Login | October 04, 2022

Fitness Mythblaster 1.0

Pete’s World

Published: September 12, 2022

This week I’d like to introduce a new and intermittent addition to the column, an addition I’m going to whimsically refer to as the “Fitness Mythblaster.”
Now what each of these randomly reoccurring columns will entail is a debunking of one of the multitude of fitness-related myths that need to be blown up and swept out of American consciousness.
Indeed, these are fitness myths, which through years/decades of commercial and marketing propagation, have become so pervasive and so ingrained in the fabric of our health and fitness culture that they’ve gained a patina of legitimacy.
So in this, the inaugural addition of the Fitness Mythblaster, I’ll address what has to be the granddaddy of fitness myths: The notion that it’s possible to target specific areas of the body for fat loss.
Now you’ve most likely seen/heard commercials that promote specialized exercise equipment and/or fat reducing products that are purported to burn fat in specific areas of the body.
Yet despite all the scientific evidence that’s proven this thesis to be a monumental myth, there continues to be a plethora of infomercials and fitness publications which guarantee dazzling six-pack abs and gorgeous buns of steel lying just below that pesky––but easily targetable––layer of adipose tissue. And unfortunately that message has legions of individuals still buying into this myth.
Okay, spot reduction as it’s called, was proven to be a fallacy as far back as 1971, when researchers from the University of California, Irvine tested tennis players’ right and left arms, which are subjected to very different volumes/intensities of exercise.
They postulated that if spot reduction were a valid thesis then the dominant arm would have thinner layers of subcutaneous fat compared to the non-dominant arm. But after measuring the thickness of subcutaneous fat at specific points along the players’ arms researchers discovered no statistical significant difference between dominant and non-dominant arms.
Fast forward to a 2007 University of Connecticut study where participants completed a supervised 12-week resistance-training routine in which their non-dominant arm was selectively exercised.
MRI assessments of subcutaneous fat before and after the program revealed that fat loss tended to be generalized, rather than only occurring in the trained arm.
A study published in the September 2011 edition of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning had researchers looking at the effect abdominal exercises had on abdominal fat.
Their conclusion: “Six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat and other measures of body composition.”
Then there’s a study done in 2015, Effects of Abdominal Resistance Exercise on Abdominal Subcutaneous Fat of Obese Women: A Randomized Control Trial Using Ultrasound Imaging Assessments, which found that, “abdominal resistance training besides diet did not reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat thickness compared to diet alone in overweight or obese women.”
Yes, targeted fat loss is a colossal myth and it’s all because of a basic physiological principle.
You see, fat in fat cells manifests itself as a triglyceride that muscle cells cannot directly use as a fuel. Thus, the triglyceride must be broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids.
Only then can it enter the bloodstream and be used as a fuel during prolonged exercise.
And herein lies the key to blasting the targeted fat loss myth: That broken down fat is resourced from all across the body not just from the area of the body part that’s being worked out.
What’s more, many of the exercises that are typically associated with spot reduction, they aren’t mega calorie burners - crunches, side-bends, leg raises, torso twists.
So if we’re not cranking out a sufficient caloric burn, we’re not going to lose a whole heck of a lot of body fat from anywhere on the body.
Truth be told, we’re more likely to melt away those love handles and bat wings by running, cycling, swimming, walking, etc., than by doing a gazillion crunches and/or triceps extensions every day,
And besides using the aforementioned cardiovascular exercises as body fat burners, HIT workouts (high-intensity interval training) and qualitative resistance training routines can be utilized.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include good eating habits in this whole body fat reducing issue.
I mean you can burn 500 calories with a great workout, yet you can sabotage that effort if you subsequently consume 500 calories or more post-workout.
Conclusion: Only regular exercise, aerobic and resistance, in conjunction with sensible eating can reduce those pesky body fat areas.