and exercise are an ever-changing, overwhelming and constantly educated category. What works for one person may not work for the next person, which is why your fitness knowledge should come from an accredited source. If you feel that you’ve been working hard with nutrition and exercise but aren’t seeing the results you want to see, there’s no shame in asking for help. Making a few tweaks may change your fitness journey altogether.