Fat can come off no matter what you target

Published 9:39 am Friday, March 28, 2014

Column: More than Broccoli & Jogging, by Susie Hulst

As a fitness professional I often get questions like, “What are some abdominal exercises I can do to get rid of this belly?” or “What type of exercises should I do to get rid of these love handles?”

Susie Hulst

Susie Hulst

These questions stem from the desire of wanting to “spot treat” or lose weight in certain areas of the body. However, when it comes to localized fat loss, people are often mislead or confused.

Email newsletter signup

Specifically targeting certain parts of your body for fat loss is not a valid concept. Think about someone who has lost a significant amount of weight by just walking and running (a mode of exercise that predominately uses the legs). Were their legs the only part that lost weight? No, both their lower body and upper body lost fat — and so did their face, neck, fingers and everything else.

In a 2007 study conducted by the University of Connecticut, subjects completed a 12-week strength-training program in which their nondominant arm was targeted with specific exercises aimed for fat loss. MRI assessments showed that fat tissue was lost in both extremities, not just the arm that was targeted. The process of losing fat is generalized. If you lose fat somewhere, you lose fat everywhere.

So when it comes to obtaining a flat stomach or losing those love handles, it’s not about doing a million crunches or sidebends; after all, you can’t turn that fat into muscle. A fat cell cannot magically turn into a muscle fiber. It’s not about developing or sculpting the muscles in those areas, it’s about trimming the fat that lies on top of those muscles.

This brings me to my next point. You can, (yes, can!) spot treat your body when it comes to muscle development.

When it comes to making a muscle stronger or bigger, then you can definitely spot treat.

Think of body builders. They spend hours sculpting their body, but even more time working on what they believe to be their weak areas. They might use the term, “training for my weaknesses.”

Jamie Eason, fitness model, said, “Because my legs and glutes are stubborn areas, I train them twice per week.”

So, let’s put all this information together. What do you need to do to obtain a lean and toned body? Develop your muscles with a strength training routine and watch the diet and engage in cardio to burn the fat. When you minimize the layer of fat on top of the muscle, the nice developed muscles will show.

To get advice on how to put a strength training and cardio routine together, contact me at the Albert Lea Family Y. I can get you started and point you in the right direction. Orientations and consultations are free for Y members.


Susie Hulst is the fitness director at the Albert Lea Family Y and is an American College of Sports Medicine-certified health fitness specialist. Her column appears monthly.